Historical Background Of Jainism [1.0] - Preamble

Published: 08.05.2008
Updated: 09.06.2015

Historical Background Of Jainism

1.0 Preamble

There are many beliefs about the origin of species and the world itself. Some believe in its being created by God, others talk of Big Bang doctrine and still some say that it is an eternal entity with changes taking place in it continuously. Sutrakŗtāńga, the 2nd canonical text of Jains which has sermons of Mahāvīra, in its 1st chapter section three talk of different views / philosophies (seven) about the creation of the universe. It refutes all of them and says that the universe is eternal; it was, is and will be there forever. Only its contents and components keep on changing. This is based on the Jain doctrine of reality, which says that reality is existent and with origin-decay-permanence. Even modern scientists and logicians support this claim and say that the universe is eternal with changes taking place continuously. Some events, when change is drastic, are considered as either creation or catastrophic (pralaya). Another interesting concept of Jains i.e. of time (called Kāla) is extremely important to appreciate the history of mankind and culture. This doctrine is shown in Annexe III.

Dr Jyoti Prasāda Jain, a noted expert on Indian history in his book 'Bhāratiya etihāsa eka dŗşŧī or Indian History, a view' has very clearly analyzed the history of India since almost 20000 years with special reference to Jainism. This book has been used extensively for this lesson.

Jainism is perhaps one of the oldest religions of India. Unfortunately even the ancient history of India itself is not well documented to establish the antiquity of Jainism. To establish antiquity of India and Jainism, we have two alternate methods namely;

  1. Conclusions as established by modern research and archeological methods
  2. Tradition and old texts.

We shall use the recent studies and archeological surveys conducted to understand the origin and history of Jainism by reviewing the growth as well as development of various traditions (Śramaņa, Vedic etc) in India and elsewhere.

Geographically India extended from the present Afghanistan in the north to Indonesia/ Malaysia in the east. (Annexe I) Over the period of time, due to various reasons, a number of its parts kept on separating themselves from it to leave India as it is known today (Annexe II). Concerning development of civilization, it is said that perhaps the oldest civilization of the world existed in India. To understand this, India is divided in three parts namely:

  1. The mountainous ranges in the north extending from Tibet in east till Afghanistan in the west.
  2. The south surrounded by the three oceans
  3. In between the plains separated by Vindhyā hills, the upper part called Madhya Deśa and the lower part below Vindhyās in the south.
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