Jain Legend : Jain Dharma ka Maulika Itihasa (3) ► Yāpanīya Tradition

Posted: 16.06.2016

After the death of Ācārya Devardhigaṇi Kṣamāśramaṇa, Yāpanīya congregation as a prevailing tradition of the powerful Jain traditions emerging from Southern India also became the most prominent congregation amongst all Jains in the country. This Yāpanīya tradition does not exist in any part of India today. But its learned scholars and ācāryas have produced literary jewels which exist even today. Various gaṇas or gacchas of this sect are as follows:

  1. Punnāga vrakṣa mūla gaṇa
  2. Balātakāra gaṇa
  3. Kumidī gaṇa
  4. Kaṇdūra or Krāṇūra gaṇa
  5. Maḍuvagaṇa
  6. Baṇdiyūra gaṇa
  7. Kāreya gaṇa or Melāpa anvaya
  8. Koṭi Maḍuvagaṇa
  9. Meṣa pāṣāṇa gaccha
  10. Tintriṇīka gaccha
  11. Kanakotpala sambhūta vrakṣa mūla gaṇa
  12. Śrīmūla mūla gaṇa
  13. Surastha gaṇa

Old manuscripts and the manuscripts of later periods indicate that Yāpanīya congregation was a dominant congregation from 4th century AD to 10th-11th century AD. During this period, dynasties of Kadamba, Cālukya, Gaṃga, Rāṣṭrakūṭa and Raṭṭa patronized ācāryas of this sect by donating villages, land and other support etc during their existence so that Jain religion can prosper and survive. Being endowed with royal patronage, Yāpanīya congregation remained as one of the primary and key religious order in Karnataka for 6 to 7 century in middle period.

It cannot be said with certainty, due to lack of proper evidences, as to when and where Yāpanīya congregation came into being, who was its founding ācārya and when did it disintegrate in different units.

Under such circumstances and with the available evidences, it can be said that Yāpanīya congregation as a separate entity emerged in and around V.N. 609 or 2 to 3 centuries thereafter, when the main congregation was bifurcated in Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects. A deep contemplation over the facts suggest that with the objective of keeping the fundamental doctrine of Lord Mahāvīra intact and not letting it become weak, Yāpanīya congregation came into being as a bridge between the two sects i.e. Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects.

To annul the growing influence of other non-Jain traditions like Buddhists, Śaiva, Vaiṣaṇavas, Ājīvakas etc who were gaining popularity and indulging in mass conversion of followers of Jainism into their fold; to retain the basic Jain doctrine intact, Yāpanīya congregation left other Jain sects way behind in developing and using innovative and popular changes of mass appeal in the rituals and religious gatherings which were similar to prevailing rituals in other religions. Like other religious traditions, Yāpanīya congregation also started building larger, grander and huge temples and residential quarters for their monks (male and female) resulting in stopping mass exodus of Jain followers to other religions. Like other religions that used mantras, tantras and worshipping female deities for worldly gains, Yāpanīya congregation also started patronising similar practices in their congregation. They also made minor changes in Jain doctrine if the same was felt essential to achieve their objectives. Yāpanīya congregation got separate temples of goddess Jwālāmālinī along with many rituals; mantras worship etc for worldly gains and attainments. They succeeded in attractive Jains towards their congregation. They simplified many religious rituals and activities by introducing relaxations. At the time when Digambara tradition was in full vogue in Karnataka, they preached 'The women cannot achieve liberation in the same life. Practicing nudity is essential to attain liberation as liberation cannot be achieved wearing the clothes.' Clothes are the biggest obstructions in practising non possession completely. Hence they are the biggest deterrent in attaining liberation. Sticking to their doctrine, Digambara ācāryas went to the extent of banning initiation of female ascetics in their order.

Such preaching and proclamations by the ācāryas naturally caused desperations in the minds of women folks. Yāpanīya congregation took serious note of the damage that can be caused to female devotees by such proclamations. They further realized that the growth, longevity and prosperity of Jain religion are directly proportional to the attraction, involvement and practice of the religion by female devotees. They thus firmly concluded that the women can be more helpful and instrumental than men in making the very foundations of the religion stronger and preaching the same. After cognizing this truth, they adopted the Śvetāmbara tenet 'Strīṇām tadbhave mokṣh ̣' i.e. women can attain liberation in the same life. Hence they vigorously started preaching this in all their discourses in cities and villages across the country.

They said, 'Women are not non-living beings. Nor they are desolate (abhavya). Nor do they oppose philosophy. They are also not born from a different womb than men. They are thus an integral part of humanity. They are also not a product of alien. They are neither also of limited life duration nor with low intellect. They are also not of the nature of not being able to suppress the delusion. Or they are also not the one who cannot practice right conduct. They also do not use impure language nor are they incapable of practicing a profession. Women are not opposed to apūrvakaraṇa and devoid of nine stages of spiritual purification. Similarly women are capable of attaining supreme powers. Further they do not promote ill of others. Endowed with the basic necessities for attaining liberation, why can't women practice the true path and attain liberation? That is, they can attain liberation. Definitely like men, they can also attain liberation in the same life.'

Such proclamations, by Yāpanīya congregation in southern India, resulted in mass attraction of devotees towards them and they became a very powerful and popular Jain congregation there. The disinterest and distress amongst women devotees of Jainism caused by Digambara ācāryas was totally eliminated by the Yāpanīya congregation's proclamations 'Strīṇāṃ tadbhave mokṣah'. Enthused by such proclamations, the women devotees henceforth started vigorously participating religious practices, organizations and rituals as proclaimed by ācāryas, monks (male and female) of Yāpanīya congregation. They started not only participating actively but contributing their time, money and knowledge for the reestablishment and improvisation of pilgrimage places, temples and even building new ones.

Further Yāpanīya congregation assigned the task of administering the female fold of their congregation to scholarly and influential śramaṇīs and anointed them even the posts of ācāryas. Actually this was a revolutionary and innovative step taken by Yāpanīya congregation.

This step taken by the leaders of Yāpanīya congregation at the most appropriate and correct time resulted in a flood of interest in the women devotees to dedicate themselves in the practice of religion and its uplift. Not only this, being an active partner, they even started activities to acquire all the skills and virtues enshrined in the holy texts. Hence new monasteries and residences of female monks also got established in different temples, caves, monasteries, pilgrimage centers, and vasatis (place of stay) which were kept for male monks only so far. Queens, wives of elders of the community and officials, destitute women and all shades of women started observing fasts, vows, religious rituals, observing austerities, Alongwith generously donating land, money, food and buildings for welfare and religious activities. Such acts of women significantly enhanced the beauty of Jainism. Not only these, some women after due consideration of this life as trans migratory and full of associated pains, started renouncing the worldly life and got initiated into female monk practice. Women had been the leaders in generously donating their might for the education of Jain doctrine to monks (male and female), youth, detached at many places and in many educational institutes.

We come to know of the very large number of female monks during that period from many rock inscriptions.  We know from the rock inscriptions dating around 850 AD that 900 female monks existed in Beḍhāla region during the reign of Cola dynasty King Āditya-I.

In the independent Jain congregation in Tamilnadu which had both male and female monks, we come to know that all powerful female ācāryas existed there who were known by the names / titles such as Kuratiyāra, Kurati or Kuratigala. Rock inscription number 370 from this series of inscriptions of Tamilnadu, we find mention of Tirumallai Kurati who lived in Kuṭṭanana Enāḍi. After giving up the preaching of Digambara sect ācāryas 'Strīṇāṃ tadbhave mokṣah ̣', Yāpanīya ācāryas started adopting reformist and liberal attitude and supported the following three main principles as given in Śvetāmbara scriptures.

  1. 'Para śāsane mokṣah ̣' i.e. one can attain liberation even following religions other than Jainism.
  2. 'Sagranth ̣ānām mokṣah ̣' i.e. it is not an essential rule that only nude monks can attain liberation. Monks wearing clothes living in together or even householders practicing austerities severally and seriously can attain liberation.
  3. 'Strīṇām tadbhave mokṣah ̣'i.e. women like men also attain liberation in the same life.

These sermons of Yāpanīya congregation affected followers both in South and North alike. Proclamation of Yāpanīya congregation 'strīṇām tadbhave mokṣah ̣' in fact caused a flood of enthusiasm for Jainism in women of south India. The immediate benefit of this proclamation was that Yāpanīya congregation became the most powerful and popular congregation in southern India. This congregation thus continued to be so powerful and dominant in Karnataka from 4th to 11th century AD.

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