Jain Philosophy (2) 27 – Jain History

Jain Philosophy (2) 27 – Jain History

Chapter 27 – Jain History


It is difficult to cover the history of Jain religion with in the scope of this book, but we will attempt to briefly out line the salient features.

Indian culture consists of two main trends: Shramanic and Brahmanic. The Vedic traditions come under the Brahmanic trend. The Shramanic trend covers the Jain, Buddhist, and similar other ascetic traditions. The Brahmanic schools accept the authority of the Vedas and Vedic literature. The Jains and Buddhists have their own canons and accept their authors.

Jainism is an ancient independent religion of India.  However, it is wrong to say that Bhagawän Mahävir founded Jainism. Jainism is an eternal religion; it has always existed, it exists now, and it will always exist in the future.  Jainism has been flourishing in India from times immemorial. In comparison with the small population of Jain, the achievements of their in enriching the various aspects of Indian culture are great.  Jains are found all over India, and all over world and are known everywhere for the strict observance of their religious practices in their daily lives.

Legendary Antiquity of Jainism

Jainism is an eternal religion.  Therefore, there is a prehistoric time of Jainism and there is a historic time of Jainism. Jainism is revealed in every cyclic period of the universe, and this constitutes the prehistoric time of Jainism.  In addition, there is a recorded history of Jainism since about 3000_3500 BC.

Prehistoric Period

According to Jain scriptures, there were infinite number of time cycles in the past (no beginning) and there will be more time ycles in future. Each time cycle is dividced into two equal half cycles, namely Utsarpini (ascending) Käl (time) and Avasarpini (descending) Käl. Each cycle is again divided into six divisions known as Äräs (spokes of a wheel).  The Äräs of Avasarpini are reversed relative to those in Utsarpini.  There are 24 Tirthankars in each half cycle. Kevalis known as Tirthankars teach religious philosophy through Sermons, which leads human beings across the ocean of sorrow and misery.  Tirthankars are the personages who delineate the path of final liberation or emancipation of all living beings from succession of births and deaths.

The tradition of Tirthankars in the present age begins with Shri Rishabhadev, the first Tirthankar, and ends with Shri Mahävir swami, the twenty_fourth Tirthankar. Naturally, there is a continuous link among these twenty_four Tirthankars who flourished in different periods of history in India. It, therefore, means that the religion first preached by Shri Rishabhadev in the remote past was preached in succession by the remaining twenty_three Tirthankars for the benefit of living beings and revival of spirituality.

There is evidence that there were people who were worshipping Rishabhadev before Vedic period.  It has been recorded that King Kharavela of Kalinga, in his second invasion of Magadha in 161 B.C., brought back treasures from Magadha and in these treasures there was the idol known as Agra_Jina, of the first Jina (Rishabhadev) which had been carried away from Kalinga three centuries earlier by King Nanda I.  This means that in the fifth century B.C. Rishabhadev was worshipped and his idol was highly valued by his followers. Other archaeological evidences belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age in India also lend support to the antiquity of the Jain tradition and suggest the prevalence of the practice of the worship of Rishabhadev, the first Tirthankar, along with the worship of other deities. Many relics from the Indus Valley excavations suggest the prevalence of the Jain religion in that ancient period (3500 to 3000 B.C.).

  • It is observed that in the Indus Valley civilization, there is a great preponderance of pottery figures of female deities over those of male deities and the figures of male deities are shown naked.
  • We find that the figures of six male deities in nude form are engraved on one seal and that each figure is shown naked and standing erect in a contemplative mood with both hands kept close to the body. Since this Käyotsarga (way of practicing penance, as in a standing posture) is peculiar only to the Jains and the figures are of naked ascetics, it can be postulated that these figures represent the Jain Tirthankars.
  • Again, the figures of male deities in contemplative mood and in sitting posture engraved on the seals are believed to resemble the figures of Jain Tirthankars, because these male deities are depicted as having one face only. While, the figures of male deities of Hindu tradition are generally depicted as having three faces or three eyes and with a trident or some type of weapon.
  • Furthermore, there are some motifs on the seals found in Mohen_Jo_Daro identical with those found in the ancient Jain art of Mathura.

As Mahävir was the last Tirthankar, most philosophers consider Mahävir_swämi as the founder of the Jain religion. Obviously, this is a misconception.  Now, historians have accepted the fact that Mahävir_swämi did not found the Jain religion but he preached, revived and organized the religion, which was in existence from the past (Anädi Käl).

At present, we are in the fifth Ärä, Dusham, of the Avasarpini half cycle, of which nearly 2500 years have passed. The fifth Ärä began 3 years and 3 ½ months after the Nirvana of Bhagawän Mahävir in 527 B.C. Bhagawän Rishabhadev, the first Tirthankar, lived in the later part of the third Ärä, and the remaining twenty_three Tirthankars lived during the fourth Ärä.

Historical Period – Jain Tradition and Archaeological Evidence 

Neminäth as a Historical Figure

Neminäth or Aristanemi, who preceded Bhagawän Pärshvanäth, was a cousin of Krishna. He was a son of Samudravijay and grandson of Andhakavrshi of Sauryapura. Krishna had negotiated the wedding of Neminäth with Räjimati, the daughter of Ugrasen of Dvärkä. Neminäth attained emancipation on the summit of Mount Raivata (Girnar).

There is a mention of Neminäth in several Vedic canonical books. The king named Nebuchadnazzar was living in the 10th century B.  C.  It indicates that even in the tenth century B.C. there was the worship of the temple of Neminäth.  Thus, there seems to be little doubt about Neminäth as a historical figure but there is some difficulty in fixing his date.

Historicity of Pärshvanäth

The historicity of Bhagawän Pärshvanäth has been unanimously accepted. He preceded Bhagawän Mahävir by 25O years.  He was the son of King Ashvasen and Queen Vämä of Väränasi.  At the age of thirty, he renounced the world and became an ascetic. He practiced austerities for eighty_three days.  On the eighty_fourth day, he obtained omniscience. Bhagawän Pärshvanäth preached his doctrines for seventy years.  At the age of one hundred, he attained liberation on the summit of Mount Samet (Pärshvanäth Hills).

The four vows preached by Bhagawän Pärshvanäth are: not to kill, not to lie, not to steal, and not to have any possession. The vow of celibacy was implicitly included in the last vow. However, in the two hundred and fifty years that elapsed between the Nirvana of Pärshvanäth and the preaching of Bhagawän Mahävir, in light of the situation of that time, Bhagawän Mahävir added the fifth vow of celibacy to the existing four vows.  There were followers of Bhagawän Pärshvanäth headed by Keshi Ganadhar at the time of Bhagawän Mahävir. It is a historical fact that Keshi Ganadhar and Ganadhar Gautam, chief disciple of Bhagawän Mahävir met and discussed the differences. After a satisfactory explanation by Ganadhar Gautam, Keshi Ganadhar, monks, and nuns of the Bhagawän Pärshvanäth tradition accepted the leadership of  Bhagawän Mahävir and they were reinitiated.  It should be noted that the monks and nuns who followed the tradition of Bhagawän Pärshvanäth were wearing clothes. (by shvetämbar tradition).

Bhagawän Mahävir

Bhagawän Mahävir was the twenty_fourth and the last Tirthankar. According to the tradition of the Shvetämbar Jains, the Nirvana of Bhagawän Mahävir took place 470 years before the beginning of the Vikram Era.  The tradition of the Digambar Jains maintains that Bhagawän Mahävir attained Nirvana 605 years before the beginning of the Saka Era. By either mode of calculation, the date comes to 527 B.C.  Since the Bhagawän attained emancipation at the age of 72, his birth must have been around 599 B.C.  This makes Bhagawän Mahävir a slightly elder contemporary of Buddha who probably lived about 567_487 B.C.

Bhagawän Mahävir was the head of an excellent community of 14,000 monks, 36,000 nuns, 159,000 male lay votaries (Shrävaks) and 318,000 female lay votaries. (Shrävikäs). The four groups designated as monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen constitute the four_fold order (Tirtha) of Jainism.

Of the eleven principal disciples (Ganadhars) of Bhagawän Mahävir, only two, Gautam Swämi and Sudharmä Swämi, survived him.  After twenty years of Nirvana of Bhagawän Mahävir, Sudharmä Swämi also attained emancipation.  He was the last of the eleven Ganadhars to attain Moksha.  Jambu Swämi, the last omniscient, was his disciple. He attained salvation sixty_four years after the Nirvana of Bhagawän Mahävir.

There were both types of monks; Sachelaka (with clothes), and Achelak (without clothes), in the order of Bhagawän Mahävir.  Both types of these groups were present together up to several centuries after Nirvana of Bhagawän Mahävir.

Jain Tradition and Buddhim

Bhagawän Mahävir was the senior contemporary of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.  In Buddhist books, Bhagawän Mahävir is always described as Niggantha Nätaputta (Nirgrantha Jnäta_putra), i.e., the naked ascetic of the Jnätru clan. Furthermore, in the Buddhist literature, Jainism is referred to as anncient religion. There are ample references in Buddhist books to the Jain naked ascetics, to the worship of Arhats in Jain Chaityas or temples, and to the Chaturyäma_dharma (i.e. fourfold religion) of the twenty_third Tirthankar Pärshvanäth.

Moreover, the Buddhist literature refers to the Jain tradition of Tirthankars and specifically mentions the names of Jain Tirthankars like Rishabhadev, Padmaprabha, Chandraprabha, Pushpadanta, Vimalnäth, Dharmanäth and Neminäth.  The Buddhist book, Manorathapurani mentions the names of many householder men and women as followers of the Pärshvanäth tradition and among them is the name of Vappa, the uncle of Gautam Buddha. In fact, it is mentioned in the Buddhist literature that Gautam Buddha himself practiced penance according to the Jain way before he propounded his new religion.

Jain Tradition and Hinduism

The Jain tradition of 24 Tirthankars seems to have been accepted by the Hindus as well as the Buddhists as it has been described in their ancient scriptures. The Hindus, indeed, never disputed the fact that Jainism was revealed by Rishabhadev and placed his time almost at what they conceived to be the commencement of the world. They gave the same parentage (father Näbhiräyä and mother Marudevi) of Rishabhadev as the Jains do and they also agree that after the name of Rishabhadev’s eldest son, Bharat, this country is known as Bhärat_varsha.

In the Rig Veda, there are clear references to Rishabhadev, the first Tirthankar, and to Aristanemi, the twenty_second Tirthankar.  The Yajur Veda also mentions the names of three Tirthankars, Rishabhadev, Ajitnäth, and Aristanemi.  Further, the Atharva Veda specifically mentions the sect of Vratya means the observer of Vratas or vows as distinguished from the Hindus at those times. Similarly, in the Atharva Veda, the term Mahä Vratya occurs and it is postulated that this term refers to Rishabhadev, who could be considered as the great leader of the Vratyas.

Keval_jnäni, Shruta Kevali and Das_purvi Ächäryas

The Keval_jnänis are those who have eradicated the four destructive karma and attained perfect knowledge.  Shruta_Kevalis are those who know all of the 14 Purvas and 12 Anga_pravishtha Ägams.  Das_purvi are those who know the first ten Purvas and 11 Anga_pravishtha Ägams. Through the special powers of Shruta Kevalis (memorization by listening), the sermons given by Tirthankars are passed on to the generations, The following provides the list of Keval_jnäni, Shruta_Kevali and Das_purvi Ächäryas after the Nirvana of Bhagawän Mahävir:

Keval_jnani Acharyas

Shvetambar Tradition Name Years of Acharyas Digambar Tradition Name Years as Acharyas
Sudharma_Swami 20 Gautam_swami 12
Jambu_swami 44 Sudharma_swami 12
    Jambu_swami 38


Shruta_kevali Acharyas

Shvetambar Tradition Name Years of Acharyas Digambar Tradition Name Years as Acharyas
Prabhav 11 Vishnu 14
Sayyam_bhava 23 Nandimitra 16
Yashobhadra 50 Aparajit 22
Sambhutivijay 8 Govardhan 19
Bhadrabahu 14 Bhadrabahu 29

Dass_purvi Acharyas 

Shvetambar Tradition Name Years of Acharyas Digambar Tradition Name Years as Acharyas
Arya Sthulibhadra 45 Visakh Acharya 10
Arya Mahagiri 30 Prosthil 19
Arya Suhastin 46 Kshatriya 17
Gunasundar_suri 44 Jaysen 21
Arya Kalak 41 Nagasen 18
Skandilacharya (Samdilya) 38 Siddhartha 17
Revati_mitra_suri 36 Dhritisen 18
Arya Dharma 24 Buddhilinga 20
Bhadragupta_suri 39 Deva 14
Shrigupta_suri 15 Dharmasen 16
Vajraswami 36    


According to the Shvetämbars, the series of the Das_purvis (knowledgeable with of eleven Angas and ten Purvas only) completely ended with the death of Ächärya Vajra. His death occurred in 114 Vikram Samvat (584 years after Bhagawän Mahävir’s Nirvana). However, according to the Digambar, Dharmasen was the last Das_purvis, 345 years after Bhagawän Mahävir’s Nirvana.

After Ärya Vajra, there flourished Ärya Rakshita, who had knowledge of nine and a half Purva, remained Yug_pradhän for thirteen years.  Keeping in view that disciples might have differently developed faculties of intelligences, understanding, and retention, he made four classifications of the Ägams, based on the four viewpoints of exposition (Anuyoga). Until his time, each and every Ägam Sutra work was expounded from all four viewpoints of exposition.

Jain Ägams

Jain scriptures, which was passed on to the generations’ by Ganadhars and Shruta_kevalis, is known as Ägam literature. These texts are the Holy Scriptures of the Jain religion. For further detail, refer to the chapter on Jain Ägam literature

Shvetämbars and Digambars:

Jains were divided into two groups, Shvetämbar and Digambar, nearly six hundred years after the Nirvana of Tirthankar Bhagawän Mahävir.  The Digambar monks are naked while the Shvetämbar monks wear white clothes. The process of the split started in the third century B.C. The famous Jain Ächärya, Shruta_kevali Bhadrabähu, predicted a long and severe famine in the kingdom of Magadha (in modern Bihar).  With a view to avoid the terrible effects of famine, Bhadrabähu, along with a body of 12,000 monks, migrated from Patliputra, the capital of Magadha, to

Chandragupta died on the same hill at Shravanbelgola.  This Bhadrabähu – Chandragupta tradition is strongly supported by a large number of reliable epigraphic and literary evidences including both Shvetämbar and Digambar traditions.Shravanbelgola (in modern Karnataka State) in South India. Chandragupta Maurya (322_298B.C.), who was then the Emperor of Magadha and was very much devoted to Ächärya Bhadrabähu, abdicated his throne in favor of his son Bindusär, also joined Bhadrabähu’s entourage as a monk, and stayed with Bhadrabähu at Shravanbelgola. Chandragupta, the devout ascetic disciple of Bhadrabähu, lived for 12 years after the death of his Guru, Bhadrabähu, in about 297 B.C. After practicing penance according to the strict Jain rite of Sanlekhanä,

When the ascetics of Bhadrabähu Sangha returned to Patliputra after the end of a twelve_year period of famine, to their utter surprise, they noticed two significant changes that had taken place during their absence. In the first place among the ascetics of Magadha, under the leadership of Ächärya Sthulibhadra, the rule of nudity was relaxed and the ascetics were allowed to wear a piece of white cloth (known as Ardhaphalaka).

Secondly, the version of sacred books (memorized version – no written book existed) that were accepted at the council of Patliputra in their absence, they found some inconsistencies. As a result, the group of returned monks from Bhadrabähu’s group did not accept these two new things introduced by the followers of Ächärya Sthulibhadra, and proclaimed themselves as true

Jains. Eventually, about 600 years after the Nirvana of Bhagawän Mahävir, Jain religion was split up into two distinct sects: the Digambar (sky_clad or naked) and the Shvetämbar (white_clad). However, when it comes to the philosophy of Jainism, there is essentially no difference between these two major traditions. Differences are most marked in the rituals only. Both believe in Non_violence and Multiplicity of point of view.  Therefore in spite of the differences one can practice Jain way of life with five minor vows of house holder, and control over four passions with mind, speech and body, maintaining a unity in diversity.

Differences between Digambars and Shvetämbars:

  • The Digambars believe that no original canonical text exists now. They believe that all the texts were written after last Shruta_Kevali Bhadrabähu’s time, and therefore are incomplete. The Shvetämbars still preserve a good number of what they believe are original scriptures.
  • According to the Digambars, the omniscient do not take any food. As they destroy four Ghäti karma, they achieve Anant Virya (infinite energy) and their Audärika Sharira changes into Param (supreme) Audärika Sharira (devoid of bacterial decay or deteriorate), therefore they should not have Ashätä_vedniya karma of hunger The Shvetämbars do not accept this concept.
  • The Digambars strictly maintain that there can be no salvation without nakedness as it represents the ultimate non_possessiveness. Since women cannot go without clothes, they are said to be incapable of salvation.  The Shvetämbars hold that nakedness is not essential to attain liberation. Hence, women are also capable of salvation. However, this is a mute point in this fifth Ärä of regressive time cycle, as no one, man or woman can attain Moksha during this Ärä from this Bharat Kshetra.
  • The Digambars hold that Bhagawän Mahävir did not get married. According to the Shvetämbars, Bhagawän Mahävir was married and had a daughter.
  • The images of Tirthankars are not decorated by the Digambars, whereas the Shvetämbars decorate them. In Shvetämbar tradition, the Tirthankar’s idol represents him in the life of a king, who has conquered all his internal enemies. Tirthankar is not an ordinary king but a king of the spirit.  He is royal not because of his birth or social status but for his accomplishment of being Vitaräga.  While in Digambar tradition, Tirthankar’s idol represents Him after Omniscience (Keval_jnan) a Vitaraga, free from all attachments.
  • The Shvetämbar monks wear white clothes, however, the Digambar monks of Nirgrantha type are naked, while Brahmachäries at some level (Ellakas & Sullakas) wear white or orange cloths.Jain doctrine has been remarkably stable over the centuries and there have not been any serious changes or modification and therefore can be said to be time tested. This stability is largely due to Umäsväti’s Tattvärtha_sutra, written in the 1st century.  This work was written before the divisions between the Shvetämbars and Digambars became final, and thus is accepted by both branches of Jainism.

Shvetämbar Sub Sects

The Shvetämbar sect has also been split into two main sub sects: Murtipujak and Sthänakaväsi. Later a group separated from the Sthänakaväsi tradition and identified themselves as Teräpanthi.


Murtipujak Shvetämbars are the worshippers of idols. They offer flowers, fruits, sandalwood, etc. to their idols and adorn them with rich clothes and jeweled ornaments. Their ascetics cover their mouths with a piece of cloth (Muhapatti) while speaking; otherwise they keep the cloth in their hands.  They stay in especially reserved buildings known as Upäshrays. They collect food in their bowls from the Shrävaks’ houses (called Gochari) and eat wherever they are staying (called Upäshray).  Though the Murtipujak Shvetämbars are concentrated mostly in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, they are also found scattered all over India.


The Sthänakaväsi arose as reformers.  Lonkäshah, a rich and well_read merchant of Amdavad, founded this sect in about 1453 A.D well after the Murtipujak group. He noticed that Yatis who were caretaker of Jain temples and performed the rituals were misguiding the common people under the name of religion. He studied the scriptures and interpreted idol worship as being against original Jain tenets. This was the preamble to setting up the Sthänakaväsi sect, which came into being as the non_idol worshippers.

Bhanaji_muni was the first known Muni of that sect.  The Shvetämbar sect was thus divided into two sub_sects. This division was however helpful in dealing an end to the evils of Yatis. Sthänakaväsis introduced strict codes of conduct for their monks in contrast to the lax behavior of the Chaityaväsis.

The ascetics of the Sthänakaväsi cover their mouths with a piece of cloth (Muhapatti) all the time. Sthänakaväsi accepted the authenticity of 32 of 45 Ägam scriptures of the Shvetämbars Murtipujaks.  The Sthänakaväsis are also mainly located in Gujarat, Punjab, Hariyana and Rajasthan.


The Teräpanthi subsect is derived from the Sthänakaväsi section. Swämi Bhikkanaji Mahäräj founded the Teräpanthi subsect.  Swämi Bhikkanaji was formerly a Sthänakaväsi monk and had been initiated by his Guru, Ächärya Raghunätha.  Swämi Bhikkanaji had differences with his Guru on several aspects of religious practices of Sthänakaväsi ascetics and when these took a serious turn, he founded the Teräpantha sect in 1760 A.D.  They consider mercy and charity work is the social duty of laypeople (Laukik Dharma).  However the proper way (religious way) to consider mercy and charity work is to give to the people who are practicing vows (Virati). The Teräpanthis are very organized under the complete direction of one Ächärya. The Teräpanthi sect, like the Sthänakaväsi from which it separated in the eighteenth century, does not worship images.

In 1936, this position was passed to twenty_one years old Ächärya Tulsi. It was an inspired choice, for this young man was to transform the Teräpanthi. He traveled to almost every part of India. He had shown particular concern for education, putting emphasis on study, research, and writing by Teräpanthi monks and by nuns as well. 

The Jain Vishwa Bharati that emerged from his work is an institution for higher education in the Jain field and it is recognized by Government of India as a deemed university.  In 1949, he initiated the Anu_vrata movement for moral uplift, honest.  a nonviolent, non_exploitive society.  Some of its members are non_Jains.  In 1980, he introduced another innovation with the initiation of the first of a new order of Saman and Samani.  Whilst dedicated to the life of nuns and monks, they are excluded from the prohibitions on traveling in vehicles and no eating at lay people home (alone in an isolated place if essential) as well as from certain rules incumbent on the full_fledged mendicant.  After Ächärya Tulsi, Ächärya Mahäprajnaji holds this position since 2003.

Digambar Sub Sects

The Digambar sect in recent centuries has been divided into the following major sub_sects: Bisapantha, Teräpantha, and Täranapantha or Samaiyapantha.


The followers of Bisapantha support the Dharma_gurus, that is, religious authorities known as Bhattärak, who are not Monks, but are the heads of Jain Mathas. Jain Mathas are religious monasteries responsible to collect and preserve Jain Ägams and to look after the financial affairs of group of temples. As Digambar monks lived out side the cities until at least 5th century, there was the need to create the Mathas and to have Bhattäraks. Now there are only two or three Mathas and very few Bhattäraks left.  The Bisapanthas worship the idols of Tirthankars and deities; they use fresh fruits and flowers in their temples.


Teräpantha arose in North India in the year 1627 A.D as a revolt against the domination and conduct of the Bhattärak as they started to act like Monks, rather then the religious authorities controlling the Mathas of the Digambar Jains.  As a result, in this subsect the Bhattärak are not much respected. In their temples, the Teräpanthis install the idols of Tirthankars, and during the worship they do not use fresh fruits or flowers.


The subsect Täranapantha is known after its founder Tarana_Swämi or Tarana_Tärana_Swämi (1448_1515 A.D.). This subsect worships sacred books and not the idols. They follow Digambar traditional texts and Digambar monks.  This group was very small and was limited to a very small section of Madhya Pradesh. This group is slowly disappearing; they have associated at places with Kanji swami tradition.

Great Ächäryas of Digambar and Shvetämbar Traditions

Great writings by Ächärya Kunda_Kunda, which is about 2000 years old, is revered by all Digambars as well as by many other Jains.  Shatakhand Ägam by Ächärya Pushpadanta and Bhutabali is one of the very old (50_80AD) scripture accepted by Digambars. Tattvärtha_Sutra by Umäsväti or Umäsvämi is accepted by both major traditions, Shvetämbar and Digambar. Ächärya Siddhasen Diwäkar lived during the time of Vikramäditya. He has written about many aspects of Jainism. His Sanmati_Tarka is considered a masterly book and is enthusiastically studied by scholars even at present.  Sarvärtha Siddhi of Pujyapäd_swämi, in the 5th or 6th century, Kashäya_Pähuda of Ächärya Gunadhara, and Shad_darshan Samuchchaya and Yoga Drashti Samuchchaya of Ächärya Haribhadra_Suri, in the 8th century, are the major works after the compilations of the Ägams.

By that time, idol worship was firmly established and many temples were set up. This necessitated the help of well_versed people for consecrating the idols and for performing various rituals.  In the Shvetämbar sect, this led to the rise of renegade monks known as Yatis. They used to stay in the temples and therefore came to be known as Chaityaväsis. They lived in affluence and availed themselves of all the comforts of life.  Haribhadra_suri was the first to criticize their accesses. However the evil continued long after that.

Noteworthy works after this period are the Mahä_Purän of Digambar Ächärya Jinsen (770_850), and the Trishashti (63) Shaläkä Purusha of Hemchandra_ächärya (1088_1173). Both these works are voluminous and deal with the lives of Tirthankars and other illustrious personalities. 

During this time period, serious efforts were made to curtail the excesses of Yatis in the 11th century by Vardhamänsuri. This was continued by his successors Jineshwar_suri and Jindatta_suri. The latter is popularly known as Dada Gurudev.  He founded the Kharatar Gachchha (Purer Sect) in about 1150.  The excesses of the Yati, however, seemed to have survived even that onslaught.

  Hirvijay_suri was the well_known Ächärya of the 16th century. He seems to have impressed even Mogul emperor Akbar who issued a proclamation forbidding animal slaughter on certain days. The next two well_known personalities are Yogi Änandghanji and Upädhyäy Yashovijayaji. The real name of the former was Läbhänandji.  Since he remained more absorbed in the nature of the soul, he is popularly known as Änandghanji.  He has written many thought provoking Padas.  The best known is his Änandghanji Chovisi that contains devotional songs in admiration of all 24 Tirthankars. Upädhyäy Yashovijayaji was a prolific writer. He has written on almost every aspect of Jainism in Sanskrit, Präkrit, and old Gujarati.

Digambars also experienced a significant change during the late sixteenth century through a famous poet and scholar named Banärasidäs.  He was born in a Shvetämbar family and was an easygoing youth. He however happened to read Samaysär and was very much impressed. He has written Samaysär_Nätak, which is a dramatic version of Samaysär. He was a devout scholar of the works of Kunda_Kundächärya.  He revolted against the lax behavior of Bhattäraks and felt their ritualistic practices were excessive and involved a high degree of Himsä in offering of flowers, fruits and sweets in temple rituals.  He called for abolishment of such offerings from daily rituals in the temples.

Banärasidäs influence was further felt through Pundit Todarmal of Jaipur. His doctrinal pursuits emphasized Nishchaya Naya (absolute) aspects of Kunda_Kundächärya writings. This greatly revitalized the Digambar tradition and allowed them to move forward during a period of difficult changes.  Following this period of change, even within the Digambar tradition, sects known as Teräpanthis and Bisapanthas came about.  Their beliefs and practices vary from one region to the other.

Shrimad Räjchandra

Shrimad Räjchandra (1867_1901 A.D.) was extraordinary from early life, born to a Hindu father and a Jain mother. At the age of seven he remembered his past life (Jäti_smaran Jnän) and described his experience as a proof of reincarnation.  He also believed that his deep understanding and detachment was because of his knowledge of last life. He had been writing poetry since the age of eight, at the age of 16 he wrote “Moksha_Mälä describing Jain way is the true way and is the path of detachment.  At the age of 19 he displayed his ability to remember and answer 100 questions in an order called “Shatävdhän” at Faramji Kavasji Institute in Bombay. At the age of 22 he married Zabakben and had four children.

He wrote some eight hundred letters, which chronicle his spiritual development. A collection of these letters is the one sacred text for the follower of Shrimad Räjchandra. He wrote many small books like Bhävanä_bodh, Sukh_sambandhi_vichar, and Namiräja etc. For him the spiritual goal was the experience of the self, and once this was achieved, then so was the spiritual deliverance. In 1896, in one night he wrote a short verse (142 stanzas) treatise on his view of Jainism to his friend Sobhagbhai. This Ätmasiddhi_shästra, ‘Attainment of the Soul,’ defined six principles central to true religion: the soul exists, the soul is eternal, the soul is the doer of its actions, the soul is the experiencer of its actions, the state of liberation exists, and the means of gaining liberation exists. He emphasized that he did not belong to any Gachchha or sect, but only to his soul. According to him, the nineteenth century decline of Jainism was due to excessive sectarianism and rituals. However, later in his short life, Shrimad Räjchandra accepted that Idol worship is an aid to spiritual growth.  Many Jains see Shrimad Räjchandra as a great saint. His spiritual influence on Gandhi, and consequently on India and the world, through the dissemination of Ahimsa (non_violence) and other Jain principles, is incalculable. Unfortunately he lived very short life but his work survives and is changing lives of many, through religious centers established by his followers.


Shri Kanji Swämi (1889_1980 A.D.), a Shvetämbar Sthänakaväsi by birth, was initiated at a very early age as Sthänakaväsi monk. At the age of 30 he studied “Samay_sär”.  He gave discourses on “Samay_sär” and largely succeeded in popularizing the old sacred texts of the great Digambar Jain saint Ächärya Kunda_Kunda of South India.  He remained as a very renowned Sthänakaväsi monk till the age of 45, and then he decided to become a Digambar Shrävak. His greatest achievement is the revolution, to stimulate every householder for their ability to study most difficult of the Jain canons, specially the educated masses. He is given credit for Pancha Kalyänaks (initiation ceremony) of about 95 temples.  Kanji Swämi, while interpreting Ächärya Kunda_Kunda’s writings, explained the practical and absolute point of views to ordinary householders and gave more prominence to Nishchaya Naya (from Soul’s point), the absolute point of view, in preference to Vyavahär Naya, the practical point of view. A movement, which he started in 1934, stresses inward thought rather than external ritual, attracted followers who hold him in great reverence.

Survival of Jainism in Difficult Times

After 12th century, there was significant impact of Vedic and Muslim religions on all non_Vedic religions such as Buddhism, Jainism and others.  Even as a minority, Jains continued their existence and practice during this difficult time.  The main reason for this is the interdependency between Jain monks and Jain householders.  Jain monks put significant emphasis on the practice of “Shrävakächär” (Code of conduct for Jain householders). Based on the needs of Jain householders they augmented the practical aspect of Jainism by including rites and rituals without compromising the essence of Jainism.  There are more than 40 canonical books just on “Shrävakächär”. Essentially, Jain monks assign a significant importance to Jain householders. In addition, Jains were financially well off.  They helped the rulers as well as the non_Jain community.  The emphasis on rites and rituals was added in the 5th century, when Jains were attracted to practicing Hinduism by rites and rituals, because they were easier to practice. Many Jains accepted Hinduism. Jain monks added more rites and rituals to stop the outflow of Jains to Hinduism.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, it became difficult to protect Jain temples, Jain Idols, Jain properties, and Jain canonical books.  Jains made some adjustments. They made some monks full time administrators of the Jain Sangha, known as Chaityaväsi Yati in the Shvetämbar tradition, and Bhattärak in the Digambar tradition. This did help to protect the literature and temples. However, as time passed, it was realized that there was too much power with the Chaityaväsi Yati and Bhattärak.  The real purpose of Jain monks is to practice and guide others to the Jain path of liberation.  Many Jain householders became aware of the situation and they were able to stop the Chaityaväsi tradition in Shvetämbar group, and Bhattärak tradition, in Digambar tradition though one or two Mathas of Bhattäraks has continued even today.

Jainism in Various Regions of India

Jainism in East India

In the Shishunäg dynasty (642_413 B.C.), Bimbisär or Shrenik and Ajätashatru or Kunika were the two important kings who extended their full support to Jainism. Both Bimbisär and his son Ajätashatru were the relatives of Bhagawän Mahävir, and were referred accordingly.

Soon Ajätashatru was followed by the Nanda dynasty (413_322 B.C.). King Nanda I led a conquering expedition into Kalinga and brought an idol of the first Jain Tirthankar Bhagawän Rishabhadev. The Nanda dynasty was followed by the Maurya dynasty. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (322_298 B.C.), the founder of the Maurya dynasty, abdicated the throne and joined the Jain migration to the South led by Ächärya Bhadrabähu.  Before his conversion to Buddhism, emperor Ashok (273_236 B.C.) grandson of Chandragupta Maurya embraced Jainism. Emperor Ashok was responsible for introducing Jainism into Kashmir. Emperor Samprati, the grandson and successor of Ashok, is regarded as a strong Jain for his eminent patronage and efforts in spreading Jainism in east India.

Like Magadha, the kingdom of Kalinga or Orissa had been a Jain stronghold from the very beginning.  Jainism made its way to south India through Kalinga.  In the second century B.C. Kalinga was the center of a powerful empire ruled over by Kharavela  who was one of the greatest royal patrons of the Jain faith.

Jainism had its influence in Bengal also.  Even now, Jain relics, inscriptions, and idols are found in different parts of Bengal. Even the name ‘Vardhamän’ is given to one district in Bengal. The influence of Jainism on the customs, manners, and religions of Bengal is very much visible even at present.

Jainism in South India

Jainism entered into Karnataka and south India during the days of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya when Bhadrabähu, the distinguished leader of Jains and the last of the Jain saints known as Shruta Kevalis, led the migration of the Jain Sangha to the South after predicting twelve years of famine in north India. Thus, it is stated that Jain history in the South commences from the 3rd Century B.C.  According to all Jain authors, the Nirvana of Ächärya Bhadrabähu took place in 297

B.C. at Shravan_Belgola. Bhadrabähu was in fact the rejuvenator of Jainism in south India. Some historians believe that Jainism had reached south India long before Shruta_kevali Bhadrabähu.  In any case, Jainism prevailed in south India in 3rd Century B.C and it continued as a popular faith for more than one thousand years and still has significant following there. It is significant to note that up to the 14th century A.D.  Jainism played an important role in the history of south India.

A few monarchs of the Kadamba rulers of Banaväsi (from the 3rd to the 6th Century A D.) were devout Jains, who were responsible for the gradual progress of the Jain religion in Karnataka. Eventually Jainism became a popular religion in the Kadamba Empire.

The Ganga Rulers (350 to 999 A.D.) of Talakada in Karnataka patronized the Jain religion to a great extent and naturally, practically all Ganga monarchs championed the cause of Jainism.

Chälukya Rulers of Badami in Karnataka (500 to 757 A.D.) and Rästrakutas of Malakhed in Karnataka (757 to 973 A.D) were pro_Jain.  From the 10th to the 12th century A.D. the Western Chälukya rulers of Kalyän in Karnataka preferred to show the same liberal attitude to Jainism, which the Kadambas, the Gangas, and the Rästrakutas had shown. The Hoyasala rulers, during their reign from 1006 to 1345 A.D.  over their kingdom of Halebid in Karnataka, strongly extended their support to Jainism. In addition to these major dynasties and their rulers, it has been emphasized that the Kalachuri rulers (from 1156 to 1183 A.D.) of Kalyän were Jains and naturally in their time, Jainism was the state religion.  There were several minor rulers who also professed and promoted Jainism. There are also traces of Jain prevalence in Andhra and Tamilnadu.

The whole of south India consisting of Deccan, Karnataka, Andhra, and Tamilnadu was a great stronghold of Jains, especially Digambar Jains, for more than one thousand years. Apart from the provincial capitals, Shravanbelgola in Karnataka was the center of their activities and it occupies the same position up to the present day.  Jainism, however, began to decline in south

India from the 12th century due to the growing importance of Srivaisnavism and Virasaivism. Jain monks were opposed, brutalized and even killed in southern India, during clashes with Hindus.

Jainism in West India

Jainism had very close relations in state of Gujarat.  That is where we find the largest concentration of Jains at present.  Here on Mount Girnar in the Junagadh district, Bhagawän Neminäth, the 22nd Tirthankar, attained salvation.  Here, in the council of Jain ascetics held at Vallabhi 980 years after Bhagawän Mahävir’s Nirvana, the Jain canon was for the first time written down. Just as south India is the stronghold of Digambar Jains, similarly, west India is the center of activities of Shvetämbar Jains.

Regarding the migration of Jains to these parts of India, it is thought that the migrations must have taken place by 300 B.C. from eastern India. During this time, Jains were gradually losing their position in the kingdom of Magadha, and they had begun their migration towards the western part of India where they settled and where they have retained their settlements to the present day.

Jainism flourished in Gujaratduring the days of the Rästrakuta monarchs, many of whom were devout Jains, and it received a further spur at the hands of the veteran Jain ruler Vanaraja of the Chavada family. About 1100 A.D., Jainism gained a great ascendancy when the Chälukya king Siddharäj and his successor Kumärpäl openly recognized Jainism and encouraged the literary and temple building activities of the Jains.

During the days of Vaghelas in the 13th century A.D., Jainism received patronage through the hands of Vastupäl and Tejpäl, the two famous Jain ministers of the time. They were responsible for constructing the beautiful temple cities at Shatrunjay, Girnar, and Abu.

There after, even though Jainism did not receive royal patronage as before, it continued to hold its position and the numerical and financial strength of Jains gave their religion a place of honor, which is acknowledged even to this day.

As in Gujarat, from ancient times the Jain religion also settled in the region of Maharashtra and flourished.  In Maharashtra, ancient Jain cave temples are found in Ellorä (Dist. Aurangabad), Ter (Dist.  Osmanabad), Anjaneri (Dist.  Näshik), and many other places in the interior areas. Renowned and influential Jain saints like Ächärya Samantabhadra, Virsen, Jinsen, and Somadeva were intimately connected with Maharashtra and had composed their sacred works and literary masterpieces in this region.  From the 3rd century A.D., the powerful ruling dynasties like the Sätavähanas of Paithan, Chälukyas of Kalyän, Rästrakutas of Malakhed, Yädavas of Devagiri, and Silaharas of Kolhapur and Konkan extended their royal patronage, in a large measure, to Jainism. As a result, we find that the Jains and the Jain religion had a prestigious position in Maharashtra during the ancient and medieval periods.

Jainism in North India

By 300 B.C., the migration of Jains began from eastern India to different parts of the country. One of their branches was firmly established in North India from the middle of the second century B.C and was settled in the Mathura region.  It is in Mathura the second Vächanä (Recension) writing of Ägams took place around 265 A.D.  under the guidance of Skandilächärya. It is clear that Mathura was a stronghold of Jains for nearly a thousand years up to 500 A.D.

Another center of Jain activities in the North was Ujjayini, the capital of Maurya Emperor Samprati.  There are several references to Ujjayini in Jain literature and the city has played an important role in the history of the Jain religion.

During the Muslim period, Jainism could not get the royal and popular support it used to receive but it succeeded in holding its own without much trouble.  During this period, largest number of Jain temples were either destroyed or converted in to Mosques. Jains had to hide the hand written scriptures and even temples.  One such Jain temple was just discovered from under the mount of dirt in year 2002 in the state of Gujarat.  This temple was said to have been built in 800 A.D. Jains did secure some concessions for their holy places and practices from liberal minded

Mogul emperors like Akbar the Great and Jahangir.  It is recorded that Emperor Akbar was very favorably inclined towards the Jain religion.  In the year 1583 A.D. he prohibited animal slaughter during Paryushan making it a capital offense throughout his vast empire. This tolerant policy of the Great Mogul was revoked by his successor Jahangir. A deputation of the Jains that visited Jahangir in 1610 A.D. was able to secure a new imperial ruling under which the slaughter of animals was again prohibited during the days of the Paryushan. During the Mohammedan period, however, the Jains particularly increased in the native States of Rajputana, where they came to occupy many important offices in the state as generals and ministers.

According to 2001 Census Bureau, Government of India:

  • India Total 2001 Population        1,028,610,328
  • Jain 0.4%                                    4,225,053

Of the total Jain population of 4,225,053 in India, the largest numbers of Jains (1,301,843) are in Maharashtra. Next to Maharashtra, the population of Jains in other states is Rajasthan (650,493), Gujarat (525,303), Madhya Pradesha (545,446), Karnatak (412,659), Uttar Pradesha (207,111) and Delhi (155,122). It should be noted that most of the Jains in Maharashtra are in Mumbai and most them are of Gujarati origin.

Jainism and Modern Age

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Jain scholarship, education, and writings have made popular and available to educated masses in many foreign languages, Jains have become much more conscious of the wider public need of such knowledge. Without seeking to count heads of converts like many religions, Jains have become concerned with spreading knowledge of the Jain religion and encouraging adherence to its principles.  In addition, for the first time in Jain history, Jainism has spread to Africa, Europe, and North America, where Jain communities have settled and flourished.

Educational institutions have been endowed, and publishing of religious material have been supported.  Particular Jain institutions, such as the refuges for sick animals, are maintained. Generosity to Jain causes, by people of all income groups, is a major Jain characteristic, but generosity is not confined to Jain causes alone.

Let us now pick up a few examples of the prominent people who have been particularly concerned with the promotion of Jain faith and principles over the past century.

In 1893, a ‘World Parliament of Religions’ was held in the United States and the organizer sought a Jain representative. The invitation went to Ächärya Ätmärämji. As a monk it was not possible for him to travel, so the task of being the Ächärya’s representative and the first Jain to explain his religion to a major overseas gathering fell to Shri Virchand Gandhi, Honorary Secretary of the

Jain Association of India. His lectures in the U.S.A.  earned him a silver medal from the Parliament of Religions for his scholarly oratory.  Going on to England, he continued his lecturing (he gave 535 lectures in all between USA and England).  One of his students was Herbert Warren, who became secretary of the Jain Literature Society, founded with Virchand Gandhi’s help. Herbert Warren wrote many books on Jainism explaining the subject in a simple way. Virchand Gandhi died at a very young age of thirty_seven.

A landmark was the 1884 publication of the first two volumes of Jain Sutras, translated into English by Hermann Jacobi.  An English writer, Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson, published a book “The Heart of Jainism (1915)’, a sympathetic book but colored by a strong Christian missionary outlook.  In 1925, Helmuth Von Glasenapp wrote a book “Jainism An Indian Religion of Salvation” in German and this book have now been translated into English. At a more popular level, knowledge of Jainism and the Jains is very slowly filtering into Western consciousness. Within the Jain community, there is a desire to make the principles of Jainism known to a wider world.

Jain Contribution to Indian Culture:

Jains have made remarkable contributions in the areas of languages and literature, arts and architecture (temples, temple cities, cave temples, Stups, Mäna – Sthambhas, towers, sculptures and paintings), philosophy (multiplicity of views – Anekäntaväda), ethical codes, business, political progress, religious, social and educational equality to women, urging of self_reliance. There greatest contribution is emphasis on non_violence to the smallest level, including mental and verbal abuse to constitute as non_violence.  Jains have always been known for their honesty.

There is no doubt that now, in the twenty_first century, Jainism is in a healthy state. Jainism continues to spread beyond the bounds of India and the ideas it carries can change the world by making it an everlasting peaceful place to live.











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