‘Bhavavali’ (ಭವಾವಳಿ) is an important concept in Jaina theology and it is used as a creative device to achieve various goals in Kannada literary works composed by Jaina poets. The description of the previous births of Thirthankaras in achronological order is called Bhavavali. In Jaina Philosophy it is believed that the Jeevatma, while attaining Jnana, ascends from lower birth to higher birth and finally attains Jnana-siddhi, which leads to the birth of a Thirthankara. Against the characteristics of Sarga and Prathi Sarga, at the beginning of Maha Puranas Bhavavali adorns the first part of Jaina Puranas. Hence, Bhavavali is the prologue of the main story of a Thirthankara, the hero of Jaina Purana. The word ‘Bava’ means birth and the other Sanskrit word ‘AvaLi’ means ‘group’. Bhavavali is a series of incarnations undergone by Jaina Theerthankaras in order to achieve final salvation. This is essentially a journey of a specific soul to liberate itself by undergoing many ordeals. The terms ‘Doora Bhavya’ and “Aasanna Bhavya’ denote the souls that are far away from salvation and nearing salvation respectively. The traditional texts of Jainism such as ‘Maha Purana’ and Purva Purana’ give a detailed description of the previous lives of all the Teerthanakaras. This is a process of purification which consists of getting rid of sins and earning positives by repentance. These details also are pre ordained and follow a particular course.

Pampa the first major poet of Kannada who composed “Adipurana’ an epic depicting the life of Vrushabhanatha the first Teerthankara started a tradition followed by his successors such as Ponna, Ranna, Nagachandra, Janna and others. He used the magic Wand of poetry to convert every single birth of Vrushabhanatha into short but powerfully lyrical passages. Incarnations such as those of Lalithanga-Svayamprabha and Shrimathi-Vajrajangha are used to accentuate the oneness of soul mates and the yearning of human beings for transient pleasures. Bhavavalis of the protagonist are depicted in ‘Shanthipurana’ of Ponna, ‘Ajithanathapurana Thilaka’ of Ranna, ‘Mallinatha Purana’ of Nagachandra and Ananthanatha Purana’ of Janna. Some times they are prolonged as in Ponna’s work.

Janna puts a similar concept to a different use in his celebrated work ‘Yashodhara Charite’. Actually it is not fair to call the incarnations of Yashodhara and his mother Chandramathi as various animals as a retributions for the sin of ‘Sankalpa Himse’ (Violence in intention though not in deed) because Yashodhara is a not a Theerthankara. But the situation here is much more heartrending because this pair of mother and son retains the consciousness of their original birth during the reincarnations and consequently their agony is multiplied.

One can find parallels to the concept of Bhavavali in the ‘Doctrine of Karma’ propounded by the Hindu religion. Veerashaiva poets such as Harihara and Chamarasa do speak of the previous births of their protagonists while tracing their origin to Kailasa the abode of Lord Shiva.

Actually this could be a symbolic representation of the travails and transformations undergone by human beings in a single life.

However, ‘Bhavavali’ in the context of Kannada Culture has an exclusively Jaina flavour and it has given birth to some exquisitely beautiful incidents in ancient Kannada literature.


Home / Literature