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The non-violent Ram: Stories from the Jain tradition – and how they differ from the Hindu canon

By | Devdutt Pattanaik | Indian Author 

Followers of Hindutva believe that Jainism is just a branch of Hinduism, despite the fact that it is deemed a minority religion in India’s Constitution. They often use the phrase Sanatan Dharma as an umbrella term to include both faiths. While there are no doubt many things that are common between Jain and Hindu belief systems, there are also many things that differentiate them.

The Jains also do not subscribe to the idea of dharma, as understood in Dharma Shastras. Dharma, in the Jain scheme of things, refers to movement, which is a dravya, one of the six key primordial governing principles of the cosmos. In the Hindu scheme of things, by contrast, dharma is a cultural value, and refers to the human ability to overcome the law of the jungle by upholding varna (hereditary vocation) and ashrama (stage of life).

Both Jains and Hindus believe in rebirth. Both Jains and Hindus believe that every living creature has a soul within, jiva or jiva-atma. However, the Jains do not believe in the concept of param-atma, like Shiva or Vishnu, who embodies the cosmic soul. They venerate the Tirthankara, the ford-finder, who appear from time to time and discover and transmit the eternal Jain doctrine.

The first Tirthankar of this eon was Rishabhnath. Some Hindus try to equate Rishabhnath with Shiva, because Rishabha’s symbol is the bull. Many Jains believe that the Harappan seal of a bull proves that Jainism existed in the Harappan times too. But there is a difference between Rishabhnath and Shiva. While Shiva, the hermit, gets married to Parvati in order to be a venerable householder, Rishabhnath gives up marriage and worldly life to become a hermit.

After living as a king for many years, and ruling wisely, Rishabha became a monk after he witnessed an apsara dying in Indira’s paradise, and Indra using his powers to create the illusion that the apsara was still dancing. Eventually Rishabha became a Tirthankara. His son and heir was Bharat, who became a Chakravarti, or world-emperor. The land of India is named after this Bharat, according to the Jains, although the Hindus say India is named after the son of Shakuntala. Rishabha taught mathematics to his daughter, Sundari, and writing to his daughter, Brahmi, hence the earliest Indian script is called Brahmi.

Jains have Ramayana and Mahabharata just like Hindus. However, they are considerably different. The Ram of Jain Ramayana is known as Pauma or Padma. In them, it is Lakshman who kills Ravan, making Ram the non-violent being, upholding the highest Jain value. Therefore, Ram attains moksha (liberation from cycle of rebirths) and kevalagyan (omniscience), while Lakshman and Ravan go to hell – though, a few lifetimes later, they do attain moksha.

In the Jain Mahabharata, known as Harivansha, the battle is not between Kauravas and Pandavas but between Krishna and Jarasandha. Krishna, like Lakshman, is a violent being, hence does not attain moksha immediately, but in a future lifetime. We are told that Krishna’s cousin, Nemi, refuses to get married when he hears the cries of animals being brought into the kitchen for the kitchen feast. He becomes a Jain monk and eventually another Tirthankara of this eon.

Both Lakshman and Krishna are two of the nine Vasudevas who appear in each eon, along with their elder brothers, Ram and Balaram, the Baladevas or Balabhadras, who fight, Ravan and Jarasandha, the Prati-Vasudeva.

The Jains believe that Krishna’s sister Subhadra’s nose was mutilated by Kansa, so she could not marry. She becomes a Jain monk. Tribal people, in the forest, think she is a goddess and offer her fruits and vegetables, which she does not eat as she has taken a vow of fasting. She is eaten by a tiger, and when the tribals return and find blood in place of the goddess, with the fruits not consumed, they conclude that the goddess wants blood sacrifice. This is the origin of blood sacrifice for the village goddess, according to Jain beliefs.

Many old Tamil epics refer to Jain authors and characters. In fact, it is speculated that the concept of 63 Nayanars, or worshipers of Shiva, found in Tamil traditions, is perhaps influenced by the 63 Mahapurushas found in Jains, which include the 24 Tirthankaras, the 12 Chakravartis, the nine sets of warriors (Vasudeva, Baladeva and Prati-Vasudeva).

One can argue forever on whether Jainism is a branch of the Hindu tree, or a tree in its own right in the forest of Sanatan Dharma. The Jains would simply say, in line with the Anekanta-vada philosophy, different people have different truths in different times and different places, as per the level of their psychological evolution.

Republished with permission and originally published at devdutt.com

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