Despite their rich theological tradition, Jains could not overlook Krishna’s grand persona and assigned him equal status next to that of the Tirthankara, writes Dr Asha Goswami
Shri Krishna cast a magic spell over the minds of innumerable people from all parts of the world, belonging to many creeds and castes, who find themselves impressed with one or the other feature of his magnificent persona and character. In the same strain, the Jains in India were fascinated with Krishna’s grand persona, so much so that they recast the Pauranic account of Krishna saga in their own way, as befitting their ideologies. In this context, it seems pertinent to note that in India, religious tradition flows through three major streams of thought — the Vedic or Pauranic, Buddhist, and Jainism.
The latter two streams of thought, however, originated and developed in India outside the pale of Pauranic tradition, but their main aim was confined to delineating and elaborating the theology and mythology surrounding popular Indian deities, such as Shri Krishna or Shri Ram, with the help of assigning different features in their personae character as suitable to their ideals. While pointing out three point of views on Krishna and His interaction with the Jains, let’s not lose sight of the fact that from the very beginning, in India they emerged as an important section of Indian society and 8th century BC onwards have contributed a good deal of thought material of Indian civilisation, which is considered a substantial and genuine tradition of the Indian nation.
Similarly, the Jain tradition on Krishna holds great importance for understanding the arch-type of Krishna concept. It is found that the Jains not only included the Krishna concept within their religious fold, but also some other cults and beliefs in their own sect. According to some, the Jains were averse to the encounters of pastoral Krishna, for they hardly talk about it, rather, they relish talking about the oldest tradition on Krishna, which hails him as the Lord of Dwarka and not Gopala Krishna. Further for knowing the Jain tradition on Krishna, the Jain work such as Jaina Harivansha and other Puranic works have to be traversed. These Jain works describe in detail the achievements of Krishna and name him not Krishna but Vasudeva, as is common practice with the Bhagavatas.
Similarly, the Jains’ other descriptions of Krishna’s forefathers, Yadavas, and his last days on Earth are in agreement with those of the Puranas, likewise, most of the childhood encounters of Krishna almost find similar versions in the Jain sources. For instance, the Jains also treat Baladeva or Balaram as Krishna’s brother and helpmate. The Jains, however, preserve different lists of Krishna’s ancestors and descendants. Besides this, even distorted version of Krishna’s exploits as given in the Mahabharata and the Puranas is traceable in the Jain sources. According to the Jains, Jarasamdha’s killer is Krishna and not the Pandava brother Bhima; Krishna used to remain disgusted with the Pandavas and for that reason they were forced by him to leave Hastinapore and made to settle far off in south. The Jain sources similarly speak differently about Krishna’s killer, who was an anonymous fowler according to the Puranas, but according to the Jains, he was Jarakumar or Jarakumar and happened to be Krishna’s half brother and a Yadava prince like him. Here it seems that the idea of an anonymous hunter killing a God could not be acceptable to the Jains, so they invented an idea of the killer of Krishna of equal royal rank and status as that of Krishna. Besides Balarama, Krishna’s other nine brother are referred to by the Jains along with their father, who is named as Andhaka-Vrishni.
With this general note on the transference and innovations in Krishna’s personae by the Jains, it may be added that the Jains have provided us a peculiar type of information on Krishna tradition with which they became conversant and fascinated. So much so that they could not desist themselves from including Krishna and his brother among their 63 great personages of the era whom they cherish with great respect and honour. Shri Krishna finds the last position in their list of great personages, whom they call “Shalaka Purushas”. They know him as Vasudeva Keshava, the son of Vasudeva. Besides, in Jain tradition, Krishna’s 10 forms or incarnations are also popular along with the notions of cowherd Krishna in passing. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the Jains not only agree upon treating their first Tirthankara as Lord Vishnu’s great avatara, but even recast the biography of the 22nd Tirthankara Arishtanemi on the pattern of Krishna Saga and declared him as the famous prince of Krishna’s Yadava clan and as being related to him as his cousin. The Jains also treat Krishna’s Preceptor Ghorangirasa as in the Bhagvata tradition on Krishna.
As a preacher of Gita, Krishna finds a cherished position in the Jain tradition. Among other features of the Jain tradition on Krishna, His role as the Lord of Dwarka or Raivataka is most endearing to the Jains. They abstain from associating Krishna with Mathura and Vrindavan and neither cherish him as Bala Krishna or Gopala Krishna, rather are fond of calling him by the title “destroyer of the vanity of many powerful and proud ones like the wrestlers Charura and Kamsa”. The Jains also admire Krishna as the destroyer of Putana, Shakuni bird, vicious bull, and Kaliya.
With regard to the other features of Jain ideology and notion on Krishna, it may be also stated that as they have included Shri Krishna among their 63 personages of high honour, it proves that they look upon him as the great and noble Kshatriya prince, who according to them, was a representative of the ninth black Vasudeva and always accompanied with white Vasudeva who was Baladeva. The Vasudevas, in alliance with the Baladevas, who are also held by the Jains to succeed overpowering the Vishnudvishas who in Krishna’s case is Jarasamdha and not Kansa. The Jains also know Krishna as having multitude wives numbering 16,000. The Jains also know Krishna as the son of Vasudeva, who had two wives Devaki and Rohini. Besides Baladeva or Balarama Krishna is said to have another younger brother, Gajasukumar.
Summing up the Jain tradition on Krishna, it can be ascertained that assigning him the role of the ninth Vasudeva and one of the 63 Shalka Purushas, the Jains — although having their rich theological tradition —could not overlook Shri Krishna’s manifold personae-features so much so that they included him among their great persons who were worthy of their worship and honour, and also assigned him equal status next to that of the Tirthankara. This Jain contribution towards Krishna concept goes to prove that Krishna’s appeal was not only confined to the followers of the Vedic-Brahmanic tradition, but spread beyond among the non-Brahmanic believers and devotees belonging to other schools of thought and discipline like the Jains or others.
Besides accepting Krishna as one of the nine Vasudevas, the Jains liberally extend their support to the view which accepts Krishna as belonging to the status of the great chieftains of the age, and one who had obtained supreme glory and was very kind-hearted. Concluding the discussion on Krishna’s interaction with the Jains, let us repeat verbatim their belief that “Shri Krishna would appear in the form of future 12th Tirthankara of the next world-period along with other members of his family like his parents, brothers who will also achieve similar position”.
The writer is a noted Indologist and authority on Krishnaite Studies