Jain Agamas

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Stela depicting Jinvani (Śhrut Jnāna) which forms the basis of Jain agamas

Agamas are original texts of Jainism based on the discourse of the tirthankara. The discourse delivered in a samavasarana (divine preaching hall) is called Śhrut Jnāna and comprises eleven angas and fourteen purvas.[1] The discourse is recorded by Ganadharas (chief disciples), and is composed of twelve angas (departments). It is generally represented by a tree with twelve branches.[2] This forms the basis of the Jaina Agamas or canons. These are believed to have originated from Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara.[3]

The earliest versions of Jain Agamas known were written in Ardhamagadhi Prakrit language.[4][5]


Agama is a Sanskrit word which signifies the 'coming' of a body of doctrine by means of transmission through a lineage of authoritative teachers.[6]


Shrut tradition as per Digambaras

The teachings of Mahavira were orally compiled by his disciples into various Sutras (texts) which were collectively called Jain canonical or Agamic literature. Traditionally these sutras were orally passed on from teachers (acharyas) to the disciples for several centuries. Digambara, the older sect of Jainism rejects the authority of the Agamas known today.[7] They believe that by the time of Dharasena, the twenty-third teacher after Indrabhuti Gautama, knowledge of only one Anga was there. This was about 683 years after the nirvana of Mahavira. Disciples of Dharasena, Pushpadanta and Bhutabali composed Satkhandagama on the basis of this knowledge.

While some authors date the composition of Jain Agamas starting from 6th century BC,[8] noted Indologist Hermann Jacobi holds that the composition of the Jaina siddhanta would fall somewhere about the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 3rd century BC. [9] The general consensus amongst western scholars,like Ian Whicher and David Carpenter is that the earliest portions of Jain siddhanta were composed around the 4th or 3rd century BC.[10][11] This may not be in agreement with Jain tradition according to which the agamic literature and the Purvas were passed from one heads of the order to his disciples for around 170 years after the nirvana of Mahavira. However, with time, it became difficult to keep the entire Jain literature committed to memory. In 3rd century B.C., Chandragupta Maurya was the ruler of Magadha and Bhadrabahu, (the last knower of complete Jain agamas) was the head of Jain community. Predicting a 12 year long famine, Bhadrabahu went south to Karnataka with his adherents and Sthulabhadra, another Jain monk remained behind. During this time the knowledge of the doctrine was getting lost. A council was formed at Pataliputra where eleven scriptures called Angas were compiled and the remnant of fourteen purvas were written down in 12th Anga, Ditthivaya by the adherents of Sthulbhadra. Due to the twelve years of famine it was extremely difficult for the Jain ascetics to preserve the entire canonical literature. The Purvas or the ancient texts were already forgotten and lost after the famine. According to Svetambara tradition, the agamas were collected on the basis of collective memory of the ascetics in the first council of Pataliputra under the stewardship of Sthulibhadra in around to 463–367 BC.[12] Digambaras reject the authority of the Agamas compiled by Sthulabhadra.[7]


Table showing Anga scriptures

The knowledge of Shruta-Jnana, may be of things which are contained in the Angas (Limbs or sacred Jain books) or of things outside the Angas.[13]

The Agamas were composed of the following forty-six texts:

Jain literature[edit]

Main article: Jain literature

The digambaras maintain that original agamas were lost and knowledge of only one anga is available. The most authoritative Jain text accepted both by Digambara and Svetamberas is Tattvartha Sutra. It is the first Jain scripture written in the Sanskrit language.[14] Other Sanskrit Jain literature includes śrāvakācāras such as the Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra.

Digambaras group texts into four literary categories called 'exposition' (anuyoga).[15] The 'first' (prathma) exposition contains Digambara versions of the Universal History; the 'calculation' (karana) exosition contains works on cosmology; the 'behaviour' (charana) exposition includes texts about proper behaviour for monks and lay people.[15]

Languages of Agamas[edit]

The Jain literature includes both religious texts and books on generally secular topics such as sciences, history, and grammar. The Jains have used several languages at different times and in different regions of India.

Prakrit literature includes the Agamas, Agama-tulya texts, and Siddhanta texts. The dialect used to compose many of these texts is referred to as Jain Prakrit. Composition in Prakrits ceased around the 10th century AD.
Some of the early Tamil classics such as Valayapathi, Silappatikaram and Civaka Cintamani are Jain or Jain-affiliated works.


For Jains, their scriptures represent the literal words of Mahāvīra and the other fordmakers only to the extent that the Agama is a series of beginning-less, endless and fixed truths, a tradition without any origin, human or divine, which in this world age has been chanelled through Sudharman, the last of Mahavira's disciples to survive.[16]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jain 1929, p. 135.
  2. ^ Jain 1929, p. 136.
  3. ^ Shah 1998, p. 12.
  4. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 60-63.
  5. ^ a. John Cort (2010), Framing the Jina: Narratives of Icons and Idols in Jain History, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195385021, pages 100-101;
    b. John Cort (1998), Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791437858, page 6
  6. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 60.
  7. ^ a b Singh 2008, p. 444.
  8. ^ Nagendra Kr. Singh. (2001). Encyclopedia of Jainism (Edited by Nagendra Kr. Singh). New Delhi: Anmol Publications. ISBN 81-261-0691-3 page 4308
  9. ^ Jacobi, Hermann (1884). (ed.) F. Max Müller, ed. The Ācāranga Sūtra. Sacred Books of the East vol.22, Part 1 (in English: translated from Prakrit). Oxford: The Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-7007-1538-X.  p. xliii
  10. ^ Yoga: The Indian Tradition. Edited by Ian Whicher and David Carpenter. London: Routledgecurzon, 2003. ISBN – 0-7007-1288-7 page 64
  11. ^ C. Chappie ( 1993) Nonviolence to Animals, Earth and Self in Asian Traditions. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-1497-3 page 5
  12. ^ Jacobi, Hermann (1884). (ed.) F. Max Müller, ed. The Ācāranga Sūtra. Sacred Books of the East vol.22, Part 1 (in English: translated from Prakrit). Oxford: The Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-7007-1538-X.  p. xlii
  13. ^ Jaini 1927, p. 12.
  14. ^ Jain 2011, p. vi.
  15. ^ a b Dundas 2002, p. 80.
  16. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 61.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • www.AtmaDharma.com/jainbooks.html Original Jain Scriptures (Shastras) with Translations into modern languages such as English, Hindi and Gujarati. Literature such as Kundkund Acharya's Samaysaar, Niyamsaar, Pravachansaar, Panchastikay, Ashtphaud and hundreds of others all in downloadable PDF format.
  • Jain Agams
  • Clay Sanskrit Library publishes classical Indian literature, including a number of works of Jain Literature, with facing-page text and translation. Also offers searchable corpus and downloadable materials.