Extension of Jainism - Early Period
Eastern India - Bengal
We consider Bengal first, not because it was an important center of
Jainism, but because it is easy to trace the growth and extinction of this
religion in this part of the country. We have seen that Mahavira himself
had gone to Ladha (West Bengal) in his pre-Kevalin days and had met with
uncivil behavior from the inhabitants. It is likely that during Mahavira's
time the cultural level of the people in that part of the country was not
The conditions seemed to have changed dramatically only two centuries
later. At the time of Chandragupta Maurya, Bhadrabahu was the head of the
Jain church in Magadh. One of Ghadrabahu's disciples Godasa had formed the
Godasa Gana. This Godasa Gana according to the Kalpa Sutra had been
divided into four Shakhas. It is interesting to note that three of these
four Shakhas were named after three important cities of ancient Bengal.
These Shakhas were Tamraliptika (after Tamralipta in south Bengal),
Kotivarisiya (after Kotivarsha in north Bengal). It seems that the center
of Jainism must have shifted towards Bengal at that time. Otherwise the
Shakhas would not have been named after these Bengal cities.
Some of the Shakhas, Ganas, kulas, etc., mentioned in the Kalpa Sutra have
been found to occur in the inscriptions discovered in Mathura. These
inscriptions belong to the first a few centuries of the Christian era.
This proves that the Shakhas, etc., mentioned in the Kalpa Sutra actually
existed. It is likely therefore, that the Shakhas named after the Bengal
cities were also actual ones, and not later fictitious additions.
The first epigraphic evidence of the existence of Jainism in Bengal is a
copper plate inscription at Paharpur in the Rajshahi district of Bengal.
The date of the inscription is Gupta year 159 (AD 479.) It mentions the
existence of a Vihara established by the disciples of the Nirgrantha
Guhanandi. Hiuen Tsang who stayed in India between AD 629 to 645 also
visited Bengal. He wrote that among the non-Buddhists in Pundravardhana
the majority were Digambara Nirgranthas.
This strong influence of Jainism appears to have abruptly declined
immediately after this time for none of the copperplate inscriptions of
the Pala and Sena kings of Bengal mentions Jainism. It is to be noted that
practically no stone images of Gods of a date prior to the ninth century
have been found in Bengal. By that time Jainism had almost disappeared
from Bengal and, therefore, very Jain stone images have been found in this
area. Among the Jain stone images found in Bengal the following are note
(1) An image of Rishabhanatha has been found in the Dinajpur District. The
image built perhaps in the early Pala period, is one of the most beautiful
images found in Bengal. Rishabhanatha is shown here in the sitting
position of dhyanamudra.
(2) Another image of Rishabhanatha was found in the Barabhum village in
the Midnapur district. Here the image is in standing, e.g., kayotsarga-posture.
(3) A dhyana- Mudra image of Parahvanatha has been found in the Deulbhir
village of the Bankura district.
(4) A kayotsarga image of Parshvanatha has been found in Datta-Benia
village of the Twenty-four Parganas district.
(5) A kayotasarga image of Shantinatha has been found in Ujani village of
the Bardhamana district.
All these images have been identified definitely as those of Jain
Tirthankaras. Kshitit Mohan Sen3 however thought that, there were many
other Jain images in West Bengal. These have lost their identification
marks. Their Jain connection has been forgotten and, the villagers worship
these images to day as Bhairavas .4
Sen also traces some Bengali words to their Jain origin. For instance the
upper garment of the Jain monks is called `pachheri'. This in Bengali has
become `pachhari'. Similarly the broom used by the Jain monks is called `pichhi'.
In East Bengal a broom is a `pichha'.
It must, however, be admitted, that Jainism which was quite strong in
Bengal fifteen hundred years ago, has now disappeared from this area
leaving few traces among the indigenous population.
From a reading of the Parishishtaparvan of Hemachandra it would appear
that Jainism nearly disappeared from Bihar when Smaprati the grandson of
Ashoka started ruling from Ujjayini in the 3rd century BC. This is not so.
The Jains continued to exist in Bihar, and carried on building their
temples and images all over South Bihar for many centuries. Many Jain
images have been found in Bihar especially in the Manbhum district. "Among
the other old Jain remains in Manbhum district, particular mention need be
made about the Jain temples and sculptures at the small village Pakbira,
32 km. North-east of Bara Bazar or 50 km. by Purulia- Ranchi road in
Manbhum district. They had attracted the attention of the archaeological
department in the last century. Report of the Archaeological Survey of
India, Vol. VIII, mentions about the remains at Pakbira as follows: `Here
are numerous temples and sculptures, principally Jain; the principal
object of attention here is a colossal naked figure, with the lotus as
symbol on the pedestal, the figure is 2.25 meters high;...'"
It is surmised that Jainism was quite active in Bihar up to the 12th
century. Since most of the images found are nude it is possible to
conjecture that the majority of the Jains then in Bihar were Digambaras.
Also since they have left behind no literature we may assume that they
were ordinary people with no intellectual pretensions. The community must
have been financially well off. Otherwise they would have been able to
build so many images.
It is difficult to say whether Jainism had ever been a strong force in
Orissa. Our evidence from the early period is the two inscriptions found
in the Udayagiri caves near Bhubaneswar. One of these is by King Kharavela
in the Hathigumpha cave. The other is by his chief Queen (Aghamahisi) in
the Manchapuri cave. On paleographic evidence D. C. Sircar had suggested
that the inscriptions belong to the first century BC.6
The Queen's inscription is a short one dedicating the cave for the use of
the Jain shramnas. Thus it may be concluded that she was respectful
towards the Jain religion. The Hathigumpha inscription of King Kharavela
has been the subject of many learned comments by eminent historians. Among
other reasons for the interest in this inscription is the fact that the
inscription is quite a long one, and gives details of a number of
occurrences of historical interest. Here, however, only those aspects of
this inscription that relate to Jainism need be discussed.
The inscription starts with the benediction Namo arhantam namo
sava-sidhanam. This is the Jain formula7 of veneration and therefore,
Kharavela was either a Jain by religion or he had great respect for this
religion. In the 12th year of his reign Kharavela brought back the (image
of) Kalinga Jina8 to Orissa, this had been taken away by Nandaraja of
This was either a religious act or a matter of prestige for Kharavela. In
the thirteenth year of his reign he mentions the erection of a shrine in
the vicinity of the relic depository9 of the Arihanta on the Kumari
These exhaust the list of references to Jainism in the Hathigumpha
Except for these inscriptions' one by Kharavela and the other by his
queen, we know nothing about Jainism in Orissa in that period. Schubring
is not inclined to give much importance to the Kharavela inscription from
the Jain point of view. He said: "This much mutilated inscription it is
true, begins with a Jinist formula of veneration, but what tangible deeds
in favor of the Jains the scholars were inclined to interpret from it have
turned out to be untenable or remained inexplicable. We may presuppose
that Jain communities flourished within Kharavels's reign.�10 One is
inclined to agree with this view of Stubbing, for if Kharavela, an
important king of Kalinga according to his own reckoning, was a Jain, he
would surely find mention in the old Jain literature. But Jain literature
does not contain even a hint that Kharavela existed.
Another significant thing about the Hathigumpha remains is that "except
for Kharavela's inscriptions we could not attribute these to the Jains,
for nothing of the decoration reveals their Jain character: the deities
depicted are early Hindu, e.g. the sun-God Surya and the lotus Goddess
Gaja- Laksmi (Padma-Shri); the figural relief in the Rani-Gumpha have been
interpreted by some as scenes from the life of Parshvanatha and by others
as episodes from the popular stories of Vasavadatta and Shakuntala; and
the whole building is even thought to have been a theater......"11
In short, we know that Kharavela's chief queen was a patron of the Jains
and Kharavela himself also had a friendly attitude towards them.
There is positive evidence that in the 11th century some caves of the
Khandagiri group, specially Cave no. 11, were used as Jain sacred places.
"......a few of the old cells were converted into sanctuaries by the
carving of relief of Tirthankaras and the Shasanadevis on the walls"12. A
large number of nude chlorite images of the different Tirthankaras all
belonging to this period have also been found here. "The prolonged
Digambara association of the Khandagiri caves during the reign of the
Gangas and their successors, the Gajapatis, is proved by the crude relief
of the Tirthankaras on the walls of the cave, which are not earlier in
date than the 15th century and may be even later. Evidence regarding the
cells being tenanted in this period and monastic fraternities is, however,
Influence of Jainism seems to have disappeared from Orissa after the
We thus know that Jainism existed in Orissa for a Period of about
seventeen hundred years from the first century BC to the 16th century. For
a large part of this period the Khandagiri caves were used as a religious
center by them, as resting places of the monks and perhaps also as
temples, but we do not know whether the occupation of these caves by the
Jains was continuous or intermittent. The Existence of the nude images of
the Tirthankaras in the eleventh century proves that at least in the later
days the Jains who occupied the caves belonged to the Digambara sect.
Spread of Jainism in South India-Early period
We do not know when and how Jainism entered South India. Traditionally
Shravana Belgola in South West Karnataka is said to be the earliest Jain
center in South India. Unfortunately, however, there is no epigraphic
evidence to support this theory. The Earliest Jain inscription found at
this place is believed to be about AD 600,14 though some Jain inscriptions
older than this have been found in areas near about this place. One of
them, a copper plate inscription found in Mercara (Coorg) and dated AD
466- 67 mentions the gift of the village Badaneguppe to the Shrivijaya
Jain-temple at Talvananagara.15 This proves that Jains were established in
this area in the 5th century, but Shravana Belgola itself might not have
been their first center in South India.
The inscription of AD 600 found at Shravana Belgola, is one of the most
important records in the history of Jainism. A summary of this inscription
is as below:
"After Mahavira the succession of pupils was Gautama, Lohacharya, Jambu,
Vishnudeva, Aparajita, Govardhana, Bhadrabahu, Vishakha, Prothila,
Kritikarya (?), Jaya, Siddhartha, Dhrtisena, etc. Bhadrabahu who belonged
to this list, with his knowledge of the past, present and future, came to
know that a twelve-year famine (vaisamya) was about to occur in Ujjayini.
The whole Sangha then moved towards the South (Daksinapatha). They reached
a prosperous area. Acharya Prabhachandra knowing his end was near stayed
on the Katavapra hill with one disciple, and asked the rest of the Sangha
to proceed further. Prabhachandra then started his samadhi aradhana....16
Thus it would appear that it was Prabhachandra who had led the first (?)
Jain Sangha to South India and the Sangha, which went there, started from
Ujjayini. In later Digambara works the story was modified. "The Bhadrabahu-
Katha (about AD 800) and the Brihatkatkosha (AD 931) report that towards
the end of his life Bhadrabahu ordered his followers to move away to
Punnata (South-Karnataka), whereas Bhadrabahu- Charitra (2nd half of the
century) says that he himself took the lead and died on the way".17 Since
the Digambaras believe that there were two Bhadrabahus, the first of whom
died 162 years after Mahavira's Nirvana (i.e. in 365 BC), and the second
515 years after the Nirvana (i.e. in 12 BC),18 it is not clear which
Bhadrabahu these later authors were talking about.
The Shvetambara tradition as recorded in Hemachandra's Parishishtaparvan
was, as we have seen, quite different. There the Sangha was said to have
moved to the seacoast when a dreadful dearth prevailed in the Magadh area,
and came back to Magadh when the famine ended. Bhadrabahu himself did not
go to the seacoast with the Sangha but had actually gone to Nepal where he
undertook the Mahaprana vow. He came back and joined the Sangha in Magadh
after performing the austerities.
Also it was Samprati, the successor of Ashoka, who according to Hemchandra
prepared the ground for the spread of Jainism in South India (Andras and
Dramilas). Ujjayini was at that time the capital of Samprati. Hemchandra's
version appears to be more plausible than the later Digambara traditions.
Epigraphic evidence available so far would tend to show that Jainism
entered the Deccan through the West. Halsi, known in ancient times as
Palasika in the Belgaum district was the most important Jain center in the
Deccan in the fifth century. The Kadamba kings of Palasika were patrons of
Jainism at that time. They themselves were Brahmans, but some of them made
grants of land to Jains, and erected Jain temples.19 This also supports
the view that Jainism entered South India through the west and perhaps
from Ujjayini itself.
Another important Jain center in the Deccan was Altem in the Kolhapur
district. We have there an epigraph of Shaka 411 (AD 489) which records
the erection of a Jain temple by a feudatory of the Calukyas. He is styled
No definite evidence of the existence of Jainism in the early period has
been found in Tamil Nadu. "A large number of caverns have been discovered
in the hills and mountainous regions in the Pudukkottai area and Madura
and Tinnevelly districts. The two last named areas are particularly rich
in these antiquities and the Madura district is known to possess numerous
monuments of this kind. These caverns are found generally containing
inscriptions. These epigraphs are in the Brahmi characters of the 3rd
century BC. These antiquities and records are attributed to the Jains."21
This point that the caves perhaps belonged to the Jains, was made by K. V.
Subramnia Iyer,22 a few decades ago. At that time the inscriptions had not
been deciphered. In 1966 I. Mahadevan 23 was able to read most of these
inscriptions (which number about 75). The inscriptions mention the
dedication of the caves by the rulers or their servants to religious
people. What exactly was the religion of these people to whom the caves
were dedicated is not clear. Some of the terms used in the inscriptions
are `Asiriyan' (archarya), `Upasakam', `Palli' (non-Hindu temples), etc.
In one place viz., Pukalur, the word `Ammanam' (naked one) is also found.
It will not perhaps be correct to attribute the dedication of the caves to
the Jain monks on the basis of these few words only. Clearly the Donees
were religious people, but they could have belonged to any of the
non-orthodox sects such as the Buddhists, Ajivakas or the Jains. The
`naked one' could in fact be an Ajivika monk, for we know that according
to their rules the monks had to remain naked. Thus this cave could have
been dedicated to the Ajivikas.
Jainism, however, in later centuries became an important religion of the
Tamil Land, and left its mark on the Tamil literature.
Andhra is virtually devoid of all traces of Jainism in the first few
centuries AD 24
Northern and Western India
The earliest epigraphic evidence of the existence of the Nigantha sect in
northern India comes from a solitary inscription of Ashoka (3rd century
BC). This is the Seventh Pillar Edict Ashoka and it is recorded on the
pillar Firoze Shah Kotla in Delhi. This pillar was originally in Topra in
the Ambala district of Haryana, and was brought to Delhi by Firoze Shah
Tughlak. Ashoka mentioned in this edict that he had appointed senior
officers to look after the affairs of the religious people of the various
sects. These officers had been directed to occupy themselves with matters
concerning the (Buddhist) Sangha the Brahmans, the Ajivikas, and the
Niganthas. (There are other edicts of Ashoka that mention the Sangha, the
Brahmans and the Ajivikas, but Niganthas have not been mentioned in any
other Ashokan inscription.) Since the officers were directed to look after
the Niganthas, clearly this sect existed in this area in sufficient
number. Otherwise the specific mention of this community was not
necessary. However, we have no Jain literary records to show the existence
of this community in Haryana at that time, and Mahavira himself, perhaps
never traveled west of Shravasti that is in eastern Utter Pradesh. But the
epigraphic evidence is clear. The Jain religion had by the time of Ashoka
spread in northern India at least as far as Haryana.
It appears from the genealogy of the pontiffs given in the Kalpa Sutra
that within a hundred years of Ashoka, Jainism had spread as Far West as
Pathankot. The Jain pontiff at the time of Samprati, the grandson of
Ashoka, was Suhastin. Suhastin's disciple Rohana who became the next
pontiff had founded the Uddeha gana that was divided into four Shakhas.
One of these shakhas was Udumbarika. Now the country of Audumbara is the
present district of Gurudaspur, and its capital was Pratisthana (Pathankot).
Thus we know that a substantially large group of Jains was settled in the
Pathankot area by the 2nd century BC