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jaina folksongs and legends in Karnataka

Updated on December 1, 2011
A folk style painting showing group dance
A folk style painting showing group dance | Source
 a folk art
a folk art | Source

craddle songs and work songs

Jain folksongs and legends of Karnataka

Folk literature is the unpolished expression of grossroot minds. Culture, beliefs, feelings are expressed there in an innocent manner. It is more so in case of relegious matters. That's why folk songs, stories, proverbs, legends need to be analysed from this point of view also.

Karnataka is a state with more than five crores of population in south India. Here jains count to the numerical strength of about four lakhs. This land is covered with varied geographical features like sea coast, forests, hilly areas, and vast dry plains. Jains are scattered in all these areas.

This state of karnataka has rich treasure of folk songs, legends, stories etc. Collection of these oral literary materials started by the end of 19th century itself. But for a long time, folklore schlors in karnataka believed that jains have no folk literature of their own - This opinion created a curiosity in the present researcher and he took deep interest in that and 35 years ago, at the young age of just 20 he started searching for folk songs/legends/stories related. Jains and fortunately could collect the large quantum material and also produced a Ph.D. thesis on the subject.

Native jains in karnataka belong to Digambar sect and have produced very interesting folk songs. There are many legends related to jaina places and personalities. Present paper tries to present a cross-section of it. It is difficult to express the literary beauty of those songs as it is highly difficult to translate those verses from colloquial Kannada language into English. But however, some useful glimpses could be obtained.

Jain folksongs

Jains in Karnataka have compared folksongs of all varieties i.e,- household work songs, craddle songs, worship songs, long narrative songs, etc.

Some examples of each type could now be perqued in detail.

1. Craddle songs.

While swinging the child in craddle to make him sleep, songs are sung by the mother. A jaina shravaki then sings like this-

"Swing, Swing, Swing me mummy there

where the Adijina is there | "

(Toogu Toogammayya, Toogamma Adijinariddallige.)

- In these lines mother wants her child to be swung to that point where the first thirthankara lives. Obviously, it is ‘Siddhashila' - the apex of the universe, where the souls stay after getting ‘mukti' or solvation. Thus, the craving for solvation is induced in the very infant stage itself.

In another craddle song, the birth of Neminath, 22nd thirthankara is described. There it is said -

‘ Say jo jo to jinaraja

Say jo jo to the Lord of All worlds,

Say jo jo to master in solvation, jo jo '

( jo jo e nneri jo jinaraya

jo jo enneri Tribhuvanna swami,

jo jo enneri mukti ullo deya - jo jo )

Thus starting, the song proceeds explaining that the jina came to this earth assertaining the moment of lack of poverty, making all musical instruments and weapons sound automatically, etc. All these descriptions corroborrate with the mythological narrations. They indicate how powerful the jina is.

2. Work songs

Songs sung while doing one work or the other are called - work songs. These are of various types like - household works, agricultural works etc.

While skimmimg the curds into buttermilk and taking out butter one shravaki sings a song recollecting siddha Bhagawan. She sings like this -

‘ Recollecting siddha I dipped the skimming rod

And by his grace\came up

the fresh butter in the butter milk | '

4. On children

A childless woman prays jaina yakshis, to bless her with children:

‘ Akka padmavathi, Tangi saraswathi

makkala tayi jwalini| kushumandyamma

makkala phalava kodi namage' | '

_ It means, ‘oh goddes padmavathi, saraswathi, jwalamalini, kooshmandini - mothers of children, give us the boon of children'.

Here, saraswati is the speech of thirthankara - according to Jains. According to Hindus she is the goddess of knowledge. Other three goddesses are the yakshis worshipped in jaina tradition. Especially kooshmandini or Ambika yakshi is dipicted as carrying a child on her lap. Hence here the shravaki (jain housewife) prays these goddesses to bless her with a child.

A mother describes the devotion of her son towards Jina and says he, naughtier than all other children, climbed up the champak tree, plucked flowers and made a boquet of flowers for jina.

Ella makkalingintha pundugara namakanda

kenda sampigeya mara yeri | Hoovane koidu

chendu kattidanu jinarige ||

5. Songs ralated to worships

Performing of poojas and special worships (Nompis) are there in jaina folksongs of Karnataka. They beautifully describe the temple atmosphere and the devotional songs sung there. One song says that even the parrots sitting on the coconut tree at the temple also sing the songs in praise of Lord Parawanatha -

Basadi bagila munde hasiru tengina gida

kusulada yaradu ginigolu | padidave

parama pareesana padagola ||

In another song, the ‘Ananthana Vratha' performed at the temple, its glory - are described. It is said that, at the Harige ( a village) temple milky abhisheka is performed throughtout night, and father of the family has undertaken a new worship there:

Harige bastheeli halantha abhisheka

Ananthara nompi | Belathanka

Allaithappaige hosanompi ||

Here, when the singer describes it as ‘pouring of the milk, ‘througout night' - the milkywhite appearence of the god's statue, and large group of devotees watching the pooja, appear before our inner eyes.

6. Songs about places of piligrimage

Karnataka is one of the firm bases of jainism. There are many places of piligrimage for jains in this state. Most important of them is - Shravanabelagola, where the world renowned 57 feet large monolithie idol of Lord Gomateshwara is present. Many folksongs have been collected in karnataka which express the devotion of jains to this place and their desire to visit this place and have a darshan of Bhagawan Bahubali (Gomateshwara). Some of these are long narrative songs which tell about the starting of piligrimage, their pledging to observe certain limitations till they see the statue of god, calling other villagers to join them, their reaching shravanabelagola and conducting Big Abhisheka ceremony to the lord etc,.

In the beginning of one such song the family head announces his desire to go to shravanabelagola and asks the willing people to join him.

" O people, Belagola is 61 Haradari ( a unit of 3 miles = 4.8 kms) away. Are you coming?' Then his wife asks - "what is the use of going to god, leaving at home wife and children?"

Then the head asks them - " can you, with chldren, walk such a distance? Can you with hold temptations? Can you keep yourselve physically and mentally pure? Are you ready to observe all limitations?" Home people agree. Then he preaches the vrathas to them. They are forbidden from consuming milk, fruits & sweets till they see the lord's statue. They accept all those limitations cheerfully and the whole caravan starts. Then the song further describes the reaching of the troup at the place, their happiness and that they got the wooden logs and tying ropes from different places and getting the high platform constructed, and doing the Mahamasthakabhisheka (The great ‘head bath') and its glory.

Another song of the same theme describes that the piligrims marched on elephants, horses etc with neibhourhood friends with all precautions that no quarrel should take place among them till the journey is over.

In the beginning of one of these songs, the leader of the troup tells the village news announcer like this -

‘O , thou, news declarer with the

pearl in the ring, who beat the drum standing

on the other side of the river, tell all those

willing to see Belagola, to join (us)".

- Actual verse is as follows -

" Guttee holeyache nittu dangura saro

mutteenungulada talawara | Belagulava

nodabekendavara Barahelo || "

-The very style powerfully expresses the respect which the rich leader gives to even an ordinary village servant.

There are other spare songs which express the wish of jain folks to visit shravanabelagola. Two sisters express their wish like this -

‘O, we should go to Belagola, purchase & wear

new bangles and saree, and have the darshan

of great Bahubali'.

Another folksong tells that -

‘walking road is best for three miles;

streets are fine at Belagaum;But

Belagola is best in the whole state

and Bahubali statue on the hill there, is very fine'.

In another folkverse, the beauty and environment of Gomateshwara statue is described in a superb manner.

‘To the jina of Belagola

Head bath is then when it rains;

Thunder and lightnings are the taala in his hands

And the shining stars are punja at his feet | '

Similarly, there are folkverses on other jaina piligrimage places like - Humcha (Shimoga District), Sthavanidhi etc. Humcha is the place where yakshi padmavathi is settled. This deity has large number of devotees both in south India & North India. There are folksongs which express the feelings and beliefs of these devotees towards this yakshi. There are stick - play songs on this goddess in which devotees invite this goddess to come & play with them, she plays with them and at the end, honours them also. One folksong says -

"O mother padmavathi, where are you

I have brought the silver chained son

given by you, to fulfill the

promise made by me towards you."

Such songs are there on Sthavanidhi Brahma yaksha also.

7. Deeksha song

Another long narrative song which could be descrbed as - ‘the special contribution of Karnatak jains to Indian folklore' is - the deeksha song. The ceremoney conducted when a person receives sainthood giving up the family links is called ‘Deeksha'. In this song, the firm decision of a youth to receive deeksha and his parents' effort to keep him in the family - are very well sketched.

When the Son says he will renounce the family and will go as a monk, parents try to dissuade him recalling the laxury he has and explaining what they will do for him. Same verses in the song go like this -

‘ you have house with upstairs and treasure ful of gold

we shall divide it between you & your brother | my Son -

Don't go for meditation'.

To this, he answers -

‘Let the upstaired house and treasureful of gold

Be given to elder brother | O my mother,

I am going to have deeksha |'

They push forword another temptation-

‘Choose any spinster who pleases your eyes

We shall arrange the marraige | O, my Son

Don't go for meditation|'

Son replies thus -

" Than getting into bondge with others children

and Quarreling for share with cousins|

O, mother, it is better to go for meditation."

Then the parents describe the difficult vows to be followed by a jain saint and tells not to go for that -

‘When the hairs on face and head

are pulled and removed by hand

The wombthat delivered you burns! O, Sun

Don't go for Deeksha'||

‘Food to be taken only once a day and

Sleeping on one side throughout night | O Son

It can't be sustained by you.

Don't go for deeksha'.

- for all such points the determined youth gives the short but firm replay - " all those are to be tolerated." He goes to get the sainthood.

The song ends with the sisters of this youth reporting their mother - the process of deeksha ceremoney of their brother, his removing of jewels, wearing saffron cloth, rich people bowing to his feet etc. The whole song is heart touching. It also tells the rules to be observed by a jaina monk.

Many such folksongs are prevailing among jains in Karnataka. Eventhough they are now becoming forgotten materials, the collected material is enough to show the talent and imagination of jaina folk composers, their devotion etc.


Legends are the narrations created and perpetuated by folk about a person or place. These narrations may be in the form of a story or simply a statement. But a legend is always believed to be true. It is ‘believed history' though actually it may or may not be so.

Many such legends are prevailing among jains in karnataka. These are related to jaina places of piligrimage, temples, great kings and saints etc. Some of these legends have some history in them. Some others are rooted in mythology. Some appear to be purely purported. But all these express the devotion, faith and life philosophy of jains who believe they are true. Some of these are inscribed in epics also.

Some such legends can now be examined.

I Legends related to places

There are many legends related to jaina places of piligrimage like - Humcha (Hombuja), shravanabelagola etc. These legends mainly tell about - the establishment of that place as the seat of the god/goddess, erection of a temple/statue which later became most revered, or an incident which lead to a change in that place, etc.

1) Legends related to Humcha (Hombuja)

Hombuja is an important place in karnataka. It is a small town in Shimoga district with less than 10,000 population. But 12 centuries ago it was the capital of a jaina kingdom ruled by Shanthara dynasty. Now this small town is full of sculptures, temples and epigraphs.

But even now jains visit this village like place to offer their devotions to the main deity ‘Padmavathi' whose temple in the centre of this town. There are stories about the establishment of this kingdom, ruin of this capital, the big pond here and the particular tree(vitex nirgundi) present just behind the padmavathi temple, about the padmavathi statue present in the temple etc.

Legend on the establishment of the kingdom narrates the story that founder king of this capital - Jinadatta, unfortunately fell into the fury of his own father Sakara maharaja who had deviated from the jaina religious path and had become a cannibal. His father ordered his assasination. Then he left his father's capital North Madhura and rode to south along with the idol of his home goddess-padmavathi. His father's army chased him but it could not catch him because of the grace of goddess padmavathi. When he came to the present place, he was very much tired and wanted to take some rest. He tied the idol to the vitex tree and slept. Then in his dream the goddess appeared and said that she would stay there alone and suggested him to establish a kingdom there which she would protect. She also said that the water in the well by the side of that vitex tree has alchemic effect and would turn iron into gold. It exactly happened so and jinadatta established the capital, became the king & ruled for a long time.

The legendery story further takes some more turns and narrates some more fantastic incidents. But the main message of the legend is that - goddess padmavathi is much graceful, she protects one who believes in her and her power is still protecting the devotees who visit Humcha.

There is another interesting legend related to this jinadatta's story itself. It is about a big and beautiful pond at Humcha. It is called - ‘Pearl Pond' (muttinakere). Legend says that, after so many years of happy ruling by Jinadatta, goddess created two pearls in this pond to test his mind. One pearl was pure and another had some stain. Someone found these pearls and honestly surrendered them to king. King jinadatta got prepared two nose rings using these pearls. He presented the jewel with the

pure pearl to his queen and the stained one to the goddess.

Here lies most symbolic expression of change in the human behaviour. Actually jinadatta had to present the best one to the goddess and the other one to the queen. But time causes change in human mind and he preferred his queen to the goddess who was all responsible for his upcoming.

Indentifying this, goddess decides to leave the place. She appears in the dream of the king, intimates her decision and says her statue will go down to the well (Which had water with alchemic effect) and another statue which will be available at hillack behind the temple should be established in the temple. The king cries; then she assures that she would continue to protect people who come and pray her there. That promise is being kept by the goddess even after 1200 years.

2) Legends related to Shravanabelagola

There are many legends related to this place. These tell about the carving of the gigantic statue of Lord Bahubali Gomateshwara, goddess Kooshmandini Devi, etc,.

One legend about Gomateshwara statue narrates what circumstances lead the Chamundaraya to take up this challenging task of getting the statue carved. It goes like this -

His mother, kalaladevi heard the story of Bharatha & Bahubali(two brothers) and latter's going for meditation and attaining solvation(Moksha). She also heard from her Guru that Bharatha, erected a statue of this Bahubali, his younger brother at his capital Paudanapura( a part of present Mumbai). She pledged that she would not take food till she gets the ‘darshan' of that statue.

On knowing this, Chamundaraya, who was the chief minister and commander in chief of Ganga rulers, started on piligrimage with mother to Pandavapura. On the way, they halted on a small hillack at present Shravana Belagola site. In his dream goddess(yakshi) kooshmandini appeared and informed that it is not possible to see the statue at Paudanapura, and he can get such an idol there itself on the top of the big hill situated just opposite to the small hill they were resting. She suggested him to shoot an arrow to that hill and the rock to which it hits, could be carved into a statue.

Ashtonishingly, his mother & Guru also had the same dream, the same night.

Accordingly the next morning, Chamundaraya shot up an arrow at the big hill infront. It touched the tall huge rock at the top. Then, with the help of tallented sculptures he got that beautiful image carved out.

This legend expresses the belief that the sacred intentions are fulfilled with the support of gods.

There is another legend related to this Gomateshwara statue. It says that Rama & Lakshmana during their forest life came to this area. Then Rama drew the sketch of this statue on this rock and worshipped it. When they started moving, then Hanumantha put another rock across this sketch to protect it from destructors. It is the same rock hit by Chamundaraya with an arrow, & later found this figure there.

Another version of this legend is also there. According to that Ravana, the anti-hero in Ramayana, on seeing the Bahubali statue erected by Bharata at Paudanapura tried to lift it to Sri Lanka. He could not move it. Then he heard a voice from the sky. It told him not to continue that effort as it will be impossible. He followed the advice and went on. When he came to this place which was a thick forest, he saw this huge rock atop the hill. He was attracted by its great size, stood there, and with his sword he drew the sketch of the Bahubali statue (of Paudanapura) which had firmly impressed him..

Later, the same drawing was worshipped by Rama & Lakshmana. And much later, Chamundaraya got the statue carved out of that drawing.

These legends express two idealogies nurtured by indians:

1. Great ideas geminate in great minds only.

2. If something good is done today, it fruits definitely - no matter how much late, it will be.

Such legends also express the well known psychology of human mind - a person or community tries to create older history to things which it revers most. And in this process, it creates its connection with great personalities.

II Legends related to persons(Legends on people)

Out of many recorded legends of this catagory, two could be quoted here.

1) Story of Gulakayajji

This is related to goddess Padmavathi(according to some other versions - it is Kooshmandini). It tells about trimming down the igo of Chamundaraya by this goddess.

It is said that, after carving the Bahubali statue, Chamundaraya arranged for its first head bath or Mahamasthakabhisheka. When it was going on in a grand manner, he felt very proud on himself and thought ‘ what a great work is done by me !' Suddenly the flow of the liquid(milk etc,) stopped at the knee of the statue. Everybody was stunned. Chamundaraya fell into worries. Then Padmavathi yakshi appeared in the disguise of an old woman. She had a hallow brinjal in her hand. It was filled with some milk and curds. She said she would like to pour it on the head of the Lord. Everybody laughed at her & ignored. She was presented before the minister Chamundaraya & he in a negligent mood, permitted. The old woman was taken a top the gallery and she poured the liquid contents in the brinjal cup on the head of the statue.

And behold, then occured the magic. All the milk, ghee, curds etc poured earlier, which had accumulated at the knee of the statue, suddenly flowed down the feet of the statue, flowed down the slope of the hill and collected as a beautiful pond in between the two hills. Chamundaraya's igo vanished. He erected the image of the goddess in that form infront of Lord Gomateshwara.

This legend has a beautiful message. Our work, how much great it may be, should not develop igo in us. If it develops, all further developments will stop. One tree is taller than the other and even the tallest tree cannot reach the heaven.

2) Legend on saint Maghanandi

Acharya Maghanandi was a digambar saint who lived many centuries ago. Though he was young, he was a great scholar. There is a legend about him. It states that one potter, on seeing devotees presenting their beloved things to saints, innocently left his grown up daughter with this saint. She, being equally innocent, thought that she would serve the saint and when he was sleeping, started pressing his legs to relieve him from the strain. The saint woke up, knew the reason for her presence there and her action (both are forbidden) and fell in temptation with her. He becomes a house holder by marrying her and starts earning as a potter. They get a son. Father taught him all branches knowledge including enchanting, magic and multiplication of things(bahuroopini vidya).

Then one day the chief saint, in whose group Maghanandi stayed earlier, came again by their way. He listened the verses Maghanandi was singing. Realising he hasn't lost his knowledge, eventhough he lost his character, the chief saint came to him and preached.

Then Maghanandi renounced his family life, again became saint and went back to his group. His son Shalivahana, later became the famous king in India.

This legend points out to so many aspects of human psychology. It tells that even hard meditating saint may fall a victim to temptations. Secondly, it points out that, there can be a rise even after a deep fall. Thirdly, it signals that blind devotion or working with ignorance is of no use.

Thus different legends related to jains reveal details of history, human psychology, and faiths of jains. Folk songs prevailing among jains are beautifully composed, express the life experiences and philosophy believed and followed by jains generally in India and perticularly in Karnataka.



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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      basadiya katti mund madyaak makkalyak,

      nandi kolyaak navilyak

      nandi ni kolyaak navilyak nan trishala

      aki nandeshwar lopi(nopi) mugishyal

    • profile image

      A.Sri Vijayan 

      9 years ago

      It is very nice and interesting to read.

      Good work done by Prasad Jain

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Dear Sir,

      Superb article you have written. Thanks for the same.

      -Mahavir Sanglikar

    • profile image

      Lalitha H.G 

      11 years ago

      This ia a new topic for us. Jaina folklore has not yet been much studied.

    • profile image

      Chandraprabhu S.N 

      11 years ago

      As a student of folklore, I hadn't known these things.Thanks Mr.Prasadjain


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