The Tirthankaras in Jainism occupy a higher position whence they come to the world for the reform of the dharma. They concede the earnest devotion, submit to the suppliants and fulfill their all desires. Jaina devotees thus tend to take a final resort to such divine personalities, install them in images, praise their qualities in words and worship them as gods, in the same manner as the followers of the Brahmanical or the Hindu faith. Praises of divinities in rhymes thus constituted a new literary unit containing stutis(stavas/stavanas or prarthanas; prayers/hymns).
We come across one hymn (Virathui – 29 vss.) of the earliest time in the Suyagada 1.6, two hymns (Dev’indatthaya – ca. 300 vss. and Virathhay – ca. 43 vss.) in the 10-Painnas of considerably later date, so also in this context, the 6 Avassaya (Formulas) or at least the 2nd Avassaya, called Cauvisathau (7vss.), which also belongs to a still later period. They may be considered as the hymns of historical importance in the canonical literature of the Shvetambaras. All those hymns in Prakrit are of very general nature.
But the literary composition of hymns in Prakrit and Sanskrit started late and continued until recently in Jainism. They differ in meters, in number of verses they contain, in their ‘objects’ of invocation (one or more than one Tirthankaras). Some of the hymns are of a little inferior character, more inclined to sounds – alliteration, pun or paronomasia and the like, which mar the normal emotional appeals and somehow lack the natural style of composition. But apart from such negligible instances, this type of literature as a whole is a rich store of hymns of conventional eulogies with full of devotional importance and poetic values. Its study brings forth some strings of historical information regarding religions and rituals, cosmography and cosmology, and the social and cultural traits as well. The study of this field of literature is still in its infancy.
The Mahaviraprarthanashataka (“An Entreaty to the Mahavira in 100 verses”) belongs to the stuti-literature of our time. It is composed by Pt. Haragovind Das Sheth. It is a shataka (one containing 100 verses), but in fact, it ends in vs. 101, since the number 100 is not an auspicious one! The hymn is addressed to Mahavira (great hero), called Vardhamana – the last and the 24th Tirthankara. His connection with the Chanda-kaushika legend is referred to in vs. 6 and the name of his disciple Gautama appears in vs. 8. (Otherwise, in absence of vs. 6, it is difficult to decide on the basis of the remaining verses whether the author really invokes Mahavira! In the last two verses (100-101), the author supplies some relevant data. In vs. 100, he mentions the date (2nd day of the bright half of the month of Magha in the Vikrama samvat1994; i.e. ca. January 1937) and the place (village Rajagriha, the present Rajgir in Bihar) of the composition. In vs. 101, he supplies additional information that his name is Haragovind, his father’s name : Trikamacandra, his family name : Shresthin (Sheth) and his native place : Rajadhanyapura – the present Radhanpur, a town situated in the south-west of the Banaskantha district (Gujarat State).
Pt. Haragovind Sheth V 1945-1997 (1888-1940 AD), a Jaina by birth and faith, was a versatile scholar of Sanskrit and Prakrit. He started his scholarly activities of editing and publishing some rare and important Jaina texts soon after he achieved academic titles : Tirthain Indian Logic (Nyayatirtha) and Sanskrit-Prakrit Grammar (Vyakarana-tirtha). In 1910-1914, he took up and completed a huge task of editing the Visesavassaya-Bhasa of Jinabhadra (ca. 7th cent. AD) with his colleague, Pt. Bechardas Doshi of Gujarat. He decided to respond to an acute academic want of a Prakrit Dictionary and soon undertook, on his own accord, another gigantic project of compiling a Prakrit-Hindi Dictionary — the Paia-Sadda-Mahannavo (‘Great Ocean of Prakrit Words’). The Dictionary is a result of his talented efforts of more than ten successive years which he single-handedly and untiringly devoted to its compilation without anybody’s assistance! As such, his name and fame crossed even the mahannava – the great ocean – and reached places far beyond the Indian borders. His contribution to the field of Prakrit studies earned many valuable opinions of scholars from abroad, such as — Ernst Leumann (Germany), Moriz Winternitz (Austria), F. W. Thomas (England), Giuseppe Tucci (Italy), etc.; and so also from India, such as — S. K. Chatterji, B. M. Barua, Vidhushekhar Bhattacharya, V. S. Agarwal, etc. But unfortunately not all the publications of this great Pundit of India have so far been brought to light. It may be due to negligence of the scholars and to some extent due to inadequate funds. His publications deserve reprints, if necessary, and should be easily available to scholars.
Mr. Surendra Kumar Bothara should be credited for an initiative in this direction of bringing into light one of the unpublished works of Pt. Haragovind Sheth. It is a hymn, entitled : Sri Mahaviraa prarthana-sataka,which is referred to above with a purpose of giving concisely an idea about its frame-work. It is composed in comprehensive Sanskrit, but with some Nyaya (Indian Logic) intricacies and grammatical peculiarities, which the author has blended in it to demonstrate his mastery over the subject. Mr. Bothara’s Hindi rendering of the hymn and an elaborative Hindi commentary on it, both come to the rescue of the readers who are not well versed in Sanskrit or the Nyaya techniques. His attempt is rational and commendable.
The scholastic faculty reflected in casual discussion with him, in his publications, and so also in his lucid translation of and commentary on this hymn is, I believe, the property that Mr. Bothara has inherited from his learned father, the late Shri Shubh Karan Singhji, whom I regarded as a fair and frank thinker, an out-spoken critic, and still more than that, as a Rishi or Yogihaving had a vision to grasp the inner nature of things. I was lucky to be in contact with him for many years. I am now glad that Mr. Bothara is equally talented in carefully evaluating any work, and successfully carries out the inherited scholarly mission. The readers will notice a remarkable faculty even in the explanatory matters furnished by him in the present edition.
I hope, Mr. Bothara will give a wider scope to the hymn in its second edition to work it out more critically with references from the relevant textual sources in support of the logical intricacies and the grammatical usage scattered over the hymn. I am confident that Mr. Bothara will continue such learned and intelligent activities in the future.
— Bansidhar Bhatt
16th May, 1991