This week on Buzz by the Bay, our guest was renowned author and mythologist, Devdutt Pattanaik. His books have captivated readers worldwide, by decoding the intricate threads of Indian mythology and making it relevant to our modern lives. Though he is famous for his works on Hindu epics, in this interview we are going to discuss his new book on Jainism titled Bahubali. In the book, he gives us 63 insights into Jain wisdom. Though Jainism is an ancient faith, not much is known about it. Devdutta delves into the origins of Jainism and refutes the common belief that Jainism was merely a reaction to Hinduism. He says it rose independently in a different part of the sub continent.
Q: You have just released your book on Jainism called Bahubali and have done the illustrations as well. Do you illustrate all your books?
I like to illustrate my books because people like to read and sometimes need to have a break from reading. And sometimes you wan to explain ideas with pictures. From Childhood we had books like Bal Bharati and other textbooks, which had diagrams and I think I am addicted to that. I like a picture so I draw it.
Q. Jainism belongs to the Sanatan tradition, can you please explain what that means?
Nowadays, the word Sanatan Dharma has become very controversial. But the word Sanatan is used by Jains, Buddhists and Hindus – many people don’t realise this. This word Sanatan is used by people who believe in rebirth. Hindus will say ‘Ved sanatan hain’, that means vedic knowledge is eternal, Jains will say ‘Jina Vani’ or Jain Wisdom is eternal – it’s always there and it comes and goes. Wise people will come and share it with us and then it’s forgotten, and again a wise person will come and share it with us.
Q: Your book starts with the story of King Rishab, the first Tirthankar who rediscovered the ancient faith of Jainism, and his sons Bharat and Bahubali. Can you give us a gist of the story and why you chose this particular title for your book?
Jains believe this yug – Jina Vani or Jain Wisdom came first with a man called Rishabh. Rishabh had 100 sons of which 2 are very prominent. One is Bharat and Bharat becomes the first emperor of India, or Chakravarthy, hence India is called Bharat. Bahubali is Bharat’s brother. The two of them fight over land and property and at one point Bahubali says ‘this is not right, I don’t want to fight’. Bahubali choses non violence and becomes a Jain monk. When we say Bahubali we think of a Bollywood film called Bahubali, which is a very violent film. I decided to write the book Bahubali because people remember the violent Bollywood film, they don’t remember the non violent sage Bahubali who has been around for 2000 years. This is not healthy for our country.
Q: Rishab was the first Tirthankar? What does the word Tirthankar mean?
Tirthankar means a great teacher or sage or the supreme sage. It also has a metaphorical meaning of someone who takes you across to the other shore.. ‘duniya ke taam jham se nikalke’. Tirtha means ford. A Tirthankar is someone who takes you from the material world to the spiritual world.
Q: You mentioned the name ‘Bharat’ has its origins in Jainism. That is a contrarian view –many believe it has Puranic origins or from the Rig Veda?
Ans: If you are Hindu you will say it comes from a Hindu source, if you are Christian you’ll say it comes from a Christian source, if you’re Muslim you'll say it comes from an Islamic source. Everybody thinks ‘my daddy is strongest’. Everybody has this view that my truth is THE truth and mythology tells you that everybody has different truths. Listen to other people. If you want to have a good life don’t say your truth is the only truth. If a Jain belives that the name Bharat comes from the King Bharat – Chakravarthy – that’s his truth. In Vedas there is Bharat, in Puranas there is Bharat, in Ramayan there is Bharat. So which Bharat are we talking about? That’s what makes India great. We are a plural country, we have diverse ideas. When we respect other people’s truth we bring people together.
Q: There’s the concept of Jina that you explain in your book- someone who has conquered their own ego. Can you elaborate that?
Jains would use typical words, which suggest conqueror, but they refer to spiritual conquest. A jina is someone who conquers the mind. So they would say who is greater? One who conquers the world or one who conquers the mind. He who conquers the world is a Vir. He who conquers the mind is a Mahavir.
Q: In your book you say that Jainism developed independently and it didn’t emerge out of Hinduism. Why is it that Jainism is commonly considered to be a reaction to Hinduism?
Most of the writers who say Jainism is a reaction to Hinduism are Hindus. When Hindu writers write, they tend to privilege Hinduism over other things, and that’s okay so long as you start reading Jain authors and others. And now increasingly scholars are realising that the Vedic culture was restricted to the Gangetic plains. In the region we now call Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh. It did not go to Bihar. What we call Bihar today is where you suddenly have different ideas – Budhism, Jainism come from this Bihar region. Really this idea came with the British who used the Western model to understand India. They said in the old days the world was pagan, then Christianity comes, then within Christianity there was a split. There was the Catholic Church and a reaction called Protestants. They said India is also like that. Increasingly people now believe that Jainism had an independent origin. My book is trying to help people understand this newer knowledge.