Article: Reference Aṅgas

The primary set of Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures, the Aṅgas – ‘limbs’ in Sanskrit – can be grouped into two classes.

The six Aṅgas numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10 can be bracketed together. Although some of them use narrative techniques, they can be considered to be more or less reference works. They set out rules for mendicants and present a detailed compilation of topics fundamental to Jainism, such as cosmology and ethics. The principles of Jain doctrine are stressed, often contrasted with rival beliefs, while there is also information on the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, and his opponent Makkhali Gosāla that is not found elsewhere.

The other five Aṅgas can be described as the ‘story Aṅgas’ because their predominant literary form is the narrative. By tracing the eventful lives of characters through the cycle of births, the stories offer numerous examples of the workings of crucial Jain concepts, such as karma and the soul.

Chiefly in prose, the Aṅgas also contain ‘ascetic poetry’, which is verse on subjects connected with Jain mendicants. One of the best-known examples is the sixth chapter of the second Aṅga, the Sūtrakṛtānga, which honours Mahāvīra. The Sūtrakṛtānga also contains one of the most celebrated of Mahāvīra’s parables.

Number and titles

A gallery of the Agam Mandir in Pune, Maharashtra, displays plates inscribed with the 45 holy writings or Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak sect. Temples devoted to scriptures, Agam Mandirs were invented in the 1940s

Gallery of an Agam Mandir
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Śvetāmbara Jains believe the Aṅgas are the teachings of the 24th Jina. In the Jain tradition there were originally 12 Aṅgas, but one book has always been considered lost very soon after the time of Mahāvīra. This text, the Dṛṣṭi-vāda, was therefore never written down along with the other Aṅgas by the Jains who became the Śvetāmbara sect. The other main Jain sect, the Digambaras, does not hold these 11 Aṅgas to be canonical.

The titles of the Aṅgas can be understood in various ways. This table gives rough equivalents.

Eleven Aṅgas of the Śvetāmbara canon


Prakrit title

Sanskrit title

Translated meanings




‘On monastic conduct’




‘On heretical systems and views’
Prakrit sūya is an equivalent of the Sanskrit sūci – ‘[wrong] views’




‘On different points [of the teaching]’




‘On “rising numerical groups”’ (Kapadia 1941: 126)


Viyāha-pannatti or Bhagavaī

Vyākhyā-prajñapti or Bhagavatī

‘Exposition of explanations’ or ‘the holy one’




‘Parables and religious stories’




‘Ten chapters on the Jain lay follower’




‘Ten chapters on those who put an end to rebirth in this very life’




‘Ten chapters on those who were reborn in the uppermost heavens




‘Questions and explanations’




‘Bad or good results of deeds performed’

Aṅga 1 – non-violence, monastic conduct and Mahāvīra’s career

The first Aṅga is called the Ācārānga-sūtra. It deals with many aspects of monastic conduct and emphasises non-violence as the ultimate ideal and asceticism as the highest value. It presents the Jain mendicant as a sage living in seclusion and absolute self-control rather than as a member of an organised community.

Aṅga Number 1 contains two sections. The first is probably one of the oldest parts of the Jain holy writings. The second section is very likely to be younger and may have been added later. Each of the section is divided into several parts.

First section of the Ācārānga-sūtra

The first section of the Ācārānga-sūtra has the title of BambhacerāiṃPure Life. Because of its antiquity, the German scholar Walther Schubring dubbed it the ‘senior’ work. The seventh of its nine chapters was lost centuries ago.

The text mixes poetry and prose, with the final chapter describing Mahāvīra’s wandering as an ascetic a particularly well-known example of ascetic poetry.

Details of the first section of the Ācārānga-sūtra

Chapter number




Knowledge of the Weapon

This is a plea in favour of non-violence. Separate parts deal with the different types of bodies in Jain cosmology. This chapter is often regarded as the oldest of all, on the basis of its archaic language and phrasing.


Spiritual Conquest

Spiritual conquest of the world implies knowledge of the world, rejection of pleasures and control of behaviour.


Hot and Cold

These qualities are used as symbols of extremes. Faced with these, the wise ascetic should not depart from equanimity. Similarly, he should not be affected by passions.



Correct understanding of the world and faith in correct principles is a prerequisite for correct behaviour. These are the ‘three gems’.


Essence of the World

Desire and its cause should be uprooted. Watchfulness is the condition for true freedom. Detachment and solitude are the main values, and ‘the greatest temptation in this world are women’ (Jacobi’s translation p. 48). Contemplation of the Self and the inner purity of the soul are discussed.


Process of Cleaning

Knowing which are the causes of rebirth, one should try to cast them off to become totally free and purified.


Lost long ago



Discusses the concept of liberation


The ascetic Mahāvīra

Righteousness as practised by Mahāvīra during his wandering ascetic life. The exemplary life of the 24th Jina can be seen as an illustration of all the preceding chapters. This is a well-known example of ascetic poetry.

Second section of the Ācārānga-sūtra

The second section of the Ācārānga-sūtra has linguistic and content features pointing to a later date than the first. There are also hints that it was originally a supplementary work. It is divided into sixteen chapters.

Details of the second section of the Ācārānga-sūtra

Chapter number




Search for Alms

Rules and precautions regarding alms


Search for Lodging

Rules and precautions regarding conditions for proper monastic lodging or stays



Precautions in walking and other movements


Modes of Speech

Precautions in the use of language and speech


Search for Monastic Clothes

Rules and precautions regarding clothes


Search for Monastic Bowl

Rules and precautions regarding alms-bowls


Regulation of Possessions

Rules regarding permission, especially for accepting a place of stay, and the notion of proper limits

8 to 14

These sections are considered as forming a set of seven lectures, covering the topics of:

  • religious postures
  • rules regarding the place of study
  • rules for relieving oneself
  • the attitude to hearing things, such as musical instruments that imply mundane festivals
  • attitude in seeing things, which imply temptations to take part in mundane pastimes
  • interactions with fellow mendicants and house holders
  • reciprocal action
  • places and temptations to be avoided, such as music and colour.


The Reinforcing Practices

A large part of this section on Mahāvīra’s life is close or identical to the corresponding section of the Kalpa-sūtra. It serves as an introduction to the innovation of Mahāvīra’s teaching, namely the five great vowsmahā-vratas. These are then detailed along with the practices meant to reinforce them – the bhāvanās.



Pursuit of liberation explained through similes.

Aṅga 2 – right and wrong paths

This detail of an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript painting shows a Śvetāmbara monk teaching. As the highest-ranking monk, the teacher is the largest figure and sits on a dais. The junior mendicants gesture in homage while a bookstand is between them

Monastic teacher and pupils
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the main characteristics of Aṅga Number 2 is the emphasis on the principles of Jain doctrine – the true doctrine. It contrasts them with the beliefs of other schools, whose followers are ‘fools’. Thus the Sūtrakṛtānga gives insights into the sects and schools that were rivals to the Jains. A number of comparisons and examples are used to impart the teaching.

There are 23 chapters in the Sūtrakṛtānga. The first section is made up of a mix of prose and verse chapters. The sixth chapter is a famous passage of poetry on mendicants and their lives. All in prose, the second section boasts a very well-known parable.

First section of the Sūtrakṛtānga

The first section of the second Aṅga has 16 chapters, in a mixture of prose and verse. One of the most famous examples of ascetic poetry is the sixth chapter, which pays homage to the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra.

Second section of the Sūtraktānga

The second section of the Sūtraktānga is entirely in prose. The first chapter of seven holds one of the best-known examples of Mahāvīra’s parables.

Contents of the Sthānānga and the Samavāyānga

This manuscript painting in a Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna shows the 14 magical jewels – ratna – of a 'universal ruler' – cakravartin. He uses these to conquer his enemies and become a universal monarch. The first panel depicts the cakravartin and a servant

14 magical jewels
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The two scriptures can be viewed as reference books of Jain terms and concepts in the form of headings and enumerations. They are not encyclopaedias since they do not expand upon the meaning of each term. The Sthānānga and the Samavāyānga merely list concepts that are organised into categories based on numbers. Taken at face value, some statements are therefore quite challenging. 

The terms and concepts of the works cover all possible areas of Jainism:

  • metaphysics
  • epistemology
  • cosmology
  • ethics
  • mythology – namely data relating to the categories of Jain Universal History, Jinas, Cakravartins, Baladevas, Vāsudevas and Prativāsudevas.
  • aspects of language theory are also treated, not just those related to the Jain faith.

The same concept is often dealt with more than once. This is because, depending on the angle of analysis, it can be considered differently with different kinds of subdivisions. For instance, the total number of the colours of the soulleśyā – is six. But they are not found at the same time in the same living being. Thus it also occurs in the section discussing concepts grouped in threes, in connection with the number of colours applicable to various types of living beings.

In some ways, therefore, the Sthānānga and the Samavāyānga cover all areas of knowledge.

These two Aṅgas are thus highly technical. They address readers who are familiar with the doctrine because they suppose a lot of background knowledge. For the specialists, they function as highly developed mnemonic tools. Even so, the way the concepts are ordered within each numerical section is not crystal clear.

They are mostly written in prose, but verses are occasionally used in some topics. These could be quotations from external sources.

Aṅga 5 – ‘the Venerable One’

The fifth Aṅga is often referred to by the laudatory epithet Bhagavaī – ‘Venerable’. This name is probably more widely known than its formal title of Viyāhapannatti or Vyākhyāprajñapti.

Structure of the Bhagavaī Aṅga

This bulky book is divided into 41 sections known as śatakas. These are themselves subdivided into subsections called uddeśas, except for section 15, which has no subdivision. In many cases these subdivisions have further divisions. Since the beginning of Jain studies, the structure of this work has been discussed. With variations, it is now more or less agreed that there is a nucleus. This corresponds to sections 1 to 20, except for section 15. Later stages of accretions have been identified (Weber, Deleu, Ohira, Dixit), mainly on the basis of formal criteria.


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Diwakar Acharya
International Journal of Jain Studies
edited by Peter Flügel
volume 3: 6
Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS; London, UK; 2007

Full details

Studien zum Sūyagaḍa – die Jainas und die anderen Weltanschauungen vor der Zeitenwende: Textteile, Nijjutti, Übersetzung und Anmerkungen
Willem B. Bollée
Schriftenreihe des Südasien-Institut der Universität Heidelberg series; volume 24 and 31
Franz Steiner Verlag; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1977 and 1988

Full details

Viyāhapannatti (Bhagavaī): The Fifth Anga of the Jaina Canon
Jozef Deleu
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 1
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1996

Full details

Early Jainism
K. K. Dixit
L. D. series; volume 64
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1978

Full details

‘The Sthānāngasūtra: An Encyclopaedic Text of the Śvetāmbara Canon’
Kornelius Krümpelmann
International Journal of Jaina Studies (Online)
edited by Peter Flügel
volume 2: 2
Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS; 2006

Full details

Ācārāṅga-sūtra: Erster Śrutaskandha
Walther Schubring
Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes series; volume 12: 4
F. A. Brockhaus; Leipzig, Saxony, Germany; 1910

Full details

Mahāvīra’s Words
Walther Schubring
translated and edited by Willem Bollée and Jayandra Soni
L. D. series; volume 139
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 2004

Full details


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