literary appraisal of the text

The text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā, as we have studied is an allegorical literary work of the 10th century, composed in alternations of prose and verse. Such a style of writing is termed as Campu style. ““The work is a novel in prose with numerous verse passages some long and others short, mostly ṣlokas. Only at the end of the individual books more elaborate metres also make their appearance.’’641 The special feature of the text is that the entire text is an allegorical work and numerous allegories are found throughout the length and breadth of the text. Maurice Winternitz remarks, ““The original trait of the poem is, however that it does so in the form of an allegory, or rather of allegories: for it is not only the main narrative but the separate stories also, which are in part allegories.’’652 He further remarks that, ““The poet himself distinguishes between two kinds of personages: outward companions of the hero, and inward companions. It is only the latter which are personifications and they are indeed the main characters in the ““drama of mundane existence’’, which the poet intends to unroll before the pious hearer.’’663 Peterson remarks that the great popularity which this poem enjoyed among the Jainas is shown by the fact that 100 years after its appearance, extracts and abridgments were made from it.674 Maurice Winternitz, remarks that ““All this (i.e. the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā) is told with verbosity and numerous stories and sermons are interwoven with the narrative wherever convenient.’’685 Hence the text is religious, didactic as well allegorical at the same time. It is a religious tale since it traces the causes of births and deaths in manifold existence and reveals the relation between soul and karman, as also karma and rebirth. It also reveals the psychological traits and physical tendencies of the beings caught in different circumstances in the manifold existence. How the beings condition themselves because of false tendencies, how they release themselves from the same material conditioning are pronounced with great conviction and emphasis. It is difficult to say whether the author is more powerful or the thinker has come out victorious in revealing the Jaina religious fervor and thought.

It is didactic in tone since the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā is replete with didactic notes and ethical sermons. But primarily it is an allegorical work since the entire text is the allegorical form, be it the material history of “The Worldly Soul’ or the spiritual significance behind each existence.

The story of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā progresses on two parallel lines that of materialism and spirituality. The first part is of material origin and the other is the spiritual significance and the thought process attached with each existence. The first part reveals the past existences of Anusundara Cakravarthy and keeps track of him in various existences. His struggle in various existences draws the readers’ sympathy and simultaneously inspires him to save himself from similar conditioning and material inclinations. The picturisation of the existences of the highs and lows, the tides and ebbs, the progression and the regression in the manifold existence are exemplary and imaginative and logically appealing. All these reveal the artistic characteristics of the author and his talent in blending imagination and reality, philosophy and drama. Both the auspicious and inauspicious tendencies present in all beings have come to life in the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā through the auspicious and inauspicious circumstances faced by “The Worldly Soul’ in manifold existence. Thus the bottomline of the text is that happiness and sarrow are nothing but the products on one’s own inclinations, dispositions and tendencies in life. Our choices in life are causative of the karmic patterns and conditions and vice versa. The author has made a lively and remarkable portrayal of inauspicious and auspicious dispositions, which effectuates rebirth in lower and celestial kingdoms respectively and pure disposition which generates emancipation.

On one hand the author travels through many places, characters and introduces innumerable incidents, on the other hand his determination to graphically draw the abstract feelings and spiritual inclinations of the worldly soul are vivid and transparant. The author weaves a mystery of the lineage of “The Worldly Soul’, “The-True-Doctrine’, “Rich-Insight’ and “Innocence’ in the second canto of the text and unfolds their mystery in the last canto.

The title of the text is consistent with the contents of the text ie the title spells that the manifold existence is enumerated by means of an allegory ie the concept of manifold existence is revealed through an allegory or allegories.696 In a report in the Bengal Royal Asiatic Society the title of the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā has been discussed.707 The proper form of the title is doubtful. The first part of the compound is usually given Upamiti, but in the eulogy at the end of the II and III chapters and in Prabhāvaka Cāritra it is given Upamita. The report says that it shall have prefered the latter title chosen by Peterson which is not altogther wrong. It means the probated expansion of the manifold existence. It is beginning-less and endless from the point of view of its continuity but from an individual’s point of view it can be terminated by conquering delusion, four-fold passions, five-fold sensual pleasures.

Throughtout the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā the author has extolled the greatness of human birth for one can realise emancipation in a human form, it is only in a human birth that one can endeavour to annihilate all the karmic patterns and rub off all karmic conditioning. But if one remains deluded and does not realise the truth, his birth in human existence proves to be futile and burdensome.

In the third canto the author illustrates four kinds of people viz Greatest, Great, Mediocre and Inferior. Greatest and those who conquer themselves, the senses and passions and attain emancipation. Great are those who tread on the path of righteousness and emancipation. Mediocre are those who are neither religious nor evil minded, but lead a mediocre life without striving for emancipation. Inferior are those who are deluded and absorbed in the sensual and material pleasures. Siddhaṛṣi chose to write the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā for such inferior people, who are unaware of their purpose and stay in the world. To inform, inspire and enlighten the Inferior kind of people Siddhaṛṣi created the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā which is full of Vairāgya Rasa ie, Taste of Renunciation. Although the Navarasas ie love, bravery, compassion, laughter, wrath, fear, ugliness, wonder and peace are inspirited and animated in the text, the idea of renunciation, stands apart and this is the quintessence of the text Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā. Discrimination and renunciation are the exercises that enable “The Worldly Soul’ to liberate from the worldly sojourn The text is unique in the sense that it has glorified renunciation to such a great height that other descriptions tend to fall short, but the author has taken great care to deal with all the feelings of love, bravery, fear, laughter etc. and portray them in the text.

Exposition of nature and seasons, rivers, mountains, gardens and cities is vibrant with lively descriptions. Even the minutest particulars of nature have been taken into account and described in the text. Besides descriptions of nature and its elements, society and social reforms too form an important aspect of the text. The various rituals and ceremonies performed at the time of birth, education, marriage, crowning, initiation and death too are discussed. The duties of a householder and his duty in the society too are analyzed. The nature of idol-worship, too has been told by the author. The true characteristics of a saint, the order of the four-fold congregation and the practice of various austerities are explained. Roots of renunciation are traced in aspiration for perpetual and everlasting happiness in place of fleeting mundane pleasures. The nature of women, the folly of fools, the blemishes caused by ignorance and delusion and the nature of a universal religion are mentioned. The dacoits and their looting behaivour on one side and the characteristics of perfected souls occur side by side. The fiery nature of anger, the crooked conceit, the cunning deceit and the over ambitious greed which rob the soul are personified and have come to life. The five senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch too have been animated. While studying the nature of the four Puruṣārthās (Values) viz, Righteousness (Dharma), Wealth (Artha), Pleasures (Kāma) and Emancipation (Mokṣa), emancipation and final beatitude seem to be easy to be accomplished, but when one gets down to real life to imbibe them in life, the difficulties faced by the aspirants too are enumerated. The obstructions of powerful passions and the veil of ignorance and delusion in the path of the aspirant are largely spelt out in the text of Upamiti.

The author has pronounced his knowledge of Astrology, Medicine, Metallurgy, Crimnology, Politics, Psychology, Trade and Commerce and other branches of learning in different contexts spread over the entire canopy of the text.

The text of Upamiti is a rich storehouse of proverbs and ethical quotes. Spread over a vast canvass are inspiring sayings and notes on ethics which lighten the heavier moments of life and enable us to act wisely and effectively. A few are illustrated here: Love between two people blossoms only when one compliments the other (2/2/293). As the destiny so the mentality, effort and external support (2/7). He makes a fool of himself, who attempts those tasks, which are beyond his reach (3/2). People of noble character are causative of others’ happiness (3/5). It is difficult to repay the debt of parents (3/19). Fickle minded people have no character (3/24). Those who desire their welfare should enter into wedlock with such a lady who will assist one to ascend on the ladder of righteousness (3/25). So also friends who are instrumental in progressing on the path of righteousness are true friends (3/25). It is not advisable to impart knowledge to an unworthy person. One should never be contended with the knowledge and skills acquired (4/3/5-8). A robber in the garb of a saint never prospers like the bellow which becomes flat after the air is removed from it (4/3). As you sow, so you reap (4/3). Time is the healer (4/3/1-1). Praise the master on his face and praise the friends and relatives in their absence, thank the servant after the task is completed, never applaud the son and never praise the wife even after her death (4/7/1-14). The company of poor and other’s spouse and the love of sinful deeds and the negligence of any disease are harmful (4/10/77). The holy waters cannot purify the soul just as a bottle of wine cannot become pure even if cleaned a hundred times (4/19/622-634). A crow cannot be the king of swans (4/40/437). The wonders of gems, hymns and medicines are incredible (4/4/438). One who insults the mother and spiritual master cannot escape insult (4/40/442). Little knowledge is very dangerous (5/7/226). It is difficult to please all (5/8/2-6). A true ruler is one who looks after the welfare of his people (5/11/79-80).

The concept of manifold existence is the subject of the text, still we come across 250 popular sayings in the entire text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā.718 The entire text is primarily written in Anuṣtūpa metre in which there are 32 letters in four lines. Each line comprises of 8 letters of which the 5th letter is compulsorily short and the sixth letter is compulsorily long. Besides this, in the first and third line, sixth, seventh and eighth letters are long and in the second and fourth line, seventh letter is short and the eighth letter is long.729 Wide variety of the figures of speech (Alaṅkāras ie. Embellishments) are spread in the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā, the most prominent being the Upamā Alaṅkāra (simile). As a poet, Siddhaṛṣi has been extremely successful. Besides the contents, the style and poetic qualities have caught the attention of poets. It is said, ““A poet should have six qualities viz. ability, expertise, knowledge of worldly ways, knowledge of different branches of study and knowledge of different works.’’7310 Like an Āgama Puruṣa, has limbs and sublimbs, a Kāvya Puruṣa (Poet) too takes care of the word and meaning which constitute the body of the work. The style serves as the limbs and joints, the allegories are the ornaments and the language which is pleasant (mādhurya), striking (ojāguṇa) and livid (prasādaguṇa) serves as the qualities of a Kāvya Puruṣa. All the above are not different causes but they combine together in the creation of poetry. The author has succeeded in combining all the above factors in the creation of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā. It is indeed a classic of Jaina Sanskrit Literature and has served as a model for succeeding writers, poets and philosophers.

The philosophy of poetry and poetics was first discussed by Aristotle. Mammaṭa writes in Kāvya Prakāsh about the purpose of poetry. He says glory, wealth, knowledge, spiritual welfare, peace, enlightenment and instruction should be the purpose of poetry.7411 Last but not the least Siddhaṛṣi created the text of Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā to implant the ideal of renunciation and instill knowledge of reality in his readers. His aim was not to impress the readers by ornate poetry but to realize and make realize the higher truths of life. Winternitz remarks, ““The climax of artistry is attained when a poet succeeds in making one and the same sentence or verse express two different ideas at one and the same time.’’7512 What to say of the text of Upamiti, which is entirely allegorical and progresses on two parallel lines-the biography of “The Worldly Soul’ in transmigration and spiritual significance of each birth.

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  1. Maurice Winternitz in History of Indian Literature, Vol. II Pg. 507. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. 1. Upamitaḥa Bhava Prapañco Yasyām Sā Upamita Bhava Prapañca. 2. Upamiti Kṛto Nāraka Tiryagnarāmaragati Catuṣka Rūpo Bhavaḥ Tasya.Prapañco Yasyām Kathāyām Sā Upamiti Bhava Prapañca Kathā. []
  7. Bengal Royal Asiatic Society Report. []
  8. Devendra Muni Śāstri in Introduction to Upamiti-Bhava-Prapañca-Kathā. []
  9. Kāvya Nikaṣ by Lokanath, Dvivedi Śīlakar. []
  10. Śaktirnipuṇatā LokaKāvya Śāstrācavekṣa.

    Kāvyādraṣikṣāyāmsarati Hetustadudbhāve. []

  11. Kāvyāṅ Yaṣaseyārthkṛte Vyavahārvideṣivetarkśataye,

    Sādhyaḥ Paranirvṛataye Kāntāsamittayā Padeṣyuje. []

  12. Maurice Winternitz is History of Indian Literature, Vol. II Pg.4. []