Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra

by Helen M. Johnson | 1931 | 742,503 words

This page describes Dispute over meaning of aja which is the ninth part of chapter II of the English translation of the Jain Ramayana, contained within the “Trishashti Shalaka Purusha Caritra”: a massive Jain narrative relgious text composed by Hemacandra in the 12th century. This Jain Ramayana contains the biographies of Rama, Lakshmana, Ravana, Naminatha, Harishena-cakravartin and Jaya-cakravartin: all included in the list of 63 illustrious beings or worthy persons.

Part 9: Dispute over meaning of aja

One day I went there and saw Parvata commenting on the Ṛgveda to intelligent pupils. He explained the phrase, ‘Sacrifice must be made with aja(s),’ as meaning with ‘meṣa(s).’[1] I said to him, ‘Brother, what are you saying by mistake? Aja is so-called because three-year old rice does not reproduce. Why have you forgotten that it was so explained by our guru?’

Then Parvataka said, ‘The father did not say that. Moreover, aja(s) were said to be meṣa(s) and are called the same in the lexicons.’

I said: ‘The determination of the meaning of words is primary and secondary. In this case the guru taught the secondary. The guru is a teacher of dharma alone; and sacred knowledge consists of dharma alone. Do not commit a sin by falsifying both, friend.’

Parvata replied scornfully: ‘The guru said aja(s) meant ‘meṣa(s).’ Do you acquire dharma by transgression of the meaning of words taught by the guru? False and arrogant speech on the part of men should not exist from fear of punishment. Let us make a wager of cutting out the tongue on the confirmation of our own opinion. King Vasu, the fellow-student of us both, can be the authority.’ I agreed to that, for there is no fear on the part of those speaking the truth. Secretly Parvata’s mother, though occupied with household matters, said to him: ‘I heard your father say, “Aja means three-year old rice.” That you made a wager to cut out your tongue from arrogance was improper. People acting without reflection are the home of calamities.’

Parvata said, ‘Just as I did such a thing, so I do not know the reason for doing it, mother.’

Wounded in the heart by grief over Parvata’s calamity, she went to King Vasu. What is not done for the sake of a son? Vasu said, ‘Now I see Kṣīrakadamba, mother, when I see you. What can I do for you or what can I give you?’ She said, ‘Give me the boon of a son, king. For without a son what is the use to me of other money and grain, son?’

Vasu said: ‘Mother, Parvata must be protected and honored by me. For it is said in the sacred texts, “One must treat the son of the guru like the guru.” Whose (name-) leaf has been turned up by angry Fate unseasonably? Who wishes to kill my brother? Tell me, mother. Why are you grieved?’

She told the story about the interpretation of aja and her son’s wager and, saying ‘You have been made the authority,’ she asks, ‘Say that aja means “meṣa” and protect your brother. For the great confer benefits just by existing, how much more by speech.’

King Vasu said: ‘How can I lie, mother? For truthful persons do not lie even when in danger of life. Not even any other lie can be told by the one fearing evil, to say nothing of misrepresenting the guru’s wordá and bearing false witness.’

‘Choose between your guru’s son and adherence to your vow of truth,’ she said angrily, and the king consented to her speech. Then Kṣīrakadamba’s wife went away, delighted, and Parvata and I went to King Vasu’s assembly. The councilors, endowed with the quality of impartiality, met in the council, haṃsas for (separating) the milk and water of the truth and falsehood of the disputants. The head of the council, Vasu, adorned his lion-throne on the base of the atmospheric crystal like the moon adorning the sky. Then Parvataka and I explained our respective opinions about the interpretation to the king, saying, ‘Tell the truth.’ The Brāhman-elders said: ‘The decision depends on you. You are their authority, an eye-witness, like the sun of the heaven and earth. The magic instruments,[2] the pitcher, et cetera, act from truth, the cloud rains from truth, the gods have power from truth. This world has been founded on truth by you yourself, O king. Why do we speak to you on this subject? Speak in accordance with your vow of truthfulness.’

After hearing their speech, Vasu cast aside his reputation for truthfulness and testified, ‘The guru explained aja as meṣa.’ Angered by that lie, the gods split the crystal base then and there. King Vasu fell to the ground at once, as if announcing in advance his fall into hell. Then King Vasu, destroyed by the gods who were angered by that falsehood, went to a terrible hell. Vasu’s sons, Pṛthuvasa, Citravasu, Vāsava, Śakra, Vibhāvasu, Viśvā-vasu, and the seventh, Śūra, and the eighth, Mahāśūra, seated at their father’s feet, were killed by the gods at that time from anger. The ninth son, Suvasu, fled to Nāgapura and Vasu’s tenth son, Bṛhaddhvaja went to Mathurā.

Much ridiculed by the citizens, Parvata was banished from the city and was received by the Asura Mahākāla.”

Footnotes and references:


It is difficult to see why Hem. uses the word mesa here, which means ‘ram’ and only ‘ram.’ Aja can mean either ‘goat’ or ‘ram.’ But it usually means ‘goat’ and certainly in the Brāhmanic sacrifices, it was a goat, chāga, and not a sheep. See Mīmāṃsādarśana with Śabara’s bhāṣya, 6. 8. 10.


When a king had to be chosen from among the people, because there was none by succession, when a suitable person was found, the elephant trumpeted, the horse neighed, the pitcher sprinkled him, the chauri fanned him, and the umbrella stood over him. Cf. Penzer’s Ocean of story, V, I75ff. and the Kathākośa, p. 4.

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