As one would expect, death, its existence, acceptance, pursuit, rejection, transcendence, and its various other aspects has been the subject of deep speculation by all the great Indian religions. It appears to me, however, that the Jainas, more than the others, have studied it in the most meticulous and awesome detail, particularly during the period extending from about the sixth century A.D., into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries A.D.. Besides the theory there was developed an elaborate typology of the various kinds of death sometimes as many as forty-eight in number; those which were to be rejected and those which were acceptable, those which were the most foolish and those which were the wisest, and how the wiser ones could be ritually accomplished for the highest spiritual benefit. All this was laid out fearlessly and unflinchingly.
Professor S. Settar's work is a remarkable study of this aspect of Jaina religious¬ thought, emphasizing the practice in its historical context, particularly in Karnataka, and drawing upon a great variety of sources to paint a picture at once vivid and authentic. Copious use, of course, is made of the canonical texts, but what they have to say is greatly enhanced by recourse to the relatively unexplored Kannada literature. Here the author has found vivid and profound insights and a penetrating immediacy that is not generally available elsewhere. A sense of dealing with real things and events is further enhanced by a careful reference to the historical records such as it is, particularly the epigraphs. The precious and concrete testimony of the monuments of art is also exploited skilfully so that we have in Professor Settars work a truly interdisciplinary study based on a mastery of each of the individual disciplines, providing a model worthy of emulation. There is on one side the theory of voluntary and ritual-death in the context of Jaina thought, why it is to be pursued for spiritual benefit, and the carefully prescribed paths set up for it by the texts. On the other hand, there are those who actually follow this difficult path and the constant compromises that have to be made with theoretical perfection and the exigencies imposed by this world. There is thus always a tension between the dictates of religion and ritual on the one hand and what is demanded by worldly obligations on the other. The strength of Professor Settar's work is that this is all very clearly brought out, giving us a comprehensive and well rounded picture of ritual-death in the Jaina community of Karnataka. The minute examination of inscriptions, the history and frequency of the use of the various words denoting death and other key terms and their meanings is symptomatic of the author's circumspect approach to his subject that avoids all superficial generalization. The frequent citations of actual deaths as engraved or sculpted in stone provide us with a most believable insight into an aspect of the life of the past. Among the most interesting is the propensity for Jaina ritual-death displayed by the chieftains of Hire Avali, ‘a family that loved death' and resorted to it as heroically as 'other warriors of the' time were taking to the battlefield’.
Writing on religious and philosophical ideas in language other than that of the culture in which these ideas were originally expressed presents many difficulties for the new language and its terms carry associations and preconceptions that the original terms did not posses. Even at best, translated words carry vibrations of meaning that constantly impede a true understanding of what was originally said and meant. This is a basic problem of scholarship that has been coming into increasing .prominence and has been here obviated to a great extent by a frequent use of the original terms and their careful explanation. The painstaking emphasis on detail both by Professor Settar and the texts and documents he studies also helps in the presentation of Jain¬a ideas of death and its practice in a scholarly work of great objectivity, sympathy, clarity and eloquence.
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