Article: Upāṅgas

The second of the main groups of Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures is the Upāṅgas – ‘auxiliary limbs’ in Sanskrit. ‘Auxiliary’ is understood by the tradition as meaning that this category complements the first group of scriptures that make up the Śvetāmbara canon, which are called the Aṅgas – ‘limbs’. Each Upāṅga corresponds to one Aṅga, to which it forms a kind of supplement. Indeed, there are cases where a given Upānga even incorporates passages from a specific Aṅga, underlining the close connection between the categories. There are 12 Upāṅgas, matching the 12 original Aṅgas.

Like their Aṅga counterparts, the Upāṅgas are written in forms of Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, demonstrating variations depending on the text. They also demonstrate the same variety of literary styles, using ‘canonical prose’, parables, dialogues, stories and reference techniques to pass on the holy teachings. The Upāngas contain a range of topics. Fundamental beliefs of the Jain faith are discussed, such as the soul, karma, the cycle of births and cosmology. They are predominantly written in prose.

Śvetāmbara Jains believe that their canon contains the teachings of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. These were originally passed on orally and began to be written down in the early centuries of the Common Era, with their final written form agreed in the fifth century. However, the other main Jain sect gives different texts canonical status. The Digambara Jains call their canon the Siddhānta.

Like their sister texts, the Upāṅgas have also been the subject of many commentaries. However, they do not demonstrate the range of styles, forms and languages found in Aṅga commentaries. Upāṅga commentaries appear to be written only in Sanskrit or vernacular languages, not in Prakrit. Nevertheless, commentary activities have helped to ensure that the Upāṅga scriptures have been passed down to present generations.

Number and status

The Upāṅgas total 12 but there is some confusion regarding texts number 5 and 7, which deal with related topics on astral bodies.

According to tradition, each Upānga is connected with a specific Aṅga, either because they have common themes or because they supplement each other. This connection, however, is far from obvious in all the pairings.

Twelve Upāṅgas of the Śvetāmbara canon


Name in Prakrit

Name in Sanskrit

Rough translation

Connection with Aṅgas




‘Places of rebirth’ – uvavāiya – according to one’s deeds, dealt with in the second part

1. Ācārānga-sūtra


Rāya-paseṇaijja or Rāyapaseṇiya


Questions of the king




Classification of animate and inanimate entities




Enunciation on topics of philosophy and ethics

5. Vyākhyā-prajñapti




Exposition on the sun




Exposition on the Jambū continent and the Jain universe




Exposition on the moon and the Jain universe


Nirayāvaliyāo or Kappiya


Series of stories on characters reborn in hells




Series of stories on characters reborn in the kalpa heavens




‘Flowers’ refers to one of the stories




Title based on the name of the nun Puṣpacūlā




Stories on characters from the legendary dynasty known as Andhaka-Vṛṣṇi

The Upāṅgas are regarded as both subordinate and secondary to the Aṅgas, which make up the primary category in the Śvetāmbara scriptures. However, by referring frequently to other works in these two groups, these texts rely on the reader’s familiarity with all of the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas to fully understand each one. The two sets of closely connected scriptures must therefore be considered as forming a larger network of writings.

Similarly, there are intertextual relations between certain Upāṅgas, which borrow passages from one another or include similar passages.

Teaching through dialogue and stories

Indrabhūti Gautama in a painting from a 15th-century Śvetāmbara manuscript. The chief disciple of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, Gautama is an important Jain figure and features in many scriptures and tales.

Indrabhūti Gautama
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The literary forms of the dialogue and question-and-answer format have important places in the Upāṅgas. Even though these literary approaches may be formalised, their frequent use immerses the reader directly in the issues being debated. They also highlight the significance of oral transmission in spreading the teachings of the Jinas.

The Upāṅgas present Mahāvīra as the main teacher. These texts show him replying to questions asked by his first disciple, Indrabhūti Gautama. Gautama’s curiosity has no boundaries and he always seems eager to know the whys behind what he sees. This format is used extensively in nearly all the Upāṅgas.

One of the best instances of an exchange with arguments and counter-arguments is the Rāja-praśnīya. The second part features a king and a Jain monk debating the topics of body and soul.

The Upāṅgas numbered 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 are predominantly narrative. Although the central part of Number 2 is a philosophical dialogue, it also has a narrative setting and is a conversion story. Mahāvīra gives explanations and details about previous and future rebirths of the characters in answer to questions from his disciple.

Contents of the Upāṅgas

The 12 Upāṅgas demonstrate a wide range of literary approaches to passing on the key Jain beliefs. Most of the texts use the framework of Mahāvīra’s universal gathering to open a discussion on the karmas that determine the types of bodies a soul inhabits and its experiences during the cycle of rebirth. The form tends to have the Jina’s main chief disciple, Indrabhūti Gautama, asking questions about attendees at the universal gathering. Then his master answers, describing their behaviour in past lives and predicting the course of future births. Mahāvīra may tell stories or parables or recount dialogues within this literary frame.

This device allows Mahāvīra to discuss more specific aspects of these Jain concepts, including ascetic behaviour and rebirth, and the relationship between body and soul. This issue is famously explored in the second part of the second Upāṅga, the Rāja-praśnīya. This tale features a dialogue between the King Pradeśi with the monk Keśi, who eventually persuades the king of the true doctrine. The main topics that Mahāvīra discusses are concerned with the cycle of rebirth and karma. The final Upāṅga features a different teaching Jina. Here it is the 22nd Jina, Ariṣṭanemi or Lord Nemi, who answers the questions of his main disciple Varadatta on rebirth and karma.

Another theme that features heavily in the Upāṅgas is the Jain universe, which is also closely connected to the transmigration of souls. Important works on astronomy and philosophy contain a high level of detail while the first text can be thought of as a source book of literary descriptions that are found elsewhere in the Śvetāmbara scriptures. Large parts of a key work in Jain philosophy, the fourth Upāṅga, PrajñāpanāEnunciation – are identical to passages in the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, one of the two chief scriptures of the Digambara canon.

Information on other subjects is also found in the Upāṅgas. Detailed descriptions of architectural features, dramatic performances, music and education form important passages in the works.

Upāṅga 1 – source-book of descriptions

This manuscript painting depicts the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and the 'universal gathering' – samavasaraṇa. This Sanskrit term means the event during which the omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings – human beings, animals and deities. It also describe

Mahāvīra and the universal gathering
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The first Upāṅga – known as Uvavāiya-sutta in Prakrit, Aupapātika-sūtra in Sanskrit – is divided into three sections.

The first is called ‘Samavasaraṇa’ and provides full details of everything connected with Mahāvīra’s universal gathering in the city of Campā, in eastern India. It is a source-book for standard patterns of description, which are often referenced in other parts of the Śvetāmbara scriptures. These descriptions are in canonical prose, characterised by long compound words and stereotyped formulas. Among the main topics of description are:

  • the city of Campā
  • the open sacred place – ceiya – its garden and main tree
  • the king and the queen
  • a report of Mahāvīra’s body from head to toe, describing all the auspicious physical marks of a Jina’s body – lakṣaṇas
  • the various categories of ascetics who assemble to attend the preaching, which leads to descriptions of related notions, such as ascetics’ special powers and a standard account of asceticism as both external and internal, the former concerned with fasting and other penances relating to food while internal penances are atonements, respectful attitude, service to others, study, meditation and rejection of the body in the kāyotsarga posture
  • the four main classes of gods – Bhavanavāsins, Vyantaras, Jyotiṣkas and Vaimānikas
  • King Kūṇika’s journey to the preaching place, including a list and sketch of the eight auspicious symbols.

The second section deals with the spontaneous birth of gods or hell-beings, technically known as upapāta. This is the title of this section. Mahāvīra deals at length with Indrabhūti Gautama‘s questions on matters relating to the modes and places of rebirths of various types of beings. These rebirths depend on how one behaved in the former existence. Among the types of people considered are those who observe vows, hermits in the forest and initiated ascetics. This exposition includes a review of categories of non-Jain ascetics – parivrājaka – and their scriptures. They are Brahmins who believe in the authority of Vedic scriptures. Then comes the story of Ambaḍa, one of these ascetics, and questions about his rebirth, as well as about the rebirth of other kinds of ascetics.

The very final section of the text deals with ‘explosive annihilation of karmas’ – samudghāta – which leads to the abode of final emancipationsiddhi.

Upāṅga 2 – relationship between body and soul

This manuscript painting depicts the gods' lives of enjoyment in the heavens. The costly furnishings, jewels and rich clothing of the beautiful gods underline the pleasures of the topmost of the three worlds of Jain cosmology.

Heavenly pleasures
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The general frame of the Rāya-paseṇaijjaor Rāyapaseṇiya in PrakritRāja-praśnīya in Sanskrit – is that of numerous stories. The second Upāṅga follows a character through his three rebirths.

The setting of the tale is, again, Mahāvīra’s universal gathering. A god named Suryābha arrives there, displaying his celestial powers and staging before him 32 types of dramas. He then returns to his abode for his coronation ceremony. Wondering about the cause of such powers, Indrabhūti Gautama asks Mahāvīra about their origin.

The Jina narrates the god’s previous existence, when he was King Pradeśi – also called Paesi or Prasenajit. The king has wrong views about the relationship between the body and the soul, which he expresses during talks with the monk Keśi, a chief disciple of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. Later on, Pradeśi becomes convinced by Keśi’s views, takes the vows of a Jain lay man, fasts unto death and is then reborn as the god Sūryābha.

In answer to Gautama’s next question about Sūryābha’s future destiny, Mahāvīra explains that he will be reborn as a son in a prosperous family living in the Mahā-videha. Because of his resolute faith in Jainism, he will have the name Dṛḍha-pratijña – ‘who is firm in his resolution’. He will have a perfect education but, instead of living the life of a wealthy youth, he will give up worldly life, become a monk, lead the life of a perfect ascetic, become omniscient and finally be emancipated.

In the first part of the Rāja-praśnīya there are lengthy descriptions of the celestial vehiclevimāna – Suryābha uses to descend from his heavenly abode to the earth. This vehicle resembles a town. Hence, this part of the work is important for all the architectural data it includes, as all the parts of this vimāna, from the gates to the temples, pillars and platforms are described precisely.

In this part, there is also technical information about dramatic performances and music, whereas the third part of the work provides information about the subjects taught in education.

Dialogue between Pradeśi and Keśi

The second part of the Rāja-praśnīya is the central one. It stages the dialogue of King Pradeśi with the monk Keśi on the relationship between the body and the soul. The king argues that body and soul are identical. He is presented ‘as a kind of naïve empiricist’ (Dundas 2002: 94), who puts forward cruel and extreme tests he has carried out personally to support his point. For instance,

my city guards brought me a thief, [his hands] tied behind his neck, and together with him witnesses, stolen goods and a garland. I had that man thrown alive into a metal vessel, had it covered with a metal lid, had it soldered together with [the same] metal and tin, and watched by men loyal to me. Then some time later I went where the metal vessel stood, had it opened, saw that man myself, but [there was] no fissure, opening, hole or crack whatsoever in that metal vessel, from where his soul from within had escaped outside. Now if, Venerable Sir, in this metal vessel there had been a fissure […], from where his soul from within had escaped outside, then I might believe, put my faith in, approve of [the teaching of the Jains] that the soul and the body are different

Bollée 2005: 113–114

Among Pradeśi’s other experiments several others involve thieves. Examples include:

  • a thief who weighs the same when alive and dead, showing that the soul has not left the body on death
  • the corpse of a dead thief that is cut into whatever number of pieces does not show anything other than bits of flesh.

On another occasion, the king takes the example of a young person and an old person. He asserts that the old person does not have the same capacities as the young one. According to him, this proves that the body is the only active factor in the process and that therefore body and soul are the same.

The monk Keśi replies to Pradeśi’s points using comparisons that show the body is only a vessel. Considering the thief’s constant weight, he reminds the king that there is no change in the weight of a leather bag before and after it has been inflated with air. In the case of the young and old, he uses that of a basket. Someone cannot carry a heavy load of iron in an old basket, but is able to do so with a new one.

The discussion goes on because the king considers the comparisons, clever though they are, are not factual. The situations he describes can be observed by one’s own eyes, which he believes makes them more valid.

Finally, the king is convinced by the comparison Keśi uses to argue that the soul contracts and expands to fit the body in which it is located. Keśi states that the soul of the smallest insect – a kunthu – and the largest animal – the elephant – are the same size. He compares the souls of these two very different physical beings with a lamp, which can brighten a small or large space depending on whether it is in a basket, a pot, a room and so on. The monk also explains that there are things that can be seen only by omniscient beings (Dundas 2002: 94).

Upāṅga 3 – understanding living and non-living

This painting from a manuscript depicts examples of plants and two-sensed beings. Throughout the cycle of birth, a soul takes birth in different types of body according to the karma that has stuck to it. Beings can be classed according to their senses.

Plants and two-sensed beings
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Employing the question-and-answer format, the third Upāṅga is divided into nine sections – pratipattis. The Jīvājīvābhigama deals with the animate and the inanimate, more with the former than with the latter. Living beings are considered from all possible angles, such as beings classified:

  • as going through the cycle of rebirths and those who are fully liberated
  • according to the number of senses they have, ranging from one to five
  • depending on their mode of rebirth – hell-beings, animals or plants, humans, gods
  • according to their capacities of cognition, self-control, salvation, activity, colours of their soulsleśyā – and other parameters.

Upāṅga 4 – encyclopaedia of Jain philosophy

The PrajñāpanāEnunciation – is ‘a master-piece of Jaina philosophy’ (Kapadia 1941: 139). The fourth Upāṅga goes with the fifth Aṅga, the Vyākhyā-prajñapti, which incorporates some parts of it. Cross-references in the two works are an additional sign of their connection. It also shares a lot of content with the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, one of the fundamental scriptures of the Digambara canon.

The fourth Upāṅga is organised into 36 sections called padas, defined by a heading term that is highly technical. This table mostly reproduces the translations given in Nagin J. Shah’s English introduction to Muni Puṇyavijaya’s 1972 edition of the Prajñāpanā.

Chapter number

Chapter contents


General description of Jambū-dvīpa, where the land of Bharata is located.


Time in Bharata:

For example in the third period of the descending cycle, those who maintain law and order are the patriarchs – kulakaras. The last of them, Nābhi, has a son Ṛṣabha, who becomes a Jina. His life is narrated in terms close to those in the Kalpa-sūtra. An important passage describes the collection of physical remains after the Jina’s death and the construction of a kind of memorial.


Description of the land of Bharata and the life story of King Bharata, the first universal monarchcakravartin. His progressive conquest of the world is narrated at length. The king acquires the 14 jewels – ratna – and the nine treasures – nidhi – that are typical of this status.


Descriptions of other parts of Jambū-dvīpa, such as:

  • mountain ranges
  • lakes
  • rivers
  • forests
  • Mount Meru and its three terraces.


How a newborn Tīrthaṃkara is honoured by deities, especially the goddesses of the directions – dik-kumārīs. The report of the groups of deities who come for the event is similar to the retinue of god Sūryābha as described in the second Upānga, the Rāja-praśnīya (Alsdorf 1947).


Statistical survey of the geographical details of Jambū-dvīpa.


Astronomical matters, such as details of:

  • suns
  • moons
  • divisions of time
  • constellations
  • names of planets.

Upāṅgas 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 – story scriptures

Upāṅgas numbering 8 to 12 form a group of connected texts, which are presented as five sections of a single work. They all deal with stories of rebirths, recounting tales of births in the hells – in number 8 – to the highest heavens – number 12.

Upāṅga 8 – Narakāvalikā

In this manuscript painting, hellish beings endure some of the tortures of the lower world, such as being attacked by animals or other hell-beings. Suffering is a big part of living in the lower world of the three worlds of the Jain universe. Souls who ha

Infernal tortures
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The eighth Upāṅga contains ten stories. According to the usual pattern in Jain story collections, only the first one is narrated in detail. The others are identical, except for changes in character names and minor details.

The setting is Magadha in eastern India, as the protagonists are the ten sons of King Śreṇika and their mothers. Characters who are part of the Śreṇika family, such as Kūṇika, Cellanā, Abhaya-kumāra, are also present. The prevalent atmosphere is one of death and tragedy because the story is that of an enormous battle, in which Śreṇika’s sons by different mothers are killed. They are fighting on the side of Kūṇika in his war against King Cetaka of Vaishali.

The 24th Jina Mahāvīra features in the stories as the teacher who explains the future destinies of the sons. All will be reborn in the fourth hell as a consequence of their aggressive behaviour – hence the title of the work, which means ‘Series of Hells’. They will then be born in the Mahā-videha area of the Jain universe and from there will reach emancipation.

The previous births of the characters form an important part of the text. Mahāvīra narrates them as explanations for the present situation.

Upāṅga 9 – Kalpāvataṃsikā

Pairs of gods enjoying lives of pleasure in the heavens are shown in this manuscript painting. The ornate furnishings and flowers, and the deities' jewels and rich clothing emphasise the luxury of living in the highest of the three worlds of Jain cosmolog

Pairs of gods in their heavenly palaces
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The ten stories in the ninth Upāṅga feature King Śreṇika’s grandsons.

After listening to Mahāvīra’s teaching, they all enter the monastic life. They are exemplary ascetics, following the rules and practising austerities. Mahāvīra predicts that, as a consequence, they will be reborn deities in ten out of the 12 lower heavens – the kalpas – hence the title of the work. Next they will be reborn in the Mahā-videha and reach emancipation.


‘Further Contributions to the History of Jain Cosmography and Mythology ’
Ludwig Alsdorf
Kleine Schriften
edited by Albrecht Wezler
Glasenapp Stiftung series; volume 10
Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1974

Full details

Jaina Studies: Their Present State and Future Tasks
Ludwig Alsdorf
translated by Bal Patil
edited by Willem Bollée
Hindi Granth Karyalay; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2006

Full details

‘Les lecteurs jaina śvetāmbara face à leur canon’
Nalini Balbir
Ecrire et transmettre en Inde classique
edited by Gérard Colas and Gerdi Gerschheimer
Études thématiques series; volume 23
École Française d’Extrême Orient; Paris; 2009

Full details

‘On the role and meaning of the Śvetāmbara canon in the history of Jainism’
Nalini Balbir
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Jaina Law
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 4
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2013 – forthcoming

Full details

‘Old texts, new images: Illustrating the Śvetāmbara Jain Āgamas today’
Nalini Balbir
In the Shadow of the Golden Age
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
University of Bonn Press; Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; 2012

Full details

The Story of King Paesi (Paesi-Kahāṇayaṃ) or Soul and Body in Ancient India: A Dialogue on Materialism in Ancient India
Willem B. Bollée
Hindi Granth Karyalay; Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2005

Full details

In Search of the Original Ardhamāgadhī
N. M. Kansara
translated by K. R. Chandra
Prākrt̥a Grantha Pariṣad series; volume 35
D. M. Prakrit Text Society; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 2001

Full details

‘The Intellectual Formation of a Jain Monk: A Śvetāmbara Monastic Curriculum’
John E. Cort
Journal of Indian Philosophy
volume 29

Full details

‘Nirayāvalīyasuyakkhandha: Uvanga’s 8-12 van de jaina canon’
Jozef Deleu
Orientalia Gandensis
volume 4

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘The Jaina Cult of Relic Stūpas’
Peter Flügel
volume 57: 3
E. J. Brill; 2010

Full details

The Jaina Path of Purification
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California USA; 1979

Full details

The Doctrine of the Jainas: Described after the Old Sources
Walther Schubring
translated by Wolfgang Bühlen
edited by Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 15
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details


Please consider the environment before printing