Jainism is the Oldest Religion

Published: 13.10.2010
Updated: 04.03.2011


The following article was first published in June 1943 in The Jaina Gazette, Vol. XXXX (No. 6), pp. 83-85

Jainism is the Oldest Religion

Presiding at the Mahavira Birth­day celebrations at Madras, Sir Shanmukham Chetty said:—

I welcome the present opportunity of participating in this function, and to show my devotion and reverence for the Great GURU. It is beyond my capacity to say anything about the greatness of the Jaina religion or its Guru. I have read sufficiently to warrant my saying that the contribution which the Jains have made to Indian culture is something unique. As a Tamilian I cannot forget to refer to the fact that the contribution which the Jains in South India have made to Tamil Literature is something that cannot be measured in words. Even those of you who are casual students of Tamil must know that some of the greatest works in Tamil language are by Jains. Kural, and Jivakachintamani Silapphadikaram are amongst the culture monu­ments that the South Indian Jains have contributed to Tamil civilization and its culture.

If it had not been for the contributions made by South Indian Jains to Tamil literature, it would have been deprived of its really most precious heritage.

There was no doubt that the fundamental truths of life were common to almost all the great religions of the world. But I think that in the uncompromising emphasis that it lays on the principle of Ahimsa, Jainism must for ever shine in the world as a most unique religion. This doctrine of Ahimsa has been translated into one of non-violence in modern English phraseology. I think it is a very feeble translation, and probably wrong. Being a wrong translation, it has led to curious interpretations and controversies in our country. If we talk in terms of Ahimsa, as we understand it, there would not be so much controversy at all whether you apply that word to your religion, or spiritual or political or everyday life. My knowledge of the tenets of Jainism, of its achievements and of its history are based on my study of the Tamil works to which I have referred.

There was of course a tendency amongst certain Tamil scholars to dispute the authorship of those works by Jains; and elaborate and learned treatises have been written to prove that Elangoven Adigal or Tirvalluvar were not Jains but Saiva Siddhanties. It was no wonder that people should claim such great and learned personages as belonging to their own particular sect. He thought that those who had a sense of history and critical proportions should not be led away by such feelings.

I do not think that Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, or Hinduism for that matter, will lose any of its own intrinsic greatness and worth by reason of the fact that Tiruvalluvar happened to be a Jain. That the great works that these illustrious men have bequeathed to us lend themselves to such an interpretation is itself a proof of the catholicity of views and wide tolerance entertained by those great men. Certainly, any religion, I think, should feel proud to claim Tiruvalluvar as one belonging to their religion.

It has even occurred to me as a very interesting historical speculation as to what must have been the real genesis of this great religion in India. In the absence of clear cut and unimpeachable historical evidence, it is open to anyone to speculate, and if I venture to pass any observations, it is purely a result of that temptation to speculate. Looking at this great religion from that point of view, I am tempted to believe that Jainism was probably the earliest religion prevalent in India and that it was the flourishing religion when the Aryan migration came in India and when the religion of the Vedas was being evolved in the Punjab.

I think it was the tremendous force let loose by Lord Mahavira that really created Lord Buddha. There was a very deep historical significance in the fact that Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha were contemporaries. The standard of revolt set up by Lord Mahavira must have been taken up by Lord Buddha. Whatever may be the historical facts and to whatever religion we may belong, we must bow our heads in reverence before the Great Masters who bequeathed such a beautiful religion as Jainism in the world.

The very fact that the great Hindu Saints who wanted to revive Hinduism in South India had to resort even to cruel methods to exterminate Jainism is proof of the hold that Jainism must have had on the people of South India. Recent historical researches and archaeological discoveries have led scholars to believe that in the pre-Aryan period, there flourished a very great civilization in India, which for the sake of convenience, I shall call Dravidian civilization. I casually use the word for the sake of conve­nience, because in these days unnecessary heat is generated when we use such phrases as Dravidian civilization and the like, and my own belief is that Jainism was the religion of the Dravidian people, who were the pre-Aryan inhabitants of India. The Aryans came with their ownideals based upon ritualism and animal sacrifice, and the prominence given to the revival in the time of Lord Mahavira is only an indication of that feeling of revolt which came amongst the vast masses of Jains in this country against this new cult and the practices which were the antithesis of the principles that the Jains believed in.

I personally believe that if only Jainism had kept its hold firmly in India, we would perhaps have had a more United India and certainly a greater India than today.


The Jaina Gazette

Compiled by PK

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  1. 24. Tirthankara Mahavira
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Buddha
  4. Guru
  5. Hinduism
  6. JAINA
  7. Jaina
  8. Jainism
  9. Madras
  10. Non-violence
  11. PK
  12. Punjab
  13. Saiva
  14. Saiva Siddhanta
  15. Tamil
  16. The Jaina Gazette
  17. Tolerance
  18. Vedas
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