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Ancient History / Pre-Mauryan Era

History of Jainism in India


    History of Jainism in India starts with twenty third Tirthankara, Parsvanatha. According to one tradition, there are 24 high Prophets in Jain religion known as Tirthankaras. First 22 Tirthankaras are mythological and the last 2 Tirthankaras are historical.

    Jainism Origin

    • Jainism is one among the many religions, which arose from India. It preaches to overcome all temptations and evil emotions like greed, anger and self-esteem by detaching oneself with the material world and to live a disciplined and simple life.

    • In Jainism, images of Tirthankaras are generally worshipped. The meaning of Tirthankara is bridge maker or ford maker (from birth to death). Tirthankara position is not hereditary. This position is achieved by passing different stages (5 in number).

    • Jain Tirthankaras are identified by different symbols. First Tirthankara is Rishabhanatha and he is identified by Bull. Twenty second Tirthankara is Neminatha (Aristanemi) and his symbol is Conch Shell. 23rd Tirthankara of Jainism is Parsvanatha and his symbol is Snake. 24th Tirthankara is Vardhamana Mahavira and his symbol is Lion.

    • In Jainism, the ascetic monks are called Mahavratas and the lay Jains are called Anuvratas.
    • 23rd Tirthankara of Jainism

      Twenty third Tirthankara of Jainism, Parshvanatha is the son of Asvasena (King of Kashi in 8th Century BC) and Rani Vamadevi. He belongs to Ikshvaku family. After he was disturbed by the death his parents, he became ascetic. Nirgrantha (One who cuts off his worldly bonds) monastic tradition was started by him on the basis of 4 principles, namely Ahimsa, Satya, Aparigraha and Asteya. For all the practical purposes, Parshvanatha is the founder of Jainism. But Jains believe that their religion has eternal origin and some Jains believe that Jainism was founded by the first Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha.

    Vardhamana Mahavira and his Life History

    • Twenty fourth Tirthankara Vardhamana Mahavira was born at Kundagrama near to Vaishali. He lived between 540 BC and 468 BC.

    • His parents are Siddhartha (King of Jnatrika tribe and kingdom) and Trishala Devi. His wife is Yashoda and his daughter is Priyadarshana or Anojja. His son-in-law, Jamali is the first disciple of Mahavira. But Digambara Jain tradition believes that he was never married.

    • He was disturbed with the death of his parents. He left the palace at the age 30 and wandered for almost 12 years. He got enlightened at the age of 42.

    • He was given two titles, Kevali (Kevala jnana - 5th stage) and Jina (conqueror) along with Tirthankara. He is the conqueror (Jina) of 5 senses. After this title (Jina) of Mahavira, all Nirgranthas were called Jains.

    • Mahavira died while performing Sallekhana (fasting unto death to get Moksha) ceremony at Pava when he was 72 years old.

    Doctrines of Jainism

    • Pancha Sutras - These are the first four principles given by Parsvanatha and the fifth one, Brahmacharya given by Mahavira.

    • Triratna of Jainism (Ratnatraya) - It means three jewels. They are Samyak Darshana (right faith or perception), Samyak Jnana (right knowledge) and Samyak Charitra (right conduct).

    • Jain Philosophy - Jain Philosophies are two in number. They are Syadvada philosophy (There won't be any accuracy in anything) and Anekantavada philosophy (Every living and non-living things have soul).

    Types of Jain Architecture

    • Basadi is a temple cum residence for Jain monks. It is a sanctum with residential quarters. It is similar to Vihara + Chaitya + Stupa of Buddhism.

    • Gachcha is not a religious structure but is a religious congregation of monks. It is like Sangha in Buddhism.

    Jainism Division

    • Around 300 BC, there was split in the Jain religion, namely Digambara and Svetambara Jainism. Division in Jainism happened based on whether to wear or discard clothes.

    • Digambara sect of Jainism was founded by Bhadrabahu. It discarded clothes (naked Jains). They are followers of 24th Tirthankara, who maintained nudity. Svetambara sect of Jainism was founded by Sthulabhadra. It propagated white clothes. They are followers of 23rd Tirthankara.

    • A Jain book, Parisistaparvan written by Hemachandra (a Gujarati Jain scholar, who wrote it in 12th Century) deals with circumstances leading to the split in Jainism. According to this book, around 300 BC, there was big famine in India (during Chnadragupta Maurya time) and it continued for the next 12 years. At that time, lot of people (around 12000 Jains) went to South India led by Bhadrabahu. Even Chandragupta Maurya came to South India along with these people.

      All of them settled in Shravanabelagola near Mysore. These people discarded the clothes and became Digambaras. The others at Magadha started wearing white clothes to become Svetambaras under the leadership of Sthulabhadra. Chandragupta Maurya died at Sravanabelagola while performing Sallekhana.

    • There is a huge monolithic statue known as Gomateshwara or Bahubali (son of first Tirthankara) at Shravanabelagola. For every 12 years, there will be a big ceremony called Mahamastakabhisheka at Shravanabelagola. On this occasion, Digambara Jains assemble at this place.

    Jain Councils

    • Not much information is available about the Jain Councils, which are also called Jain Sangeeti. The first Jain Council or Conference was held at Pataliputra. Digambaras boycotted the conference. It was held around 3rd Century BC.

    • Second Jain Council was probably held simultaneously at Mathura under the guidance of Skandila and at Vallabhi under the guidance of Nagarjuna. These simultaneous councils were held to continue preserving the sacred knowledge after famines.

    • Third Jain Council was held at Vallabhi (in Gujarat) around 5/6 th Century AD. At this Council, the Jain sacred text was compiled and is known as Angas (12 in number and hence called Dvadasangas). This was written in Prakrit language. The president of this Council was Devardhigani Kshama Shramana.