Prakrit Jñanabharati International Award - Speech of Prof. Klaus Bruhn during Award Ceremony

Posted: 30.05.2008
Updated on: 29.11.2012

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It is a great honour for me to welcome the three Indian guests in Berlin, Sri Ajitkumar Benadi, Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah and Sri Prem Suman Jain. I have to greet Prof. Willem Bollée and Prof. Annegret Bollée and last but not least all the participants. For me this is a great event, a great event for myself and for my wife and for all the members of my family.

I extend my thanks for the prestigious Prakrit Jnan Bharati International Award to the Shrutakevali Trust and to the National Institute of Prakrit Studies and Researh, in particular to the head of the religious centre Jagadguru Karmayogi Swasthishri Charukeerthy Bhattaraka Mahaswamiji. In other words, my thanks go to Shravana Belagola in Karnataka. I visited Shravana Belagola in the fifties, not knowing how importannt the place would be for me at a certain occasion in my later life.

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Speech by Prof. Klaus Bruhn

Do I deserve the award? I shall try to describe in a few words my study of Jainism. We do not have in Germany departments of Jaina studies. But as you probably all know there have been several great scholars in Germany, who started the study of Jainism and who have made pioneering and significant contributions to the study of Jaina literature. More than that. These scholars, some at least, tried to supply an overview over sections of the vast Jaina literature. Here is one of the main tasks, the consolidated study of important portions of the literary cosmos. To this day the problem has not been solved. After the time of the pioneers, the interest was mainly concentrated on individual texts. As a consequence we have systematic studies of works belonging to different genres, but it is always the individual work that has been studied rather than a group of works. We need, excuse me for theorizing, a shift from Singular to Plural. It seems that that could only be done by giants like Albrecht Weber, Hermann Jacobi, Ernst Leumann, Walther Schubring, Muni Punyavijaya and A.N.Upadhye. Today great projects are dreams. Perhaps the Shravana Belagola Institute (the National Institute of Prakrit Studies and Research) will be able to follow this line in the case of Karma-literature with its extensive commentaries, Dhavala etc. We are looking forward to the expected publications.

My own career was a simple one. I was a student of Professor Ludwig Alsdorf in the Hamburg University. Ludwig Alsdorf (1904-1978) was the successor of Walther Schubring (1881-1969). Schubring had devoted his entire life to the study of Jainism. Alsdorf followed him but was equally interested in Buddhism and Vedic religion. Alsdorf had secured manuscripts of an ancient Prakrit text. This was just an episode in his life. But he asked me to analyse this particular text (author Silanka) by way of a comparison with a parallel Jaina text in Sanskrit. This parallel existed in the form of the famous Trisastisalakapurusacaritra by Hemacandra (1089-1172), the universal history, mainly a biographical corpus of the lives of the 24 Jinas or Tirthankaras. I prepared such a comparison, producing on the whole an overview of the Svetambara tradition with its major and minor branches. But unfortunately I did not include an overview of two important Digambara texts, one by Gunabhadra and one by Puspadanta. An edition of Silankas voluminous text (probably 9th century), in other words of "my" text, was later on prepared by Pt. Amritlal Mohanlal Bhojak.

What we need today is an introduction into the universal history, into the entire ensemble, canonical and post-canonical, Svetambara and Digambara, Prakrit and Sanskrit, a primer as it were. But although the details have largely been studied, such a primer will never be written. The very word "primer" does not seem applicable to such a material.

The study of the universal history (my thesis) is in a way a simple subject and for this reason I mentioned here some details for which I hope to be excused.

My academic career was largely determined by my Gurus. When I was granted a scholarship for a stay in India from 1954-1957, my "Guru" Ludwig Alsdorf suggested that I should study on the one hand the two Dasavaikalika-Curnis and on the other hand certain an iconic Jaina motifs (devotional objects, often cosmographic) like Samavasarana, Meru, Nandisvaradvipa. But in India I met Dr.U.P.Shah (1915-1988), the great authority for Jainism in Baroda who had collected himself material for such an iconographic study (unfortunately unpublished) and who suggested that I should rather study the Jaina art of Deogarh in Uttar Pradesh. This I did and the Curni project was not continued.

Deogarh means "fort of the gods", and there are many places with this name in Northern India. "My" Deogarh, to put it again in this way, was in the Lalitpur District of Uttar Pradesh, approximately in the middle between Agra and Bhopal. This locality has Hindu and Jaina remains, in the first place the famous Visnu Temple or Gupta Temple. There are many Hindu remains besides the Gupta Temple, but there is also a cluster of Jaina temples on the hill to the southeast of the small village of Deogarh. The Jaina temples on the hill, ninth to twelfth centuries, were to become my subject, my field of research, my "paradise", for many months to come. There were thirty-one Jaina temples, mostly of a simple architectural type and of different sizes. But there were in particular hundreds of Jaina sculptures, mostly Digambara Jinas, in other word naked Jinas, standing or seated. There were also other Jaina statues, in particular representations of the Jaina goddesses Ambika and Cakresvari: Ambika -- a goddess with a child or with children (a mother-goddess), Cakresvari -- a goddess with many arms and weapons, mainly disks (a belligerent goddess). I myself had to concentrate on the Jina images, as you can see from the book lying on the table. I have unfortunately not studied the other material which is fairly rich.

Nobody has visited Deogarh without having a glance at the river Betwa or Vetravati. The river creates one of the most picturesque sceneries in Central India, and I wish I could show you a slide. I think foreign tourists in Deogarh are always welcome, but accommodation has to be planned in advance. But that is not our subject. I have studied the place, in particular the Jina images, for many years. The Deogarh book was published in 1969 when I was already a professor at the Free University in Berlin.

The Jaina art of Deogarh is not isolated. There are similar images in the surrounding area, even at some distance, cut into the steep rock of Gwalior. See my article in Kurt Titze's "Pictorial Guide" to Jainism.

Forty years after Deogarh:

I have recently studied Jaina miniature paintings from western India, and I have for many years after Deogarh studied Jaina iconography (some efforts successful, some perhaps not). But, in continuation of my thesis I have also studied Jaina literature, this time early Jaina literature.

In the nineties I have concentrated on the five mahavratas the five vows or commandments, comparable to similar constellations in other religions, in particular comparable to the ten commandments of Christianity. In early Jainism, the five vows are found, completely or in parts, in many different Jaina works. The matter is important, inter alia because Mahavira mentions five vows non-violence, truth, abstention from theft, chastity, and non-possession or poverty (i-v); whereas Parsva, the predecessor of Mahavira, the 23rd Tirthankara, mentions fourvows (i-iv), an unexplained difference. But it is not only a question of four or five -- of this historical difference. There are very many expressions, synonyms, for the five vows (different words for the same vow), there are more rigid forms of the vows for monks and less rigid forms of the vows for laymen, there are extended forms and reduced forms of the configuration, there are explosions of the description (endless enumeration of varieties of a particular vow), and there are combinations of the five vows with totally different concepts. All this is somewhat complicated but not absolutely incomprehensible for the non-specialist.

Incomprehensible is another subject, the almost legendary Avashyaka literature. There are six avashyakasor rules or duties, including the obligatory recitation of a praise of the twenty-four Jinas or Tirthankaras. All that seems quite natural. But, for unknown reasons, the six small rules or texts have attracted an immense body of literature, mainly dogmatical. Our friend Prof. Bansidhar Bhatt, Professor emeritus at the Munster university, is perhaps the only scholar who really knows this literature. The study was started by Ernst Leumann (1859-1931) in Strasburg, but Leumann had no successor for avasyaka studies -- with this one exception. Let us hope that Bansidhar Bhatt will make good progress in his avasyakastudies. Others, including myself, have apparently not had the courage to enter, after Ernst Leumann, the impervious jungle of the Avasyaka literature.

An award is often linked with cash. As you know, the present prize is also connected with money. I have now to say where the euros of my award (one lakh rupees) will go. One half will go to the Children's hospital at Shravana Belgola, and one half will go to the Loomba Trust and Foundation, founded in 1997 by Raj Loomba. This foundation is a charity founded to benefit impoverished women and children around the world.

Thank you for your patience and feel free to have a look at my books and articles on the table.

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Berlin, 25.05.08, speech during Bestowal Function for Prof.W.Bollée and Prof.K.Bruhn.