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The Jain Church After Mahavira

The Shvetambara Version

So far as we know, Jainism was confined, during the first one or two centuries after Mahavira, within the area in which he had preached the religion. Mahavira's principal disciple Sudhamma succeeded him as the head of the Church. His name was later Sanskritized to Sudharman. Mahavira is said to have had eleven principal disciples or Gangdharas. Nine of them had died during the lifetime of Mahavira and only two, namely Sudharman and Indrabhuti Gautama, are said to have survived him. But apart from Sudharman we know nothing about the other ten Ganadharas. The historicity of these ten has been questioned. However, it is quite clear that in the history of Jainism, it is not important to establish the fact that they existed. These ten Ganadharas have left no successors, and they did not make any contribution, so far as we know, to the development of Jainism after Mahavira.

Sudharman on the other hand was an important figure. We know many of the teachings of Mahavira in the version in which Sudharman taught them to his principal disciple Jambusvamin. Many lessons in the Jain canonical works start with the words of Sudharman: "Now Jambusvamin...."

Sudharman survived Mahavira by twenty years. He is said to have become a Kevalin (omnipotent) twelve years after Mahavira's Nirvana, and then lived on for eight years more, reaching the age of 100 at the time of his death. Jambu, his principal disciple, succeeded him to the pontificate. Jambu's principal disciple Prabhava succeeded him on his death forty-four years later in 64 AV. Thus, for several generations, the supreme dignity and power of the Jain Church devolved from teacher to disciple.

It must be pointed out that the above is the Shvetambara tradition. Some Digambaras maintain, on the other hand, that the first two successors of Mahavira were Gautama and Lohacharya, and Jambu had succeeded Lohacharya. Some other Digambaras think that Sudharman succeeded Gautama and Lohacharya was another name of Sudharman. However, for the history of the Jain Church, we have to rely on the Shvetambara version. Digambaras have not written any history of the Church and apart from some pattavalis and inscriptions, we do not know their version of the story for a few centuries after Mahavira.

The list of the successors of Mahavira in the pontificate, as known to the Svetambaras, is given in the Kalpa Sutra in the chapter known as Theravali (or Sthaviravali), and also in two of their canonical works. The lists of the patriarchs given in these two Sutras are in agreement with that given in the Kalpa Sutra up to Mahagiri and Suhastin, the pair of patriarchs in the eighth generation after Mahavira. At that point, the succession diverges in two lines, one start from Mahagiri, the other from Suhastin. The first is recorded in Nandi and Avashyaka Sutras, and the second in the Kalpa Sutra. Both lines are entirely independent of each other and have no members in common. Almost all those who figure in the ancient legends (Kathanakas) belong to the line of Suhastin. As far as I am aware there is but one legend related to a member of the Mahagiri line, viz. Mangu, see Abhidhanarajendra Kosha, s.v. Mangu".1

Thus, for all practical purposes, the list given in the Kalpa Sutra is the only authentic list, so far as the Svetambaras are concerned. The Kalpa Sutra, however, does not give, apart from the succession list, any other information about the patriarchs of the Jain Church. This history is contained in Hemachandra's Parishishtaparvan or Sthaviravali and in the last part of Bhadreshvara's Kathavali, a huge work in Prakrit prose. Both these are legendary histories or rather hagiographies, i.e. they give mostly the legends connected with the lives of these patriarchs and the contemporary kings. The "history" of the Jain Church as given below is mostly based on Hemachandra's Sthaviravali. A large part of the Sthaviravali describes the good deeds done by the patriarchies in their previous births as a result of which they were rewarded with saintly lives in their present births. The work also describes the political events of the period, especially in reference to the influence that the Jain had on these events. These descriptions are of general interest. (The events are perhaps described as the Jains would like them to have happened, and not necessarily as they actually happened).

The first six patriarchies after Mahavira were:

1. Sudharma(n) 4. Sayyambhava

2. Jambu 5. Yashobhadra

3. Prabhava 6. Bhadrabahu and



"Sudharman entered the order at the age of fifty; thirty years he was the disciple of Mahavira, twelve years after whose death he reached kevalam. He died eight years later, having accomplished his 100th year".


"Sudharman's successor was Jambu. It is related that once Sudharman, surrounded by his disciples, Jambu etc., arrived in Champa, and took up his abode in the part outside the town. As was usual, a crowd gathered to hear his preaching. King Kunika (Ajatashatru) saw the crowd and came to hear the sermon. When the sermon was at an end, the king asked Sudharman who Jambu was, for the king greatly struck with the beauty and the remarkable appearance of Jambu. Sudharman related to him Jambu's history, and foretold that he would be the last kevalin. After him nobody would reach Manahpayaya and the Paramvadhi stages of supernatural knowledge; the JinaKalpa would be abandoned together with other holy institutions and practices, while on earth the sanctity of men would go on decreasing". (IV, 1-54)2

Here perhaps we get the first hint of the schism between the Shvetambara and the Digambara Churches. One of the practices of Jina Kalpa is the complete nudity of the monks. The Shvetamabara monks have abandoned this practice and follow what is known as sthavir-Kalpa. It is interesting to note that the name of Jambu's successor Prabhava who presumably followed the sthavira Kalpa does not appear in any of the lists of patriarchs of the Digambaras.


"Jambu reached beatification 64 years after Mahavira's Nirvana, having appointed Prabhava of the Katyayana gotra as the visible head of the Church". (IV-55-61)


Shayyambhava was born a heretic and at first he studied the Vedic religion under his guru. Once he met two monks who said: "Ah, you know not the truth." This unsettled his mind and a few days later he took farewell of his guru and went in search of the two monks. At lasts, he came to Prabhava from whom he asked for instruction in the Jain religion. Prabhava explained to him the five vows of the Jains; and when Shayyambhava had renounced his former heretical views, he received Diksha and became a zealous ascetic. He learned the fourteen Purvas and became, after Prabhava's death, the head of the Church". (V, 36-54)

The Dashavaikalika

When Shyyambhava took Diksha, he had left his young wife behind. They had as yet no children. The circumstances made the forsaken woman's case appear still more miserable, so that people compassionately asked her if there was no hope of offspring. She answered in Prakrit, "manayam" i.e. "a little". Hence the boy to whom she eventually gave birth, was called Manaka. When Manaka was eight years old, and became aware that his mother was not dressed like a widow, he asked her who his father was. He then learned that his father was Shayyambhava, who, becoming a monk, had left before he, Manaka, was born, and never returned. Manka who yearned for his father secretly left his mother and went to Champa. There he met his father, and as he did not recognize him as such, he inquired of him about his father by whom he wanted to be ordained. Upon which Shayyambhava gave himself out as the most intimate friend of his father in whose stead he would ordain him. Manaka agreeing to this Shayyambhava brought him to the monks without explaining the relation subsisting between the boy and himself. The boy was ordained. Shayyambhava by means of his supernatural knowledge perceived that his son would die in six months. The time being too short for mastering the whole sacred lore, in extensor, Shayyambhava condensed its essence in ten lectures, which he composed in the afternoon. Hence the work is called Dashavaikalika. For thought to make abstracts of the Law is allowed to none but the last Dashapurvin, yet under certain circumstances a Shrutakevalin may do so. Manaka learned the Dashavaikalika, and thus he was well instructed in the religion. When the six months were over and he died, Shayyambhava wept so much at Manaka's death that his disciples were at a loss to comprehend his deportment which appeared so unbecoming of a world-renouncing monk, and said as much. He then told them Manaka's history, and declared that he wept for joy because his son had died a saint. The disciples learning then that Manaka was their acharya's son wondered why he had not told them this before. Shayyambhava replied that if they had known Manaka to be his son, they would not have exacted the obedience, which is the duty of every novice, and the most meritorious part of his moral exercise. He added that for the sake of Manaka's instruction, he had composed Dashavaikalika, but now the object being attained, he would cause his work to disappear. The disciples, however, moved the Sangha to solicit Shayyambhava that he should publish the Sashavaikalika. Shayyambhava complying with their wishes, that work has been preserved." (V 55-105)


At last Shayyambhava died, having appointed Yashobhadra as his successor". (V 106-107)

Bhadrabahu and Sambhutavijaya

"After a most exemplary life of an ascetic and a teacher, Yashobhadra died leaving the management of the Church to his disciples Bhadrahu and Sambhutavijaya".

Hemchandra in his Sthaviravali now goes back about a hundred years to the time when Pataliputra, the new capital of Magadh, was founded. Later he describes the political history of the period of Nandas and the Mauryas and then comes back to the history of the Jain Church.

Founding of Pataliputra

"Kunika was the king of Magadh at the time of Mahavira. Kunika's capital was Champa. When he died, his son Udayin succeeded him. Everything in his residency brought back to him the memory of his deceased father, and rendered him exceedingly sad. His Ministers, therefore, persuaded him to found a new capital, just as Kunika had founded Champa, after leaving Rajagriha on the death of his father. In order to find a site suitable for the future capital, Udayin dispatched men versed in the interpretation of omens. When they had reached the bank of the Ganga, they came upon a magnificent Patali tree. On a bough of this tree was perched a Chasa bird. The bird opened from time to time its bill in which insects fell by themselves. The augurs noticing this remarkable omen, returned to the King, and recommended the spot for erecting the new Capital. An old auger then declared that the Patali tree was not a common tree, for he had heard from wise men a story about it. The story was about one Annikaputra who had even in a painful situation succeeded in concentrating his thoughts, and thus at last reached Nirvana, which event was duly celebrated by the gods near this place. This place henceforth became a famous tirtha called Prayaga. The skull of Annikaputra was drifted down by the river and landed on the bank. There the seed of a Patali tree found its way into it, and springing up it developed into the tree that was to mark the site of the new capital. In the center of this city a fine Jain Temple was raised by the order of the monarch who was a devout Jain. (VI, 21-174)

How Nanda became king of Magadh

"Udayin the king of Magadh was murdered by the agent of a rival king. Udayin was childless. His ministers, therefore, sent the Royal Elephant in a procession through the main street for searching out the next king. At that moment Nanda was coming from the opposite side in his marriage procession. Nanda was the son of the courtesan by a barber. When the two processions met, the State Elephant put Nanda on his back, the horse neighed, and other such auspicious omens were seen. In short, it was evident that the royal insignia themselves pointed him out as the successor of Udayin. He was accordingly proclaimed king and ascended the throne. This event happened sixty years after the Nirvana. (VI, 231-234) The name of Nanda's minister was Kalpaka.


Seven descendants of Nanda succeeded each other. The ministers of these Nanda monarchs were the descendants of Kalpaka. The minister of the ninth Nanda was also a descendant of Kalpaka. His name was Sakatala. Sakatala had two sons, Sthulabhadra and Shriyaka. Shriyaka was in the service of the king whose confidence and love he had gained.

On the death of Sakatala, the king offered Shriyaka the seal of the Prime Minister, but he refused it in favor of his brother Sthulabhadra. Accordingly the same offer was made to Sthulahbadra, who said that he would take the matter into consideration. Ordered to make up his mind without delay, his reflections took an unexpected turn; for perceiving the vanity of the world he resolved to quit empty pleasures, and plucking out his hair he acquainted the king with his resolution. He later took Diksha under Sambhutavijaya.

Chanakya and Chandragupta

Chanayka was the son of the Brahman Chanin, a devout Jain. Once Chanakya was thrown out of the court of the ninth Nanda. It was Chanakya's fault, for he had behaved quite impertinently, but he was very sore at the insult and wanted his revenge. He met Chandragupta and induced him to attack Pataliputra, the capital of the Nandas. But every time Chandra Gupta did this he was defeated. Chanakya then adopted the policy of subduing the outlying districts first. One of these towns was defending itself very resolutely. Chanakya learned that the town was protected by the idol. Chandragupta then conquered the town. One by one Chandragupta captured all the outlying towns and was able finally to take Pataliputra, where he ascended the throne. This event happened 155 years after Mahavira's Nirvana.

Chandragupta chooses Jain teachers at Chanakya's instance

In the beginning Chandragupta preferred the heretic teachers. In order to prove that heretic teachers were worthless, Chanakya once invited them to the palace. He placed some dust on the floor near the window overlooking the royal seraglio. When no palace servant was there, the heretic teachers went and looked through the window. Chanakya showed their footprints to the king, and thus proved that these heretic teachers were looking at women. The Jain teachers, however, who were invited the next day, remained in their seats from the beginning till the end of their visit, and this time, of course, the dust on the floor in front of the windows was found untouched. Chandragupta seeing the proof of the sanctity of the Jain teachers henceforth made them his spiritual guides.(VIII, 415-435)

Birth of Bindusara and death of Chandragupta

Chanakya served Chandragupta as his minister throughout the life of later. "On Chanakya's order, the food of Chandragupta was mixed with a gradually increased dose of poison, so that in the end even the strongest poison had no effect on him. Once the queen Durdhara who was big with child was dining with the king, when Chanakya came upon them. Observing that the poison almost instantly killed the queen he ripped open her womb and extracted the child. He had been nearly to late; for already a drop of the poison had reached the boy's head, who, from this circumstances was called Bindusara. In ripe age he was placed on the throne by Chanakya on the decease of his father who died by samadhi." (VIII, 437-445)

Ashoka and Samprati

"On Bindusara's decease, his son Ashoka Shri ascended the throne. Ashoka sent his son and presumptive heir, Kunala, to Ujjayini, there to be brought up. When the prince was eight years old, the king wrote (in Prakrit) to the tutors that Kunala should begin his studies. One of Ashoka's wives who wanted to secure the succession to her own son being then present took up the letter to read it, and secretly putting a dot over the letter �a�, changed Adheeyu into Andheeyu another word, meaning he must be blinded. Without rereading the letter, the king sealed and dispatched it. The clerk in Ujjayini was so shocked by the contents of this letter that he was unable to read it aloud to the prince. Kunala, therefore, seized the letter and read the cruel sentence of his father. Considering that as yet no Maurya prince had disobeyed the chief of the house, and unwilling to set a bad example, he stoutly put out his eyesight with a hot iron".3 (IX 14-29)