The seventeenth-century ascetic Anandghan is one of the outstanding poets of Jain vernacular literature. His transcendental songs have been popular for over three centuries and remain part of the Jain devotional canon even today.
Anandghan’s songs-which even inspired Mahatma Gandhi-are not restricted Jain themes alone but illuminate how religious differences are superficial in comparison with the inner experience of the self. The poet’s use of striking and fresh imagery vividly conjures the world of seventeenth-century India even as he persuades listeners to grasp the transcendental dimensions of their lives within the everyday struggles of material existence. This rigorous new translation mirrors the raw immediacy of Anandghan’s songs and highlights their universal appeal.
Dr. Imre Bangha is Lecturer in Hindi at the University of Oxford and Head of the Alexander Cosma De Koros Centre for Oriental Studies at Sapientia-the Hungarian University of Translvania, Romania. He studies Indology in Budapest and holds a PhD in Hindi from Visva-Bharati. His publications include English, Hindi and Hungarian books and articles on Barjbhasa and other forms of early Hindi, with special focus on the poetic works of early Hindi, with special focus on the poetic works of Anandghan, Thakur, Visnudas, Tulsidas, Bajid as well as on Rekhta literature.
R.C.C.Fynes was educated at the University of Leeds and the Queen’s College, Oxford. His previous publications include English translations of the Sanskrit text of Hemacandra’s The Lives of the Jain Elders and Jinaratna’s The Emitome of Queen Lilavati. .
He is currently a Principal University in the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities, De Montfort University, Leicester.
An important development in Jain studies over the past several decades has been for the scholars to see the myriad ways in which Jains have participated in all aspects of South Asian religion and culture for more than two millennia. That participation has often been marked by a distinctly Jain content style, and so one needs to be versed in the rich and distinctively Jain world of cosmology, soteriology, metaphysics, ritual, literature and social forms to gain a fuller understanding of the Jain expressions of the shared Indic religious culture. At the same time, however, Jains have not been in a bounded and sealed cultural ghetto. Jains have actively engaged with all manner of non-Jains, and culture is impoverished to the extent that it ignores the Jains. The work of Imre Bangha and Richard Fynes on the seventeenth-century poet and hymnist Anandghan-an important figure who has hitherto received scant attention in European-language scholarship-shows that this observation applies as well to the study of north Indian vernacular religious literature of the past half-millennium.
This literature is generally situated within a framework broadly characterized as bhakti or devotion. Bhakti as a mode of religiosity emerged gradually in South Asia more than two thousand years ago. I have shown elsewhere that the Jains have been significant participants in the practice of bhakti since its earliest developments. Jains have sung and recited of their relationship to God-which in their case in the Jina-in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsa, Persian, Tamil, Kannada and the medieval and modern forms of the regional languages in every part of India where they have lived. There are, I would estimate, more manuscripts of devotional texts than of any other genre among the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts preserved by the Jains in their famous libraries. Among the vernacular languages in which Jains have composed devotional texts are Braj, Hindi and Gujartati-the same that inform the distinctive language of Anandghan , which might simple and most accurately be termed bhasa or boli, the spoken tongue. Anandghan presents us with something of a mystery. We have his poems, a selection of which has been wonderfully brought over into English in this volume. But beyond that we know little about him. There is nothing available that is historically reliable enough to term a biography. Even when we turn to hagiography and oral tradition we are left in the end with only a glimmer of this Jain monk who seems to have just turned away, out a our sight, down a distant, solitary road.
Part of the problem of placing him is that he doesn’t fit well into our models of late-medieval Svetambar Murtipujak Jain mendicancy. Most monks at this time were domesticated yatis, who observed the mendicant vows in only partical form, asn served as residential priests in each local Murtipujak community in western and northen India. There was only a handful of monks who maintained the five vows and other mendicant rules to the fulles, and so were known as samvegi sadhus, or seeker monks. The leader of this group during the time Anandghan lived Satyavijaygani (1624-1700), about whom also we know little, and the intellectual inspiration of the group was Mahopadhyay Yasovijay (1626-88), one of the greatest intellectuals in South Asian history. But Anandghan doesn’t fit easily into either camp. A reading of his poems might suggest that he represented a third mode of mendicant conduct, one that was anti-institutional-but without being completely a Jain equivalent of antinomian-centering on freelance asceticism, meditation, and in his case, of course, on composition margins of Jain society, but due to the very nature of their lives and practices they have left little historical evidence. These spiritual outriders were viewed with suspicion by the orthoprac samvegi sadhus, who have emphasized the necessity of travelling in groups, in being open to the more numerous Jain laity, and who have therefore in their own ways led lives of highly institutionalized asceticism and renunciation.
We can better understand Anandghan if we place him within several other frameworks about which we know more. Anandghan’s poems give copious evidence of his familiarity with the broader universe of vernacular religious poetry of his time. Bhngha and Fynes note that Anandghan’s poems in some cases have been attributed to non-Jain poet such as Kabir, and no doubt if one searched the entirely of the ocean of late medieval poems in the vernaculars of north India one would fine that a number of poems, lines and phrases are shared by Anandghan with many other poets. This was not a time when the concepts of ‘intellectual property rights’ or ‘plagiarism’ were operational. His poems-especially in the Bahattan. The collection from which Bahgha and Fynes have made most of their selection-share the emphasis on direct ecperience of an inner reality with many of the poems of nigun bhakti. Others-especially many of those in his other major collection, the Caubisi-share much wuth the vernacular poetry that lovingly describes the tangible and visible nature of the divine, and which modern scholars have characterized as sagun bhakti. Neither of these genres is distinctly and solely ‘Hindu’; both are shared by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, as well as others who defy any neat religious identity. Given the overlap-one is tempted even to define it as a deep intertexuality-between the poems of Anandghan and many many other poets, it is probably safe to assume that he spent as much time in the company of an array of religious seekers and poets time in the company of an array of religious seekers and poets from multiple religious and social background as he did in more orthodox and institutional Jain settings.
Anandghan doubtless was not the only Murtipujak monk to particular in these inter-denominational circles. But here we find another way in which Anandghan poses us a historical puzzle. In the Digambar tradition of north India there is a rich, highly populated community of vernacular poets who wrote in ways that give evidence of extensive social and literary interaction with their non-Jain contemporaries. The best-known of these is the layman Banarsidas (1586-1643), who was born in a Murtipujak family but drifted out of the Murtipujak fold, and spent much more time in several circles of largely Digambar poets, intellectuals and spiritual seekers. While Banarsidas was not the first one to write Digambar bhakti poetry in Braj, he is looked upon as the most significant person in the early development of this literary tradition. In the subsequent two-and-a-half centuries there were several hundred Digambar vernacular poets in this lineage, almost all of them laymen. The verses of poets such as Dyanatray, Bhudardas, Daulatram, Bhagcandra and Budhjan, who lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, are still sung by many Digambar Jains today, and contemporary north Indian Digambar composition of bhajans and pads, devotional songs, takes place in the shadow of their influence. We have here a well-defined, extensive tradition that lasted for several centuries.
When we turn to the Murtipujak communities of the past several centuries and look for the successors of Anandghan, we find a very different situation. The extant literature about Anandghan has references to neither and initiating guru nor a lineage of poet-monks whose works shaped his literary activities. Nor do we know of any successors to him, either in a direct guru-disciple relationship, or in terms of literary influence. He seemingly emerges from nowhere and leaves no trace other tat his own poems.
However, a publication project starting in the nineteenth century- the early years of the extensive publication of Svetambar texts, a project that has thrived for over a century largely independent of any external Indological, colonial or global influences-indicates one perception of a larger universe of Jain vernacular authors in which Anandghan belonged. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century a Murtipujak layman in Bombay named Bhimsingh Manak Sha published several collections of Jain texts in Sanskrit, Prakrit and some vernaculars. Among these was a series of four large collections called Prakaran Ratnakar. He published these, according to the title page of the first volume, for a singular purpose: the increase of knowledge, a laudable and meritorious Jain field in which to strew one’s wealth in donation. He published the first to volume in the series in Bombay in 1876, and republished it in 1903. This volume included the text of Anandghan’s Caubisi along with the prose explanatory gloss by Jnansar. The other texts the Bhimsingh Manak She chose to include in that thick volume of 576 pages indicate not a lineage, but rather a virtual community of like-minded Jain poets within which the editor, and presumably many others, perceived Anandghan to belong. These include seven Gujarati texts by Yasovijay, two by Devcandra, two Sanskrit hymns to Cintamani Parsvanath, one of which was by a layman names Maluccand Vircand, and Banarsidas’s famous Braj version of the Samayasara of Kundakunda, the foundational philosopher of Digambar spiritualism or mysticism. The texts themselves represent a range of genres, not all of which aligh clearly with Anandghan’s spiritual focus. Those of Yasovijay, for examples, include an analysis of the contemporary status of Murtipujak society, a study of a Yoga text by the seventh-eighth-century Haribhadra, evocations of liberation and equanimity, and a refutation of his Digambar contemporaries.
The Svetambar ascetic Anandghan, who was also known as Labhanand, is one of the most popular Jain vernacular poets. Amongst the Jains of Gujarat and Rajasthan, he is respected not only as a poet but also as great yogi-for centuries miraculous stories have been current about his yogic powers. Together with the merchant-poet Banarsidas, the reformist leader Satyavijay and the philosopher Yasovijay he was one of the people who most markedly shaped seventeenth-century Jainism in north India, and his oeuvre still remains an active force.
His poetry is highly praised by scholars, his hymns to the fordmakers are sung in Jain communities even outside India, and his songs are popular amongst a diverse array of devotees. Moreover, his songs are not restricted to Jain themes; with their powerful imagery they awaken in any listener a desire to search for the transcendental. Their universal appeal inspired Mahatma Gandhi to include one of Anandghan’s poems in his prayer book, the Asram Bhajanavali.
The poetry translated here, therefore, is not simply an exposition of Jainism; it also has a more universal message. Although Anandghan’s Jain identity cannot be questioned, he is bu one means sectarian, Just as during his life as a wandering ascetic by no means sectarian. Just as during his life as a wandering ascetic Anandghan communicated with people who were not necessarily Jain, similarly today one does not need to confine oneself to a Jain point of view to be able to appreciate these poems fully. Although he often refers to Jain concepts, Anandghan is never intent on establishing the supremacy of Jain tenets over those of another religion. He declares again and again that these differences are but superficial in comparison with the inner experience on the path towards the Absolute. In manuscript collections, his songs were often entitled adhyatma pad or ‘transcendental songs’. Anandghan does not indulge in speculations on the mature of the transcendent: his aim is rather to provide the stimulus to undertake a journey towards it. His poems are replete with strikingly fresh imagery with the intention of awakening his audience to the realization that they have a task to fulfil in the world and that they should not forget about the transcendental dimensions of their lives amidst the everyday struggle of material existence. As he advocates this higher consciousness, the world that surrounds him springs into life in the metaphors of his songs. The world of his poems is populated with merchants, ascetics, watchmen, bombardiers, showmen, guru, disciples, women with wounded pride, and above all, with the most popular erotic and transcendental theme of his time, that of women longing for their absent lover.
As is the case with most early modern poets of India, the life of Anandghan is enshrouded in legends and there are only a few facts that are definitely known about him.
Present-day readers often find that information about the life and times of poet helps to heighten their appreciation of his or her poetry. However, in early-modern India it was not the factual details of the lives of poets and saints that their audience was interested in and this subsequently transmitted to later generations. As a consequence there is a lack of biographical data that can be the cause of frustration for the modern researcher. Yet there exists an ample body of traditional material about the lives of poets and saints from which references to their actual lives can be extracted; however, this material is more useful in providing an understanding of how the poets were manifestations of their advanced spiritual achievements and also attest the popularity of tantric practices in Rajasthan. Although Jainism did not produce a full-scale alternative tantric path to liberation, certain aspects of tantra, such as the use of magic spells, mantras and magical designs, yantras that cure diseases, provide material wealth or defeat enemies, had been absorbed into Jainism by Ananadghan’s time? The legends concerning Anandghan and his contemporaries-collected in the first half of the twentieth century and presumably dating back to the nineteenth century or earliest-were described in detail by Buddhisagarsuri, Anandghan’s first modern biographer. These stories present the poet as a great yogi who participated in the social life of his times and who attained siddhis, miraculous yogic powers, often associated with stereotypical miracles that are ascribed also to other saints. It is his asceticism that earned him the epithet yoguraj, ‘king of the yogis’. On the other hand, there are a few passages that show him in a less favourable light-as one who is a formidable miracle-worker but whose transcendental knowledge is defective. These legends, whether showing Anandghan in a favourable or unfavourable light, are all in agreement to the fact that he had extraordinary yogic powers. This is all the more interesting because the stories about Anandghan’s miraculous powers often provide a very different picture from the one that is presented in his poetry. In fact, only a few of his poems can be associated even somewhat remotely with the popular legends about him: for instance, the ones featuring a woman with wounded pride and the story of the conciliation of a queen with the king.
Most stories present Anandghan in a favourable light. There are, however, legends which do not show him as a person to be followed or admired. For example, in the account of his defeat in a philosophical contest at the hands of Pranlal he is presented in an adverse sectarian light. The tantric fight at the end of this story is a stock expression of a struggle for sectarian dominance.
This legends is mentioned in the Bitak a sectarian biography of Pranlal composed by Laldas in 1694. The same information is found in another work, the Nijanand Caitamrt, apparently a prose reworking of the Bitak.
The poet today is known by two names. His sectarian name, which he received after initiation, was Labhanand. In his poetry, however, he used Anandghan as a poetic signature, the name by which he has been widely known. The compound word ‘anand-ghan’ means ‘could of bliss’, that is, ‘source of bliss’ or ‘extensive bliss’. A remarkable aspect of the name is that it lacks any sectarian connotation and people bearing it are known to have belonged to different sects and even to different religious. Although it is a rare name, several people named Anandghan were involved in literary activity.
The confusion surroundings the name of the Jain Anandghan is further complicated by the fact that a Jain commentator on his works, Jnansar, followed by the Bengali scholar Ksitimohan Sen, attempted to conflate the figure of the Nimbarki Anandghan with that of the Jain Anandghan. However, the research of Vishvanath Prasad Mishra has clearly demonstrated that the two poets were not indentical.
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