Jain Heritage of Orissa

Posted: 04.07.2012
Updated on: 25.09.2012



Orissa has allured almost all the religious cults and sects right from her hoary past, whether for her tribal majority or her affluent mercantile base or her spirit of assimilation, is really, exactly not known. The earliest of the off-shoots of Brahmanism, Jainism made its presence felt in the state as early as the 7th century B.C. Excepting for one historical phase during the reign of Mahameghavahana King Kharavela, in the 1st Century B.C., Jainism has really never been the most popular religion of the state. However, unlike its counterpart, Buddhism, Jainism had never had a meteoric rise and then fall, rather it remained steadily popular amongst certain sections of Society, never undergoing euthanasia. The rigorous life style of the Jains, its syavada philosophy and the concept of ahimsa continued to influence certain groups of hard working people and the merchants.

Since Jainism, as a faith, survived as a steady under current in Orissa since the 1st century B.C., it has left behind many remains both extrinsic and intrinsic. A study of these Jain remains will reveal the heritage of this great religion. The State of Orissa is a sort of pilgrimage to a Jain, as it is to a Hindu. Many of the Tirthankaras are associated with this state. Rasabhadeva, the first "Tirthankara, also known Jain Heritage of Orissa Indrajeet Mohanty as Adinatha appears to have been worshipped in Kalinga. According to the Jain text, the Avasyaka Nirukti, Sreyansanatha etc., the 11th Tirthankara, was born at Simhapura, which was the capital of Kalinga. The translation of the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata by Dr. P.C. Ray - suggests that Aranatha the 8th Tirthankara received aims at Rajapura - a Metropolis of Kalinga. In the above mentioned Tirthankaras have no historical validity. They are still vague in the mist of myths and legend. However, the 22nd and the 23rd Tirthankaras are historical figures.

The Khandagiri and Udayagiri sculptures represent the preachings of Parsvanatha. He existed nearly 250 years before Mahavira i.e. around 850 B.C. The Kumbhakara Jataka, the Uttaradhyayan sutta and the Karakandu Charita talk of Karakandu, the king of Kalinga around 7th -6th B.C. who was a great devotee of Parsvanatha. The Kshetra Samasa, says that Parsvanatha preached at Tamralipti (Tamluk in Bengal) and at Kopakataka (Kupari in Orissa). The Avasyaka Nirukti suggests that Vardhamana Mahavira preached at Tosali in the eleventh year of his monkhood. This is confirmed by the Vyavahara Bhasya and the Harivamsa Purana. Because of this association of Orissa with these two Tirthankaras at the Kumara and Kumari Parvatas (Khandagiri and Udayagiri), the Jains hold Orissa with great importance and reverence. Jainism has been an undercurrent in Orissa's religious development right from the time Parsvanatha preached from the Kumara and Kumari Parvatas to the present day. Kharavela patronized Jainism and made it the state religion in the 1st Century B.C.

The rising popularity of Buddhism, Saivisim, Saktism and latter on Vaisnavism overshadowed Jainism in the following eras, although it continued to be a strong religious force amongst certain sections of society. The Murunda king Dharmadamodara patronized Jainism. The Nalas and the Guptas allowed Jainism to flourish in the 3rd-4th Century A.D. The Marathas of the south and the early Ganga kings Daddiga and Madhash accepted Jainism. The account of Yuan Chwang talks of the popularity of Jainism in Orissa in the 7th Century A.D. The Banpur copper plates reveal the solicitude of the Sailodbhavas towards Jainism in the 10th and 11th centuries A.D. Literally heritage would mean anything that has been transmitted from the past or handed down by tradition. One would presume that the remains of the Jain like the rock cut caves, the temples, sculptures, icons, books, paintings etc are the 'heritage' of Jainism. This is, however, only the extrinsic heritage that we see and value.

There exists something known as the intrinsic heritage, which we cannot see like the influence of Jain philosophy on other cults, on literature, art, society etc. this intrinsic heritage is very important, as it has helped in shaping the present Cohesive culture of our state. Hence, only a study of the apparent Jain remains will not suffice to summarize the heritage of this faith, but also a deeper study of the culture of the state is required. Like both body and soul make up a living man, both physical and intrinsic remains of Jainism make up a living heritage. Considering the physical remains of Jainism, there is an abundance of sculptures and icons found throughout Orissa. The caves at Khandagiri and Udayagiri, with their sculptures and inscriptions are the earliest remains. Although no early Jaina Shrines or monuments, apart from the above, have been discovered, it is early Jain Shrines or monuments, apart from the above, have been discovered, it is obvious that the large numbers of icons, sculptures, etc. spread around Orissa suggest that there were Jain temples and monuments, which are now completely broken down. Of all the other heterodox sects Jainism was the most accommodative to the Brahmanical religion.

Although the Jains did not believe in the authority of God and that God was the creator, they began to worship the Tirthankaras and several Gods from the Hindu pantheon. Thus the Brahmins never really opposed the Jains and tolerated it. The iconographic representation of the Jain gods and Brahminical gods is similar to a layman. However, to distinguish the Jain from the Brahmanical duties one should look out for distinguishing "Signs". These features are the standing of sitting position of the icons, the chauri bearers, the kevala tree, flying gandharvas with garlands, champaka mark, umbrella, the trifoiled arch etc. and the nudity of the image. As Jainism remained for so long in Orissa, at times coming to the forefront and at other times taking a backbench, it is many ways influenced several other cults in Orissa. The Jagannatha cult is indebted to Jainism for many of its rituals and festivals. Many major aspects of this cult is taken to represent certain ideas of Jainism. Similarly, the Natha cult and the Alekha cult have borrowed many ideas from Jainism.

Tantric worship also has its precursor in Jainism. Seven Trirthankara figures with seven female figures guarded by Ganesa in the Sataghara cave of Khandagiri and two rows of images, the upper story having twenty-four Trithankaras and lower having twenty-four Sasana devi indicate the female principle being adopted by the Jains. Jain heritage in the field of art and architecture point to the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri. They were the first to introduce cave architecture and engraved beautiful sculptures. The Jains appear to be pioneers in this regard. They also may have introduced idol worship and construct icons for the first time in Orissa. The Jains preached their religion in local dialects like Prakrit, Pali or Ardha-Magadhi. They did not preach in Sanskrit, but latter on wrote some of their texts in Sanskrit. Like in other parts of India, Jainism was responsible for the development of local vernaculars; it must have contributed towards the development of Oriya language. The Jain concepts of Ahimsa, discipline, austerities etc. must have had a great effect on the tribal and rustic society of Kalinga. People must have become more tolerant, pacific and followed a well-planned life and ready to work hard for any good cause. Moreover the great stress on Ahimsa or non-violence laid by the Jains had its effect on the economy of the state. It was accepted by and patronized by the mercantile class. This class must have grown in strength due to royal patronage and religious solicitude of the Jains, resulting in the economic prosperity of Orissa.

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