The Lives of the Jain Elders

The Lives of the Jain Elders

The Lives of the Jain Elders

The Lives of the Jain Elders


The Lives of the Jain Elders is the standard synthesis of source material for the early history of Jainism by the great twelfth-century Jain scholar-monk, Hemacandra, also a key figure in the wider context of Sanskrit literature. Abounding in memorable characters, and providing a rich compendium of Indian folk-tale, The Lives of the Jain Elders offers fascinating insight into the social life of medieval India. This new translation makes the complete work available for the first time in a European language and is complemented by a full introduction illuminating Jain belief and history.


The literature of the Jains, written for the most part in ancient Indian languages, is full of interest, yet relatively little of it has been translated into English or even modern Indian languages. The Lives of the Jain Elders is an epic poem in Sanskrit, the classical language of India, written by the Jain scholar-monk Hemacandra (1089-1172). It is lively reading, being full of racy folk-tales which provide a fascinating insight into the social life of medieval India. This introduction is intended to do no more than provide sufficient information to enable the non-specialist reader to enjoy Hemacandra's poem. Those who wish to deepen their knowledge of Jainism should turn to the specialist books and articles listed in the Bibliography.

Jainism already had a history of some 1,500 years when Hemacan dra wrote The Lives of the Jain Elders, and today it remains a living religion, actively responding to challenges of a new millenium. Jainism is not a monolithic religion; it has developed in response to changing social conditions, and within it there are several sects or traditions who share the central beliefs of Jainism but have differing views about religious practice. The main division is between the White Clad (Śvetāmbaras), whose ascetics wear white robes, and the Sky Clad (Digambaras), whose fully initiated monks go naked. Hemacandra belonged to the White Clad tradition, and he does not concern himself with the practices of the other traditions in The Lives of the Jain Elders. Consequently, the reader should be aware that the beliefs and practices described in the text, notes, and introduction are not necessarily normative for the whole of Jainism.

The life and works of Hemacandra

Hemacandra is one of the key figures in the cultural tradition of the White Clad Jains. So striking was his personality and so pervasive was his influence that very soon after his death he became a figure of legend, endowed with supernatural powers. There are several accounts of his life, but, with their stress on the marvellous, they are hagiographical; hence it is not possible to reconstruct Hemacandra's life story in a way that would satisfy the criteria of scholarly . . .

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