‘Getting it Wrong(ish)’ as a Literary Genre

Not everything that we are reading and thinking about on this project relates wholly to literary characters. We are also thinking about issues of textual genre and cultural factors that might have stimulated certain sorts of story-telling activities. To that end, I recently read a very interesting paper by the well-known Indologist Phyllis Granoff.

Granoff, in her ‘Being in the Minority’ (in Jain Doctrine and Practice: Academic Perspectives, J.T. O’Connell ed. University of Toronto Centre for South Asian Studies, Toronto, 2000, pp.136-164) explores, very lucidly, narrative responses to the (medieval) Jain experience of being in a religious minority. She contrasts Jain attitudes to Buddhism and Hinduism in her sources. She shows that the Jains were perhaps more concerned with the appeal of Buddhism – as a ‘cognate’ tradition – than that of Hinduism. She sheds light, in particular, on the concept of chiṇḍikā, ‘temporary lapses’ as a literary trope in medieval Jain literature (she suggests that this sort of story is not found in earlier Jain sources). These texts deal with circumstances in which a Jain has to do something that conflicts with their religious principles. Granoff states:

The stories of the chiṇḍikās…speak to us directly of the fears that could surface in a minority community and they openly address the question of the pressures that might be brought to bear on a person to abandon his own community and join the majority. (p.163)

It is worth considering the idea of a conceptual and literary parallel between ‘temporary lapses’, ciṇḍikā, in Jain tradition and apad-dharma (which I have seen glossed as ’emergency religious principles’), in Hindu sources. This is a recurrent narrative theme in, for example, the Mahābhārata (ably examined by Adam Bowles in his Dharma, Disorder and the Political in Ancient India: The Apaddharmaparvan of the Mahābhārata, Leiden, Brill, 2007), which emerged, not perhaps when Hindus were in a minority, but in all likelihood in a period when the Brahminical religious establishment was subject to considerable competition from Jain and Buddhist traditions (in the years immediately before the commencement of the Common Era).

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