Compendium of Jainism ► I ►Jainism And Its Antiquity

Posted: 21.10.2015

The history of human thought discloses that man has been in constant search of truth and happiness. He wants to save himself from misery and pain. As he is a social being, his solution for his problems of happiness and pain has to be with reference to his society or the world at large. He has a soul and a body. In any experience of happiness or misery, pleasure or pain, the question involved is one either with reference to the soul or the body, or both. Besides, there is the Universe. The relationship between man and the Universe has been the subject-matter both of science and religion, the common objective of which has been the search for truth.

Science has concerned itself with the discovery of order in the phenomena of nature. It seeks to formulate laws inherent in natural events and to account for them in an analytical manner without recourse to the mysterious or the mythological. Though the achievements of science in the realm of the external have been excitingly remarkable, the problems of the reality and the meaning of life still remain outside its preview.

Early religion has tried to answer the essential questions relating to the relation that exists between Man and the Universe, man and his duties, his goal of life and the path that leads to its attainment. Many saints and sages have answered these questions from time to time by precept and example. What they said and did have been noted down and have formed the creeds of their religions. The one point on which they have differed is about the existence of God, his attributes and work.

Jainism does not recognise that the Universe is the Creation of God. The Universe is made up of Jīvas (souls) and ajīvas (non-souls) which are eternal, uncreated, co-existing and independent by nature. The non-souls are of five kinds, viz. pudgala (matter), dharma (motion) and adharma (stationaries), kala (time) and akāśa (space). Jiva is characterised by jñāna and darśana, is formless, the kartā (agent) co-extent with the expanse of its body, enjoyer of the fruits of the Karmas and possesses upward motion. It exists in samsara and is Siddha while in perfect state. The soul is immortal while matter is indestructible. The Vedāntin recognises only the Brahman as the cause of creation. Jainism recognises that plants and particles of earth, cold water, fire and wind are each possessed ot life. This scientific classification does not derive its authority from the Vedas or the other scriptures sacred to the Hindus. While the Upanishads assert the oneness of the self and the Transcendent Being, the Buddha did not concern himself much with the metaphysical questions and left them as inexplicable (avyakta). He refused to answer either affirmatively or negatively all questions about the soul and body, the nature of the world, and existence or non-existence of the soul after death. He refused to speculate on these subjects.

The theological concepts of Jainism are clear and rational. Jainism regards a liberated soul which has attained its inherent qualities of perfect bliss, knowledge etc. as God. Godhood is the ideal *of perfection. God does not control the universe or the individual. He can neither grant nor deny grace or happiness to anybody. But Hinduism recognises a personal God as the creator, the preserver and destroyer of the world.

Consistently with the principle of each individual's capacity to attain perfection or Godhood, the ethical principles of Jainism prescribe a code of conduct which requires an individual to be an ideal person with ahimsa as the foundation of his life. It preaches universal love aiming at the good of every being in the world. Selfishness, greed, anger and pride are passions which are the main causes of our misery and pain. They are to be eschewed at all costs and are to be overcome by selflessness, charity, compassion, forgiveness etc. which elevate the soul and contribute to the happiness of others in society. It has shown the way for attaining ethical and spiritual excellence gradually in eleven stages (pratimā) in the career of a house-holder, at the end of which one has cut all ties from family life. It recognises fourteen stages of spiritual evolution (guṇasthāna) for the soul, the house-holder's eleven stages being included in the fifth stage here. The five small vows or the aṇuvratas: not hurting any life, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and the need to impose limitations on one's own possessions, are rules to be observed in daily life. While they conduce to the well-being of the individual, they have immense implications of social good. Similarly, the other rules of daily study of scriptures, charity and worship help the layman to keep himself pure and unsullied in thought and action. The ethics for the monks and nuns are still more rigorous and comprehend all aspects of human life.

The Jaina rituals aim at helping the individual in the development of his devotion towards his religious ideal and attainment of purity in thought, speech and action. They are intended to help man to lead a righteous life and strengthen his desire to realise the goal of perfection shown to him by the Omniscient Tīrthankaras.

Jainism is a way of life shown by the Jinas or the Tīrthankaras. It is a religion which helps its follower to destroy the Karmas and attain the highest happiness. The three Jewels viz. Right faith, Right knowledge and Right conduct together constitute the path of liberation or emancipa­tion. The three in unison can alone help the soul to reach the peak of perfection. That is the song of life heard from the Holy Ones who are twenty-four in number and who flourished and attained Godhood in the present Cycle of Time. The first Tīrthankaras, according to the Jaina tradition, is Ṛṣabha Deva while the last one is Mahavira. "According to Jaina tradition of 24 Tīrthankaras, the first Ṛṣabha revealed the ahimsa- dharma. The last of these was Mahavira who was an elder contemporary of the Buddha. It is now accepted that Jainism is older than Buddhism and that Mahavira who lived from 599 B. C. to 527 B. C. was not the founder of Jainism and that his predecessor Pārśva who lived 250 years earlier was also a historical person. The Ahimsa doctrine preached by Ṛṣabha is possibly prior in time to the advent of Aryans in India and the prevalent culture of the period".[1]

Inspite of the modern advances in researches made in the fields of ancient Indian history and philosophy, there are still some scholars who assert that Jainism is an offshoot of Vedic Brahmanism and that the Jainas, like the Buddhists, are dissenters of Hinduism. Even an eminent historian like Arnold Toynbee asserts that Mahavira is the "founder of Jainism" and mentions Jainas as "amongst the fossilized relics of similar societies now extinct."[2] He proceeds to observe: "Similarly, the Jainas of India and the Hinayanian Buddhists of Ceylon, Burma and Siam can be seen to be fossils of Indian society in the State in which this society was when it was developing under the Mauryan Empire."[3] These views are obviously based on insufficient, if not erroneous material. The pages that follow will disclose that Jainism is neither an outgrowth of some other religion nor an antiquated out-of-date religion as is sought to be conveyed by the words "fossilized relics." It is true that today the Jainas are a numerical minority but their contribution to the enrichment of Indian philosophy, literature, art, architecture and culture has been remarkably enduring. The interest of Jainism to the student of religion consists in the fact that it goes back to a very early period.[4] We know that the sacred books of the Jainas are old, avowedly older than the Sanskrit literature which we are accustomed to call classical4b. Toynbee seems to have perhaps overlooked numerous facts brought to light by the modern research scholars mentioned in the following pages.

Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson holds the view that "both Buddhist and Jaina orders arose about the same time, the sixth century B. C., a period when the constant wars between various little kingdoms must have made the lot of the common people hideous with suffering and oppression; and a man might well have longed to escape from all fear of rebirth into such a sorrowful world, and hoped, by renouncing everything that could be taken from him, and by voluntarily stripping himself of all possessions and all emotions, to evade the avaricious fingers of king or fortune."

It is unnecessary to multiply similar views which in substance raise three questions relating to the antiquity of Jainism. They are

  1. Is it an offshoot of Buddhism?
  2. or of Hinduism?
  3. Is it older than the Vedic Religion?

Jainism and Buddhism

The view that both these religions arose at about the same time as expressed by Mrs. Stevenson does not hold the field since even Geo P. Taylor who has written an introduction to her book has dissented from her. He says: "Within the last thirty years a small band of scholars, pre-eminent amongst them are the late Hofrath Professor Buhler, Professor Jacobi, and Dr. Hoernle, have effected a great advance in our knowledge of Jainism. For long it had been thought that Jainism was but a sub-sect of Buddhism, but, largely as a consequence of the researches of Orientalists just mentioned, that opinion has been finally relinquished, and Jainism is now admitted to be one of the most ancient monastic organizations of India. So, far from being merely a modern variation of Buddhism, Jainism is older of the two heresies, and it is most certain that Mahāvīra, though a contemporary of Buddha, predeceased him by some fifty years."[5]

Such opinions apart, the Buddhist history and literature establish that after he had renounced the world, the Buddha was for some time an ascetic following the Jaina cult of Pārśva who was the twenty third Tirthankara of the Jaina religion. In Buddhist literature Mahāvīra has been described as Nigantha Nātaputta. In the Majjhima Nikāya, there is a reference to the ascetics who were the followers of Māhavīra telling that their Master was Omniscient and that he had disclosed to them details about their previous births. There is also a narration by the Buddha himself to his disciples about his experiences when he went naked, took food in his own palms and followed the various restrictions regarding the taking of food. It is obvious that the course of conduct first followed by him is quite identical with ordinances of the Jaina ascetic life. That book also contains a reference to Upāli who was first a devotee of the Buddha, had a difference of opinion with him about comparative gravity of the bodily and mental Karmas and was ultimately converted to Jainism.

The Dhammapada is the Bible of the Buddhistic religion. It is an anthology of verses collected from the different books of the Tripitaka which stand for the sacred scriptures in Pāli containing the original teachings of the Buddha. Both Jainism and Buddhism belong to the stream of Sramaṇic culture, and naturally there is an attempt to redefine the term Brahmana, not based on heredity but on individual good qualities (See Dhammapada 393). Vṛṣabha, Mahavira and the Buddha belonged to the same Śramaṇic culture and were Brāhmaṇas by virtues. That is what is stated in verse 422 of Dhammapada:

"Usabhaṃ pavaraṃ Vīraṃ
Mahesiṃ vijitavlnaṃ
anejaṃ nahatakaṃ Buddhaṃ
tamahaṃ brūmi brahmanaṃ.

"The most excellent (pravara) foremost Vṛṣabha, the victorious and the great saint (vijita and maharṣi) Vīra (i. e. Mahavira) and Buddha, the desire less and pure (aneja and nahataka), him (taking every one individually) do I call a Brahmana"

Besides, there are differences between the two religions in their metaphysical and philosophical concepts. The animistic ideas of the Jainas are more ancient. While Buddhism regards all things as transitory, Jainism regards Jiva and Ajīva as eternal substances. According to Buddhism, there is no continuity of individuality from life to life. The universe is transient and soulless. The soul is not immortal. During transmigration from one life to another, only a new life arises as part of the chain of events.

Shri Jyotiprasad Jain has mentioned a number of references which show that Jainism is older than Buddhism. 6 Prof. Hermann Jacobi has referred to the common misconception of Jainism being an offshoot of Buddhism and dispelled all doubts:".. The Jains being non-Brahmanical, have worked upon popular notions of a more primitive and cruder character, e. g. animistic ideas. But the metaphysical principles of Buddhism are of an entirely different character... there is no absolute and permanent Being, or in other words, that all things are transitory. Notwithstanding the radical difference in their philosophical notions, Jainism and Buddhism being outside the pale of Brahmanism, present resemblance in outward appearance, so that even Indian writers occasionally have confounded them. It is, therefore, not to be wondered that some European scholars who became acquainted with Jainism through inadequate samples of Jaina literature easily persuaded themselves that it was an off-shoot of Buddhism. But it has since been proved that their theory is wrong... The canonical books of Buddhists mention as a rival sects, under their old name Nigaṇṭna (Sanskrit: Nirgrantha, common Prakrit, Nigganath) and their leader in Buddha's time, Nātaputta (Nata or Vātaputta being an epithet of last prophet of Jainas). Vardhamāna Mahavira, and they name the latter's place of death Pāvā, in agreement with the Jaina tradition.. Mahavira was a contemporary of Buddha and probably somewhat older than the latter who outlived his rival's decease at Pāvā Mahavira, however, unlike Buddha, was most probably not the founder of the sect which reveres him as their prophet, nor the author of their religion. According to unanimous Buddhist tradition, Buddha had under the Bodhi tree, discovered by intuition the fundamental truths of his religion as it appears throughout his personal works; his first sermons are things even to be remembered by his followers as are the doctrines which he then preached. No such tradition is preserved in the canonical books of the Jainas about Mahavira. Thus Mahavira appears in the tradition of his own sect as one who from the beginning, followed a religion established long ago; had he been the founder of Jainism, tradition ever eager to extol a prophet, would not have totally repressed his claims to reverence as such/ But he is without doubt the last prophet of Jainas, the last Tirthankara. His predecessor Pārśva.... whose death took place 250 years before that of Mahavira.. "[6]

Jainism and Hinduism

Some of the western scholars have propounded that Jainism is a result of revolt against Hinduism. Mrs. Stevenson asserted: " It must always be remembered that Jainism, though a rebellious daughter, is nonetheless a daughter of Brahmanism, many of whose leading beliefs are still held by Jains.."[7] Instead of finding support for her view from the essential doctrines of the two religions, she contents herself by saying that "much of their worship resembles Hindu worship, and their domestic chaplains, though not their temple officials, are still Brahmins."[8] There are some Indian scholars who subscribe to this view and assert that Jainas are Hindu dissenters and their religion is an offshoot of Vedic-Hinduism. Shri B. N. Luniya holds the view that sixth century B. C. was the time of great ferment of minds in the whole world, that the Hindus in India became disappointed at that time with the old philosophic dogmas, that they stood for simplicity of worship and that Jainism constituted a reformatory movement in Brahmanism.[9] The popular impression is that Jainism is a religion of those who revolted against animal sacrifices of the Hindus.

A solution to this question is to be found on the strength of the fundamental distinctions between the philosophical and metaphysical concepts of the two religions. The Vedas which are supposed to be of divine origin, contain verses primarily in adoration of the three gods: Surya, Indra and Agni. These are the most prominent, deities of the Vedic age. Varuṇa was regarded as guarding the cosmic order, omnipresent, and as punishing people for their sins. Sacrifice was the most vital method of worship. Its primary object was the gratification of gods to obtain their grace. Later on during the period of the Brāhmaṇas came Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa. It was during the period of the Upanishads that the doctrines of transmigration and Karman became popular. They recognised Brahman as the Atman to be realized in order to be free from transmigra­tion. Man becomes free from the joys and sorrows when he reaches the stage of Brahman. "The identity of the souls of the individuals and the universe is reiterated throughout the Upanishadic literature, with varying emphasis, and with differing interpretations of the nature of identity and the character of the universal soul. "Tattvamasi" 'you (the individual) are that universal essence',. is the leading theme of the Upanishads.

These fundamental principles of the Hindu religion have very little in common with Jainism. Mrs. N. R. Guseva has noted the points of difference between the two religions: "There are at least eight features which distinguish Jainism from Vedic religion and Brahmanism. Those features are so much sub­stantial that they do not afford any possibility of regarding Jainism as a sect of Brahmanism or its some other product. These features can be reduced to the following:

  1. Jainism rejects holiness of Veda.
  2. Stands against the dogma that gods are the main objects of worship.
  3. Rejects bloody sacrifices and number of other elements of Brāhmanic ritual.
  4. Does not recognise Varna—Caste system—of the Brāhmanic society.
  5. Prescribes defence of other's life.
  6. Prescribes asceticism.
  7. Prescribes nudity at the time of ritual.
  8. Allows women monkhood, learning of holy books etc."[10]

I may also add that Jainism does not recognise the theory of creation of the Universe by God or that the latter is its protector. There are however three elements common to the two religions and Buddhism. They are: faith in the rebirth of the soul, the doctrine of the karman holding that each has to enjoy or suffer the fruits of one's own actions and the belief in the possibility of attaining final liberation or salvation. ;'..they (the three elements) are apparently borrowed by the later Brahmanism from non-Vedic faiths and it means that they are hardly brought into Jainism by the Aryans."[11]

From what has been said above, it should be clear that Jainism which differs fundamentally from Hinduism cannot be regarded as its offshoot. The question then would be, whether Jainism is an older religion than Hinduism.

Vedic and other References

There are references to the Jaina Tīrthankaras, the Śravaṇas, Arhats and their principles in the Ṛgveda, Yajurveda and the Purāṇas. Shri Subbayya Sastri has quoted from these sources in his introduction to the Shaṭkhaṇḍāgama a large number of references, some of which are quoted below from pages 10 to 12 of that volume. According to the Jaina tradition, Vṛṣabhadeva had among others two sons by name Bharata and Bahubali and that India has been named as Bharata after the eldest son. The account of Jaina tradition is given in the Mahāpurāṇa of Acarya Jainasena. This finds support from the account in the Viṣṇupurāṇa also:

Ṛṣabhāt Bharato jajñe jyeṣṭhaḥ putraḥ śatāgrajaḥ I
Tataśca bhārataṁ varṣam etallokeṣu gīyate II

This means "Bharata was born of Ṛṣabha. He was the eldest amongst the hundred brothers; it is from his time that this land is known as Bharata in the world." In the fifth chapter of the fifth part of Bhāgavata Purāaṇa it is stated:

"Bhagavān Vṛṣabhadevaḥ upaśamasīlāmān uparatakarmaṇām
mahā-munīnāṃ bhaktijnānavairāgyalakṣaṇam
paramahaṁsadharinam upaśikṣamāṇaḥ.

svatanayajyeṣṭhaṃ bharataṃ dharaṇī - pālanāya abhiṣicya
svayam urvaritaśarīra - mātra - parigrahaḥ pravaravrāja."

This means that "Bhagavān Ṛṣabha seated his son Bharata, who was well-versed in religion and was devoutly inclined towards the ascetics through his signs of devotion and renunciation, on the throne for ruling over the earth and renounced the world."

This theory that India came to be known as Bharata after the eldest son of Bhagavān Ṛṣabha Deva who ruled over the country is contradicted by some scholars who assert that it is Bharata the son of Duṣyanta and Śakuntalā that is entitled to the honour. It cannot be disputed that Duṣyanta was a king of later date and brought into prominence by the drama named Śakuntalā by Kālidāsa.

In the Ṛgveda, we have reference to another Tirthankara viz. Ariṣṭanemi. It reads: "So asmākaṃ ariṣtanemi svāḥā I arhan vibhārṣi sāyakāni dhanvār haniṣtaṁ yajatm viśvarūpam arhannidam dayase." (Aṣṭak 2, Varga 7).

There is another reference in the same Veda at Aṣṭak 1 Adhyāya 6 and Varga 16:

Viṣavedha svastinastāksyo Ariṣṭanemihi svastino brhaspatiradātu...."

In the Yajurveda, there are references to the three Tīrthankaras viz. Ṛṣabha, Supārśva and Neminātha in cantoes 25 and 92 respectively:

"Om namo arhato Rṣabho, om Rṣabhaḥ pavitraṃ
puruhūtamaddhvaram yatīṣu nagnaṃ paramā māha...
svāha Om trātāramiudram Rshabhaṃ vadanti
amṛtāramindraṃ have sugatam supāriśvamindrāmahuriti
samsutam varam.. Vajasyanu prasava avabhuvmacha
viśvabhuvanāni sarvatah sa nemiraja pariyati vidvana
prajanpushtim vardhamanah."

Here the references are obviously to the first, seventh and twenty - second Tirthankaras. Dr. Radhakrishnan accepts the validity of these references and observes: "Jaina tradition ascribes the origin of the system to Ṛṣabhadeva, who lived many centuries back. There is evidence to show that so far back as the first century B. C. there were people who were worshipping Ṛṣabhadeva, the first Tirthankara. There is no doubt that Jainism prevailed even before Vardhamāna or Pārśvanātha. The Yajurveda mentions the names of three Tirthankaras-Ṛṣabha, Ajita and Ariṣṭanemi. The Bhāgavatā Purāṇa endorses the view that Ṛṣabhadeva was the founder of Jainism."[12]

There is a reference to the first Tirthankara in the Manusmṛti also:

aṣṭamo marudevyām tu nābherjitaḥ urukramaḥ I
darśayan karmavīrāṇāṃ surāsura-namaskrtaḥ I
nītitrayasya kartā yo yugadau prathamo jinaḥ II

In the beginning of the age (yuga) was born the first Jaina to Marudevi from the eighth Nābhi Manu, who was the hero of action, saluted by the gods and demons and propagated the ethics and rules of punishment. Similar description is found in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Not only do the verses conform to the tradition mentioned above but also give the details of advice which Ṛṣabha gave to his sons and which is consistent with the principles of Jainism.

The aforesaid references to the Arhats and the three Tirthankaras can only mean that these personalities must be pre-Vedic and that the religion that they preached was earlier to the Vedic religion. "According to the belief of the Jainas themselves, Jaina religion is eternal and it has been revealed again and again, in every one of the endless succeeding periods of the world by innumerable Tirthankaras.. The interest of Jainism to the student of religion consists in the fact that it goes back to a very early period, and to the primitive currents of religions and metaphysical speculation, which gave rise to the oldest Indian philosophies-Sānkhya and Yoga-and to Buddhism. It shares in theoretical pessimism of these systems, as also in their practical ideal-liberation."[13]

Dates of the Vedas

There is considerable difference of opinion as regards the dates of composition of the Vedas. "The dates of the composi­tion and collection of the hymns of the Ṛgveda are unknown... There is evidence to indicate with some certainty that the hymns were current fifteen centuries before Christ, somewhat in the arrangement in which we have them at the present time".[14] "The epoch of creation of the Vedas consists of a long duration viz. the period between the third and the first millennium B.C."[15] It appears that B. G. Tilak carried it fifteen centuries earlier while the later historians consider that the Vedas were formed during the second and the first half of the first millennium B. C. The process of accumulation of the Vedic hymns was gradual and partly proceeded in the course of many centuries until the arrival of Aryans in India.[16] The widely accepted view of the age of the Ṛgveda is not later than 2500 B. C.[17]

Mohenjodaro and Harappa Finds

Many scholars have carried on researches about the nature and antiquity of the Indus Civilization, known to archaeo­logists as Harappa culture. Harappa is the modern name of the site of one of the two great cities on the left bank of the river Ravi in the Punjab. Mohenjodaro is the name of the site of the second city which is on the right bank of the river Sindhu or Indus. The site is about 250 miles from the, mouth of that river. Sir John Marshall's monumental works on Mohenjodaro refer to six seals, marked plate xii and plate cxviii figure. These were studied by Mr Chanda and he has pointed out in his article in the Modern Review for August 1932 that the standing deities on these seals "in the posture of Yoga known as Kayotsarga, a standing posture peculiar to the Jaina Yogis as illustrated, for instance, in the famous statue of Ṛṣabhadeva of about second century V D. are on view at the Mathura Museum. The name Ṛṣabha itself means the bull, which is also the emblem of the Jina. It is curious that the seals numbered (f), (g) and (h) of Plate ii (Ibl) also show a standing deity with a bull in the foreground. Can it be the forerunner of Ṛṣabha? If so, Jainism also along with Saivism, must take its place as one of the oldest religions of Chalcolithic origins, thus helping the over hiatus between the Indus and subsequent Indian Civilizations as phases in a common cultural evolution".[18] Another seal found at Mohenjodaro contains a standing figure of a deity in nude form standing between the branches of a tree.

These figures are undoubtedly in conformity with the tradition and culture of Jainism. Acharya Tulsi considers that the pose of yogāsana, in which several figures are drawn on the seals of Mohenjodaro, was worked out by the Jainas, was widely known in pre-Aryan India and was borrowed much later by the Hindu ascetics.[19] Prof. Pran Nath Vidyalankara says that "the inscription on the Indus seal No. 449 reads according to my decipherment, Jineswara or Jinesa (Jin-i-i-sarah")[20]

Among the seals discovered by the archaeologists, some of them have signs of Swastik on them. Referring to them, Mrs. Guseva observes: These are "common in the symbols of Jainism. Swastik is the symbolic sign of the 7th priest (Tirthankara), Supārśva. The Jainas consider that there were 23 Tirthankaras before Mahavira and the middle part forms the sign of the 18th Tirthankara Ara. This sign is always drawn in manuscripts and in the ornaments of the Jaina temples etc."[21]

The excavations have revealed the existence of well-planned beautiful cities constructed long prior to the invasion of the Aryans. There is unanimity amongst the research scholars that the civilization and tradition of the people who built them must be about 4000 B. C. and that they were superior to the culture of the Aryans. Prof. Chakravarti draws pointed attention to the absence of weapons of warfare and concludes that the civilization of the Indus Valley was obviously based upon the principle of ahimsa which is the central creed of the Jaina culture.[22] He agrees with the other scholars in their inference that "the figure of the Yogi and the figure of the bull found in the excavation of Mohenjodaro and Harappa may be closely connected with Lord Rishabha, whose cult of ahimsa was the faith of the people living in the Indus valley."[23]

After the Aryans had won victories over the sections of people who opposed them, they settled in the Panjab and the Western part of the Gangetic plain. They called the residents Dasyus and pushed them to the extreme cast and regions beyond the Vindhyās. They introduced the worship of various gods by sacrifice of animals and later brought into their social structure changes in the form of Varnas which played an important role in the development of the country, much to the detriment of cohesion and harmony amongst the people. The followers of the ahimsa cult condemned both the animal sacrifices and the varnas.

Apart from these doctrinal developments, Mrs. Guseva refers to the philosophic conception of ātma - vidyā as being a contribution of the Kshatriyas and observes: "The tradition, widely represented in the ancient Indian literature asserts that the conception of ātma vidyā had spread precisely in the eastern Gangetic regions (i. e. where the faith of Jainism was formed) and that even Brahmins used to come to listen to the sermons of Kshatriya ruler of these regions... Ancient Indian literature contains indications of the antiquity of the sources of Jainism and it also indicates that the Kshatriyas and ascetics from Vrātyās i. e. non-Aryans played noticeable role in establishing non-Vedic teachings..."[24] It is worthwhile to remember the even though the Vedas made no mention of Ātmavidyā, the Upanishads which came later propounded the theory of Ātmavidyā or Brahma Vidyā.


It is an established fact of history that many rulers in ancient Bihar and the territories round-about, were either patrons or followers of Jainism. Cheṭaka, the ruler of Lichhavi was a Jaina and he gave his sister to Siddhartha. Mahavira was born of this wedlock. Some of the members of the Nanda dynasty were Jainas. So was Chandragupta Maurya who later followed Bhadrabāhu to the South. The Kalinga territory was occupied by Jainas since the time of Pārśva. It is therefore natural that there should be some reminiscences of Jainism in this part. The excavations near Mathura furnish important evidence of Jaina sculpture. The Arahanātha, the 18th Tirthankara, bears an inscription of 78 samvat. Shri S. C. Divakar refers to an inscription deciphered by Rai Bahadur Gaurishanker Harishanker Jha. It was found near the Badli village round about Ajmer. This refers to 84 Vira Nirvana era i. e. 443 B. C. and to the prevalence of Jainism in Rajasthan. [25] An inscription found by Fuhrer of about 100 years B, C. refers to grant of laud for the worship of Ṛṣabhadeva. Dr. Hiralal refers to an inscription on Stupa found near Mathura to the effect that Ayāgāpaṭa was got prepared by the wife of a dancer by name Faguyasa for the worship of Arahanta. Vincent Smith assigns 150 years B. C. to this inscription from the form of the letters.[26]

Shri Divakar refers to an inscription called "the Hathi - gumpha inscription of Udayagiri Hill written in Apabhraṃśa " as throwing valuable light on the antiquity of Jainism. It begins with an invocation in traditional Jaina style referring to Arhats and Siddhas and shows that Kharavela, the emperor of Kalinga, was a Jaina and excavated a number of caves at Khandagiri hill[27] In this inscription of Kharavela, there is a reference to an idol of Ṛṣabhadeva thus establishing that even before or at about the time of Mahavira, Ṛṣabhadeva was being worshipped. These historical details lend support to Ṛṣabha being a Tirthankara of Jainas.

Foreign Scholars

Many foreign and Indian scholars confirm what has been said above about the antiquity of Jainism. I have quoted already from the articles written by Dr. Hermann Jacobi about the antiquity of Jainism. He says: "There are no reasonable grounds to reject the recorded tradition of a numerous class of men as a tissue of lies. All the events and incidents that relate to their antiquity are recorded so frequently and in such a matter of fact way that they cannot be properly rejected, unless under force of much stronger evidence than the one adduced by scholars who are sceptic about the antiquity of Jainism." [28] Both Dr. Fuhrer and Prof. L. D. Barnett accept that Lord Neminātha the 22nd Tirthankara was a historical person.[29] A. A. Macdonnel refers to the antiquity of the Hindu Purāṇas and states that the antiquity of Jainism goes back to a period prior to the origin of Brahmanism itself. [30]

Major Gen J. G. R. Forlong has come to similar conclu­sions: "there also existed throughout upper India an ancient and highly organized religion, philosophical, ethical and severely ascetical, viz. Jainism, out of which clearly developed the early ascetical features of Brahmanism and Buddhism. Long before the Aryans reached the Ganges or even the Saraswati, Jainas had been taught by some twenty-two prominent Bodhās, saints or Tirthankaras, prior to the 23rd Bodha Pārśva of the 8th or 9th Century B. C..."[31]

Indian Scholars

The views expressed by Indian Scholars support these conclusions. I have already quoted Dr. S. Radhakrishnan on the subject. Prof. Chakravarti writes: "An impartial study of Vedic literature in its various stages of development will reveal the fact that there have been two parallel developments of thought, one in conflict with the other. One emphasises strictly the principles of Ahimsa and the other the duties of sacrifice... the Ahimsa doctrine preached by Rṣabha is possibly prior in time to the advent of Aryans in India and the prevalent culture of the period".[32] Writing on the history of Jainism, Professor Hiralal expresses almost identical views: "The Jainas claim antiquity for their religion. Their earliest prophet was Ṛṣabhadeva, who is mentioned even in the Viṣṇu and Bhāgavata Purāṇas as belonging to a very remote past. In the earliest Brahmanic literature are found traces of the existence of a religious order which ranged itself strongly against the authority of the Vedas and the institution of animal sacrifice. According to the Jaina tradition, at the time of the Mahabharata war, this order was led by Neminātha, who is said to have belonged to the same Yādava family as Kṛṣṇa and who is recognised as the twenty-second Tirthankara. The order gathered particular strength during the eighth century B. C. under Pārśvanātha, the twenty-third Tirthankara who was born at Varanasi.[33] Dr. A. N. Upadhye who is an eminent scholar on Jainology and Prakrit studies, supports the conclusions reached above: "To take a practical view, the Jaina Tirthankaras like Ṛṣabhadeva, Neminātha, Pārśvanātha, Mahavira etc. have been some of the

greatest mystics of the world…. It would be interesting to note that the details about Ṛṣabhadeva given in the Bhāgavata practically and fundamentally agree with those recorded by the Jaina tradition."[34]

There are other Indian scholars who have subscribed to the antiquity of Jainism. Dr. Vidya Bhushan opines that "Jainism reflects back to the beginning of the creation itself. I have no doubt in asserting that Jaina philosophy is much anterior to Vedanta and other systems."[35] Dr. N. N. Basu has been quoted by Jyoti Prasad as saying: "Probably Ṛṣabhadeva was the first to discover the art of writing. He seems to have invented the Brahmi script for the propagation of Brahma Vidya and that is why he came to the known as the 8th Avatāra. He was born to Marudevi, the queen of the Indian king Nābhirāja and is mentioned in the Bhāgavata as the 8th of the 22 Avatāras.[36] Vinoba Bhave, the Sarvodaya Leader has opined "Mahavira Svāmi is regarded as the 24th Tirthankara. The birth of the Jaina Faith has taken place thousands of years before him. In the prayer of the Bhagavān (Lord) in the Ṛgveda it is said in one place "Arhan idam dayase Viśvam abhayam", that is 'oh Arhan, you show compassion over this insignificant world', In this, the two words: Arhan and Daya are dear to the Jainas. I am in agreement that perhaps the Jaina religion is as ancient as the Hindu religion."[37] Prof. G. Satyanarayan Murti is more specific in his views: "Jainism seems to be an indigenous product of ancient schools of thought. Whatever the European scholars of fame have said to the contrary, it is to be noted that Jainism with all the glory of its Dharma and plenitude of its literature, both secular and religious, has been handed down from a hoary antiquity. Jainism has a history of its own, a history on most of the obscure parts of which fresh light is being thrown almost every year owing to the patient researches of many scholars, both in India and abroad. The sources of the history of Jainism are now many and they have themselves, curiously enough a history of their own..."[38] My own belief is that Jainism was the religion of the Dravidian people who were pre-Aryan inhabitants of India.[39]

What the Jurists Say?

I cannot better conclude this topic than by quoting the conclusion reached by Jurists on the subject. Sir C. V. Kumarswami Sastriar, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court expressed the view: "……modern research has shown that Jainas are not Hindu dissenters but that Jainism has an origin and history long anterior to the Smṛti and commentaries which are recognised authorities on Hindu Law and usage. In fact, Mahavira, the last of Jaina Tīrthankaras, was a contemporary of Buddha and died about 527 B. C. The Jaina religion refers to a number of previous Tīrthankaras and there can be little doubt that Jainism as a distinct religion was flourishing several centuries before Christ. In fact Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas which form the bedrock of Hinduism and denies the efficacy of the various ceremonies which Hindus co sider essential... So far as Jaina Law is concerned it has its own law books of which 'Bhadrabāhu Samhita' is an important one. ' Vardhamāna –Niti' and 'Arhan- Niti' by the great Jaina teacher Hemacandra deal also with Jaina Law.[40]

Justice Ranganekar of the Bombay High Court expressed himself in identical terms on the question of antiquity of Jainism: "Now, it is true that later historical researches have shown that Jainism prevailed in this country long before Brahmanism came into existence or held the field, and it is wrong to think that Jains were originally Hindus and were subsequently converted into Jainism. It is also true that owing to their long association with the Hindus, who formed the majority in the country, the Jainas have adopted many of the customs and even ceremonies strictly observed by the Hindus and pertaining to the Brahmanical religion." At the end of the previous paragraph, he stated: "It is true that the Jainas reject the scriptural character of the Vedas, and repudiate the Brahmanical doctrines relating to obsequie ceremonies, performance of Śrāddhās and the offering of the oblations for the salvation of the soul of the deceased. Amongst them there is no belief that a son, either by birth or by adoption, confers spiritual benefit on the father. They also differ from the Brahmanical Hindus in their conduct towards the dead, omitting all obsequies after corpse is burnt or buried."[41]

The writers on Hindu Law have not concerned themselves with the question of antiquity of Jainism as with the law that governed the Jainas in matters of personal law. Mulla has dealt with Jaina tenets and Jaina law stating: "Jainism flourished several centuries before Christ. The Jaina religion refers to a number of Tirthankaras, the last of whom was Mahavira who was a contemporary of Buddha and died in about 527 B. C. Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas which form the bedrock of Hinduism and denies the efficacy of the various ceremonies which Hindus consider essential.'' [42] The ordinary Hindu Law is applied to the Jainas in the absence of proof of special customs and usages, varying that law.

Meyne has very little to add on the subject as he has confined his discussions to the law that applied to the Jainas in different matters. According to him, the Jainas, though generally adhering to the Hindu law, recognise no divine authority in the Vedas and do not practise the Śrāddhās or ceremonies for the dead. [43]


On a careful consideration of the discoveries made by modern research scholars, it can be concluded with reasonable certainty that Jainism is an original religion which goes back to the pre-Aryan period of primitive currents of religious and metaphysical speculation; that the images, seals and other finds amongst the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjadāro disclose splendid representative specimen like the images of Ṛṣabha and the bull, the first Tirthankara with his emblem, the svastika which is the emblem of Supārśva, the 7th Tirthankara and a seal containing a script deciphered as Jineś - vara. Jainism does not recognise the authority of the Vedas and its fundamental principles and of a different nature from those in each of the systems of the Vedic school. The Ṛgveda and Yajurveda refer to Ṛṣabha, Supārśva and Neminātha, the first, the seventh are twenty-second Tirthankaras, respectively. It is a pre-Vedic religion which flourished in India even before the advent of the Aryans to this country.

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