Jaina Epic Mahāpuräņa


The great literary work Mahäpurāna written in the 9th century by saint poet Jinasenācārya along with his disciple Gunabhadrācārya in sanskrit contains a vast knowledge on Jainism and all aspects of life. This Magnum- Opus Mahäpurāņa was translated to kannada single handedly by Panditaratna A. Shanthiraja Shastry of Mysore (1925-1940). This Kannada Mahāpuräņa was translated to English by the eminent English Scholar Prof. K.E. Radhakrishna (2016-2020)

The Mahäpurāņa is divided into two sections: the first is called the Pūrvapurāņa, and the second, the Uttarapurāna. The former narrates the life- story of Adinātha, the first Tirthankara, and his son Bharata, the first emperor of the country in 12,000 verses, arranged under 47 parvas; the second summarizes the careers of twenty-three Tirthankars among others, in 8,000 verses, arranged under 30 parvas. The last five parvas of the Pürvapurāna were completed by Guņabhadrācārya as his teacher had died before completing them. Together, these 20,000 verses narrate the mythical lives and spiritual achievements of the sixty-three Salākapuruşas or illustrious beings of divine substance. The Tithankaras (lit. ford-makers) were those who had successfully crossed the waters of samsāra, and had also guided others to achieve this end. These Jinas did not have a rebirth, because they had conquered death. The rest of the divinities comprised the twelve emperors, nine Balabhadras, nine Nāräyanas, and nine Pratinārāyanas.”

The Mahāpurăņa is an encyclopedic work. There is hardly any aspect of life untouched by these saint poets, like the poets of the two national epics, the Rāmāyana and Mahābhärata.

The Mahäpuräna is a descriptive encyclopedia of a staggering range of subjects. The latter include the sky, the earth, and the nether world. Also, there is history, geography, science, mathematics, astrology, astronomy, agriculture, horticulture, arts, crafts, dance, music, painting, education, sports, pastime, diplomacy, administration, warfare, dress, decoration, courts, queens, courtesans, army, weapons, wings of army, temples, monasteries, gardens, forests, jewelry, perfumes, florists, furniture, forts, palaces, oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys, villages, towns, streets, lanes, marts, markets, magicians, food, drink, professions, letters, literature, songsters, eulogists, priests, performers, prostitutes, pubs, orgies, thieves, exploiters and such others, in it. Then there come various divinities and lokas, societies and their institutions, seasons and their behavior, while focusing attention on the Jaina cosmos.”

The Mahāpurāņa has inspired several generations of poets in different regions and languages, but none as deeply as those in Karnataka. Only Chävundaräya, the consecrator of the Gommața monolith at SravanaBelgola, made an attempt to outline the life stories of all the Salākapuruşas in Kannada prose, but it turned out to be a document, not a kavya.*

For the first time, an attempt is made to translate the entire Mahapurāņa to English and, I must say that a laudable result has been achieved under the chief editorship of Professor K.E. Radhakrishna, a scholar of repute.*

It is interesting to note that the publication of all these four reprints in kannada coincided with the mahā-mastakābhişeka celebrations of the Gommata image, conventionally observed once in every 12 years, at Sravanabelgola. Of these, the guiding force of the last three was Swastisri Charukirti Bhattaraka Swamiji, the head of the matha. His holiness is not only instrumental in the publication of the third edition of the Mahāpurāņa (1993) but he is also the guiding force behind the present international edition of the Mahapurāna in English language. The extended family members of Sri Santirajasastriji, Sri Jitendra Kumar in particular, have played no less role in bringing out these editions. They have constituted a separate Trust in the name of late Sastriji to promote this cause, and all the members of this Trust are dedicated to it.”

The present English edition, based on the fourth kannada edition, is published in six volumes each of about 750 pages and 82 colour photographs. The last volume contains catalogues of the names of persons, places, and objects, a glossary of the religious and technical terms, and such others, in 184 pages. In addition he has also provided a small monograph titled ‘An Introduction to Mahāpurāņa’ containing summaries of each of the 77 parvas and a small note on “Jain Brahmins / Vipras’. The hard labour of the chief-editor and his team is as much in evidence here as in the translation of the verses. This valuable addition would be extremely useful for anyone interested in knowing the hidden wealth of this epic, and I am sure it will be welcomed by all.

-S. Jithendra Kumar Chairman, Panditaratna A. Shantirajashastry Trust

City Today News

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