Prof. Dr. Steven Vose, Florida International University [PDF]
Jainism is a religion that originated in eastern India. Its most recent founder, Mahāvīra (lit., great hero, traditionally dated 599–27 or 582–10 B.C.E. but dated c.497–25 B.C.E. by scholars), was an elder contemporary of the Buddha. Mahāvīra is regarded as the last of twenty-four figures in our age known as tīrthāṅkaras (lit., ford makers, that is, those who show the way to liberation from the predicament of death and rebirth, which is thought of as crossing over a vast ocean) or jinas (victors) (unless otherwise indicated, all Indo-Aryan words in this entry are in Sanskrit and transliterated accordingly); their followers are known as Jains.
Jainism holds that the universe is uncreated and eternally existent, consisting of matter occupied by a countless and inexhaustible number of jīvas (souls) that dwell in everything, from the elements (earth, air, fire, and water) to plants, animals, humans, deities, and Hell beings. Souls go through innumerable rebirths in these various forms of life because they are bound up with karma, a subtle form of matter that permeates the soul through one’s actions. Karma must be destroyed through ascetic practice and proper conduct to achieve the ultimate goal, liberation (mokṣa). A soul liberated from karma and thus from the cycle of death and rebirth (saṃsāra) realises its own inherent omniscience. The jinas take the additional step of using their omniscience to teach the correct path, the main tenet of which is a thoroughgoing commitment to non-injury (ahiṃsā), eschewing violence toward other living beings in thought, word, and deed, as it is by doing such harm that one accumulates karma. Upon death, the liberated soul exists in an unending state of bliss, knowledge, power, and understanding, but, because it has overcome all passions, the soul has no desire and thus cannot engage with beings still mired in cyclic existence. Humans are the only beings who can attain liberation, as they are uniquely capable of making ethical choices, responding with detachment to joy and suffering, and practising the asceticism necessary to transcend karma by joining the mendicant order. There are two main denominations of Jains: the Śvetāmbara (white-clad), whose monks and nuns wear white robes, and the Digambara (sky-clad), whose monks observe their vow of possessionlessness by renouncing clothing. Partly because of the requirement to go naked, Digambaras believe that women cannot attain mokṣa.
Observant Jains are vegetarians and avoid overtly violent occupations, having followed mercantile and banking professions. For this reason, they have generally been a highly mobile and well-educated group. They are known today for participating in the international gem trade and for playing significant roles in finance and industry in India—where their cultural centres are in the western and southern parts of the country—and abroad. Even in India, Jains remain one of the smallest religious minorities, with 4.45 million adherents (0.4 percent) as of 2011. Approximately 200,000 live abroad.Significant communities of Jains reside in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. The majority of Jains worship images (mūrti, pratimā) of the Jinas in temples (mandira), although there are substantial minorities of non-image-worshipping Jains, including the Śvetāmbara Sthānakavāsī and Terāpanthī traditions, which arose in the ninth/fifteenth century.
Jainism’s limited exposure beyond India is due in part to mendicants’ highly restrictive monastic vows that hamper travel outside of India. Further, lay Jains living abroad have been disinclined to proselytise or publicise their faith. In recent decades, however, an increasing number of Jain centres have arisen to serve diaspora communities, and new institutional developments in India have led several Jain religious leaders to begin travelling abroad to reach these communities.
Jain relations with Hindus and Buddhists
Jains have competed with various Hindu and Buddhist traditions for adherents across India. They have largely coexisted with their neighbours in northern India, despite moments of persecution. In South India, several periods of persecution in the mediaeval era led to the reduction in the size of the Jain communities of Tamilnadu and Karnataka, but it is difficult to assess whether the proportion of Jains relative to the total population of India has changed significantly since mediaeval times.
Mercantile communities arose with the growth of cities in the Gangetic plain in ancient India, many of which were affiliated with Jainism and Buddhism. Jain monks and laymen acted as advisers to Hindu kings in North and South India, a role they continued to play during the Sultanate and Mughal periods. Jain intellectuals engaged in literary competitions and philosophical debates with Buddhists and Hindus and were great collectors of Hindu, Buddhist, and secular literature in Sanskrit and Prakrit. Jains were also at the forefront of the “bhakti movement,” the rise of devotional religious literatures in emerging vernacular languages from the fifteenth century onwards.
Because of the nature of social organisation in South Asia, Jains also have a caste (jāti)-based social order similar to that of Hindus; communities that affiliate with Jainism usually retain a tradition of worshipping clan goddesses (kuladevīs) and local deities (kṣetrapālas), who are themselves thought to have “converted” to Jainism by ceasing to accept blood sacrifice, effectively becoming “vegetarian.” These deities, such as the goddess (devī) Padmāvatī and the kṣetrapāla of the Jain temple at Nākoṛā, Bheru, have gained widespread devotional followings, becoming known as protectors of the faith and agents who aid pious Jains in their quotidian affairs.
While Jains maintain that the rulers of the first empires in eastern India were Jain, including the early Mauryan emperor Candragupta (r. c.322–297 B.C.E.), the evidence for this is scant. For brief periods, Jains held political power directly in South India—Karnataka and Tamilnadu—and in western and central India (modern Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh). Jains have historically also competed for political position and royal patronage with certain Hindu groups, such as the Puṣṭimārg Vaiṣṇavas in western India beginning in the seventeenth century, and even periods of persecution, with the “revival” of Śaivism in seventh-century Tamilnadu, the advent of the Vīraśaiva tradition in thirteenth-century Karnataka, and with the takeover of Jain temples by Śaiva Hindus in eighteenth-century Amer (near Jaipur). Recently, Jains have occasionally been targets of Hindu nationalist and “sons of the soil” political groups, which have, for example, opposed government bans on meat sales on certain Jain holidays. An organisation called the Anup Mandal has allegedly targeted and killed several Jain monks and nuns. On the whole, however, Jains are part of Indian society and often identify themselves as Hindus, despite being granted religious minority status by the Indian government in 2014.
Jains, Hindus, and Buddhists shared ritual practices and spaces in ancient India. Jains built stupas at Mathurā but abandoned them before the mediaeval period. Jain relations with Buddhists have largely been studied as a matter of intellectual and polemical competition, although the Buddhist canonical texts make laudatory references to “Nātaputta,” a name for Mahāvīra. Jain canonical scriptures make oblique references to Buddhists and take issue with the emphasis Buddhists place on intention in assessing the moral and karmic impact of a person’s actions. Jains regard the philosophers Dignāga (Diṅnāga, fl. fifth-sixth century C.E.) and Haribhadra (fl. eighth century C.E.) as converts from Buddhism to Jainism; they helped to bring philosophical inquiry, already strong in the Buddhist tradition, into Jainism. Jains and Buddhists shared key areas of political influence in eastern India, especially before and during the Mauryan Empire and in western India and the Deccan until Buddhism faded away there before the twelfth century C.E.
Early Jain-Muslim History
It can be difficult for historians to distinguish Muslims’ interactions with Jains from those with Hindus. Early Persian and Arabic sources rarely distinguish amongst indigenous religious communities. Jains are often called baniyā (from Sanskrit vaṇij), a western Indian term for several merchant castes that also includes Hindus. Some scholars have argued that Indian merchants historically tended to take pragmatic approaches to their religious affiliations, so a single caste group may have included Jains, Hindus, and Muslims.
Jains’ first encounters with Muslims occurred via trade with Arab and Persian merchants, whose presence in South Asia predates Islam. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were Muslim communities in coastal towns in peninsular Gujarat as early as the mid to late first/late seventh to early eighth centuries. Jain merchants held key ministerial posts in the courts of the Hindu Caulukya (Solāṅki) rulers of Gujarat (329–710/941–1310), where they helped their Muslim trading partners, hailing largely from southwestern Iran and North Africa, to settle in major port cities such as Cambay (Khambhāt) by financing the construction of mosques. The seventh/thirteenth-century Jain merchant Jagadeva Shāh (Jagaḍū Śā) paid to rebuild the local mosque after marauders destroyed the Kacchi town of Bhadreśvara. Western Indian mosques use architectural elements similar to those found in Jain and Hindu temples, showing that local guilds were employed to build them.
The 92/711 conquest of Sindh by the Umayyad general Muḥammad b. Qāsim (d. 96/715) gave Jains their earliest experience of being ruled by Muslims. Jains and Hindus were considered dhimmīs; various rulers issued decrees that their temples and images were not to be harmed as long as they paid the jizya (Friedmann, 180–1) (dhimmīs, lit. protected persons, were non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who had their rights protected in their communities but, as citizens of an Islamic state, had certain restrictions imposed upon them and had to pay an annual per capita tax, the jizya). This policy was generally maintained under Sunnī rulers. New temples were constructed in Muslim-ruled Sindh and Panjāb. Maḥmūd of Ghazni (r. 388–421/998–1030) nevertheless raided several Jain temples in western India during several of his campaigns. A stone image of a jina was excavated from the royal palace in Ghazni, suggesting that it was—beyond indicating Maḥmūd’s peculiar iconoclastic zeal—an object of fascination and curiosity, which, scholars have argued, was an effort to earn in 416/1025 an investiture (manshūr) from the ʿAbbāsid caliph Abū l-ʿAbbās al-Qādir (r. 381–422/991–1031) (Flood, 32).
The Ghūrid incursions into western India led by Muḥammad b. Sām (r. 569–602/1173–1206) in 573/1178 and 593/1197 and military actions by the early sultans of Delhi in the seventh/thirteenth century did not diminish the Jains’ prosperity or cultural efflorescence, as the finest works of Jain architecture in western India were built in the fifth/eleventh through seventh/thirteenth centuries, including the famous Delwaḍa temples atop Mt. Abu (southwestern end of the Arāvalī range in Rajasthan). The widespread use of paper for producing manuscripts beginning in the seventh/thirteenth century and expanding in the next encouraged both enormous Jain libraries and the miniature-painting traditions of western India.
Under the Delhi sultans
The advent of the Delhi Sultanate (602–932/1206–1526), the first imperial Muslim power to rule a large part of the Indian Subcontinent, forced Jains to reshape their political and economic ties. Jain monks and wealthy laymen helped facilitate this transition by participating in the intellectual life of the courts and the imperial bureaucracy, especially in the Khaljī and Tughluq eras (689–816/1290–1413). Jain lineage histories describe monks and laymen obtaining farmāns (edicts) from sultans permitting them to lead large pilgrimage parties across vast portions of Sultanate territory.
Research suggests that temples and images were destroyed or desecrated more often for political than religious reasons. Jain images and temples, both in trading towns and pilgrimage sites, were subject to plunder and desecration during military actions to expand the empire. For example, the original Delhi masjid-i jāmiʿ (congregational mosque) known today as the Quwwat al-Islām (strength of Islam) was built from parts of some twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples, as indicated in its dedicatory inscription. Colonial-era and nationalist historians have frequently taken this mosque’s origin as motivated by a putative “Islamic iconoclasm.”
However, its location, within the confines of the fort of the erstwhile Hindu kingdom of the Tomaras (r. ninth century-1192), indicates instead that its meaning marks more directly the Ghūrids’ conquest of Delhi in 588/1192, by Muʿizz al-Dīn Muḥammad of Ghūr (r. 568–602/1173–1206), led by his general, Quṭb al-Dīn Aybak (founder of the Mamlūk dynasty in northern India, r. 602–7/1206–10). Several Jain temples at important pilgrimage sites were damaged in 713/1313 during the extended efforts of the Delhi sultan ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Khaljī (r. 695–715/1296–1316) to annex Gujarat. However, Alp Khān (d. c.715/1316), the governor appointed to the territory by ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Khaljī, worked with the Jain merchant Samara Shāh (probably fl. 715–33/1315–33) to restore Śatruñjaya and other sites in 714/1315. The Khaljīs and Tughluqs employed Jains in key positions in their government. Ṭhakkura Pherū (fl. 690–723/1291–1323) was appointed mint master by ʿAlā al-Dīn Khaljī and wrote treatises on gemology, coin billons, and mathematics.
Muḥammad b. Tughluq (r. 724–52/1324–51), regarded by Persian and Arabic sources and modern historiographers as an ambitious but unstable ruler, is remembered well in Jain sources. The monk Jinaprabhasūri (d. c.733/1333) gained several farmāns protecting Jain pilgrimage sites and granting both Śvetāmbara and Digambara Jains safe passage throughout the empire. The sultan is also said to have established a Jain quarter in Delhi, and he sponsored a temple to house an image of Mahāvīra returned to the Jains from his treasury. The monk also claims to have become a trusted adviser to the sultan, even accompanying him on a military campaign. Muḥammad’s successor, Fīrūz Shāh Tughluq (r. 752–90/1351–88), cast as a religious zealot by modern historiographers, is also remembered positively in Jain sources. He commissioned the Jain monk Mahendrasūri to compose the Yantrarāja, the first Sanskrit treatise on the astrolabe, which appears to have required collaboration with intellectuals literate in Arabic and Persian.
Jains remained influential as the Sultanate fragmented into regional polities in the ninth/fifteenth century. The city of Aḥmadābād (Ahmedabad), in Gujarat, founded by Aḥmad Shāh I (r. 814–46/1411–42), became a new commercial centre in western India. The city grew with the help of Jain magnates, who adopted the title of nagarśeṭh ((chief) merchant of the city). Between the ninth/fifteenth and thirteenth/nineteenth centuries, the city became a centre for Jain intellectuals and the epicentre of the Sthānakavāsī reform movement that eschews image worship. While some have speculated that Jain iconoclasm arose under the influence of Islam, there have long been debates amongst Jain sects about the validity of the practice (Dundas, 246–54). Islam’s role in the burgeoning of iconoclastic Jain sects may have been more social or economic than theological, as the leader of the first group of iconoclasts, Loṅkā Shāh (d. c.880/1475), was employed as a scribe and was therefore well connected with Muslim authorities in Aḥmadābād, which probably gave him the influence needed to advance his message.
Under the Mughals
Jain monks and merchants also played significant roles in the Mughal Empire (932–1274/1526–1858), especially after the annexation of Gujarat in 980/1572–3. The monk Hīravijayasūri (d. 1003/1595) forged strong relations with Emperor Akbar (r. 963–1014/1556–1605), leading his sect to become the most powerful Śvetāmbara order. Akbar granted him several farmāns: one banned meat sales on Jain holidays and another granted his sect control of the pilgrimage site of Śatruñjaya. Abū l-Faḍl (d. 1011/1602), the historian, military officer, chief secretary, and confidant of Akbar, recognised him in the Āʾīn-i Akbarī (Institutions of Akbar) as amongst the twenty-one most learned religious leaders of Akbar’s time. The Mughals even became involved in appointing successors to leadership of certain Jain monastic lineages (gacchas), including the Tapā Gaccha, the largest Śvetāmbara monastic order. In Akbar’s court, Jains had to answer to the charge of atheism, which caused a major shift in the way Jains write about their theology. The emperor Jahāngīr (r. 1014–37/1605–27) had a Jain monk as a childhood tutor. He issued edicts affirming the right of Jains to worship freely and took a vow not to kill animals, but he also banished Jain monks twice from the empire, only to rescind the order a short time later on both occasions.
The Jain merchant Śāntidās Jhaverī (d. 1069/1659), nagarśeṭh of Aḥmadābād, was a court jeweller to the Mughals and lent them large amounts of cash. He was awarded control of the town of Palitāṇa, at the foot of Śatruñjaya Hill in Gujarat, and used his influence to persecute non-image-worshipping Jain sects. His grandson, Khuśālcand (d. 1161/1748), paid a large ransom to the Marathas (Marāt’hās) to prevent them from sacking the city, keeping it under Mughal control. Vīrjī Vorā (d. c.1086/1675) worked with Muslim business partners to broker trade with Europeans in the city of Surat, which became the most important port in Gujarat after Cambay became silted and unusable. Digambara Jains were also prominent merchants there.
Jains continued to reside in significant numbers in Sindh and western Punjab until the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Two Jain temples survive but lie vacant in Lahore. A few members of the Bhabra (or Bhabhra) community, a Jain trading caste once numerous in towns across Panjāb, still reside in the state. Some Jain households remain in Nagarparkar (in Sindh), where a few Jain temples dating as far back as the third/ninth century and renovated as recently as the early twentieth stand in ruins. The only non-Jain shrine atop Śatruñjaya Hill is the dargāh (shrine) of Aṅgar Shāh Pīr, who, according to local legend, saved the site from destruction at the hands of a “Mughal” army.
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Image: King Siddharta listens to an astrologer forecast the conception and birth of his son, the Jina Mahavira: Folio from a Kalpasutra manuscriptlate; 14th century (source)