Ramayana and Mahabharata are the two immortal epics of India, composed by Sage Valmiki and Vyasa respectively long before the advent of the Christian era. These two masterpieces had left indelible marks on the culture and life of the people down the ages.
Stories centering around the epic heroes, Rama and Krishna, had permeated through out the vast stretch of the Indian sub-continent, and subsequently, spread to other Asian countries. With the passage of time, these two Sanskrit epics were written in different regional languages in order to fulfill the spiritual and religious aspirations of the elite and the common man.
Curiously enough, stories of these two Hindu epics found their way in other religions, particularly in Jainism. As its sequel, the Paumacharya (Jaina version of Ramayana) and the Harivamsapuranam1 (Jaina version of Mahabharata) came to be composed by the Jaina poets Ravisena and Jinasena respectively in the 8th – 9th century A.D.
Still later, Vatichandramuni composed the Pandavapurana2 centering around the characters of the Mahabharata. Apart from these, several Kannada works like the Trisastisalaka purushacharita,3 Neminatha purana” etc., also incorporated the stories of Mahabharata in a way suitable to the taste of the Jaina adherents.
In the Tamilcountry also the Sanskrit works like Pandavapurana and Mahapurana5 (of which Harivamsapurana is a part) were rendered into Tamil under the titles Jaina Bharatam 6 and Sripuranam.7 A systematic study of
89these literary composition and some art specimens reveals that Krishna is cast to play a minor role in Jainism as against his omnipotent role in Hinduism.
Krishna, the Vrishni hero, appears in the Mahabharata as a friend and counsellor of the Pandavas, as a semi-divine being and as the Supreme being. His exposition of the ‘Bhagavat Gita ’ to Arjuna in the battle field at Kurukshetra is widely acclaimed as the essence of the Upanishads,8 Stories of Krishna Saga are narrated in a number of Puranas besides the Mahabharata. The Matsyapurana, Agnipurana, Vishnupurana,
Bhagavatapurana9 etc., highlight episodes like the birth of Krishna to Vasudeva and Devaki in prison, transfer of the baby to Gokula; his bala-lilas (sports), thwarting the evil designs of Kamsa, his dalliance with the gopis of Mathura on the banks of river Yamuna, his leading role in the Kurukshetra war etc.
As these stories are very well known, they need not be elaborated here. Thus, “a continous picture of divine playfulness, of supreme wisdom revealed in an effortless way and of perfect detachment in the middle of a typical human life, is afford in this incarnation. He is portrayed as a mischievous and playful child, as a sporting youth, a great teacher and the highest goal or bhagavat.”10.
The Harivamsapurana and the Pandavapurana contain the early Jaina version of the stories associated with Krishna. Broadly speaking, these stories do not differ very much from that of the Hindu version, expect for some modifications in certain respects.
As a whole, they are wrapped in a Jaina garb in a manner acceptable to the Jaina tradition. No doubt, Krishna has a vital role to play, but he is often overshadowed by Neminatha and even Baladeva (Balarama).
90Neminatha, according to Jaina works, was a cousin-brother of Krishna. The Yadhava king Antakavrishni had ten sons and two daughters. Samudravijaya was the eldest son who married princess Sivadevi and begot Neminatha.
Vasudeva, the last son married Devaki who bore six female children and the seventh Vaasudeva alias Krishna. In Hindu mythology, he is said to be the eighth child.
Once, the Jaina monk Atimukta cursed Jivatyasa, the chief queen of Kamsa, that her husband would be killed by a son born to Devaki and Vasudeva, and therefore, they were imprisoned.
During her imprisonment, Devaki gave birth to six female children and they were slain one after another by Kamsa. The seventh child was Vaasudeva who was miraculously transferred to the Gokula where he was brought up fondly by Nandagopa and Yasoda.”
The Neminathapurana adds that Nandagopa came to offer the female baby born to Yasoda to one Krishna Yakshi, as the goddess had not bestowed upon a male child to them.
But to his surprise, he saw a male baby (already left by Vasudeva) in the Yakshi shrine and took it to Yasoda saying that Krishna Yakshi blessed them with a son. Hence, they named him Krishna after the Yakshi.12 This is purely a Jaina version not to be seen in the Hindu texts.
Krishna and Baladeva grew up happily in the Gokula with their friends. In the meantime, Kamsa came to know of his enemy in Krishna and so devised several evil means to kill him. The Jainapuranas mention the same evil designs of Kamsa as recorded in the Hindu Puranas, but with some difference in the names of the demons.
Kamsa sent a demoness to suckle Krishna, demons in the form of a beetle, donkey, horse, Palmyra tree and a cart to kill him, but they were all destroyed by the child. Similarly, the court wrestlers and the royal elephant sent against him were subjugated.
Krishna is also stated to have subdued a venomous snake residing in a pond, protected the shepherds from the downpour of rain by lifting the Govardhana hill and finally killed Kamsa.13 Although the balalilas of Krishna are recorded in theJaina works, his dalliance with young ladies on the banks of river Yamuna are given little importance.
On knowing the tragic end of Kamsa, his father-in-law Jarasandha discharged a vast army to annihilate the Yadavas from Mathura. It was at this time, King Samudra Vijaya advised Krishna, Baladeva and other Yadavas to migrate to a place of safety and thereupon, they moved to Dvaraka which was not easily accessible to enemies.14
Krishna’s close relationship with the Pandavas, his leading role in the Kurukshetra war etc., are elaborately dealt with in the Jaina works more or less similar to the Hindu account.
However, they differ in certain events like Draupati marrying only Arjuna instead of all the five brothers, rescuing her when she was humiliated in the Kaurava’s assembly hall etc., Besides, the Gitopatesa to Arjuna is omitted in the Jaina version although Krishna acted as his charioteer.
Previously, when the Pandavas sought Krishna’s help in the Kurukshetra war, they first offered worship to Neminatha in Dvaraka. Krishna is also stated to have sought the blessings of Neminatha and requested him to tell whether he would be successful in the war.
Neminatha, instead of giving a oral reply, smiled at him and this gesture was taken to be a positive sign of the their victory. Before leaving for the famous Kurukshetra war, Krishna entrusted the governance of Dvaraka with Neminatha.
When Krishna was engaged in the war, one day, Neminatha sported with Satyabhama in a tank and made a wager with her that whomsoever was defeated in splashing water against each other (Jalakrida), should wear the dress of the winner.
Although Satyabhama was defeated in the sport, she refused to wear Nemi’s clothes saying that he was not powerful like her husband who performed the Trivikrama episode. Thereupon, Neminatha performed the Trivikrama feat of ascending the Nagasayana, bending the Saranga bow and blowing the conch vehemently.15
After returning from Kurushetra, Krishna sensing Neminatha’s wish to enjoy the pleasures of the world, arranged
92for his marriage. The Neminathapurana gives a some what different account about the Trivikrama episode performed by Krishna as well as Neminatha. Accordingly, Krishna inorder to seek the hands of Satyabhama in her Swayamvara, strung casually the royal bow Saranga, blew the divine conch panchajanya and ascended on the raised hood of a deadly snake residing in a pond.
16 The other version is such that Neminatha once engaged in a water sport along with Balarama, Krishna and his queens. Once the sport was over, their drenched clothes were carried away by the servant maids. Neminatha asked Satyabhama to take away his clothes to be squeezed and dried.
She being the chief queen of Krishna, protested saying that her husband was the powerful lord who performed the Trivikrama episode and Nemi was not equal to him. Thereupon, Neminatha ascended the Nagasayana, strung the bow and blew the conch. Alarmed by this act, Krishna in consultation with Baladeva arranged for Neminatha’s marrage with Rajamati.17
The Pandavapurana gives yet another version of the marriage of Neminatha. Once, Krishna, Baladeva and the Pandavas indulged in rejoicing their victory in the Kurukshetra war.
At that time, some Yadava chiefs praised Bhima and Arjuna as the most powerful heroes while others proclaimed Krishna as the unchallenged man on the earth. Baladeva objected to their claims and eulogized the indomitable power of Neminatha.
Being discomfitured by this, Krishna appealed to Baladeva that Neminatha should prove his strength in the assembly hall. At once, Baladeva gestured to Neminatha to stretch out his small finger and asked Krishna to fold it.
But he could not do so and therefore, begged Neminatha to fold himself the finger in order to save Krishna from disgrace. Neminatha complied with his request immediately.18
Humiliated by this incident, Krishna wanted to keep Neminatha away from ruling the country, deceitfully arranged for his marriage with Rajamati, the daughter of King Ugrasena. In the meantime, a large number of animals were brought to the palace to be killed and served for food to the kings invited.
93Neminatha, on seeing the pitiable state of the animals, decided to abandon worldly pleasures and pursue austerities. After performing rigourous penance in the Sahasra Amravana, he got enlightment. Krishna and Baladeva paid their obeisance to the enlightened in the forest.19
Later on, when Neminatha was expounding dharma to the laity, Baladeva requested him to tell about the future of Dvaraka and the extent of Krishna’s rule there.
Neminatha replied that Krishna would be in a position to rule only for twelve years more and the Dvaraka would be consumed by fire. Finally, Krishna would die by an arrow shot by one of his sons, Jaratkumara.20
In the Pandavapurana, Jaratkumara narrated as to how Dvaraka was engulfed by fire and how Baladeva and Krishna escaped from the wrath before reaching the Kalinjaravana. As both of them were moving from one place to another inorder to escape from the devastating fire, Krishna became very tired, felt thirsty and lay down underneath a tree.
Baladeva went in search of water to quench his brother’s thirst. At that time, Jaratkumara entered into the forest and mistaking Krishna for a wild animal a shot an arrow at his foot, resulting in his death.
Before breathing his last, Krishna advised his son to seek the help of Yudhistra so as to gain some part of the kingdom and continue to rule as a chief of the Yadavavamsa.21 The Jeevasambhodana also gives the same story of the death of Krishna caused by the arrow of Jaratkumara.22
From the foregoing account, it is clear that the Jainas had adopted the Mahabharata stories with some modification from the standpoint of Jaina ethics. In the Jaina works, Neminatha always overshadows the role of Krishna and Balarama.
However, Balarama is depicted as the upholder of the Jina’s teachings. In accepting Krishna and other Hindu figures as part of the Jaina mythology, the Jaina writers denied any notion that these beings were manifestations of the divine. They were portrayed as heroes in a popular manner that satisfied the desire of the laity for such tales.23
94he incorporation of Krishna (& Rama) stories in Jama religion enabled it to gain a wider social basis for it and to sustain it even in areas where the Hindu religion was influential.
Tins could have also helped to assuage the feelings of the bralnnanieal followers and their antagonistic approach towards the Jaina adherents. It has been rightly pointed out that, “Had the Jaina teachers ignored the tremendous fascination which these figures (Krishna & Rama) held for the average lay persons, regardless of their religious affiliation, they would have done so at the peril of their own society’s disintegration”.24
Even though the above Sanskrit and Kannada works and their rendering in Tamil contain the Jaina version of the stories revolving around Krishna, Balarama and Neminatha, the Jaina compositions in Tamil present a different picture and they are silent about their relationship.
Perhaps, the Digambaras of Tamilnadu intended to keep Balarama and Krishna away from their literary and artistic creations. The absence of sculptural representations illustrating their relationship also subscribes to this view.
The Sangam classics of the early centuries of the Christian era refer to Krishna and Balarama of the Bhagavata tradition, but do not allude to any Tirthankara at all.
The Jaina epic Silappadikaram of the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. praises the halnhlas of Krishna as seen in the Hindu PuranasP Here again, his relation with Neminatha is nowhere mentioned.
Some of the eighteen Minor works (didactical) composed by Jaina poets between the 3rd and 5th centuries give importance to ethics, morals and philosophy, and they do not devote any verse to mythological stories associated with Tirthankaras.
This is also the case with the medieval Jaina compositions like Perunkathai, Ni/akcsi, Jeevakachintamani26 etc., as they do not indicate any link between Krishna and Nemisa.
Nadu prior to the 15th – 16th century was not receptive to the Mahabharata and Hindupurcmic myths.
Even after the 15th century, the Jainas had not accepted these stories, as part of their mythological tradition.
Instead, Jaina devotional poems while extolling the glory of the Tirthankaras, cast aspersions on Hindu gods including Krishna. Besides, some of the Hindu myths were suitably modified in such a way as to preserve the Jaina concepts and transferred them to the Tirthankaras.
For instance, the Tirukkalambakam mentions that Neminatha measured the three worlds by his knowledge, and resided on the milky ocean of dharma.21 Here, the episode of Vishnu assuming the Trivikrama form and measuring the three worlds with three steps, and Vishnu reclining on the milky ocean are attributed to Neminatha.
Moreover, Neminatha is also stated to have kicked off the deceitful cart inorder to establish dharma in the world.28 In this context, the feat of Krishna kicking off the cart Sakata (demon who assumed the form of a cart to kill Krishna) is conventionally attributed to Neminatha.
The Appandainatharula ridicules Krishna for having stolen away the garments of women (who came to bathe in river Yamuna) and hidden them on the nearby trees.29 Further, it also condemns that such a god (Krishna) who displayed lust for women is being worshipped by his devotees without any sense.30
It is evident from the later devotional compositions that the Jaina adherents of Tamilnadu were well aware of the Krishna stories of the Hindu tradition, but they were reluctant to accommodate the Neminatha-Krishna relationship unlike their counterparts in other parts of India.
Even though circumstances led them to absorb ritualistic and iconic worship long ago in their temples analogous to the Hindu practices, they had shown discontentment towards Vishnu and his Krishna avatara in their later hymnal literature. This may perhaps represent a sort of their resistance to the wide popularity of the Krishna cult during the Vijayanagara rule in Tamilnadu. 96
The story of Neminatha’s relationship with Krishna had also captivated the imagination of artists of Northern India. As a result, sculptures of Neminatha flanked by Krishna and Balarama came to be commissioned as early as the 2nd century A.D.
The Mathura Museum has a bold relief of Neminatha flanked by Krishna and Balarama exhibiting the Kushan style of art. A more or less similar image of Neminatha with Krishna and Balarama at the flanks, dated to the 4th century A.D., is on display in the Lucknow Museum.31
As this theme gained popularity in many parts of Northern India, medieval sculptures of Neminatha accompanied by Krishna and Balarama came to be commissioned in places like Butesvara, Devgarh etc. in Madhya Pradesh.32
Jaina adherents of Rajasthan and Gujarat were more accommodative and assimilative than their counter parts in other states. Hence, scenes from the life stories of Krishna and Neminatha came to be carved in narrative panels on the ceilings of Jaina temples as at Mount Abu, Kumbaria etc.33
In South India, particularly in Tamilnadu, the theme associating Krishna with Neminatha was not appreciated by the Digambara Jaina community. That is way Neminatha temples as well as sculptures are bereft of figural depictions of Krishna and Balarama.
However, it is only at Tirupparuttikunram near Kanchipuram, mural paintings executed on the ceiling of the Sangeetha manadapa of the Vardhamana temple in the 17th century A.D. portray events connected with the life of Krishna and Neminatha.
In the first part of the row of paintings, events like the birth of Krishna to Vasudeva and Devaki, Vasudeva entrusting the child to Nanda, Krishna’s sports such as destruction of the Sakata (cart) and Kurunta trees, killing of Bhutaki and Kesi and performing the feat of Trivikrama are illustrated continuously with labels mentioning each incident. These are followed by the life story of Neminatha.
The interpretation of the dream of Sivadevi by king Samudravijaya, birth of Neminatha and, Saudharmendra performing Janmabhisekha are painted in one group. In the next part, Jarasandha challenging Krishna, the latter entrusting Dvaraka 97
to Neminatha, Krishna defeating Jarasandha and Neminatha performing the Trivikrama episode are picturised. The last group depicts Krishna arranging for the marriage of Neminatha, his renunciation, performing austerities in the forest, attainment of Kevalagnana and finally his Samavasarana.14
(Published in Proceedings of the South Indian History Congress, Calicut, 2005).
1. Nathuram Premi (ed.) Harivamsapurana, (Manikchand Digambara Grantamala), Vol. I, 1943
2. Poornachandra sastri (ed.), Pandavapurna, Baroda, 1931
3. B.Bhattacharya (ed.), Trisastisalaka Purushacarita, Baroda, 1931.
4. Stefan Anacker (ed. &Tra)., The Epic of Nemi of Karnaparaya, Sravanabelgola, 2002
5. Pt. Pannalal (tr.), Uttarapurana, Adipurana, Delhi, 1968.
6. DJambukumar (ed.), Jaina Bharatam, Chennai, 2002.
7. J.Srichandran (ed.), Sripuranam, Chennai 1994
8. R.C.Gupta, Srikrishna, pp.168,169.
9. R.Champakalakashmi, Vaisnava iconography in the Tamil country, pp.130-132.
10. Ibid, p.130.
11. Pandavapurana, 4:150-153, Neminathapurana, 6:65- 80, Sripuranam, (op.cit.,), pp.544-549.
12. Neminathapuranam, 6:75-80.
13. Sripuranam (op.cit.,), pp.545-546.
14. Pandavapuranam, 4:159-180
15. Ibid, 16:65-70.
16. Neminathapuranam, 6:110-119.
17. ibid., 13:23-42
18. Pandavapurana, 16:5-35.
19. Ibid, 16:38-42.
20. Ibid, 16:72-75.
21. Ibid, 16:78-90.
22. Jeevasambhodana, 8:18-23
23. Padmanaba, SJaini, Jaina Path of Purification P.308
24. Ibid., p.304
25. Silappadikaram, 17:75-150.
26. Neelakesi (ed.), A.Chakravarti, Madras 1929), Perunkathai (ed.) U.V.Swaminatha Iyer, Madras, 1953,
Jeevakachitamani (ed.), U.V.Swaminatha Iyer, Madras, 1957.
27.S.Thanyakumar (ed.), Tirukkalambakkam, verses, 30,31.
28. Ibid., verse, 22.
29. M.Shanmugam Pillai (ed.) Appandainathar Ula, couplets 56,57.
30. Ibid.,, couplet, 13
31. U.P.Shah, Jaina Rupamandana, p.166.
32. Ibid., p.167.
33. Ibid., p.165.
34. T.N.Ramachandran, Tirupparuttikunram and its temples, pp.150-156.