History of Jainism concerns a religion founded in Ancient India. Jains trace their history through twenty-four tirthankara and revere Rishabhanatha as the first tirthankara (in the present time-cycle). The last two tirthankara, the 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha (c. 872 - c. 772 BCE) and the 24th tirthankara Mahavira (c. 599 - c. 527 BCE) are considered historical figures, though many historians date them both about a century later because the Mahavira is widely accepted as a contemporary of the Buddha, and significantly more historical evidence is available for the Buddha. According to Jain texts, the 22nd Tirthankara Arshth-nemi lived about 85,000 years ago and was the cousin of Hindu god Krishna. Jains consider their religion to be eternal.
The two main sects of Jainism, the Digambara and the ?v?t?mbara sect, likely started forming about the 3rd century BCE and the schism was complete by about 5th century CE. These sects later subdivided into several sub-sects such as Sth?nakav?s? and Terapanthis. Jainism co-existed with Buddhism and Hinduism in ancient and medieval India. Many of its historic temples were built near the Buddhist and Hindu temples in 1st millennium CE. After the 12th-century, the temples, pilgrimage and naked ascetic tradition of Jainism suffered persecution during the Muslim rule, with the exception of Akbar whose religious tolerance and support for Jainism led to a temporary ban on animal killing during the Jain religious festival of Paryusan.
The origins of Jainism are obscure. The Jains claim their religion to be eternal, and consider Rishabhanatha to be the founder in the present time-cycle, and someone who lived for 8,400,000 purva years. Rishabhanatha is the first tirthankar among the 24 Tirthankaras who are considered to be mythical figure by historians.
Different scholars have had different views on the origin. Some artifacts found in the Indus Valley civilization have been suggested as a link to ancient Jain culture, but this is highly speculative. According to a 1925 proposal of Glasenapp, Jainism's origin can be traced to the 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanatha, and he considers the first twenty-two tirthankaras as legendary mythical figures. According to another proposal by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the first vice president of India, Jainism was in existence long before the Vedas were composed.
Jain texts and tradition believes in 24 Tirthankaras, only the last two are generally acknowledged by historians to be based on historical figures who lived in the 1st millennium BCE. In Buddhist sources, Mahavira is not mentioned as a founder of new tradition, but as part of an ascetic Nirgranthas (without knot) tradition. This has led scholars to conclude that Mahavira was not the founder, but a reformer of tradition already established by his predecessor Parsvanatha.
During the 6th century BCE, Mah?v?ra became one of the most influential teachers of Jainism. Jains revere him as the twenty-fourth and last tirthankara of present cosmic age. Though, Mahavira is sometimes mistakenly regarded as the founder, he appears in the tradition as one who, from the beginning, had followed a religion established long ago.
Neminatha was the predecessor of Parshvanatha, 84,000 years ago, and 22nd Tirthankara of the Jain tradition. In the texts of Jainism, the Hindu god Krishna is stated to be a cousin of Neminatha, and that Neminatha taught Krishna all the wisdom that he later gave to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. According to Jeffery D. Long, a professor of Religion known for his publications on Jainism, this connection between Krishna and Neminatha has been a historic reason for Jains to accept, read and cite the Bhagavad Gita as a spiritually important text, celebrate Krishna related festivals and intermingle with Hindus as spiritual cousins.
The Vedas mention the name Rishabha. However, the context in the Rigveda, Atharvaveda and the Upanishads suggests that it means the bull, sometimes "any male animal" or "most excellent of any kind", or "a kind of medicinal plant".[note 1] Elsewhere it is an epithet for the Hindu god Shiva (Rudra). Later Hindu mythical texts such as the Bhagavata Purana include Rishabha Jina as an avatar of Vishnu.
After the nirvana of Parshvanatha, his disciple Subhadatta became the head of the monks. Subhadatta was succeeded by Haridatta, Aryasamudra, Prabha and lastly Kesi. Uttaradhyayana, a Svetambara text have records of a dialogue between Mahavira's disciple and Kesi; Kesi along with his community accepted Mahavira as a tirthankara and merged with him as a result.
The Tirthankaras are believed in the Jain tradition to have attained omniscience, known as kevala jnana. After Mahavira, one of his disciples Sudharma Svami is said to have taken over the leadership. He was the head of Jain community till 515 BCE. After his death, Jambuswami, a disciple of Sudharma Svami became the head of the monks. He was the head till 463 BCE. Sudharma Svami and Jambu Svami are also traditionally said to have attained keval jnana. It is said that no one after Jambu Svami has attained it till now.
After Sudharma svami, there followed five sutrakevalis, i.e. those who were well versed in the scriptures, who headed the monks of the Jain community. Bhadrabahu was the last sutrakevali. After Bhadrabahu, there were seven (or eleven) leaders. Knowledge of the scriptures was progressively being lost with each in turn.
During Chandragupta Maurya's reign, Acharya Bhadrabahu moved to Karnataka to survive a twelve-year-long famine. Sthulabhadra, a pupil of Acharya Bhadrabahu, stayed in Magadha. When followers of Acharya Bhadrabahu returned, there was a dispute between them regarding the authenticity of the Angas. Also, those who stayed at magadha started wearing white clothes, which was unacceptable to the others who remained naked. This is how the Digambara and ?v?t?mbara sects arose, the Digambara being naked whereas the Svetambara were white clothed.Digambara found this as being opposed to the Jain tenets which, according to them, required complete nudity for the monks. The presence of gymnosophists ("naked philosophers") in Greek records has been interpreted to be referring to Digambaras Jain ?rama?a practice.
Vallabhi council was formed at 454 CE. At this council, Svetambara accepted their texts as the scriptures of Jainism. The Digambara sect completely rejects these scriptures as not being authentic. This 5th century event solidified the schism between these major traditions within Jainism.
Jainism is related to an extinct Indian religious tradition named ?j?vika. The later is mentioned in ancient texts of Buddhism and Jainism, and it is attributed to Makkhali Gosala, a contemporary of the Buddha and Mahavira.
The Jain Bhagavati Sutra refers to the Ajivika founded as Gosala Mankhaliputta ("son of Mankhali"). The text depicts Gosala as having been a disciple of Mahavira's for a period of six years, after which the two had a falling out and parted ways. The Bhagavati Sutra mentions a debate, disagreement and then "coming to blows" between factions led by Mahavira and by Gosala. Jainism also flourished under the Nanda Empire (424-321 BCE). Both Ajivika and Jainism championed asceticism. This is earliest documented schism between Mahavira and a likely disciple of his.
The earliest archeological evidence is in the form of a naked headless torso discovered in 1937 near Patna (Bihar), which is called the "Lohanipur Torso". This has been dated by modern scholarship to about 2nd-century BCE. It is a highly polished stone artwork of precise human form, but it is unclear if it belongs to Jainism, Ajivikas or some other Indian religious ascetic tradition.[note 2] While it is not Buddhist, and is naked like the Jinas, it may also not be a Jain statue because it lacks the Jain iconography, and because similar high quality Jain artworks are missing for many centuries. Further, Jain artworks that have been found from the same period in north India show quite different forms and symbols. It may belong to Ajivikas or another ancient Indian naked ascetic tradition, but ruling out that it may indeed reflect Jainism arts in 2nd-century BCE is also not possible. Ancient naked terracotta statues discovered in 1970s near Ayodhya are similar to the Lohanipur Torso, but terracotta arts are also missing in Jaina tradition and the Ayodhya terracotta statues too lack Jain iconography.
Information regarding the political history of Jainism is uncertain and fragmentary. Jains consider the king Bimbisara (c. 558-491 BCE), Ajatashatru (c. 492-460 BCE), and Udayin (c. 460-440 BCE) of the Haryanka dynasty as a patron of Jainism.
Tradition says that Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 BCE), the founder of Mauryan Empire, became disciple of Jain ascetic Bhadrabahu during later part of his life. According to historians, Chandragupta story appears in various versions in Buddhist, Jain and Hindu texts. Broadly, Chandragupta was born in a humble family, abandoned, raised as a son by another family, then with the training and counsel of Chanakya of Arthashastra fame, Chandragupta either first gained power in the Nanda Empire then conquered the Punjab region, or vice versa, but ultimately built one of the largest empires in ancient India. According to Jain history, late in his life, Chandragupta adopted Jainism, renounced the empire he built and handed over his power to his son, became a Jaina monk, and headed to meditate and pursue spirituality in the Deccan region, under the Jaina teacher Bhadrabahu at Shravanabelagola. There state Jain texts, he died by fasting, a Jaina ascetic method of ending one's life by choice (Sallenkana-Vrata). Jaina legends state that there was a twelve-year famine that triggered him to perform the fast, but this legend is only found in the Jain textual tradition.
The Maurya dynasty started by Chandragupta has had a historic role on Indian religions. Ashoka (273-232 BCE), the grandson of Chandragupta was inspired by Buddhist ideologies. There is a reference to Jains in the edicts of Ashoka where the duties of dhammamahatma (law-authorities) are dealt with. The inscription reads:
Piyadasi, who is loved by the gods spoke thus: My supervisors of law are dealing with many connected with mercy, also with those which concern the ascetics and those which concern the house holders. They deal with the religious brotherhoods as well. I have made arrangements so that they will deal with the matter of Sangha (of the Buddhist community); similarly, I have made arrangements so they will deal with the Brahmans and also with the Ajivikas; I have also made arrangements that they deal with the Niganthas (Jainas); I have made arrangements so that they will deal with (all) the religious brotherhoods.
Ashoka's grandson Samprati (c. 224-215 BCE), is said to have converted into Jainism by a Jain monk named Suhasti according to the tradition. He lived in a place called Ujjain. It is believed that he erected many Jain temples, and the temples whose origins are forgotten were often ascribed to him in later times.
Emperor Kharavela of Mahameghavahana dynasty, was religiously tolerant, while being a patron of Jainism. Inscriptions found in Udayagiri mentions that he erected a statue of the Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara and made cave-dwellings for monks. In first century CE, Acharya Bhutabali lead a group of Jain monks to the caves surrounding Madurai for spreading Jainism.
According to von Glasenapp there is a story, whose historical accuracy is doubtful. The story states that Gardabhilla (c. 1st century BCE), the king of Ujjain, abducted a nun who was the sister of a Jain monk named Kalaka. The brother sought the help of the Indo-Scythian ruler Saka Sahi. The Saka went to war with Gardabhilla, defeated him, and expelled the king of Ujjain. The Sakas settled in the new lands, and "danced like bees" around the foot of monk Kalaka. The story continues to the son of the vanquished king Gardabhilla who was Vikramaditya. He is claimed to have defeated the Sakas, expelled them, himself followed Jainism and gave ancient India the Vikrami calendar with the zero date of 57 or 58 BCE. The story is unlikely to be true because the expulsion of Sakas by Vikramaditya has no historical basis, Jains have not followed the Vikrami zero year and instead used Mahavira's moksha date as their zero year, and the use of the Vikrami calendar has been widespread in Hinduism. According to Heinrich von Stietencron, Vikramaditya and Saka interaction occurred many centuries later.
According to another Jain legend, king Salivahana of late 1st century CE was a patron of Jainism, as were many others in the early centuries of the 1st millennium CE. But, states von Glasenapp, the historicity of these stories are difficult to establish.
Archeological evidence suggests that Mathura was an important Jain centre between 2nd century BCE and the 5th century CE. Inscriptions from the 1st and 2nd century CE shows that the schism of Digambara/Svetambara had already happened.
King Harshavardhana of 7th century, grew up in Shaivism following family, but he championed Jainism, Buddhism and all traditions of Hinduism. King Ama of 8th-century converted to Jainism, and Jaina pilgrimage tradition was well established in his era. Mularaja, the founder of Chalukya dynasty constructed a Jain temple, even though he was not a Jain.
In the second half of the 1st century CE, Hindu kings sponsored and helped build major Jaina caves temples. For example, the Hindu Rashtrakuta dynasty started the early group of Jain temples, and Yadava dynasty built many of the middle and later Jain group of temples at the Ellora Caves between 700 and 1000 CE.
During the reign of king Bhima (1022-1064 CE), a Jain layman Vimala built many temples above Mount Abu. A famous Jain monk Hemacandra (born c. 1088 CE) was initiated at the age of eight by monk Devacandra. He was a prime figure; responsible for propagation of Jainism in Gujarat.
Mahavira and Buddha are generally accepted as contemporaries (circa 5th century BCE). The interaction between Jainism and Buddhism began with the Buddha. Buddhist texts refer to Mahavira as Nigantha Nataputta.
Buddhist scriptures record that during Prince Siddhartha's ascetic life (before he attained enlightenment and became Buddha) he undertook many fasts, penances and austerities, mentioned in the Jain tradition. In Majjhima Nikaya, Buddha shares his experience:
|"||Thus far, SariPutta, did I go in my penance? I went without clothes. I licked my food from my hands. I took no food that was brought or meant especially for me. I accepted no invitation to a meal.||"|
The Buddha tried ascetic methods found in Jainism, abandoned that path and taught the Middle Way instead. Many suttas of Buddhism acknowledge the Jain influence. The Samaññaphala Sutta (D i.47), for example states:
|"||Nigantha Nataputta answered with fourfold restraint. Just as if a person, when asked about a mango, were to answer with a breadfruit; or, when asked about a breadfruit, were to answer with a mango: In the same way, when asked about a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Nigantha Nataputta answered with fourfold restraint. The thought occurred to me: 'How can anyone like me think of disparaging a brahman or contemplative living in his realm?' Yet I [Buddha] neither delighted in Nigantha Nataputta's words nor did I protest against them. Neither delighting nor protesting, I was dissatisfied. Without expressing dissatisfaction, without accepting his teaching, without adopting it, I got up from my seat and left."||"|
Beyond the times of the Mahavira and the Buddha, the two ascetic sramana religions competed for followers, as well merchant trade networks that sustained them. Their mutual interaction, along with those of Hindu traditions have been significant, and in some cases the titles of the Buddhist and Jaina texts are same or similar but present different doctrines. Jainism had a tradition of itinerant mendicants with less emphasis on a monastery style living for monks. Buddhism, in contrast, emphasized sangha or monasteries. According to Akira Hirakawa, the monasteries were easier targets for destruction and elimination, and Buddhism almost vanished from the Indian subcontinent after the Muslim invasions. In contrast, the roaming mendicants and the Jain tradition survived during this period of religious violence and turmoil.
Jainism and Hinduism influenced each other. Jain texts declare some of the Hindu gods as blood relatives of legendary Tirthankaras. Neminatha, the 22nd Tirthankara for example is presented as a cousin of Krishna in Jain Puranas and other texts. However, Jain scholars such as Haribhadra also wrote satires against Hindu gods, mocking them with novel outrageous stories where the gods misbehave and act unethically. The Hindu gods are presented by some Jain writers as persecuting or tempting or afraid of or serving a legendary Jina before he gains omniscience. In other stories, one or more Jinas easily defeat the Hindu deities such as Vishnu, or Rama and Sita come to pay respect to a Jina at a major Jain pilgrimage site such as Mount Satrunjaya. The medieval Jain scholars rewrote the Hindu mythologies into Jain versions. According to Paul Dundas, these satires were aimed at the Jain lay householder community, were means to inculcate piety and subvert the religious teachings offered by their Hindu neighbors. Such literary freedoms were not limited to Jain scholars. Buddhist and Hindu scholars engaged in creating similar satire, mythology and parody-filled fiction targeting the Jains and each other.
Emergence of major philosophical ideas within Hinduism impacted Jainism. According to a 1925 publication by von Glasenapp, around the 8th century CE, ?a?kar?c?rya brought forward the doctrine of Advaita. The Vaishnavism and Shaivism also began to rise. This, states von Glasenapp, contributed to a decline of "Jaina church", particularly in South India.
Shaivite poets like Sambandar, Appar (c. 7th century CE), Sundaramurti and Manikkavacakar introduced Jains to Shaivism. Under these influences, Jaina kings became Shaivite. The rulers of Chola dynasty also supported Shaivism.
According to a Shaivite legend, an alleged massacre of 8,000 Jain monks happened in the 7th-century which is claimed for the first time in an 11th-century Tamil language text of Nambiyandar Nambi on Sampantar. According to this text, a 7th-century Shaivite saint defeated the Jain monks in a series of debates and contests on philosophy, and thereby converted a Jain Pandyan king, variously called "Koon Pandiyan" or "Sundara Pandyan" in the legend, to Shaivism. Subsequently, the king allegedly ordered the impalement of 8,000 Jains. This event is not mentioned in texts of Campantar, nor any other Hindu or Jain texts for four centuries. After Nampi Antar's work, the story appears in many inconsistent versions. Scholars question whether this story is a fiction created in the 11th-century, or reflects an actual massacre.K. A. Nilakanta Sastri states that the story is "little more than an unpleasant legend and cannot be treated as history".
During the 11th century, Basava, a minister to the Jaina king Bijjala II, succeeded in converting numerous Jains to Lingayatism which was hostile to Jains. They destroyed various temples belonging to Jains and adapted them to their use. A saint named Ekdanta Ramaya further propagated Lingayatism. He convinced Bijjala II to grant a land near Abdlur for a temple of Shiva. Lingayatism gradually expanded. It was the state religion of Telugu and Kannada speaking territories like Wodeyar of Mysore and Ummatur (1399-1610), Nayaks of Keladi (1550-1763). They were hostile to Jains. In 1683, they stamped linga symbol in the main basati of Jains in Halebid. Jains were forced to perform Shiva rites.
According to von Glasenapp, it is said Hoysala King Bittideva (c. 1108-1152 CE) converted from Jainism and became a follower of Ramanuja, then ordered the Jains to be thrown in an oil mill and crushed if they did not convert. According to T. K. Tukol, the rule of Bittideva did not persecute or force convert Jains. He converted, but his queen Shantaladevi remained a Jaina. She was the patron of art and built Jain temples. Bittideva's general and prime minister Gangaraja, states Tukol, was "a Jaina who under the guidance of his Guru Subhachandra did many acts of piety and religion to advance the cause of Jainism". Bittideva employed a female general who was a Jaina lady named Jakkiyabbe. His era saw temples being installed for all 24 Tirthankaras.
The Vijayanagara Empire king Bukkaraya-I, states von Glasenapp, ensured that both Vaishnava and Jaina traditions enjoyed same cultural and religious freedoms, and helped repair Jain temples. Anandatirtha, a Hindu thinker, preached a dualistic theology, which attracted many Jains to convert to Hinduism.
The Jain and Hindu communities have often been very close and mutually accepting. Some Hindu temples have included a Jain Tirthankara within its premises in a place of honor. Similarly numerous temple complexes feature both Hindu and Jain monuments, with Badami cave temples and Khajuraho among some of the most well known.
Jainism faced persecution during and after the Muslim conquests on the Indian subcontinent. This period witnessed destruction of Jain temples, their pilgrimage centers and other forms of persecution. There were significant exceptions, such as Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) whose legendary religious tolerance, out of respect for Jains, ordered release of caged birds and banned killing of animals on the Jain festival of Paryusan. After Akbar, Jains faced an intense period of Muslim persecution in the 17th century.
Jain scholars of the Mughal era debated religious ideas with Muslim scholars. Hiravijaya, in chapters thirteen and fourteen of Hirasaubhagya for example, presents the interaction and views of the two religions. The text mentions him stating to a Muslim sheikh, that "a creator god (called khuda) is impossible, one who presides over others, allots reward and punishment", instead it is karma that determines man's ultimate destiny. He asserts that the two religions are different, Islam involves violence, while Jainism is based on compassion. Jain scholars were supportive of Akbar and Jain texts praise his religious tolerance.
According to Paul Dundas, in and after the 12th century, Muslim destruction caused Jain scholars to revisit their theory of Ahimsa (non-violence). For example, Jinadatta Suri in 12th century, wrote during a time of widespread destruction of Jain temples and blocking of Jaina pilgrimage by Muslim armies, that "anybody engaged in a religious activity who was forced to fight and kill somebody" in self-defense would not lose any merit.
Colonial era Christian missions wrote about Jainism, but typically stereotyping it as "a coldly austere religion of pure asceticism, with no 'heart', preoccupied only with not harming microorganisms". The discussion emphasized the ascetic extremes, rather than the values. They criticized the Jain theories on non-violence stating that this value is essentially equal to "doing nothing", because it entails not "hurting" other beings, but does not demand the "positive ethic of helping someone suffering". According to Jeffrey Long, these missionary writings were a distortion of Jain theology because Jainism does teach, value and has a historic record of charity, and compassion is an essential value in Jainism for spiritual development.
Some Christian writers critiqued Jainism for its cosmology, with extraordinary time scales and cyclic time periods. However, states Long, the genesis theories in Christianity and other religions suffer from equivalent issues and they present the world to have been created few thousand years ago, in a short period of time. Similarly, historic Christian writers critiqued the lack of "saving grace" in Jainism. For example, Sinclair Stevenson wrote in 1915 that the "heart of Jainism was empty because it lacked the saving grace of Jesus".
The British colonial rule era, according to von Glasenapp in 1925, allowed Jains to pursue their religion without persecutions they had faced before. Further, the British government promoted trade, which allowed members of the Jain community to pursue their traditional economic activity. According to von Glasenapp, Jain businessmen and Jainism thrived during this period, and they used their financial success during the British Raj to rebuild Jain temples. For example, the Dharmanatha temple was built in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) in 1848. The British census reported a drop in Jain population between 1891 and 1921, from 1.417 million to 1.179 million. This may be from the Jain conversions to Hinduism and causes such as famines and epidemics.
M. Whitney Kelting in 2001 states, in contrast, that the British merchants actually took over the trades in Gujarat and Maharashtra which Jains traditionally engaged in. This was in part responsible for major Jain community migrations during the British colonial era.
The British colonial government in India, as well as Indian princely states, passed laws that made monks roaming naked in streets a crime, one that led to arrest. This law particularly impacted the Digambara tradition monks. The Akhil Bharatiya Jaina Samaj opposed this law, and argued that it interfered with the religious rights of Jains. Acharya Shantisagar entered Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1927, but was forced to cover his body. He then led an India-wide tour as the naked monk with his followers, to various Digambara sacred sites, and he was welcomed by kings of the Maharashtra provinces. Shantisagar fasted to oppose the restrictions imposed on Digambara monks by British Raj and prompted their discontinuance. The colonial era laws that banned naked monks were abolished after India gained independence.
It is unclear when Jain scriptures were written down, with oldest surviving Jain manuscripts dated to the 11th-century CE. Jain literature, like those of Buddhism and Hinduism, is believed to have been transmitted by an oral tradition. The texts were largely lost over time. The Svetambara tradition has a collection of Agamas and texts, which it believes to be ancient. However, the Digambara sect of Jainism rejects the authority of the Jain Aagams in the Svetambara tradition. They believe that by the time of Dharasena, the twenty-third teacher after Indrabhuti Gautama, knowledge of only one Anga was there. This was about 683 years after the Nirvana of Mahavira. After Dharasena's pupils Pushpadanta and Bhutabali, even that was lost.
In course of time, the canons of svetambara were also getting lost. About 980 to 993 years after the death of Mahavira, a council was held at Vallabhi in Gujarat. This was headed by Devardhi Ksamashramana. It was found that the 12th Anga, the Ditthivaya, was lost too. The other Angas were written down. This is a traditional account of schism. According to Svetambara, there were eight schisms (Nihvana).
According to Digambara tradition, Ganadhara knew fourteen Purva and eleven Anga. Knowledge of Purva was lost around 436 years after Mahavira and Anga were lost around 683 years after Mahavira. The texts that do not belong to Anga are called Angabahyas. There were fourteen Angabahyas. The first four Angabahayas, Samayika, chaturvimasvika, Vandana and Pratikramana corresponds to sections of second Mulasutra of Svetambara. The only texts of Angabahyas which occurs in Svetambara texts are Dasavaikalika, Uttaradhyayana and Kalpavyavahara.
originally published by Luzac & Company Ltd., London, 1951