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Flügel, Peter (2006) Sacred Places in the Jaina Tradition: The Case of Sammetaśikhara. In: 13th World Sanskrit Conference (Panel: Jaina Studies), 10.7.2006, Edinburgh. (Unpublished)

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Sammeta Śikhara is the most important Jaina pilgrimage site. Twenty of the twenty-four tīrthaṅkaras, most prominently Pārśva, are said to have attained nirvāṇa on the peaks of Pārasnāth Hill in Jharkhand which became a sacred mountain. The pre-history of this ancient pilgrimage site is uncertain. But ever since the control of the pilgrimage site passed officially into the hands of the Śvetāmbara Jains of Murshidabad in the 18th century, places of worship were continuously constructed and renovated on top of the hill, and the village of Madhuban at the bottom of the hill was developed into a major pilgrimage town, in character similar to Palitana in Gujarat. The paper analyses the history and religious significance of the site, and the ongoing court cases concerning its ownership and management waging for more than one hundred years between Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras, local Hindus, Naxalites, and the States of Bihar and Jharkhand. It focuses on the contested concept of sacred place or tīrtha in the Jaina tradition, and argues that sites that are intrinsically connected by Jains with exemplary religious acts, such as the kalyāṇaka kṣetras of the Jinas, need to be distinguished from sites of commemoration at arbitrarily chosen places. The differentiation of sites of empowerment and sites of commemoration in contemporary Jainism is reflected by two types of shrines and temples, and two types of representation of the Jinas: pādukās and pratimās. A third type of representation are the relics of the Jinas, jiṇa-sakahā, possession and veneration of which according to Rāyapaseṇaijja vv. 186f. is conducive to welfare (P. hiya, S. hita), happiness (P. suha, S. sukha), forgiveness (P. khamā, S. kṣamā), and even salvation (P. nisseyasa, S. niḥśreyasa), and according to Viyāhapannatti 10.5.a (502b) to the acquisition of magical powers (iḍḍhi). One of the arguments of the paper is that the Buddhist distinction, in the Kalingabodhi Jātaka, between relics (shrines) of commemoration (uddesika-cetiya), relics of use (paribhoga-cetiya), and corporeal relics (sarīrika-cetiya) is useful for understanding Jain categories and practice. The sacredness of Sammeta Śikhara, or specific parts, is predicated on its status as a relic of use. Current disputes address the doctrinal question whether the mountain as a whole is a sacred site or only specific parts. The jina-caritras assure us that the physical remains of the Jinas, corporeal relics, are beyond reach for human beings. The 12th century Pārśvanāthacaritra vv. 363-93, for instance, narrates the legendary cleaning of the relics of Pārśva by the gods in the remote Kṣīroda milk ocean, before their final entombment in several heavenly stūpas. In Jain sacred cosmography, temples, sacred mountains and heavenly stūpas form a continuum of progressive abstraction, generated by the stepwise removal of the purified body, the tangible source of physical empowerment. The focus of socio-religious orientation is carried beyond the visible world into the imaginary realm of relic stūpas in the heavenly vimāṇas of the gods, of the living tīrthaṅkaras in Mahāvideha, and the liberated souls in Siddhaloka. Pilgrimages to distant places such as mountain peaks, situated between heaven and earth, ideally re-enact this process of abstraction in an experience of distancing and transcending everyday concerns which re-focuses the attention of the true pilgrim away from externalities of the world towards the inner potential of the soul. Looking down from the remote peaks of mount Pārasnāth onto the surrounding plains, most pilgrims from both Jain denominations feel hardly affected by the perpetual legal disputes and scholastic debates in far away cities, but enjoy the totalizing experience of being at a distant sacred place with the potential of reinvigorating the individual and serving as a unifying focus for the Jain community as a whole.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Items (Paper)
Additional Information: This an abbreviated version of the PPP presented at the WSC in 2006 in conjunction with an extended handout. The full version of the paper is forthcoming in an edited volume named 'Jaina Sacred Places', edited by P. Flügel & O. Qvarnström (Routledge Advances in Jaina Stuies).
Keywords: Jaina, Śvetāmbara, Digambara, sacred places, totalising function of distant places, pilgrimage, Sammetaśikhara, law case, pādukā
SOAS Departments & Centres: School Research Centres > Centre of Jaina Studies
Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of Religions & Philosophies
Copyright Statement: The author
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2019 14:51
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council

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