History of Jainism ►Digambara

Published: 17.02.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015



History of Digambara Jains

The history of the Digambara church after Mahavira can generally be divided into four periods. These periods differ from one another not because each of them necessarily has any special characteristic, but mainly because each of the preceding period from the last is shrouded in more and more obscurity, with the result that we know practically nothing substantial about the first of these four periods, known a little more about the second, and so on. These periods are as follows:

  1. The first five or six centuries after Mahavira, i.e. the period between Mahavira and the beginning of the Christian era.
  2. The eight centuries from the beginning of the Christian era. This may be called the period of the Acharyas.
  3. The Period of the dominance of Bhattarakas, i.e. up to the 17th/18th century to the present day.

1. The early centuries

As stated above, the first five or six centuries in the history of the Digambara sect are hidden in obscurity. We know almost nothing about the history of this sect as a separate Jaina church in these centuries; the reason most probably was that the two churches had not till then separated, and as such they had no separate history. The Digambaras unlike the Shvetambaras have not written any history of their sect, and all that we have are some lists of successive patriarchs. Not much reliance can be placed on these lists for they were compiled many centuries later. In fact the first list that we possess is the one inscribed in Sravana Belgola in about A.D. 600, that is almost eleven centuries after Mahavira; this Sravana Belgola succession list is as follows:

Mahavira - Gautama - Lohacharya - Jambu - Vishnudeva - Aparajita - Govardhan - Bhadrabaju - Vishakha - Prosthila - Karttikarya (Kshattirikarya) - Jaya - Nama (Naga) - Siddharatha - Dhritisena - Buddhila etc.

It will be noticed that the difference with the Shvetambara list starts almost from the very beginning. The name of Gautama as successor of Mahavira is not mentioned in the Shvetambara list as given in the Kalpasutra. In fact the Kalpasutra explicitly mentions that only two ganadharas, Indrabhuti and Sudharma, survived Mahavira and it was Sudharma who succeeded Mahavira as head of the church and no other ganadhara left any spiritual descendants. Indrabhuti who was a list as the first successor of Mahavira. Both the sects are in agreement in asserting that Indrabhuti Gautama was a Kevalin, but Shvetambaras deny that he ever headed the church, or left any disciples.

The confusion is carried on to the next time also. Many Digambara lists, including the Sravana Belgola inscription, say that Gautama's successor as the head of the church was Lohacharya. The name Lohacharya is not known to Shvetambaras. Other Digambara list (e.g. the one in the Harivansha Purana) mention Sudharma as the successor of Gautama. Fortunately, Lohacharya and Sudharma are the names of the same person. This is explicitly stated in Jambuddviva Pannati (I.10).

In the Digambara list Lohacharya's and in the Shvetambara list Sudharma's successor is Jambusvami. Here for the first and last time the Digambara and Shvetambara lists agree in regard to the other of succession. Digambaras and Shvetambaras both agree that after Mahavira only three persons, namely Gautama, Sudharma and Jambu, became kevalins.

The next three names in the Sravana Belgola list (A.D. 600) are Vishnudeva, Aparajita and Govardhana. Later Digambara works such as the Harivansha Purana (late 8th century) include the name of Nandimitra between Vishnudeva and Aparajita. The present day Digambaras accept this later list of four names. However, none of these names are known to the Shvetambaras. They have instead the following three names: Prabhava, Shayyambna (or Shayyambhava) and Yoshobhadra. Shayyambhava as we have seen was the author of the Dashavikalika, one of the most important texts of the Shvetambaras, but the Digambaras neither know his name, nor recognize the book.

The successor of Govardhana in the Digambara list is Bhadrabahu. In the Shvetambara list, the corresponding place is occupied by two persons: Bhadrabahu and Sambhutavijaya who were joint patriarchs of the church. Bhadrabahu who has according to the Sravana Belgola inscription (A.D. 600) predicted a famine in Ujjayini which led the Jaina community there to leave for South India under the leadership of one Prabhachandra (or, according to the later versions, he himself led the Jaina community - of Magadha? - to South India). It will be Digambara reference say that Bhadrabahu himself went to the south India. But the later Digambara tradition is insistent that it was Bhadrabahu who introduced Jainism to South India. The difficulty can be solved if we accept that it was another Bhadrabahu appears as the 27th acharya in the Digambara list (the Shevtamanga only, and not shrutakevali like Bhadrabahu I, who knew all the 12 angas). Bhadrabahu II died 515 years after the Nirvana (i.e. in 12 B.C.) and we know that he belonged to South India calls himself the pupil of Bhadrabahu.

The matter is slightly confusing here for according to the pattavalis of the Digambaras, Kundakunda was not the first but the fourth acharya after Bhadrabahu II. The actual list is as follows:

  1. Bhadrabahu II
  2. Guptigupta
  3. Maghanandi I
  4. Jinacandra I
  5. Kundakunda.

Perhaps the solution of this problem is that all these four persons form Guptigupta to Kundakunda were pupils of Bhadrabahu II, and became acharyas one after another.

Now to go back to Bhadrabahu I, he was as we know the last shrutakevali. The acharyas who came after him were dashapurvis, i.e. they knew the 11 angas and the 10 purvas. Their names were:

  1. Visakha
  2. Dhritisena
  3. Kshatria
  4. Jayasena
  5. Nagasena
  6. Siddhartha
  7. Dhritisena
  8. Vijaya
  9. Buddhilinga
  10. Deva I
  11. Dharasena.

Except for their names we know nothing about them. They were followed by ekadashangis, who knew only the eleven angas. Their names were:

  1. Nakshatri
  2. Jayapalaka
  3. Pandava
  4. Dhruvasena
  5. Kansa.

Then came the upangis, who only knew one anga. They were:

  1. Subhadra
  2. Yashobhadra
  3. Bhadrabahu II
  4. Lohacharya II.

Lastly there were the ekangis. They had only fragmentary knowledge of the canon. Their names were:

  1. Arhadvali
  2. Maghanandi
  3. Dharasena
  4. Pushpadanta
  5. Bhutavali.

It is from the period of the ekangis, i.e. Arhadvali, Maghanandi, Dharasena, Pushpadanta and Bhutavali onwards, that we get some material facts about the Digambara acharyas. All these five were perhaps the disciples of Bhadrabahu II.

It is said that it was Arhadvali who had divided the Original church (the Mula Sangha) into four different sanghas, namely Sinha, Nandi, Sena and Deva. This we learn from the Nitisara, composed by Indrananbdin between 1524 and 1565, and from the pattavalis of the last century. It is, of course, not possible to say whether this story of Arhadvali dividing the Mula Sangha into four branches is correct or not. None of these branches exist today, and even the first mention of this division is almost thirteen hundred years after the alleged event.

It is said that Dharasena, the third among the ekangis named above was the last master of the Astanga Mahanimitta the "eightfold Mahanimittas". What these Mahanimittas were is not clear, but they seem to have something to do with astrology has clairvoyance, for it was with this power that Bhadrabahu had predicted the 12-year famine in Ujjayini as we know form the Sravana Belgola inscription (A.D. 600):

Bhadrabahu - svamina Ujjayinyam astanga - mahanimitta - tatvajnena - trailokya - darshina, nimittena dvadasha samvatshara-kala vaisamyam uplabhya.

“By Bhadrabahu-svamin, who possessed the knowledge of the Eight Mahanimittas, the seer of the past, present and future, was foretold by the signs a dire calamity in Ujjayini, lasting for a period of 12 years”.

Dharasena also had a partial knowledge of the canonical words like the angas, purvas etc. According to the legend he lived in Girnar (Saurastra). He sent a message to the Digambaras of South India, warning them against the disappearance of the knowledge of the canons. The monks of Dakshinapatha then sent two intelligent persons to Dharasena who passed on his knowledge to these two persons, whose names were Pushpadanta and Bhutavali. These two returned home and wrote an important work Shat-Khandagama-Sutra based on that teaching. This work thus is revered among the Digambaras almost as a canonical work. It was completed on the fifth of the bright fortnight of Jyestha, and that day is thus celebrated every year as Shruta-panchami,

2. The age of the Acharyas

Beginning with the 1st century and up to the end of the 8th century, the Jainas of the Karnataka region produced a number of distinguished scholars. The Jaina community of Karnataka at that time must have been large and prosperous enough to provide for the maintenance of these scholars and their pupils.

  • Kundakunda

Evidence either literary or in stone inscriptions about the existence of Jainism in South India before the Christian era has not been found. However, we can by inference presume the existence of the Jains at that time in Karnataka. Kundakunda, the great acharya and prolific writer of books on Jainism was living in the first century A.D. It is quite inconceivable that such a writer could have flourished unless there was as old tradition of Jains in that area. There must have been enough well read Jains in south Karnataka to provide a readership for Kundakunda's works. Moreover, Kundakunda wrote in Prakrit (which was akin to Shauraseni, i.e. the language of the Mathura region) and this would be a language quite familiar to the local people other than the learned among the Jains.

As we have seen, it was Kundakunda who provided some of the philosophical texts of the Digambara church. In fact he is venerated almost as a ganadhara, that is as if he was as knowledge as one of the immediate disciples of Mahavira. As time passed he gained in miraculous powers and in an inscription at Sravana Belgola, dated A.D. 1398, it is said that when Kundakunda walked his feet would be four fingers above the ground.

Many places claim Kundakunda, as their is a village called Konda or Kunda few kilometers from the Guntakkal railway station (i.e. practically on the borders of the Andhra and Karnataka states), and this village is said to have been the place where he was born. This would substantiate the claim that Kundakunda belonged to Karnataka. On the other hand it has also been suggested that he lived in Kanchi, because his place of work was said to have been in that same area.

There is in fact some difficulty about his exact name also. He is said to have had the following names: Vakragriva, Elacarya Gridhrapincha, Padmanandi and Kundakunda, but so far as the first four names are concerned there in the later centuries. Thus it will be safer to call him by the name of Kundakunda only.

  • Umasvami or Umasvati

The most celebrated acharya among the Digambaras after Kundakunda was Umasvami. In the South Indian inscriptions he is mentioned immediately after Kundakunda, which implies that he was a disciple on Kundakunda. Umasvati had the epithet Gridhrapinca or Gridhapiccha, "vulture's feather", which Kundakunda had too. According to most of the Digambara pattavalis, he lived from about A.D. 135 to 219.

The Shvetambaras on the other hand think that his name was Umasvati. He was so called because his mother's name was Uma Vatsi, and father's Svati. The name of his teacher was Ghosanandi Kshamashramana. About his period the Shvetambara traditions differ, but in any case none of them is in a agreement with the Digambara tradition.

It is not certain that he belonged to South India, for he wrote his work Tattvarthadhigama-sutra ("the manual for the understanding of the true nature of things") in Pataliputra. This manual in Sanskrit is recognized as authority by both Digambaras and Shvetambaras. Winternitz wrote, that "even at the present day (this work) is read by all Jainas in private houses and temples”. By reading this book once through, one is said to acquire as much as merit as by fasting for one day. The logic, psychology, cosmography, ontology and ethics of the Jaina are treated in these sutras and in the commentary, appended by the author himself in the closest possible agreement with the canon, more specially with Anga VI (jnatadharmakathah). Even today it may still serve as an excellent summary of Jaina dogmatic. It is true that the commentary, which expresses views that are not in harmony with those of the Digambaras, is not recognized by this sect as the work of Umasvami. It is doubtful therefore, whether the Digambaras are justified in claiming him as one of their own. However Umasvami is an important writer for the Digambaras. They honor him as an equal of the shrutakevlins of the old (shrutakevalidesiya), and would not like to surrender him to the Shvetambaras. The Shvetambaras also greatly respect Umasvati and give him the epithets purvavit ("adept of ancient texts") and vacakacarya ("master reciter"). Umasvami or Umasvati is said to have been a prolific writer and should have written about 500 books. Very few of these are known today. The Digambaras think that the Puja-Prakarana, Prasamarati, and Jambudvipasamasa are his works.

Among the early commentators of Umasvami's Tattvarthadhigama-sutra was Siddhasena Divakara. He was perhaps the last acharya to be claimed by both of the sects. However, his name does not appear in the Digambaras pattavalis of South India).

  • Samantabhadra

According to a pattavali given in an inscription of 1163 A.D. at Sravana Belgola, Umasvati's disciple was Balakapiccha, and his disciple was Samantabhadra. He is also styled 'Svami' and referred to with reverence by later acharyas. Digambaras place the period in which he flourished as between A.D. 120 and 185. Samantabhadra was definitely a Digambara. He wrote, among other books, a commentary of Umasvati's Tattvarthadhigama-sutra. The main part of the commentary is no longer extant but the introductory part of the commentary exists. It is known as Devagama-sutra or Atamimansa, the Jaina philosophy of book. The work was therefore discussed by non-Jaina philosophers, such as Kumarila (8th/9th century) and Vachaspatimishra (9th century), of the Mimansa and the Nyaya schools of thought respectively. Few Jaina authors except Samantabhadra and Akalanka have been found worthy of such notice by non-Jaina philosophers.

  • Sinhanandi

Some inscriptions mention that Samantabhadra was succeeded by Sinhanandi. In that case he should belong to the 2nd century according to the pattavali reckoning. Sinhanandi is not known as the author of any work. His fame rests on the legend that he was instrumental in the foundation of the Western Ganga Kingdom in Karnataka. The legend is as follows:

Two princes of the Ikshvaku family, Dadiga and Madhava, migrated from the north to South India. They came to the town of Perur in the Cuddapah district in the Andhra State. There they met a Jaina teacher whose name was Sinhanandi. Sinhanandi trained them in the art of ruling. At the behest of the teacher Madhava cut asunder a stone pillar which barred the road to the entry of the goddess of sovereignty. Thereupon Sinhanandi invested the princes with royal authority, and made them rulers of a kingdom.

The fullest version of the story is met with in a stone inscription from the Karnataka state, dated the first quarter of the 12th century. The nucleus of the story or a few bare allusions to its main incidents, however, occur in the epigraphical records ranging from the 5th century onwards. Thus, it is believed generally that either Sinhanandi or some other Jaina sadhus had something to do with the foundation of the Ganga kingdom, but there is no independent inscription to prove that Madhava, the founder himself, become a Jaina as the later Jaina inscriptions claim.

If Sinhanandi was successor of Samantabhadra, then the above incident should have happened by the first half of the 3rd century, but most authorities believe that the Western Ganga dynasty was founded in the second half of the 4th century. Thus Sinhanandi was probably not the immediate successor of Samantabhadra. In fact most Digambara pattavalis do not mention Sinhanandi at all.

According to one tradition the successor of Sinhanandi was one Kavi Parmeshvara and his successor was Devanandi, whose epithet was Pujyapada. However, the several pattavalis of Digambaras, all of which generally start with Bhadrabahu II, give conflicting names of the succeeding patriarchs. The pattavali given in the inscription No. 40 20 in Sravana Belgola is as follows:

Umasvati (sic) - Banlakapichchha - Samantabhadra - Devanandi - Akalanka

Some other pattavalis give the following list:

Bhadrabahu II - Guptigupta - Maghanandi I - Jina Chandra I - Kundakunda - Umasvami - Lohacharya II, - Yasakirti - Yasonandi - Devanandi - Pujyapada - Gunanandi I.

According to the first list above, Devanandi was the successor of Samantabhadra. In the second list there is no Samantabhadra, and at the same tome Devanandi and Pujyayada had also written a commentary on Umasvati's work. This was titled Sarvarthasiddhi.

  • Akalanka

We come next to Akalanka with whom the period of the great Jaina acharyas ends in the Karnataka region. According to one of the pattavalis given above, he was near contemporary of Samantabhadra and both of them lived in the first half of the 8th century. Apart from writing a commentary titled Tattvartharajavarittika on the great work of Umasvami, Akalanka wrote a number of works on logic, viz., Nyasavinischaya Laghiyastarya, and Svarupasambodhana. He was opposed, as stated earlier, by Kumarila, the great philosopher of Brahmanical orthodoxy. Akalanka wrote many other treatises also.

3. The age of the Bhattarakas in Karnataka

This period was the most significant in the history of the Digambara church. Throughout this long period Jainism was a prominent religion of South India, and especially of Karnataka. The Jainas held important positions in the government, much of the commerce of the country was controlled by them and all these prosperous people spent lavishly for the construction of temples and monuments of their religion. While the rulers spent their wealth in the building the Hind.u temples at Ellora, Halevid etc., the Jaina commercial classes filled the region with gigantic statues of Bahubali, magnificent stambhas (towers) and temples. Going by the number of the archaeological remains alone, it might be inferred that some parts of Karnataka, especially the area round about Sravana Belgola and Karakal, were entirely Jaina areas.

This period may also be called the period of the bhattarakas. The bhattarakas could be compared with the abbots or mahants of monasteries, but in place of monasteries, which do not exist in Jainism, the bhattarakas were the persons who managed the temples and also the estates endowed to the temples by the rulers, and rich devotees. Though these jobs were of a secular nature, the bhattarakas were actually religious persons. In fact, they were the religious leaders of the community. Among the Shvetambaras, such leadership was provided by the monks; but on account of the rule of strict nudity, few people became monks among the Digambaras, and the bhattarakas thus necessarily had to assume this leadership. Another important function which the bhattarakas were not strictly munis or ascetics, and therefore they did not go about naked, as Digambara munis were expected to live. According to legend Sultan Feroz Shah Tughluq (1351-1388) invited some Digambara Jaina saints and entertained them at his court and palace. Hearing of the great fame and learning of their chief, his queen desired to see him. For her sake the saint put on a piece of cloth to his nakedness when he appeared before her. He made religious atonement for this undue liberty, but the example set by him was adopted by his followers. Since then a new sect of yatis - the bhattarakas - started among the Digambaras. The legend has no historical basis for the mention of the bhattarakas is found in the 9th century in the satkhandagamatika of virasina, but the system must have started much earlier, for even in the inscriptions of the 5th century we find mention of the gifts of land to Jaina temples,and there must have been somebody to manage the properties so received.

The Digambara Jaina Community was divided during this period into various sanghas and and ganas. The sena gana and the Balatkara gana claimed that they belonged to the Mula sangha, similarly Mathura, Ladabagada, Bagada and Nanditata (the present Nanded in Maharastra). On the other hand the documents of these four ganas prior to the 12th century do not mention that they had any connection with the Kastha sangha. It has been conjectured therefore that perhaps the sanghas itself was formed by the coming together of these four ganas.

All these speculations, however, are of little importance, for the difference between one gana and another was negligible. When we come to the exact difference in the belief of the various ganas and sanghas, it appears that they mainly lie in the matter of using the various kinds of pichchhis (sweeps) by the monks and in nothing else. While the Sena gana and the Balatkara gana prescribed the peacock's tail for their pichchhi, the Ladabagada and the Nanditata prescribed the camara (fly-whisk, made of yak hair). The Mathura gana on the other hand did not use any pichchhi at all. Schubring, however, mentions an important point, that the Kastha sangha allowed women also to take diksha. Perhaps this has affected the practice of the northern Digambaras, for those Digambara Jainas of northern India do allow women at the present time to become nuns. The nuns were allowed a long piece of white cloth to be worn as sadis. A Digambara nun does not expect to get salvation in this birth, she only expects to go to heaven as a reward for her religious life. When he allotted period of stay in heaven is over, she would be born as a man. He can then try for the final salvation.

  • The age of the Rashtakutas

The Rashtrakutas ruled over a large area in the center of India for two centuries beginning with the middle of the 8th century. One of the important patrons of learning among them was Amoghavarsha Nripatunga (815-877). He was himself a scholar, and wrote an important Kannada work on poetics. One of his epithets was Atishayadhavala. The Jaina Adipurana orginates from his period and the commentary on the certain parts of the Shatkhandagama was also prepared probably during the same time. This commentary is known as Jayadhavala.

It was during Amoghavarsha's time that Ugraditya wrote a treatise on medicine called Kalyanakaraka. It is a voluminous work in Sanskrit, containing 8,000 slokas. Ugraditya divides the book in eight chapters, as was usual with other contemporary Ayurvedic works. However his main attempt was to eliminate the use in medicine of meat and other words, it prescribed only those medicines which a Jaina could safely take. The author refers to Agnivesha, Kashyapa and Charaka among the ancient authors but does not mention Susruta or Nagarjuna. Mercury and other metals are important ingredients of medicine in the Kalyanakaraka. This was perhaps due to the introduction of Arabic influence, for mercury and other metals though mentioned are not very important as medicines in earlier Indian works.

Another scholar who flourished during this period was the Jain mathematician Mahaviracharya, who wrote his Ganitasarasangraha in c. 850 A.D. He found out the rule for calculating the number of combinations of things taken at a time. This can be put in the modern notation as “n”. Its is, however, not certain that it was his discovery, for Mahaviracharya never refers to any earlier mathematician, not even to Brahmagupta whose famous rule for the area of a (cyclic) quadrilateral he mentions.

A mathematical discovery of this period was the use of logarithms. Reference to the use of logarithms occurs for the first time in the Dhavala commentary, mentioned above. The usage of logarithms for the ease of calculations with large numbers, which occur in Jaina cosmology, continued at least for a hundred years, since Nemichandra mentioned at the end of the tenth century the rule of logarithm which he called ardhachheda, i.e. logarithm to the base 2:

"The ardhachheda of the multiplier plus the ardhachheda of the multiplichand is the ardhachheda of the product" (Trilokasara, Gatha 105).

  • The age of the later Gangas

In the later centuries of Ganga rule in southern Karnataka we see evidence of great material prosperity of the Jainas. Epigraphical records indicate that these rulers were all patrons of the Jainas and made grants to various Jaina temples. Indeed, some of them might have themselves become Jainas. These were Nitimarga I (853-870), Nitimarga II (907-935), Marasinha III (960-974) etc. In fact, Marasinha III died by the Jain vow of starvation know as Sallekhana in the presence of Ajitasena bhattaraka in A.D. 974.

Some ministers and generals of these Ganga rulers also were devout Jainas and spent large sums of money in building temples and other architectural monuments. The 17 meter high statue of Bahubali was built at Sravana Belgola in 983 by a minister named Chamundarya.

The Gangas ruled over South Karnataka from the 4th to the 10th century and during their period of reign they were helpful towards Jainas.

  • The age of the Hoysalas

Karnataka entered its period of artistic glory with the establishment of the Hoysala dynasty in the 12th century. The capital of the Hoysalas was at Dorasamundra. They attained great power under Vishnuvardhana (1111-52) and his grandson Vira Ballala II. The last notable ruler of this dynasty was Vira Ballala III who sustained defeats at the hands of Kafur, the general of Ala-ud-din-Khailji, and finally perished in or about 1342.

The Hoysala kings built many beautiful temples in the south Karnataka. These temples are the glories of Indian art. While the kings built temples of the Shaiva and Vaishnava faith their ministers and the merchant princes among their subjects built Jaina temples. Ganga Raja, a general and minister of Visnuvardhana, the greatest of the Hoysalas, built the Parshvantha basadi (basadi in Karnataka means a Jain temple) at Chamarajanagar near Mysore.

In 1116 Hulla, who was a treasurer or bhandari for three successive Hoysala rulers, built the Chaturvinsati-Jinalaya (also known as the Bhandaribasadi) in Sravana Belgola.

4. The age of the Vijayanagara empire

This empire was known among other things for the revival of Brahmanic learning but if we go by the number of existing monuments spread throughout the empire, it was also a period of great building activity of the Jainas.

In fact the large building activity seen among the Jains was due to the fact that the main commercial class of Karnataka, the Vir Banajigas had become ardent Jainas. As Saletare points out:

"The real clue to the understanding of the of the high position which Jainism held in the land is seen in the ardor and devotion of the commercial classes. (…) With the immense wealth of which Vir Banjigas were the traditional custodians, the Jaina sages had magnificent Jinalayas and images constructed".

If we take the period from the 10th to the early 17th century, we find that Karkala was a main center of constructional activity of the Jainas in the first half of this period. Karkala itself was the seat of the Bhairarasa Wodeyars, a powerful Jaina family. At Haleangadi, close to Karkala, there is the finest Jaina stambha in the district. It has a monolithic shaft of 33 feet high and consists of eight ornamented segments and topped by a stone shrine containing a statue. The total height is about 50 feet (15 meters).

But the place nearby, which became the center of Jainism in South India in the period 13th to the early 17th century is Mudabadri, about 16 km from Karkala. The place is said to have been started near about A.D. 714 when a monk from anatha-basadi stayed here.

Most of the Jaina religious building in and near about Mudabadri were built by the wealthy merchants of the of the area. The thousand pillared basadi or temple, known as the Tribhuvnatilakachudamani was built by a group of Jaina merchants(settis) in 1430, and this is the most magnificent Jaina shrine in South India.

Mudabadri temples also became depositories of Jaina literature. Indeed the famous commentaries Dhavala and Jayadhavala were found only in the Siddhanta-basadi here.

As the Mudabadri and Karkala area, also known as the Tuluva country, became more and more important, the influence of Jainism declined in the rest of South India. The reason for this development was the revival of the Brahmanical religion under the kings of the Vijayanagara empire. The Vijayanagara kings were not against Jainas; in fact they were always mediating when any civil dispute arose between the Jainas and other groups, e.g. in 1363 and in 1368, when the disputes between the two antagonistic groups of Jainas and non-Jainas were amicably settled by the Vijayanagara rulers. These settlements were duly recorded in stone inscriptions. The cause of the decline was thus not the hostility of the kings.

Of all the places in South India it was Karnataka were Jainism was strongest. Two things happened there which in the course of a few centuries reduced the influence of Jainism in a greater part of the region, so that ultimately by the 16th century its stronghold was left only in one corner of the region, I.e. in Tuluva country mentioned above. First the rise of the Vira-Shaiva or the Lingayat religion under the leadership of Basava in the 12th century led to the decline of Jainism.

The second and perhaps the decisive reason was the conversion of the main mercantile class, the Vira Banajigas, from Jainism to a rival religion. Added to this was the fact, that after the period of the acharyas by the end of the 9th century, there were no outstanding Jaina leaders in Karnataka to give fresh intellectual life to this community.

Jainism, therefore, slowly got extinguished in South India, leaving comparatively small pockets of devotees in the centers which were great at one time. These were, for instance, Sravana Belgola and Mudabidri. Jaina religious groups have survived there to this day. So far as the other scattered Jaina populations were concerned, the richer people among them were converted to some Brahmanical religion, such as Vaishnavism or Shaivaism, and the poorer mostly took to farming and thus became inconspicuous.

The indigenous Jainas who are left in South India today are endogamous clans and do not intermarry with Jainas of North India. They are all Digambaras and are dividend into four main castes:

  1. Setavala (not found in Karnataka),
  2. chaturtha,
  3. Pancham,
  4. Bogara or Kasara

and in three smaller castes:

  1. Upadhyayas,
  2. Kamboja
  3. Harada.

Their priests are Brahmans.

Each of the four main castes in the South is led by its own spiritual leader (bhattaraka), who occupying intermediary positions between ascetics and laymen and can individually resolve disputes between the members of the cast and expel from it whomsoever he considers it necessary. The Chaturathas are mainly agriculturists, the Setavalas are agriculturists as well as tailors, the Kasaras of the Bogaras are coppersmiths, and the members of the Panchamma caste follow any of these professions.

5. The Digambara Jains in Tamil Nadu

It has been surmised from the various references in the Tamil literature that Jainism was quite common in Tamil Nadu in the period 5th to 11th century. Jainism is not mentioned in the Sangam literature (4th century AD), but mention of the people professing Jainism is found in the two Tamil epics Silappadikaram and Manimekhali. Both these epics belong to the 6th or 7th century A.D. Manimekhali is a Buddhist work and refers to the Jainas as Ni(r)granthas. It gives a reasonably good exposition of the Jaina religious philosophy, but naturally, being a Buddhist work, refuse it. Silappadikaram is the story of a wife's devotion to her husband. It mentions Uraiyur, a Chola capital, as a center of Jainism. Both the classics relate that the Ni(r)granthas lived outside the town in their cool cloisters, the walls of which were surrounded by small flower gardens. They also has monasteries for nuns. This description of the Jaina monasteries leads one to doubt its authenticity, for the Jainas, unlike the Buddhists, do not favor living in monasteries. Also since the Jainas of South India were Digambaras, there should not have been any nuns among them, to say nothing of there being monasteries for them.

Another Tamil work, the Pattinapalai, speaks of Jaina and Buddhist temples being in one quarter of the city of Pugar, while in another quarter the Brahmans with plaited hair performed sacrifices which raised volumes of smoke.

These references show that the number of Jains in Tamil Nadu was sufficiently large to be noticed in the popular literature of the period. One cannot avoid the suspicion, however, that there was a tendency on the part of the writers to mix up the Jains and Buddhists. But Hiuen Tsang, who was in Kanchi in the middle of the 7th century, also reported that he saw numerous Nirgranthas at the place and since he is not likely to have confused between the Buddhist and the Nirgranthas, it is certain that the Jain population of Tamil Nadu was quite large.

The Jaina population of Tamil Nadu was apparently larger in the 8th and 9th century than in the 7th century, for in the latter period there are very few Jaina inscriptions. Most of the inscriptions in Tamil (about 80) belong to the 8th and the 9th centuries, and these have been found mainly in the Madurai-Tirunelveli area. In the Salem district there was also a Jain temple or a religious place in Tagdur (Dharmapuri) in the 9th century. Thereafter there was perhaps a slow reduction in the Jaina population.

Many large and small Jaina temples still survive in Tamil Nadu. Two of these are important Jain centers even today. One is at Tirumalaipuram, and the other is at Tiruparuttikunram. The latter is a suburb of Kanchi, about three kilometers from the town center, and is in fact still called Jaina-Kanchi. The presiding deity here is Vardhamana who is also styled Trailokyanathasvami. The temple is one of the biggest in the taluk. It is adorned with artistic splendor, and it has a large number of icons of the Jaina pattern. From the inscription (about 17 in number) found at this place it appears, that it was built by the Chola emperors Rajendra I (c. 1014-44) and Kulottunga I (c.1070 1120), and had been expanded by Rajaraja III (c. 1216-46). Later additions were made by the Vijayanagar emperors Bukka II (1387-88) and Krishna Deva Raya (1518). There are some remarkable murals on the temple which date from the 16th to the 18th century.

The fact that this large and beautiful Jaina temple in the heart of the Tamil country was being adorned even in the 18th century proves that a sufficiently numerous and prosperous Jaina community existed in that part of the country till then. Otherwise the temple could not have been maintained.

What happened to the Jainas of the Tamil Nadu after that? The possibility is that most of the richer sections of the Jaina population got slowly absorbed in the dominant Shaiva and Vaishnava community surrounding them, and the poorer section took to farming. In fact most of the 50,000 indigenous Jaina who exists in Tamil Nadu today are farmers, and a majority of them live in the North Arcot district. It is Perhaps the lack of many rich people among them that has made the Jainas inconspicuous in Tamil Nadu. It also possible that their proportion on the total population is less than it was a thousand years ago when they started building the numerous temples still seen all over the place.

One story goes that there was a sudden reduction on the number of Jainas specially in the Madurai area in the 7th century. The story is found in the Shaivite books; it starts with the story of the Shaiva saint Gnanasambandha (end of the 7th century) as given in the Periyapuranam (A.D. 1150):

There was a Pandya king of Madurai. He was hunch backed. The boy saint Gnanasambandha cured him of his infirmity and the grateful king embraced Shaiva religion. This emboldened the Shaiva population of the city who challenged the local Jainas to prove the superiority of their religion. The wager was that each sect would throw sheet of a palm-leaf manuscript of its sacred text in the river, and the party whose text lose would be annihilated by the other party. The Jaina text was washed away, but the Shaiva text floated against the current. The 8,000 Jains of Madurai was then killed by impalement by the Shaivas.

This alleged incident is proved by the evidence of a work composed almost 500 years later and also by the evidence of some frescoes on the walls of the Golden Lily Tank of the Minakshi temple (17th century) recorded 1,000 years later. The story is not found in any Jaina source and the Jainas evidently know nothing about it and so do not accuse the Shaivas of this massacre.

The Hind.u Historians on the other hand are at pains to prove the absurdity of the story by such arguments as that (I) the Jainas would never enter into a wager where if they won they would have to kill human beings, (II) the king would not permit 8,000 of his innocent subjects to be killed and(III) the Jaina learned men continued to compose important works on grammar and lexicography in Madurai itself even after the alleged incident. Among these works are cited the Sendan Divakaram, a Tamil dictionary by Divakara, the Neminatham and Vachchamalai, two Tamil grammars by Gunavira Pandita etc. Lastly, if all the Jainas of Madurai were massacred in the 7th century, there would not be, as we have seen earlier, a concentration of Jainas in the same area in the 8th and 9th centuries.

The truth of the matter is that such stories of the annihilation of one sect by a rival sect, were common feature of Tamil literature in those days. These were required to prove the superiority of one's own sect above that of the other. In fact, in such story a Jaina king of Kanchi gave the Buddhists a similar treatment and in another, the Vaishnava apostle Ramanuja treated the Jainas similarly by instigation the Hoysala king Vishnu Vardhana against them. Hagiography need not be taken as history.

6. The Digambaras of North India

Due to the numerous stone inscriptions and religious literature found in South India, a more or less continuous history of the Digambaras Jainas can be traced from the 5th century to 17th century A.D., but we know less about the Digambara communities in the north during the corresponding period.

As stated earlier, most of the statues of the tirthankaras dating from 4th and 5th century A.D., that had been found in the area now covered by Uttar Pradesh, were nude. The majority of the Jainas in the area today are Digambaras. Thus we may conclude that when finally the great schism occurred (and this might have been a gradual process) the Jainas of north India found themselves in the Digambara section. Later monuments also support the view that most of the Jainas in eastern and northern Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa were also Digambaras. Mention has already been made of the Digambara images found in Bihar (12th century) and Orissa (11th to 15th century). These are all Digambara temples and must be built by the rich merchants living in the capital city of the Chandella Rajput Kings of Bundelkhand. One temple in the group, that of Parshvanatha, has even been compared favorably with the renowned Kandarya Mahadeo temple of this place. Another important group of Digambara temples is in Deogarh in Jhansi district. The Jaina merchants of Bundelkhand were perhaps looked after by the Chandella rulers as well as their counterparts were in Karnataka.

A few Digambara inscriptions have been found in Gwalior also. These are fragmentary and do not give much information. Chittorgarh, like Khajuraho, was a stronghold of the Digambaras in the 12th and 13th centuries. This is proved by a number of Jaina inscriptions found there. Four of them are by one Shaha Jijaka. It was the samer person, who had constructed the famous Kirti-stambha of Chittorgarh in 1300 A.D. Shaha Jijaka claimed to belong to the Kundakundanvyaya.

In spite of everything, it is difficult to reconstruct a history of the Digambaras of north India on the basis of the available epigraphical evidence since the number of inscriptions is too few. In the five volumes Jaina Shila Lekha Sangraha, a Digambara collection, the number of Digambara inscriptions recorded form north India after the 6th century would not be more than 20.

There is a paucity of literary sources also. The Digambaras of north India, unlike their counterparts in the South, composed very few works at least up to the 17th century. In fact in the early medieval period there was perhaps only one important Digambara writer in north India: Harisena, who wrote his Brihatkathakosa in A.D. 931, lived in Gujarat. The work is quite informative about the social and religious condition of India of this period. As mentioned earlier, the Shvetambara sect according to Harisena originated in Valabhi.

In the absence of sufficient epigraphical and literary evidence one has to depend on the legendary material for reconstructing the history of the Digambaras of North India. One thing immediately becomes clear: The Digambaras of North India, unlike the Shvetambaras, did not break up into large number of groups and subgroups. Most of them belonged to the Bisapantha sect. The origin of this sect is not clearly known, it probably originated in the 13th century.

Glasenapp remarks that one Vasantakirti held the view, that so long as the monks lived among the people, they should wear one garment. The believers of this opinion were called Vishvapanthis. This was corrupted into Bisapanthis. The monks of this pantha live in a cloister under the headship of a Bhattaraka. They installed the image of tirthankaras along with that of Kshetrapala deities such as the Bhairavas and others. They worshipped the images by offering fruits, flowers and food.

Whatever might be the origin of the Bisapanthis, the description of their religious practices as given above is substantially correct. In fact the majority of the Digambara Jains of northern India followed these practices. Over the years the Bhattarakas, who managed the properties of the temples and monasteries, became more and more powerful. The popularity of the Kshetrapala deities (who for all practical purposes were folk gods) continued to increase. Such a movement started in the 17th century in the Agra region. One of the leaders of this protest was Banarasidasa. In course of time the movement grew stronger, and it was named Terapanthi according to Bakhtarama Shaha (18th century).

As it has always happened in the Jaina reformist movements, the Terapanthis did not try to introduce any change in the basic tenets of the Jaina religion. Their reforms were connected with small details of rituals only. For Instance, this sect believed that one should not worships in the temples at night and while worshiping one should be standing and not sitting as well as kesara (saffron) should not be offered to image etc.

Starting from the Agra-Jaipur region the Terapantha movement spread among all the Digambara Jainas of northern India. Those who did not accept the views of this sect were called Bisapanthis.

In the 18th century there was a learned Digambara Jaina in Jaipur. His name was Todarmala. He translated into Hindi prose all the voluminous Prakrit works of Nemichand (10th century) of Karnataka. In those days of the infancy of Hindi prose, Todarmala's writing show a refreshing clarity and rhythm. Todarmala belonged to the Terapantha sect, his son Gumanirama was very orthodox in his religious opinions and he thought that Terapantha had not gone back far enough to the original pristine Jaina religion. He, therefore, started a new sect which was named after him as Gumana-pantha.


revised from jainworld.com

Compiled by PK

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