Hindu and Jain Mythology of Balarma

Author: Vemsani, Lavanya

Winner of the Honorable Mention Prize of the 2007 Canadian-Asian Studies Association
This book studies the evolution of Balarma in Vaiavism through comparative analysis of Balarma stories from selected Hindu puras: the Harivama (HV), the Viu pura (Vi.pu), the Brahma pura (Br.pu), and the Bhgavata pura (Bh.pu). Through careful analysis of Balarma stories from these texts, the author argues that Balarma was a multifaceted deity of considerable importance in early Vaiavism. The modifications introduced in the earliest stories reveal a process whereby Balarma’s popularity and status declined, and he became a minor deity as Ka grew in importance. In this process, Balarma’s personality is modified from his association with food, abundance, fertility and protection to that of an ordinary warrior.

The author demonstrates that the early supremacy and personality of Balarma is reflected in the depiction of this deity in select Jain texts: the Vasudevahid (VH), the Harivamapurna (HVP), the Cauppannamahpurisacariyam (CMC) and the Trialpuruacaritra (TSP). A comparison of Hindu and Jain pura stories of Balarma also reveal that the Jain Balarma stories are derived from independent sources other than the Hindu puras.

A study of the Balarma stories also contributes to current scholarship on the textual history of the Hindu puras. The stories are analyzed, divided into a series of plots and compared across the different texts. The author shows that changes to these basic plots indicate the evolution of the story and suggests that the more different a story is from the basic story, the later it must be while the less different the story, the closer to contemporary it must be. A comparison of the stories indicates that the HV was the source of the Vi.pu, which served as the source for the Br.pu and Bh.pu. A comparison of the latter two texts reveals that the Bh.pu is the last of the texts, while the Br.pu shows a combination of early and late stories. This pattern is consistent with what scholars working on the puras have described.


“ ... In her masterful study of the relevant early Hindu texts, spanning a period of a thousand years, Dr. Lavanya Vemsani has taken the fascinating stories about Balar?ma and shown how his mythology changed as the religious tradition changed over the centuries. The hardest part of this task was to guess what kind of religious cult Balarma was part of before he was introduced into the Vaiava textual tradition. In a brilliant move, Professor Vemsani uses Jain versions of Balarma stories to highlight their independent early forms before they were painted over again and again as the Vaiava tradition wove them into its other central themes ... This study, then, serves to direct critical attention to neglected deities of Hinduism. It is to be hoped that one of the incidental contributions of this book may be that Balarma will no longer need to be introduced as brother of Ka. Dr. Vemsani’s assessment of early literary sources should establish Balarma as an independent and popular deity on his own merit.” – (from the Foreword) Paul Younger, Professor Emeritus, McMaster University

“While over two hundred years of biblical scholarship has sensitized us to the subtlety of the stories of gods and heroes, we tend to see as one dimensional and unchanging the gods and heroes of larger, more amorphous sacred texts like those of India. Rare is the scholarship that addresses the issue of change, while at the same time providing us with a sense for the continuity so important to the tradition. Dr. Vemsani’s tripartite study of the god Balarma disavows us of such easy assumptions about one-dimensional gods or unchanging heroes ... Her exploration of the geneology of Balarma through Hindu and Jain stories give us clear insights into the development of Vaiavism. She shares with us the rewards of thorough scholarship, rewards that include not only a new understanding of the god Balarma, but also of the infancy of a bhakti movement that today is a powerful and vital part of what we call ‘Hinduism.’ – Professor Thomas Parkhill, St. Thomas University

“This is an exceptional book which advances the field of knowledge for the development of Balarma as well as Vaiavism in general. Dr. Vemsani’s premise is innovative, the research careful and meticulous, the presentation clear and the entire book is well argued. The author shows a scholarly ability with a number of primary languages (Sanskrit, Prakrits, French and German), which allows her to present a careful analysis of primary and secondary material. The great strength of this book is its ability to reevaluate Vaiavite textual and theological history through the previously underused lens of narratives related to Balarma. The book presents a clear contribution to the field of Religious History and Religious Studies and will be a great source for those who attempt similar studies.” – Professor Richard Mann, College of William and Mary

Table of Contents

Foreword by Paul Younger
List of Charts
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations
I. Introduction and Primary Sources
II. Hindu Mythology: Balar?ma
III. Jain Mythology: Balar?ma
IV. Conclusions