Early Giithaa sculptures

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at BLR.VSNL.NET.IN
Tue Dec 29 06:33:05 UTC 1998

N. Ganesan wrote:
> *Which early bhakti phenomena in Jainism do you have in mind?
> Actually, I have not read anything on Jainism yet.
> Suggestions for me please.

I have written on this in my _The Concept of Divinity in Jainism_
(Toronto: Univ. of Toronto, 1993), in connection with Jaina yak.sa
worship, which is quite ancient (see particularly pp. 19-27).

> Ainslie T. Embree, Encyclopaedia of Asian history, 1988
> Bhakti, p. 154
> ---------------
> "Early Bhakti: The ancient roots of Vedic practice are easy to
> establish, since the relevant texts have been preserved. Equally
> ancient bhakti texts do not exist, but it would be a mistake to
> conclude that the emphases of bhakti religion are on that account
> more recent in their origins. When non-Vedic religion does begin
> to leave its traces - in early Buddhist and Jain texts - much of
> it sounds like bhakti. In these texts one hears of such
> characteristic bhakti practices as the enthusiastic offering of
> flowers and perfumes; the love of music, singing, and dancing;
> the veneration of particularly sanctified places. The divinities
> who are the objects of worship change over time, from the spirits
> and snakes whose images dominate the earliest Hindu sculptures ..."

>  Seeing all the support for heretic religions and the eventual
>  result that they will lose the mass following, the Hindu priests
>  devised a process, that allowed popular emotional outpourings in the
>  peoples' native language. This process, known as
>  bhakti mass movement,  first gets going  in the Tamil South and
>  spreads northward.

I doubt whether it is simply a cynical matter of priests wanting to
consolidate their grip on the lay populace. If bhakti in essence was
already so old, there would no question of 'losing' a following, since
any adherence to brahminical Hinduism would have to be seen as a
relatively later development and a gain. It looks much more like a slow,
gradual process of cultural interpenetration, a kind of osmosis. And if
bhakti could be traced to the practices which are described in ancient
Jaina and Buddhist sources, then it would also be wrong to think of
bhakti as a specifically Tamil phenomenon, even if Tamil authors gave
the bhakti movement an impetus. After all, the kind of phenomena which
Embree mentions are also found in Prakrit, Sanskrit and Kannada Jaina
texts from Karnataka. (And of course definitions of 'bhakti' differ from
one religious tradition to another.)


Dr. Robert J. Zydenbos
Mysore (India)
e-mail zydenbos at bigfoot.com

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