Brahmanism Through the Looking Glass: Religion and Genre in Jaina Purāṇas

26.05.2023 15:15 - 17:00

Seema K. Chauhan | Assistant Professor of Asian Religions, Trinity College Dublin

From the fifth century of the Common Era, Jainas began to write Sanskrit narratives called purāṇas. These Jaina purāṇas contort storylines from Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa and Vyāsa’s Mahābhārata, and more shockingly, they distort philosophical discourses from śāstra. Perhaps the Jaina purāṇas are rarely studied because they invert the world of Brahmanism, for why should we study a warped representation of the Brahmanical world when we can access its original presentation from Brahmanical texts themselves? However, it is precisely because Jaina purāṇas construct an alternative world that they should be studied. Jaina purāṇas challenge constructions of religious identity and genre that were produced by Brahmins in the first millennium and that are reproduced in the study of South Asia today.

In this talk, I will lead the audience through the Looking Glass represented by Jaina purāṇas, to introduce the world of Brahmanism that Jaina stories construct. I will focus on one particular text, Raviṣena’s Padmacarita, a seventh-century Jaina tale about Rāma and Sītā, and the first Jaina purāṇa to be composed in Sanskrit. In the Padmacarita, Raviṣena narrates a story about the origin of Brahmanism wherein he examines the relation between Kumārila’s philosophical treatises (śāstra), Vedic scriptures (śruti), and Brahmanical narratives (smṛti). I will bring to light these hithertofore unnoticed intertexts. More importantly, I will demonstrate the ways in which Raviṣeṇa reads śāstra, śruti, and smṛti—which Mīmāṃsakas treated as distinct—as a single Brahmanical corpus defined by contradictions and inconsistencies. I will conclude with the claim that Raviṣeṇa’s seventh-century purāṇa triggered a new genre template that would see Jainas using narratives to debate Brahmins before they turned to śāstra as the primary medium for this debate.

Seema K. Chauhan is the Assistant Professor of Asian Religions at Trinity College Dublin. She completed her PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School (2021) before taking up the Asoke Kumar Sarkar Early Career Fellowship in Classical Indology at the University of Oxford (2021-22). Her interests lie in premodern Hinduism and Jainism through Sanskrit and Prakrit sources.

To join online: 

Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde
Seminarraum 1 des ISTB, sowie Online