Jain Agam Literature -By Pravin K Shah

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Jain Literature

Jain literature is classified into two major categories:

  • Agam Literature
    This consists of original scriptures complied by Gandharas and Srut-kevalis. They are written in the Prakrit language.
  • Non-agam Literature
    This consists of commentary and explanation of Agam literature and independent works, complied by elder monks, nuns, and scholars. They are written in many languages such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, Old Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannad, Tamil, German, and English.
Agam literature is also divided into two groups:
  • Ang-agams or Ang-pravista-agams
    These texts contain the direct preaching of Lord Mahavir. They were complied by Ganadharas.
  • Ang-bahya-agams (outside of Ang-agams)
    These texts are expansions of Ang-agams. They were complied by Srut-kevalis.

Agam Literature:

Lord Mahavir's preaching was methodically compiled by his followers into many texts. These texts are collectively known as Agams, the sacred books of the Jain religion. Hence, the Jain religion does not have one sacred book like the Bible or Koran, but it has many books complied by many followers.


Lord Mahavir's immediate disciples were known as Ganadharas. All Ganadharas possessed perfect knowledge (keval-jnan). They orally complied the direct preaching of Lord Mahavir into twelve main texts (sutras). These texts are known as Ang-agams. Hence the Ang-agams are the oldest religious scriptures and the back bone of Jain literature.

The twelfth Ang-agam is called Drastivad. The Drastivad consists of fourteen Purva texts, also known as Purvas or Purva-agams. Among Ang-agams, Purvas were the oldest sacred texts. All Jain sects believe that knowledge of the Purvas (Drastivad) were gradually lost starting two hundred years after Lord Mahavir's nirvan (death). However, the subject matter of the Purvas has been referenced by other Jain scriptures and literature.

The Digambar Jain sect also believes that the remaining eleven Ang-agams were gradually lost. All Swetambar Jains believe that the proper meaning and the original intent of the eleven Ang-agams survived and were properly documented by elder monks one thousand years after Lord Mahavir's nirvan.

Sect Number of
Present Status
Digambar 11 All are lost
Swetambar Murtipujak 11 Available
Swetambar Sthanakvasi 11 Available
Swetambar Terapanthi 11 Available


Monks who had knowledge of a minimum of ten Purvas were known as Srut-kevlis. The Srut-kevlis wrote many texts (sutras) expanding the subject matter defined in the Ang-agams. Collectively these texts are called Ang-bahya-agams meaning outside of Ang-agams.

The different Jain sects accept different numbers of Ang-bahya texts. However the Digambar sect believes that they were also gradually lost starting about two hundred years after Lord Mahavir's Nirvan.

Sects Number of
Present Status
Digambar 14 All are Lost
Swetambar Murtipujak 34 Available
Swetambar Sthanakvasi 21 Available
Swetambar Terapanthi 21 Available

Classification of Ang-bahya-agams:

The Swetambar sect has divided Ang-bahya-agams into the following categories:

  • Upang-agams:
    The scriptures which provide further explanation of Ang-agams are called Upang-agams. There are 12 Upang-agams accepted by all Swetamber sects.
  • Chhed-sutras:
    The subject matter described in Chhed-sutras is only for monks and nuns and not for lay people. It relates to the conduct and behavior of monks and nuns. It also explains how they can repent for their sins and mistakes. The Swetambar Murtipujak sect accepts 6 Chhed-sutra texts but the Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi sects accept only 4 texts.
  • Mool-sutras:
    The scriptures which are essential for monks and nuns to study in the earlier stages of their monkhood are called Mool-sutras. The Swetambar Murtipujak sect accepts 4 Mool-sutras texts but the Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi sects accept only 3 texts.
  • Chulika-sutras or Sutras:
    The scriptures which enhance or decorate the Ang-agams are known as Chulika-sutras or Sutras. There are 2 Chulika-sutras accepted by all Swetamber sects.
  • Prakirna-agams:
    The scriptures which describe independent or miscellaneous subjects of the Jain religion are known as Prakirna-sutra. The Swetambar Murtipujak sect accepts 10 Prakirna-agams texts but none are accepted by the Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi sects.

Classification Summary:
agams Swetambar Murtipujak
Sthanakvasi Terapanthi
Upang-agams 12 12
Chhed-sutra-agams 6 4
Mool-sutra-agams 4 3
Chulika-sutra-agams 2 2
Prakirna-agams 10 none
Total Ang-bahya-agams 34 21


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