Of the two sects of the Jains the Svetambaras, as we have seen, belong
mainly to western India, that is , to Gujarat and Rajasthan. They have
spread from there for purposes of business to the rest of the country. The
Digambaras on the other hand can be divided into two distinct geographical
groups. The indigenous Jains of South India are all Digambaras.
Professionally they are artisans and farmers and not ordinarily
businessmen. They are tightly knit communities and their religious and
social lives are controlled by the Bhattarakas. They do not have any kind
of social intercourse with the North Indian Digambaras who in their turn
are hardly aware of their existence except perhaps when they see them
during pilgrimages to South India. Educationally also the South Indian
Digambaras are not very advanced. Most of the Jains who write about their
religious community thus ignore them. They are remembered only when the
past glories of Jainism in South India are considered. The Digambaras of
North India are spread through-out eastern Rajasthan, Haryana, U.P. and
Bihar, in small scattered communities.
Talking of Jains, it appears that the one great fear that pervades
throughout the community is that of being lost in the great ocean that is
Hinduism. This fear appears to be a recent one, and in any case perhaps
not more than 50 years old. Formerly, (and even today among the rich) it
was quite common for Shvetambara Jain Agravales and non- Jain Agrawales to
intermarry, the bride adopting the religion of the husband. Indeed, the
term Hindu was never used, the term for the religion of the non-Jain
Agrawales being Vaishnava. Among the Osavales of Rajasthan today some are
Jains and the others call themselves Vaishnavas. Things are, however,
changing. Inter-marriages between the Jains and the non-Jains are not very
much liked by the leaders of the Jain society today. "Now there is a
growing tendency to eradicate every non-Jain element from the Jain
community. As a result many Jains have stopped keeping marital relations
with the Hindus."1
There is one interesting difference between Hinduism and Jainism. The
Hindus have no religious creed, but they have a large literature on social
customs and civil law. These are known as the Dharmashastras. The Jains on
the other hand, one might say, have a religious code of conduct enshrined
in their five vows; but they do not have any ancient law book. Thus for
instance, marriage among the Hindus is a religious matter, while for the
Jains it is more or less a contract. "It is not ordained in Jain religion
to marry for the emancipation of soul. Marriage is not concerned with life
here-after! When no offerings are to be made to the forefathers, the
question of discharging obligations due to departed ancestors does not
arise. Jain scriptures do not lay down elaborate rules and regulations
regarding marriage."2 The later day Jain religious books like the Adi
Purana or the Trivarnikachara generally quote the corresponding Hindu
rules for social matter. For instance, such books mention the same eight
forms of marriages as are mentioned in the Manusmriti. In theory, the
Jains also allow the remarriage of widows and quote the same shloka that
occurs in the Hindu Parashara-Smriti on the basis of which Ishvara Chandra
Vidyasagar was able to get the law on the remarriage of the Hindu widows
enacted. According to Nathu Ram Premi, the Jain work Dharmapariksha (11th
century) supports the view that the word patau occurring in this shloka
means a legally married husband, even though the grammatically correct
form for such meaning should be patyau.3 In any case widows' remarriage
among the Jains follow the regional caste customs. It is not uncommon in
the South, while it not socially favored in North. In the matter of
exogamy the Jains follow the same rules as their Hindu neighbors. For
instance, in the Karnataka region marriages between cross-cousins and even
marriages between maternal uncles and nieces are quite common, while in
the North the Jains leave out the same number of gotras as their Hindu
neighbors do; and also observe the same rituals. Thus the marriage
ceremony is considered to have been completed as soon as the saptapadi or
a similar ritual, has been performed.
There is a big difference between the Hindus and the Jains in their manner
of treating the ascetics. Among the Hindus an ascetic is for all practical
purposes outside the society. There is in theory no relationship between
him and the lay society, unless of course, he becomes a God-man. This is
not the position among the Jains. The Jain ascetic maintains a life-long
relationship with the lay society, and is generally treated as a religious
teacher. The society not only provides food and, if necessary, shelter to
him but also maintains a constant watch on his behavior. No transgression
of the ascetic vow is tolerated. For instance, one Jinavardhana who had
become the 55th leader of the Shvetambara Kharataragachchha was removed
from the Suri ship for breaking the fourth vow.4 Thus, since a Jain sadhu
need neither worry about his food nor is allowed to be away from the
watch-full eyes of the society, so the only thing he can do to spend his
time is to read and write. All through the ages, therefore, there have
been innumerable writers among the Jain sadhus and the volume of writings
they have produced is enormous. The quality however has not, except in
rare cases, been commensurate with the quantity. The Jain religious
philosophy being practically frozen from the time of Mahavira, there is
little scope of speculation. The later philosophical books written by the
Jain monks are, therefore, dry. The Jain monks have also composed many
works based on the Jain mythology, but since they had to avoid every-thing
even remotely connected with sensual love, there is little of poetic value
in these writings. Nearly the whole of the vernacular literature of the
medieval period of India is devotional. Here also, the Jains were at a
disadvantage, for the Jain religion has no place for devotional fervor.
Even though their writings may not have any lasting value as literature,
the studious life that the Jain ascetics had to lead meant that they had
to be provided with libraries. Thus book collections, "Grantha Bhandaras",
exist at every place where there are a group of Jain families living. Dr.
K. C. Kasliwal has anumerated 100 such collections in Rajasthan alone, in
his work the Jain Grantha Bhandaras in Rajasthan. These collections
contain not only Jain religious works but many secular books such as the
works of Kalidas, and sometimes works on music also.
One valuable contribution of the Jains to Indian culture is the
innumerable beautiful temples that they have built all over the country.
Some of them being in out of the way places have escaped the hands of the
idol-breakers. But due to this very fact some of them are not well known
even to-day. As examples, one might mention the temples at Ranakpur in the
Pali district in Rajasthan, and the 31 Jain temples at Deogarh (Lalitpur
Tehsil in Jhansi district). This latter place has more than a thousand
Jina images. One of them has been described as "one of the greatest
masterpieces ever created on Indian soil".
The Jain merchants since the ancient times have been well- known for their
wealth. Not everybody was rich, but a remarkable thing is that some of the
families who were the richest in a city and were thus given the title of
Nagara- Seth by the Mughals, remain rich even now. Two examples are, Seth
Kus-Turbhai Lalabhai the Nagara-Seth of Ahmedabad, and Jivaraj Walchand
Gandhi, the Nagara-Seth of Sholapur.6 Many Jains have utilized their
wealth well. In building charitable hospitals, schools, colleges,
dharmashalas, and other such institutions the contribution of the Jains
has been proportionately many times higher than that of the rest of the
population of the country.
1.V. S. Sangave, Jain Community--A Social Survey pp. 427-28.
2 Ibid., p. 140.
3 Premi, op. cit., p. 501.
4 Appendix VI.
5 Klaus Bruhn, The Jina-images of Deogarh.
6 Sangave, op. cit., pp. 347-48 .