Renunciation and Pilgrimage in Jainism - Perspectives from the Deccan

Posted: 18.01.2011
Updated on: 30.07.2015


Renunciation and Pilgrimage in Jainism

Perspectives from the Deccan [*]


“Tirthayatra brings an end to a number of beginnings, success in money, devotion of sangha, fortune for good people, renovation of old chaityas, development of tirthas. It helps in following the sayings of tirthankaras in correct way, bringing moksha closer and gaining higher status of human and god” (Jnanavijayaji, Upadeshtarangini 1938: 25)[1]


This quotation succinctly expresses the purpose of pilgrimage for devout Jainas but it also simultaneously suggests that this would bring them closer to mokṣa or spiritual liberation. It befittingly encapsulates for us the purpose of this paper, namely, to reconcile the two main pillars on which Jainism as a religion grew in India and entrenched itself in particular localities. Contrary to contemporary perceptions that Jainism seems confined largely to Western India during the early years of its spread and prosperity, Jainism also had a considerable following in the Deccan and South India. There are several views put forth on how Jainism spread into these parts. The origin of Jainism in the Deccan according to one opinion goes back to the days of the lifetime of Vardhamāna Mahāvīra himself.[2] Generally it is accepted that Jainism began to flourish during early historic times. Textual evidence in the form of legends and the recording of oral memory inform us that this began around the 3rd century B.C. when Bhadrabāhu and Chandragupta (the Mauryan emperor who had abdicated his throne to become a Jaina) traveled to Sravana Belgola along with several thousand Jaina followers.[3] Though details of this early period are still shrouded in uncertainties what is generally agreed upon is that despite the tough competition from Buddhism, it stayed on with intensity for a longer period of time. Sastry has put forth archaeological evidence from early historic sites in the Deccan especially Vaddamanu to shed light on the fact that it co-existed with Buddhism and that both the religions had royal patronage.[4]

Its development during the early medieval period is significant to emphasize upon in the present context for understanding the spread of the concept of tīrtha.[5] It is during this period that certain transformations in the faith took place providing it a new form that enabled it to meet several challenges from both the spiritual leadership as well as the laity. New methods were adopted to make the followers understand the value of renunciation that involved a rigor that was awesome for most of the lay followers. The duration of its survival is important because only then we can appreciate how important centres of Jaina learning and congregation led to the furtherance of their faith. It may be noted that it is during the same period that the collective Jaina tradition, assignable to between the sixth and fifteenth century A.D., in the form of its great literature was systematized and put down to writing. Most of this literature was in an oral form from the days that Lord Mahāvīra preached and even after his attainment of ultimate bliss. Through it the important message of renunciation was conveyed to people in a variety of ways. Prominent among these was a recounting of stories and tales explaining the life achievements of great renouncers through pilgrimage, texts, epics, spiritual autobiographies, and folktales in general.

It is our submission that the study of tīrthas or pilgrimage enhances our study of both local and religious history.[6] We would like to emphasize at the outset that our attempt is not a mere description of the temples, buildings, and images located in centres of Jaina pilgrimage. In this paper we intend to elaborate, with the help of a couple of examples of Jaina pilgrimage centres in the Deccan, the broad socio-economic and changing historical framework in which these centres flourished without damaging the essential principle of the Jaina faith in renunciation as a desirable goal. Our chronological focus will be limited to the early historic and early medieval times. For understanding the continuity of such practices we have to first take a close look at the ideological impetus that motivated people to set up institutions of worship and learning. All these factors can be put down in terms of generalities but our attempt shall be to put them in the context of a local or micro-level situation. This has to be closely analyzed since it poignantly reveals how such local tīrthas received financial and material support from the larger group of the Jaina laity. Without periods and regions of prosperity, the sanctity of such centres is short lived. Thus, in our ultimate analysis we wish to highlight that faith and economic support go together.

Renunciation -- Jaina beliefs and practices

The core of Jaina doctrine was centered on the idea that the blissful, bright and all-knowing soul is present in every jīva and ajīva entity. These entities enveloped not only human, animal, and plant life but stones, rocks and running water as well. However, the existence of this soul is understood to get clouded and dull by karmic action and matter which is born as a result of an unending cycle of transmigration. The main focus of attention in Jaina belief is therefore, the annihilation of this karma. It was believed that this could be done through penance. This, in turn, required a long course of fasting, self-mortification, study and meditation that was ideally to be done by the most rigorous means so that fresh karma could not enter the soul. In simple words, by a carefully disciplined conduct the dangerous qualities of karma could be prevented from entering the soul so that it could be set free. This simple and clear Jaina teaching remained unaltered even though Jaina philosophers developed with great subtlety many other aspects of their doctrines and epistemology in general at a later period.

The early Jainas recognized however, that full salvation for the layman was not possible. To attain kevala and mukti one had to necessarily abandon all aspects of luxurious life including the clothes one was wearing. The rigorous penance could therefore, not be followed by the lay folk. Further, it was also recognized that monastic life was essential for salvation but since the Universe was fast declining very few souls could indeed achieve spiritual liberation in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, some popular Jaina stories[7] on how members of families, wives and children in particular, were effected by the resolutions of renunciation undertaken by those who wished to go in search of truth, were popularized as an ideal for all to respect. Though the stories revealed from time to time that social ties, friendships, emotional bonds between man and wife, mother and child, father and son and so on, were painful and often generated anger and helplessness, these narratives were so written that they went beyond the single life of an individual to show the ultimate efficacy of the decision of renunciation being the only goal. In other respects of the Jaina teaching too a lay follower of Jainism found it difficult to even take up the profession of agriculture since it involved the destruction of plant life and many other living beings in the earth. The Jainas most ardently followed this insistence on ahimsā when compared with any other Indian religion.[8]

The close association of the Jaina order of monks and nuns with the laity has to be emphasized. Herein, lay the difference between them and the Buddhists. The layman in Jainism was encouraged to live the life of a monk for specific periods. In his ordinary life he was encouraged to inculcate commercial virtues of honesty and frugality. The Jaina Sangha therefore consisted of Bhikṣus or monks, Āryikās/Sādhvīs or women ascetics and Śrāvakas-Śrāvikās or lay worshipers so that the promotion and interests of the Sangha was made a pious duty of everyone.[9] The admission of the laity into the Sangha was acclaimed as the genius of Mahāvīra for organization because this enabled the Jainas to have a root in India, which the Buddhists never obtained.[10] In other aspects there were similarities with the other faiths that were prevalent on the subcontinent. For instance, very early on Mahāvīra and the other Tīrthaṅkaras began to be worshiped in the same way as the Buddhist and Hindu gods.[11] Further, it has been pointed out that the notion of austerity that was so central to the Jain faith got reflected in the images of the Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras that were marked by a lifeless and rigid monotony absent in other contemporary sculptures.[12] Soon the donation of the laity to the Jaina Order, along with support by kings and nobles, led to the building of splendid Jaina temples --- two extant outstanding examples are Mt. Abu and Sravana Belgola. Though the core of Jaina belief did not falter the tradition of explaining the importance of pilgrimage or tīrtha gradually began to evolve with the emergence of these institutional bases of the religion.

Tīrtha - Changes and continuity in Jaina beliefs

In a country like India the concept of tīrtha was already popular and it is likely therefore, that to compete with others, the Jainas had to adopt it as well. In Puranic Hinduism the idea of tīrtha was well entrenched by the early centuries of the Christian era and had effected the psyche of the Indian mind as a valuable social and religious mode of worship.[13] The concept of tīrtha emerges out of the notion of a sacred place and tīrthayātrā or pilgrimage is a popular form of piety and devotion to these places of significance in a particular religion's ecology of sacred places. Over time, around these tīrthas or sacred places there emerges a mythology that further sanctifies the place, while at the same time, publicizing its importance. Usually, at these places dāna or gift and charity rituals are performed and the proclamation of such rituals at important tīrthas gives that place a special importance for the devotee who is supposed to get unparalleled religious merit by such acts. Thus myth, belief and ritual get intertwined in a complex way to how the concept of tīrtha develops in different religions particularly on the Indian subcontinent. In the case of Jainism, we argue, that it also got entwined with the concept of renunciation since many of the places of Jaina pilgrimage were immortalized in the name of the brave and sincere ācāryas and munis who had given up ordinary life to achieve sallekhanā or ritual death.

At the same time it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that in other aspects there was a considerable influence of Hindu rites and rituals that affected the overall texture of the Jaina concept of worship. For instance, between the tenth and the fifteenth century, detailed rules regarding the ritual of almsgiving (dāna) appear in almost all the texts that deal with the duty of the Jaina laity. This, it is argued was essential to formulate as it would assure the monastic fraternity of adequate and permanent support.[14] Along with this the details of formal worship of the Jaina images or pūjā, taking these images in procession or yātrā etc. also become central to Jaina belief. However, it is important to emphasize that the idea of pilgrimage in Jainism originally began to be associated with the activities of the great Jaina ācāryas. Visit to such places came to be considered a sacred duty and a purifying and meritorious act. The idea is put forth that the Tīrthaṅkaras themselves made some tīrthas but the choice that they could be made by others was also given in the later Jaina texts. Primarily, they were understood to have come up in places that were identified as the kalyāṇa-kṣetras or those areas associated with the birth and other noteworthy events in the life of the Tīrthaṅkaras. Next in importance were the siddha-kṣetras that were those areas where the Tīrthaṅkaras and other saints had attained spiritual liberation. This was followed by the atiśaya-kṣetras that were associated with the miracles or myths important for the Jaina believers and finally, the most common were the kalā-kṣetras reputed for their artistic monuments, temples and images.[15] By early medieval times the idea of tīrtha had become rampant in Jainism and an integral part of its religious practice. It was the siddha-kṣetras that acquired a special significance for propagating the ideal of renunciation and were highlighted in a big way in the literature of the times. In fact, Cort is of the view that Jaina images were not necessarily made for devotional bhakti but rather, for “singing the glory of asceticism” and thus making the heroic asceticism of the few accessible to the people at large.[16]

Monastic organizations and rituals

Scholars of Jainism are of the view that it was in the Jaina literature of the early medieval and medieval times that fundamental changes began to take place in its doctrines, rituals, and monastic organization. By this time there had also emerged different Jaina sects. The proliferation of these sects particularly in the southern region is important to emphasize upon. Scholars like R.N. Nandi suggest that the changes and deviation in this regard can be explained in terms of their relationship to the changing social and economic milieu of what he calls ‘the early middle ages’. This was marked by the decline of the market economy of towns and the rise of small-scale subsistence economy of agriculture.[17] We discuss below some of these changes as reflected in medieval Jaina literature that has relevance for the development of the idea and practice of tīrtha.

The Bṛhatkalpabhāṣya[18] has been generally dated to ‘the early middle ages’. Its main thrust is best articulated by in the words: “Monastic rules can be either reinforced or modified to avoid actions that could be seen as contrary to worldly conventions (logaviruddha), or to permit actions that are conducive to ‘‘the increase of the religion’’ (tittha-vivaḍḍhī)”[19]. It vividly illustrates the growing popularity of the practice of maṭhavāsa, i.e. permanent residence of monks. This necessitated a change of the old canonical rules restraining monks from taking a permanent residence. This text refutes the earlier view that monks must stay away from the society and live in the forest in order to avoid contact with people in general and women in particular.[20] Another writer Hemacandra, a Śvetāmbara author of the twelfth century A.D. also commends the settled life of monks in monasteries and refers to the provision for lodging (upāśraya) like food, drink, clothing, beds etc., which is said to be most beneficial to the ascetics.[21] Devendra, another Śvetāmbara author of the 13th century states that the best form of dāna or charity is the gift of a dwelling place (vasati) since this gives the monks and ascetics an opportunity for study, meditation and development of religious life. Many inscriptions published in the Epigraphica Carnatica, Bombay Karnataka Inscriptions cited by Nandi give evidence to the above fact and we find kings, nobles and other wealthy clients undertaking to build residential houses for the monks and to furnish them as best as possible.[22]

From the above, as gleaned from both literary and inscriptional sources, we can deduce that the changing life style of the monks began to necessitate a change in monastic laws. Permanent residence greatly affected the monastic ideal of non-possession or non-attachment (aparigraha). Thus changing conditions from the early medieval period led to possession and attachment to worldly things. In fact, literature of the period, especially on dāna or charity, tried to justify parigraha (possession) by the monks. Hemacandra goes to the extent of questioning those who suggest that there was no canonical authority for dāna in any form other than food and drink and goes on to quote texts permitting the offering of clothes, blankets etc. These items were almost like the amenities of life that the householders enjoyed with the only difference that the monks had a code of conduct to abide by.

Puritans however, continued to emphasize that living in forests or taking to the life of a wandering monk was an ideal. They resented upon the increasing popularity of the maṭhavasati monks. Thus, texts continued to mention transgressions that monks should not commit as listed by Haribhadra in the 8th century A.D.. These included the making use of water, flowers or other substances containing live matter, bathing in cold water, applying oil to the body, decorating the body, making use of perfumes and the erection of post-mortem memorials at burial places. The puritans also objected to and criticized the settled monks who derived income from agriculture and admitted women as disciples.[23] The literary perceptions and restrictions were based on what was happening in reality. Information from inscriptions show that the monks had started encouraging the construction of temples and did indeed derive subsistence from land donated to them as free holdings. From epigraphs it also becomes clear that in the temples they used water, flowers, milk, curd, clarified butter, grass etc. for different services. That, women were allowed to become nuns, and as senior nuns, had monks as disciples as well as the fact that there were lady disciples under male monks is also clearly visible in the data from the epigraphs, which give frequent references to these aspects. Similarly, it was for all to see that numerous niṣidhis or memorial stones came up as post-mortem memorials and all these substantiate Haribhadra's allegations that all those who indulged in the above were to be treated as "false ascetics".[24]

The above ideas on the change in the concept of the monastic ideal and particularly the gradual but certain process of the building of maṭhas, temples and other permanent structures have a considerable bearing on our present concern on the simultaneous growth of the tīrthas. The tension between these changes and the ideal of renunciation also gets reflected in the literature of the times and great efforts were made to emphasize on the latter in the form of stories so that the message did not get diluted in any way. We shall dwell on some of these stories below. The above changes also led to the rise of a large number of monastic units in different parts of the country who vied with each other in attracting the layman to their particular ideas, beliefs and practices. Going on pilgrimage was one of the most visible and material means of expressing support to these various monastic orders. Indeed, their success very much depended on where they could receive a regular hospitality of their clients in order to further build temples and institute cults of more Jaina deities.

Shravana Belgola - The making of an ideal pilgrimage

We now turn to take a close look at one of the most well known Jaina tīrthas that not only has a long recorded history but is also one site from where a great abundance of inscriptional data had been collected especially on the number of nuns and monks who offered sallekhanā or self-mortification at this place and thereby, upheld the important Jaina doctrine of renunciation. This is the site of Shravana Belgola near Mysore, in the present-day State of Karnataka. This example enables us to see how the idea of pilgrimage developed in Jainism given the changing socio-economic context in which the religion was also transforming. However, most importantly, at the same time, its main tenets of belief and the ultimate aim of how salvation should be attained were constantly interrogated and re-formulated by preachers, teachers, and seekers of salvation who flocked to this site from very early times. This also gives us a valuable insight into how, over a period of time, the followers of Jainism sanctified the earlier memory of the ascetics and monks who had visited this site but had preferred to remain anonymous. Thus, gradually at this site we are able to study the initiation of certain practices into Jainism that involved both collective and individual ritual and this, in turn, fostered the growth of pilgrimage as a mode of being a devout follower. That this tīrtha was a Digambara centre also makes this a unique case study because usually the settling down of monks and ācāryas is emphasized upon in the Śvetāmbara sects.

Shravana Belgola is located in the Hassan District of Karnataka State and covers a topographical area of about 5 square kilometers. It has a continuous history of about 1500 years and is the foremost Digambara Jaina centre in India, revealing for the historian and the scholar the largest number of Jaina records at one place. Besides having the tallest colossus in the country of Gommaṭeśvara it is also a place that has the largest number of Jaina Digambara temples concentrated at one place. Last but not least, it has the highest number of niṣidhis or commemorative monuments located here which is how the recorded history of the place first began. Settar whose study Inviting Death[25] provides us with the above details has further analyzed that the Hill at Shravana Belogola at first, simply “invited the devout to death”. Only later, he informs us, did it begin to attract pious pilgrims to this place who were initially awe struck by the severe austerities being done by the monks. It was still later that the place began to attract prosperous patrons who began to shower resources for the construction of temples and pavilions. The natural barren rock formations thus gradually began to be surrounded by man-made structures that then became the focal point of pilgrims over the ages.

Based on the data provided by Settar some examples of the above can be given. Shravana Belgola is in fact a place that was known for its two hills called Candragiri (small hill) and Vindhyagiri (Big Hill). The historical name that occurs in the inscriptions frequently to describe this place is Katavapra or Kalvappu. This occurs with several suffixes in the inscriptions of the period between the 7th to the 12th century A.D. like giri (hillock), śaila (rock-bed), tīrtha (holy centre), durgā, (fort), parvata (mountain), ṛṣigiri (hillock of monks), and tīrthagiri (hillock of pilgrimage). After the excavation of the colossus in the 10th century A.D. the entire complex came to be called Gommaṭatīrtha or Gommaṭapura. In fact, it has been pointed out that it was only after the 12th century that Belgola is mentioned as a tīrtha in several inscriptions from there.[26] Settar informs us that “…the tīrtha seems to have attracted visitors to settle down around the pond” and therefore, the connotation of it being a nagara or town only occurs in the records of the 14th century and after[27] when the composite term Belgolanagara occurs. Thus, Belgola, literally meaning the white pond, was first hailed as a tīrtha in the early 12th century when it gradually began to grow as a township between the 12th and the 14th century A.D. to finally, become the headquarters of the nādu in the 15th century. In some records of the 19th century Shravana Belgola is hailed as the Kashi of the South because of the substantial increase of its spiritual importance.[28] The general impression is that it is only because of the presence of the Gommaṭeśvara colossus, carved in the 10th century that pilgrims thronged to this place through the ages. However, contrary to this, Settar writes: “Though the colossus is the most important object which attracts millions of visitors today, its importance is subordinated to the sepulchral hill and the holy pond throughout the history of Shravana Belgola.”[29]

The sanctity of this place to the Jaina laity must now be explained. During the 3rd century B.C. and even as late as the 7th century A.D. the environs of Shravana Belgola were anything but hospitable to the householders. It was surrounded by high peaked mountains and situated amidst lowlands and a valley that was still inaccessible. Legend informs us that the first migrations here were due to the fact that there was a famine in the north. The monks who wanted to perform austerities were of course drawn to the place because of the secluded environment that was most suitable for them if they desired to mortify their body and invite death. This can be contrasted with the urges of a pilgrim who comes to a place to show reverence and then wants to record his or her gift or dāna to the place. In this way the laity left an inedible mark of their visit that becomes the reference point for later generations of pilgrims to follow.

The pattern of how Shravana Belgola grew in sanctity is clearly explained by Settar. These explanations and the statistical data that accompanies them help us to argue that pilgrimage as a concept has to be located in the broad historical context of the times, which enable its underlying growth and prosperity. The role of the individual aspirations and spiritual urges of the followers are not the sole factors that determine the form and the structure of the pilgrimage centre. At Shravana Belgola by the 7th century A.D. about seven hundred pious men had invited death voluntarily on the rocks at Katavapra. The anonymity of these early saints is important to note and none of them had their memorials made. About 100 commemorative records have survived to this day.[30] The history of these hills at Shravana Belgola during the early years was therefore, not made by outstanding events or, the achievements of great monarchs and rulers in the furtherance of the faith. On the other hand, the obscure monks and nuns waged a war against worldly desire through the weapon of self-mortification. This of course was fundamental to their original teaching and belief. [Emphasis added] It is further interesting to note that in the few details known about these individuals none of them were attached to any sangha, society, or association. They also did not inform posterity about their high spiritual pedigree or their list of disciples.

Gradually over these hills there emerge records when young monks begin to tend to the dying monks during their last stages towards death. From the records we gather that they seem to have taken pride in honoring the dead by engraving brief inscriptions at Katavapra. Among these monks commemorated about 30 did not name their sangha at all nor, did they name their teachers. Statistics analyzed by Settar show that only 6 monks took pride in referring to their sangha, which are mentioned by name like those located at Kittur, Kalattur, Sandviga etc. This perhaps indicates that these sanghas must have approved of the ritual termination of life of their members. A few records are also available that mention the names of the teachers only and not of the Orders or guruvādis that these monks belonged to. In contrast to the monks, the nuns who mortified themselves between the 7th and 11th century A.D., it is noted, always mentioned the names of, either their sangha or, their teachers. It is further noted that almost of all the nuns came from the Navilur Sangha. During this early period, except for an isolated record that mentions that the false doctrine was destroyed by a king, there are hardly any references to royal patronage of any kind.

It is between 900-1100 A.D. that records begin to mark a significant change that clearly is an erosion of the simplicity that was the hallmark of the earlier period. The 10th century is marked by the rise of institutions and by the 12th century we definitely see at Shravana Belgola the fall of the individual and the rampant rise of the institutional life with all its frills of ritual. Ironically, this is marked by the considerable entry of the laity into the religious life of the Digambara Jaina establishment both as seekers of spirituality as well as rich donors for the construction of temples and maṭhas. Initially of course, the laity had been drawn to the hills to witness the awesome mortification rituals of the early monks. As a next step they started erecting niṣidhi memorials for them. Among the significant commemorators were engravers, sculptors, scribes, and members of the order and sometimes lay disciples. During the 6th to the 10th century the patronage of the ruling kings and people of affluence is largely unsolicited.

The evidence from both the hills at Shravana Belgola indicates that the number of pilgrims increased between the 10th and the 11th century A.D. Several of them left behind their names on the rock bed. The names of pilgrims had been known from the 8th century onwards but they were just a trickle then. From the 10th century onwards they mention clearly that some of them had come to pay obeisance to the tīrtha and some others to “bow before the god”. For instance, an interesting example of the 10th century tells us that one Andamarayya came with Sankayya desiring to see the monk Aggaladeva but being enchanted by the holy place both of them stayed on at Belgola till the end.[31] Though the total number of pilgrims who came to the place must have been many, only a few of them inscribed their name. From the names engraved on the rocks like Ranadhira, Sri Ratta, Sri Bamma, Isarayya, Sridhara we presume that most of them were ordinary laypersons. In fact, for the period before the 11th century A.D., Settar has analyzed to write: “It is interesting to note that this sizable number of pious visitors never made an attempt at enriching the holy centre either by cash or land grants.”[32] It is also deduced that during this early period the majority of the pilgrims were local people including some who were non-Jainas.

From the above discussion it can be clearly seen how Shravana Belgola emerged an important centre of pilgrimage for the Jaina community. The increase in the number of pilgrims brought the laity closer to the monks. Whereas, during the first four hundred years, i.e., between 600-1000 A.D. we do not find any examples of lay disciples terminating their lives, the evidence for the period after the 10th century increases in this regard. It is noticed that in the early days the pilgrims came to meet the monks by whom they were inspired. However, later after the 9th century, on the engravings left by them they mention that they had come to pay respects to god. This further leads us to argue that after this period temple building had become an important activity and so now the pilgrim's aim was to pay respects to the gods housed in the temples.

The emergence of temple building activity and the land grants as well as cash grants that began to be given to them totally changed the character of this pilgrimage centre after the 12th century A.D. The increase in the number of monuments at the place went hand in hand with the activities of the Sangha and in this case it was the Mūlasangha that began to enrich the religious life of this region as a whole. From the open hill where the early monks had mortified themselves, there gradually emerged caverns, rock-shelters etc. which gained sanctity. The earliest such cave was the one associated with Bhadrabāhu that emerged into prominence only between the 9th to 10th centuries A.D. However, proper temple worship became popular between the 10th to 13th centuries A.D. The Sangha's new role emerged in the context of controlling the resources that were being generated by the laity for this worship and organizing this worship in a proper manner. Thus, we find that by the end of this period the individual monks who had earlier committed self-mortification and to whom the laity had come to see, more or less, disappear from the hill. The clergy now became engaged in temple building and temple management. The spiritual and religious activity now engulfs the entire valley around Shravana Belgola and not merely the hills because lands began to be given in the surrounding villages for the management of these temples. It would seem from the modus operandi of the Mūlasangha that the influential and affluent laity played a significant role in what kind of religious activities were to be followed. An important aspect of their interference in the Sangha was to appoint clergymen to manage the religious establishments. Image worship became the central feature of these religious institutions. Settar has discussed that in order to survive and compete with the other religions of the time, the language of the discussion and debates became increasingly militant.[33]

The micro-level study of Shravana Belgola is interesting from various angles. Its history reveals clearly the changes in the inter-connections between the spiritual values of the Jaina faith which were held high by the monks or clergy and the religious life and practices of the Jaina laity that changed over time in the given social context. The important role of the temples and monasteries in bringing about a change in religious practice has much to do with the generous donations that were received from the wealthy laity. It is thus our submission that the tīrtha here developed as a religious practice to enable laity to participate in the perpetuation of the spiritual values of their faith for which Shravana Belgola had already become very famous.

Uphodling renunciation as an ideal

Keeping in mind the changing religious practices that were affecting Jainism and also the fact that there were different points of view emerging in the organization of the different Jaina Sanghas, the large corpus of the Jaina literary tradition during the early medieval and medieval times began to preach on the values of upholding the principle of renunciation. Keeping in line with the earlier Jaina teaching it encouraged young men and women to renounce life and become nuns and monks as the most important way to achieve salvation and this was considered to be the more direct path. On the other hand, those who were unable to take this path had the option of living as a householder in accordance with the basic principles of Jaina ethics. In case a layperson could lead an ideal life properly he too would ultimately lead to a life of renunciation. This was surely a more circuitous path and often full of temptations and hurdles. We will now briefly reflect on some of these stories to emphasize the point that the tension between complete renunciation and the householders life was sought to be solved by glorifying the former at an ideational level so that in the larger interests of the Jaina faith the growing ritual did not undermine and erode the essential ethos of this philosophy. By taking some select examples from these stories, it will be our endeavor to look at the multidimensional responses of society towards this major essential concept of Jainism. In other words, we will detail how the resolute ideas of renunciation affected society and, in turn, how individuals in society responded to it.

An interesting story is that of the monk Ārdrakumāra[34] who faced several difficulties during the course of his pledge to take to renunciation and in the process also caused pain to his loved ones whom he ultimately abandoned. He got activated to take this decision after seeing an image of the Jina. As a young man he had renounced the world but had to break his vows to marry. He, however, could not forget that he had once been a monk and when a son was born to him he decided again to take to renunciation. The story goes on to inform us that since he and his wife had been married even in their previous birth, it was very difficult for him to take this decision but he did so nonetheless rationalizing that now his wife had their son to keep her company. The story thus explores the complexities of pain and sorrow in taking the decision to renounce as well as the difficulties of keeping the family intact. In this story all concerned, including the monk, go through a period of pain and sorrow at the decision taken to renounce the world.

Several stories of this sort narrating the difficulties faced by individuals in taking to renunciation occur in the Jaina anthologies but they vary in terms of how each of the members are afflicted by it. In another story of renunciation, that of the monk Vajrasvāmin,[35] we are informed how right from the beginning as a young man he was inclined towards becoming a monk. Despite this, he, however, reluctantly marries and then abandons his pregnant wife and renounces the world. The interesting aspect of this story is that the son born to this monk also wishes to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a monk. He then convinces his mother to let him go but she suffers a lot of pain in the process. The story emphasizes on this pain but equally informs its readers that the young lad had taken the right decision to renounce the world. In this narrative the father and son fulfill their ambitions to become monks but the wife/mother is full of sorrow but is generally benign in her attitude. This is not the case in all the stories where the women are affected in this way.

The story of the monk Sukośala[36] ends with the anger of the women that is rather graphically depicted. In this story a king renounces the world to become a monk. Like the others, in this case too, his wife originally suffers from grief at this decision of his but this gradually turns to anger and hostility. We are informed in the story that she desperately tries to keep her son from becoming a monk but he too follows in the footsteps of his father. Unable to stop her son, full of grief and anger the mother dies. This story then moves on to the next life of the wife/ mother when she becomes a tigress. As such her anger continues in this life and she uses her present form as tigress to devour the monk who had once been her son. Here, there is the emotion of anger that is being amplified since in her earlier plight as a wife and mother she was helpless when her husband and child left her to become monks. The tension in this case is not based on moral ambiguities but simply on pure human emotions that are difficult to explain. In another story of anger and abandonment, that of Celanā,[37] we continue to explore the tenacious and unpredictable nature of human relations in terms of the feelings of the hurt person continuing to yield fruit in the next life. In this case the wife left behind when her husband became a monk, dies and becomes a demi-goddess tormenting her former husband who is now a monk. In this story, however, there is another aspect, namely, the image of a female devotee who emerges in the story to help the monk. Thus, complex emotions and, at the same time, exemplary piety both come to the forefront in this narrative.

These stories were used as a medium to convey to people the difficulties faced by families when men and, particularly male children, resorted to renunciation as the most desired goal of the Jaina faith. The ultimate aim of course was that however difficult the situation and however, painful the separation and still further, however difficult the ability to control anger, the end result was success of the ideal of renunciation. In this context it is important to point out that there were other stories which tell us about monks who had renounced the world but yet, continued to interact with it. These set of stories do not totally deny the world but try to explain it in positive light but within the context of the ideal of renunciation. In this context the story of Amarasīha is most fascinating. He lives and works in society but technically he is withdrawn from it or rather, detached from it in a form of renunciation.[38] Basically, in this story the monk lives an exemplary life, doing good deeds like putting an end to blood sacrifice, bringing about an end of the plague - all to show the greatness of the Jaina faith. The practice of non-violence in the world is particularly stressed upon as a virtue that both the laity and the monks must possess. This is even stressed for the kings to adopt in the story of Abhayasīha that is a dialogue between King Kumārapāla of Gujarat and the monk Hemacandra.[39]


The necessity of narrating some of the stories located in the real world of on going life and its happenings was that the monks had to preach the pristine teachings to the laity in an atmosphere which was continuously expanding and changing. The ideal of renunciation had to be particularly stressed among a Jaina laity that was, from the early medieval times, increasingly being drawn to image and temple worship. The aim of this paper has thus been on highlighting the changes that took place at Shravana Belgola during the early medieval times wherein we had concluded that the spiritual life got merged and intrinsically entwined with religious practice. The idea of pilgrimage as it had emerged had been closely connected with the spiritual beliefs of the Jainas to perform austere penance so that the liberation of the soul could take place. Its later practice, on the other hand, dwelt more on the worship of images of god and the rituals that accompanied them. The latter cannot also be understood unless we give due emphasis to the role of the influential laity who worked hand in hand with the spiritual orders for the expansion of these places of pilgrimage. The literary endeavors, on the other hand, which we focused on in the latter half of the paper were necessary reminders for both the laity and monks that the ultimate goal of renunciation could not be sidelined in any way. Stories were the best means on communicating that the pristine ideals of Jainism lay in renunciation.

In the end we reiterate that there are a variety of reasons that enable pilgrimage centres to develop. Some have to do with the larger cultural idiom in which Jainism developed. Others can be related to the social functions that the idea of pilgrimage performs. The most significant however, has to do with the symbolism of ritual attached to it in the given ideology. In the case of Jainism this particularly evolved in it during the early medieval times. This is also the period during which most of the stories discussed above were systematized and popularized. Thus, in an overall sense both pilgrimage and literature mirror society in religious tradition. Therefore, we have argued that since there is socio-economic and cultural change from time to time, the idea and practice of pilgrimage continually got reinforced. Further, so that the essence of Jainism in its ideal of renunciation did not get diluted, the literary traditions were kept alive to propagate these ideals to the people at large. Studies on pilgrimage help us to see how they originate and thrive in given local situations during specific periods while the literary traditions keep alive the sub-continental linkages within the religion - each reinforcing the other to keep the seminal message of the founder intact and further fortify the old memory of their sanctity.

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