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Historical Background Of Jainism [1.1.2] Historical Studies. Mahāvīra till now. Beginning of the 5th Ārā

Published: 10.05.2008
Updated: 30.07.2015

Historical Background Of Jainism

1.1.2 Historical Studies. Mahāvīra till now. Beginning of the 5th Ārā

I. Mahāvīra

Mahāvīra was born to Siddhārtha, a district chieftain of Vaishali (in the present state of Bihar), a prosperous democratic state in the year 610BC, and royal lineage as most of his paternal and maternal aunts were the queens of different kings in that area. He became the 24th tīrathańkara of Jains. His family practiced the religion of Pārsva Nātha. Mahāvīra renounced the world at the age of 30 and attained omniscience at the age of 42 and Nirvāņa at the age of 72. He preached his philosophy for 30 years after attaining omniscience. A number of modern historians believe him to be the founder of Jainism but he was the 24th tīrathańkara and a rejuvenator of Jainism (earlier called by different names such as Arhat, Niggantha, Jňātādharma, Vārtya etc.) Jainism was at its pinnacle during his time and adopted as a state religion by almost all kings from Kalinga (Orrisa) to Magadh (Bihar) and Ujjaini (MP). More than 500,000 people joined his creed when Buddha, and more than 5 other Śramaņika sects and 350 other sects were trying hard to establish themselves. His time saw a lot of philosophical discussions, spiritual sermons, rituals with sacrifices, extravagant consumption and display of wealth and women slavery. Mahāvīra tried to eliminate all the social ills and emphasized austerities, penance, non-violence, self-control and multiplicity of viewpoints as the founding principles to attain lasting peace and happiness. A number of learned Brāhmaņa scholars joined his creed. He was followed by a number of omniscient with Jambu Svāmi (about 65 years of Mahāvīra’s Nirvāņa) being the last one who made Mathurā his place of penance and salvation.

II. Mahavira - 300BC

After Jambu Svāmi’s Nirvāņa, the era of śrutakevalis started with Bhadrabāhu being the last one who died in 365BC. During this period the salient features were as follows:

  • Kings of Magadha, the Nanda dynasty, the Maurya dynasty (Candragupta Maurya, Bindusara, Ashok and Samprati), Kharvel of Kalinga and Orissa patronized Jainism. So Jainism prospered as Candragupta and his son Bindusara were Jains and became Jain ascetics in their later life. Jainism was at its pinnacle during this period. Stories abound that king Nandivardhan (424BC) won the war against Kalinga and took away the idol of its most respected Lord Adinath to his capital, which was later, won and brought by Khārvela. However the feminine of 12.5 years during 365-352 in entire Magadh did havoc to Jainism as a large number of Jain monks went to south with Bhadra Bāhu while SthulaBhadra and others stayed back in Pātliputra. SthulaBhadra changed some of the Jain ethical practices of monks to face the famine. This period also saw Jainism assuming a pan India presence
  • Jainism became very popular in south as Neminātha, 22nd tīrathańkara, is said to have traveled there and established it. Similarly Pārsvanātha also is supposed to have traveled southwards from Vārāņasi. The fact that Bhadrabāhu and over 7000 monks chose to go there also support existence of a number of Jains there. Also history of south is not well documented till later periods even though we find that Jainism being the most favoured and popular religion of that area till now mentioned in literature available.
  • Signs of fissure and separation of Jains in two sects belonging to Sthulabahdra and Bhadra Bāhu or the south started. We also see Emperor Asoka patronizing Buddhism more than Jainism even though his grand father and father were Jains and practiced asceticism in their old age.
  • Shifting of the Jain center from Pātliputra to Ujjaini, Mathurā and Vallabhi in east, north and west respectively and Sravanbelgola in south. Emperor Samprati and son of Emperor Asoka is said to have shifted his capital to Ujjaini affecting this shift of Jainism from Pātliputra to Ujjaini.
  • Starting of the writing of Jain canons as the monks were becoming weaker in their memory at Pātliputra and later at Mathurā but not completed.
  • Jain kings becoming weaker and Vedic kings started to gain power. Perhaps division in Jain creed, non-availability of strong religious teachers and infighting in the ruling families are some of the causes for this situation.

III. 300BC - 200AD

This is the period which saw decline of Maurya dynasty and rise of four dynasties namely Khārvela (Jain) in North-East i.e. Kalinga; North-south path - Andhra; North west with Seleucus of Greece as the king and others in deep south. Khārvela developed Udaygiri and Khandgiri caves near Bhubaneshwar, with Jain inscriptions, temples and place of stay for Jain monks. He defeated most of the attacks by kings from other parts and extended his empire till Mathurā and Ujjaini, which became important Jain centers. Jainism was also becoming popular in south due to the presence of a large number of monks there. It is said that Jain monks were seen in Greece (taken by Alexander the great at the specific request of his religious teacher Aristotle) and Rome during this period and even a tomb of Jain monk still exists in Greece. Thus during Alexander’s time Jainism moved out of India also to western and central Asia and on to Greece and Rome. Alexander met nude Jain monks in Gandhar, Taksila, Punjab and Sindh.

This period also became a period when the division of Jain into Digambara and Śvetambara sects was formalized in spite of efforts by a number of monks in Mathurā and got formalized in 1st century AD. Due to the intense criticism of Jain philosophy by other Indian philosophers, Jainacaryas started writing scriptures in both traditional as well as logical (Śivārya, Kunda Kunda, Umā Svāmi, Kumar Svāmi, Bhūtabali and Pūşpadant etc wrote almost all Digambara canons) from 1st century BC till 5th century AD from south India. Skandila tried unsuccessfully to complete Śvetāmbara canons which were later on recompiled in their present version in 5th century AD by Deardhagani. During these period Vedic scholars like Patanjali, Valmiki etc started writing their texts and Buddhist philosophers compiled Pāli Tripitakas. In Lucknow museum we find a number of Jain idols carrying marks of 1st century BC to 1st century AD. Similar idols and other carvings can be seen in Mathura museum also.

Vikramaditya and his successors ruled Ujjaini from 50BC to 50AD and promoted Jainism. Kankāli-Tilā in Mathurā was set up with a large number of inscriptions, idols of Jains, which are even available in museums of Mathurā and Patnā but Kankāli-Tilā has become deserted now. Jainism prospered in south India during this period and thereafter as will be seen with their influence in present day Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Kural, the book of moral ethics of Tamils was written by Kunda Kunda in Tamil. Kannada, the language of Digambara Jain texts was adopted as the language of Karnataka state from that time onwards.

IV. 200AD - 1700AD

This period saw the end of Jain rulers, even though most of the kings gave respect to Jain acaryas and scholars. This is the period when scholars and monks of all philosophies in India were writing their holy scripts, texts as well as building temples, idols, pieces of art and trying to argue with each other about the supremacy of their own philosophy and refuting the others. During this period we also saw emergence of devotion (bhakti), religious rituals, use of tantras and mantras for winning over worldly afflictions. The Śvetāmbaras made Gujarat as their centre with Vallabhi as an important centre of monks to write their canons, which were completed in 5th century AD by Devārdhagani.

During 4th-6th centuries AD, Gupta dynasties ruled most of north Indian states. All three religions i.e. Vaişaņava (mixed breed of Vedic and Jains), Jains and Buddhist religions prospered with royal families generally practicing Vaişaņava religion. This is the time during which temple and idols, famous art centers like Devgarh, Mathura of Jains were built and created as well as a number of Jain temples renovated. Jain ascetics used to wander freely from Bengal to Punjab. Pujyapāda, Devārdhagani, Haribhadra are important Jain pontiffs of this period with Jain cult strongly bifurcated in two with further divisions in each sect also. Gopācala in Gwalior and a number of places like Draunagiri, Ahāra, Kundalpura, Gwālior in Madhya Pradesa saw emergence of Jain centers and Jain temples in large numbers. It appears Bundelkhand became active Jain areas with royal patronage extended.

In southern India, dynasties like Kadamba, Cālukya, Colās, Hoyesalas, Ganga and Rāşŧrakuta etc. Karnataka, due to the arrival of BhadraBāhu at Śravaņabelgola during 3rd century BC became the centre of Jain philosophy. In Tamil Nādu we find dynastie like Pandya Cola and Pallavas who were very favourably inclined to Jainsim. They made Madurai (called Mathura of the south) as the Jain center. Magnificent idols like Gomaŧŧeśwara at Śravaņabelgola and other places were erected in Karnataka. Area adjoining Māhārāşŧra and Karnataka even today has the largest Jain community and temples. In fact Kannada and Māhārāşŧri became the languages of Jain canons during this period. We see emergence of a number of Jain logicians like Akalanka, Manikya Nandi, Hemcandra and Yasovijayji writing a number of important Jain texts during this period

Jainism started prospering in South India, Rajasthan and Gujarat and in north around Mathura. Acarya Ratna Prabh Suri came to Osia in Rajasthan in first century AD and converted 125,000 people to Jainism (known as Oswals, one of the richest Jain communities in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat). Similarly Jainism started gaining royal patronage in south (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka primarily), certain parts of Maharastra (Sholapur-Belgaum area), Gujarat (Vallabhi, Ahmedabad), Central India (Malwa, Bundelkhand) and north (Mathura). Other Indian philosophers started criticizing Jain philosophy vehemently. Jain monks started writing scriptures (from 2nd century BC to 6th century AD). Śivārya, Bhūtabali and Pūşpadant, Kunda Kunda, Umā Svāti and Samantabhadra all in south during 2nd - 3rd century AD etc wrote logical and spiritual Jain texts considered almost as canons by Digambar Jains. Skandila started and then Devardhagani (2nd and 3rd councils in Mathura and Vallabhi respectively in 3rd and 5th century AD) completed Śvetāmbara canons. Umā Svāti’s Tattvarthasutra is venerated by all Jains as a very sacred Jain religious text.

  • From 6th century AD till 8th century AD, Pujya Pada, Siddha Sena, Akalanka wrote commentaries and Jain logic logics. Haribhadra in Gujarat projected reconciliation between Jain and other Indian religions by writing a large corpus of important Jain texts.
  • Jain poets and philosophers like Banrasi Dass, Rajmal Pandey and Hindus like Tulsi Das and Surdas flourished during their regime. It is said that Digambar munis in the beginning were asked to wear clothes to go to royal courts for discussions and delivering sermons.
  • From 7th century AD onwards till 13th century AD building temples, idols, and pieces of art gained momentum by Jains. Devgarh, Gwalior etc in central, Sravaņabelgola in south, Jaisalmer and Nakoda, Phalodi and Abu’s Dilwara in Rajasthan emerged as important Jain centers of art and temples. Idols like Gomatteswara at Sravaņabelgola and other places came up in Karnataka. Shilanka wrote commentaries on Śvetāmbara canons. Jinasena and his pupil Gunabhadra wrote book on Universal History most refereed by Digambar Jains.
  • Hemcandra (12th century AD) became the royal holy teacher of King Vastupal of Patan Gujarat (he built a number of important and huge Jain temples all over Gujarat) and wrote important Jain texts on logic, yoga and language. From11th century onwards, devotion (bhakti), religious rituals, use of tantras and mantras for winning over worldly afflictions emerged as popular Jain practices. Mantunga wrote Bhaktambara stotra, a very popular devotional hymn in praise of Lord Adi Nath, the 1st fordmaker. We see greater impact of Hindu religious practices on Jains who started making idols of serving gods(yaksa) and goddesses(yaksini) of fordmakers and protectors places (Bhaumias, Bhairava, Kshetrapals) for obtaining divine patronage for worldly comforts and worshipping them.+
  • From 11th century onwards, invasions and rule by Muslim kings saw large-scale destruction of Jain and Hindu temples primarily. Remains near important Muslim shrines and tombs (Qutab Minar, Ajmer Dargah Shariff etc just few examples) still show existence of Jain temples there. However Emperor Akbar and his son Jahangir were sympathetic towards Jains and Hindu religions. Jain poets and philosophers like Banrasi Dass, Rajmal Pandey and Hindus like Tulsi Das and Surdas flourished during their regime. It is said that Digambar munis in the beginning were asked to wear clothes to go to royal courts for discussions and delivering sermons.
  • The four renouncers popularly known as Dadagurus namely Jin Dutt Suri (AD1075- 1154), Manidhari Jinachandra Suri (1140-1166), Jin Kushal Suri (1280-1332) and Jin Chandra Suri (1538-1613) became very popular in Rajasthan for converting a number of other castes to Jains and having divine powers to protect their followers from natural and human inflicted difficulties. A number of Jain reformers like Lokanshah in Gujarat (founder of Sthanakavasi Śvetāmbara sect), Bhikshu in Rajasthan (founder of Terapanth, as a sub-sect of Sthanakavasi laid strict practice of non-violence for monks and abolishing special places for stay of monks) emerged. Banārasi Dāsa criticized excessive use of material offerings in Digambara worship and set up Terapanth in Digambaras. Householders like Todar Mal and Daulat Ram wrote texts and treatise on Jain canons. Dhyanat Rai wrote devotional songs to worship (like Hindu tradition and poets like Kabir) fordmakers and seek patronage from their divine powers. Yasovijay wrote a number of commentaries on earlier Jain commentaries and doctrinal issues.
  • Britain ruled India from 18th century till 1947AD. Western culture started creeping in India. Indian religions, culture, arts and history were also revived. British encouraged education. Finally it appears that Mahatma Gandhi was greatly influenced by his Jain mother and religious teacher Sri Rai Chand (a Jain laity who almost practiced monk’s life in Gujarat). He adopted non-violence and truth as his weapons to bring independence to the country from the British rule. During this period, we saw Jain newspapers in different languages being published. Religious bodies like Digambara Jain Mahāsābha, Śvetāmbara conference and Young Jains Association were formed and prospered. Jains stared setting up their own schools and colleges and teach religion along with other subjects. Other socially useful institutions like orphanages, widow rehabilitation centers, improvement of facilities at pilgrim places, hospitals and dispensaries etc were established. Shanti Sagar revived Digambara Jain monk tradition in 20th century AD. Kanji swami, a convert from Sthankavasi to Digambara tradition is another reformer of the present times who opposed conduct of Digambara monks and emphasized the absolute viewpoint of pure soul.
  • All through this period, Rajasthan was a little different and not so affected by Muslim rule. Therefore Jainism kept on flourishing there and we see large-scale construction of temples, monks and writing of literature there. Bhamashah, defense and prime minister of Rana Pratap was a respected Jain and he was so respected that his many generations got royal patronage. They built a number of temples in Udaipur and western Rajasthan.
  • During the period 16th to 18th centuries, there was so much turmoil, that the question of religion and culture is inconsequential. Indiscipline, unruly people, violence, infighting were the order of the time. However areas like Bundelkhand, Rajasthan Gujarat, Agra and to some extent Delhi in the north, Kanataka and adjacent Māhārāşŧra and Gujarat in south and west continued to see Jainism exist and to some extent prosper.

V. 1700AD - Now

India had rulers from England who plundered the wealth of India first and then ruled the country. Further the moral and ethical standards saw their lowest point during this period. However they did established a well administered government, education, legal, cultural and transport systems in the country. They treated all religions as equal and tried to inculcate a feeling of belonging to the country. As a result we see emergence of intelligentsia like Rām Mohan Roy, Dayā Nand, Vivekānand, Iswarchand Vidhyāsāgar, Tagore, Gokhale, Srimad Rāichandji and last but the least Mahatma Gandhi. Indian religions, culture, arts and history took a turn for development also as the British encouraged education substantially. Old customs (widow remarriage, satiprathā, untouchables etc.) were being openly discussed and movements started to eliminate them from the society. Finally Mahatma Gandhi adopted the five anuvratas of Jains, especially non violence and truth as his weapons to bring independence to the country from the British rule.

During this period, we saw publication of Jain newspapers in different languages. Religious bodies like Digambar Jain Mahāsābha, Śvetāmbara conference and Young Jains Association were formed and prospered. Jains stared setting up their own schools and colleges and teach religion along with other subjects. Other socially useful institutions like orphanages, widow rehabilitation centers, improvement of facilities at pilgrim places, hospitals and dispensaries etc were established. Acārya Śānti Sāgar ji was the first Digambar Jain acaryas of 20th century and since then this tradition has become quite popular with over 300 Digambar Jain monks countrywide now.

From the demography and philosophy of Jains, we see them concentrated in big cities of India where economic progress was easier to achieve. The latest census of India conducted in 2006-7 show Jains as a small minority of 4.8 million persons living primarily in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi (including adjoining western Uttara Pradesh and Haryana). Further, this small minority is most literate (more than 98 percent and economically prosperous). Similarly we see a number of Jains (almost 100000) migrating to USA, Canada, Europe and other parts of the world to test their academic and business acumen. Most of them are now well established.

Annexure I


International School for Jain Studies

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        Page glossary
        Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
        1. Acarya
        2. Acaryas
        3. Adinath
        4. Agra
        5. Ahmedabad
        6. Ajmer
        7. Akalanka
        8. Akbar
        9. Anuvratas
        10. Arhat
        11. Aristotle
        12. Bhadra
        13. Bhairava
        14. Bhakti
        15. Bhikshu
        16. Bhubaneshwar
        17. Bihar
        18. Buddha
        19. Buddhism
        20. Das
        21. Delhi
        22. Digambar
        23. Digambara
        24. Digambaras
        25. Dilwara
        26. Gandhar
        27. Gandhi
        28. Gujarat
        29. Gwalior
        30. Haribhadra
        31. Haryana
        32. International School for Jain Studies
        33. Jain Logic
        34. Jain Philosophy
        35. Jain Temples
        36. Jainism
        37. Jaisalmer
        38. Jin
        39. Jin Chandra Suri
        40. Jin Dutt Suri
        41. Jin Kushal Suri
        42. Jinasena
        43. Kanji Swami
        44. Karnataka
        45. Lucknow
        46. Madhya Pradesh
        47. Madurai
        48. Magadh
        49. Magadha
        50. Maharashtra
        51. Mahatma
        52. Mahatma Gandhi
        53. Mahavira
        54. Mahāvīra
        55. Malwa
        56. Manidhari Jinachandra Suri
        57. Mathura
        58. Munis
        59. Nakoda
        60. Nath
        61. Neminātha
        62. Non violence
        63. Non-violence
        64. Nātha
        65. Omniscient
        66. Orissa
        67. Oswals
        68. Patanjali
        69. Phalodi
        70. Pradesa
        71. Pradesh
        72. Punjab
        73. Pārsva Nātha
        74. Rajasthan
        75. Ram
        76. Sagar
        77. Siddha
        78. Soul
        79. Sthanakavasi
        80. Swami
        81. Tagore
        82. Tamil
        83. Tamil Nadu
        84. Terapanth
        85. Tulsi
        86. Udaipur
        87. Udaygiri
        88. Vallabhi
        89. Vedic
        90. Violence
        91. Yaksa
        92. Yaksini
        93. Yoga
        94. Young Jains
        95. Śvetambara
        96. Śvetāmbara
        97. Śvetāmbaras
        98. Śānti
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