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Jain Legend : Jain Dharma ka Maulika Itihasa (4): Ācārya Vijayaŗşi - 50th Pontiff of Lord Mahāvīra

Published: 11.08.2016
Birth V.N. 1487
Initiation into monkhood V.N. 1503
Attained Ācārya status V.N. 1524
Heavenly Abode V.N. 1589
Period of household life 16 years
Period of ordinary monk 21 years
Period of Ācārya status 65 years
Complete monkhood 86 years
Life span 102 years

38th Epochal-ācārya  Dharmaghoṣa
Birth V.N. 1496
Initiation into monkhood V.N. 1504
Period of ordinary monk V.N. 1504 - 1520
Period of epochal-ācārya V.N. 1520 - 1597
Period of household life 8 years
Period of ordinary monk 16 years
Period of epochal-ācārya 77 years
Heavenly Abode V.N. 1597
Life span 101 years, 7 months, 7 days

The King of Gaṃga Dynasty and his Commander-in-Chief, Staunch
propagators of Jina Order from 15th - 16th Century V.N.

During the times of Ācāryaśrī Jayasiṃha - the 49th Pontiff of Lord Mahāvīra's tradition Mārasiṃha Gaṃga, 24th in line of Gaṃga dynasty (1490 to 1501 V.N.) was the King of Karnataka. He was courageous, and a staunch devotee and propagator of Jina order. He extended full patronage to Jain religion. He carried out many significant activities for the propagation, glorification and all-round development of Jina Order during his 11 years reign. At the far end of his life, he approached Śrī Ajitasena, the Bhaṭṭāraka of Baṃkāpura and took the vow of pious death i.e. saṃlekhanā-saṃthārā.

A colossal statue of Gommaṭeśvara (Bāhubalī) of 56 / 57 feet height was carved out of a single stone on Vindyagiri hill in Śravaṇabelagola, in 1555 V.N. (on 23rd March in 1028 AD) on the orders of Cāmuṇḍa Rāya, the minister and commander-in chief of Gaṃga dynasty. The gigantic statue, the symbol of unparalleled piece of art is considered as one of the rarest wonders of the world.

Campaign to destroy Temple dwellers tradition

In the early dawn of the 11th century an unprecedented change due to the emergence of material-offering-based traditions began in Jain order. These traditions, apart from strengthening their position, also wielded power and influence over the hearts of rulers and commoners alike, in such a way that the fundamental, pure and scripture-based traditions became insignificant, save only in name.

Amongst the material-offering based traditions, the Temple dwellers could attract an astonishing number of kings and commoners by organising attractive fêtes, rendezvous etc, and by performing miracles. By the 2nd half of the 11th century V.N., the Temple dwellers consolidated their tradition in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and some other parts of the South. Their monopoly swayed over the Jain congregations of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Mālawā, Matsya and Uttar Pradesh. Attracted by its growing influence, not only the laity, even hordes of monks and nuns of original tradition became their followers. The very existence of original tradition of Lord Mahāvīra was in peril. In order to protect the fundamental nature of Jain doctrine and scripture based pure code of conduct of monks enunciated by the omniscient lords, the ācāryas of all gacchas united together and created a new 'Suvihita' (uniform and well organised) tradition.

Thus from time to time, the principal ācāryas of 'Suvihita' tradition kept reminding the Jain society of the original tradition, pure scripture based doctrine and code of conduct of monks and also tried their best to bring it back to its original prestigious position. However, unfortunately they could not ingress into some places where the Temple dwellers securely fortified their tradition.

During V.N. 1001 and 2000, the Jain order and the fundamental Jain doctrine received a devastating setback due to the dominating influence and expansionary strategies of Temple dwellers. Thus it remained latent in an insignificant form with only a handful of followers.

Temple dwellers tradition - the mother of material offering based traditions, gained momentum in the 11th Century V.N, and by the second half of the 16th century V.N. it spread like wild fire embracing all sections and classes of the society. However, even amidst such catastrophic conditions, the original form could survive though in a seminal form. Varddhamāna Sūri, who got initiated by Ācārya Udyotana Sūri, belonged to the forest dweller tradition. He was a profound scholar in Jain scriptures. After studying the scriptures, the courageous and intellectual Varddhamāna Sūri - the finest amongst monks, embarked on a religious revolution. With his powerful preaching, he dispelled the darkness that enveloped the Jain congregations for the last 500 to 550 years under the influence of Temple dweller traditions, and led them towards light - the true path of spiritual purification.

Launching of religious revolution / reform

In mid-11th century of Vikram Era (around 1160 to 1180), when the Temple dwellers tradition was at its zenith, a new revolutionary tradition originated in the Jain congregation. They took a vow to put an end to the influence of material based tradition that unveiled several pseudo rituals and activities that were totally against the code of conduct of Śramaṇas and that extinguished the fundamental Jain doctrine of Lord Mahāvīra and at the same time to reinstate the code of conduct in its original pure form, with VarddhamānaSūri, its founder, leading the mission.

Starting from its founder member Varddhamāna Sūri to its 7th Ācārya Jinapati Sūri, i.e. for seven generations from Vikram 11th to 13th century era, their conflict with Temple dwellers tradition continued.

Initially, Varddhamāna Sūri was initiated into Temple dwellers tradition. According to Vṛhada Gurvāvali of Kharatara gaccha, Ācārya Jinacandra, the leader of 84 temples was the Guru of Temple dwellers tradition. While studying the scriptures Varddhamāna Sūri came across the lesson on 84 non observances (āśātanās) and while contemplating on than, a number of doubts arose in his mind. He realised that the rituals and conduct of Temple dwellers were totally against the code of conduct of śramaṇas prescribed in the scriptures / canons. So he directly approached his Guru, Ācārya Jinacandra and humbly put forth his suggestion asking him to avoid those non observances (āśātanās) and to observe the pure code of conduct of śramaṇas, as it alone is capable of uplifting and elevating the soul.

Listening to his disciple's words, Ācārya Jinacandra rebelled against Temple dwellers tradition. He decided to lure him and to thus retain him in his tradition. Consequently Jinacandra remained dumbfound. He was apprehensive about this intellectual scholarly disciple, and so elevated Varddhamāna Sūri immediately to the rank of ācārya. But the allurement of possessing the highest post of ācārya could not hold back Varddhamāna Sūri from advancing on the path of truth. He expressed to his Guru in clear words that he renounced his family and the material world with a desire to uplift his soul. Hence to achieve his goal he would follow and practice the virtuous path as enunciated by Lord Mahāvīra in the scriptures.

Thus after humbly appealing his Guru Ācārya Jinacandra, monk Vardhāmana along with some other monks left the Temple dwellers tradition and started wandering in search of a pious guru who follows the tradition of scripture based Jain doctrines and pure code of conduct of Śramaṇas, with a desire to take initiation from him. During his wanderings he came to know about Udyotana Sūri, a monk of forest dweller tradition. He was informed that the ācārya was a follower of the Jain doctrine of Lord Mahāvīra in true letter and spirit and a scholar in the scriptures and that he was peregrinating around Delhi.

VarddhamānaSūri immediately headed for Delhi and approached Ācārya Udyotana Sūri. After confiding in the ācārya all about himself, Varddhamāna Sūri beseeched him to be initiated into the monkhood of five great vows.

Udyotana Sūri considering Varddhamāna Sūri as worthy and as one trying to rise above the transmigration cycle initiated him and his followers into Śramaṇa dharma. After his initiation ceremony, Varddhamāna monk studied the eleven aṃgas and scriptures with a lot of dedication. After imparting in-depth knowledge of scriptures, it is probable that Udyotana Sūri might have conferred the 'Sūrimantra' to Varddhamāna Sūri. After rigorous practice of the Sūrimantra, he started making Herculean efforts to bring into light the original, unblemished form of Jain doctrine and the pure code of conduct of Śramaṇas, which had been completely distorted by the Temple dwellers tradition.

After being initiated into pure monkhood by the forest dweller Ācārya Udyotana Sūri, and mastering the scriptures, Varddhamāna Sūri with undaunted courage dragged the chariot of Jain Dharma out from the mire of frivolous and dubious rituals introduced by material based traditions and reinstated the Jain religion on the throne of its original pure form and once again renewed vasativāsa. Jain order eternally remains indebted to him for his unparalleled services.

The tradition of Varddhamāna Sūri later came to be known as Kharatara gaccha.


Title: Jain Legend: Jain Dharma ka Maulika Itihasa (4)
Acharya Hasti Mala
Shugan C. Jain
Publisher: Samyakjnana Pracaraka Mandala, Jaipur
Edition: 2011
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Andhra Pradesh
  2. Bhaṭṭāraka
  3. Delhi
  4. Dharma
  5. Gaccha
  6. Gujarat
  7. Guru
  8. Jain Dharma
  9. Jina
  10. Karnataka
  11. Kharatara Gaccha
  12. Mahāvīra
  13. Omniscient
  14. Pradesh
  15. Rajasthan
  16. Soul
  17. Uttar Pradesh
  18. Ācārya
  19. ācāryas
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