Stories of Faith

Stories have been central to the survival and dissemination of the faith. There have been not hundreds nor thousands but hundreds of thousands of stories in the Jain faith. Some scholars have said that the Jains were the master story-tellers of India. The stories were used to explain values and ideals, and often covered complex aspects of the faith which were otherwise difficult to grasp. For a long time, the tradition was oral and it would not be surprising to find the average Jain mother to know hundreds of stories through memory.

As there is no major distinction between the sacred and the normal, stories were seen as expressions of the heritage rather than divine revelations or statements. Perhaps the most important stories are the life stories of the Tirthankaras – but as such there are no stories which are more special than others. Some are enacted through theatre and drama, accompanied by music and poetry and have become more popular as a result. However, stories abound everywhere and some are expressed through songs and poetry as well.

The subjects of stories have been equally vast – from stories of angels and gods, to animal stories, family stories and stories of miracles and the triumph of truth over falsehood. Often there is a deep analysis of the complex web of living beings in the Universe and the drama of their interdependence and entanglements. The stories are synonymous with core values and beliefs and have played a critical role in the survival of such a minority faith during periods of persecution and curtailment. They have been expressed and written in many languages in different parts of India. In many cases, the artistic depth and poetry behind the stories has been legendary. Sometimes, there are artistic illustrations of stories in ancient texts and manuscripts.

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