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Legendary History

  Life of Parshva

Life of Vardhamana Mahavira

  The Jain Church After Mahavira
  Extension of Jainism -Early Period
  The Schisms
  History of the Digambaras
  Canonical Literature of the Shwetambaras
  Sacred Books of the Digambaras
  The Tirthankaras

The Sthaviravali of the Kalpa Sutra

  Sthaviravali of the NandiSutra
  The Pattavali (List of Pontiffs) of the (Shvetambara)

The Pattavali (List of Pontiffs) of the (Digambara)

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The Schisms

The actual parting of the ways perhaps came some time near the middle of the 5th century, when the Valabhi Council was held. It is said that the canon of the Svetambaras had been reduced to a state of disorder and was even in danger of being lost altogether. Hence in the year 980 (or 993) after the death of Mahavira (i.e. about the middle of the 5th century AD), a Council was held in Valabhi in Gujarat, presided over by Devarddhi Ksahmashramna the head of the shool, for the purpose of collecting the texts and writing them down. The twelfth Anga containing the Purvas, had already gone astray at that time. This is why we find only eleven Angas in the recension which has come down to us, and which is supposed to be identical with that of Devarddhi.

The Digambaras completely deny the authority of the texts collected by this council. They say that not only was the knowledge of the 14 Purvas lost at an early period, but that 436 years after Mahavira's Nirvana the last person who knew all the 11 Angas had died. The teachers who succeeded him knew all the 11 Angas had died. The teachers who succeeded him knew less and less Angas as time went on, until the knowledge of these works was completely lost 683 years after Mahavira's Nirvana. Thus the Valabhi Council marks the final split between the Svetambaras and Digambaras.

There is some iconographic evidence that supports the theory that it was the period of the Valabhi council when the two sects actually parted company. As stated earlier all the Tirthankara images found at Mathura and datable up to the Kusana period depict the Tirthankaras either in the standing position and nude, or, if seated, in the crossed legged position, are sculptured in such a way that neither garments, nor genitals are visible. Thus up to the Kusana period both the sects worshipped nude images. The earliest known image of a Tirthankara with a lower garment, is a standing Rishabhnatha discovered at Akota in Gujarat. The date of his image has been fixed at the later part of the fifth century.9 This was shortly after the period of the Valabhi Council.

The geographical distribution of the two sects also would give some support to the theory that the Valabhi Council was the chief reason of the schism. It is found that the main concentration of the Svetambaras is round about and within 500 kilometers of Valabhi. Most of the Jains in Gujarat, and western Rajasthan are Svetambaras, while most of the Jains of eastern Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and the Jains of South India are Digambaras.

It is possible that so far as the Jains of Northern India were concerned, they might have had a Council of their own at Mathura. Its president was Skandila. This name does not occur in the list of Sthaviras of the Kalpa-Sutra, but the name of Shandilya occurs 33rd in the list. Jacobi remarks10 in this connection: "I think Shandilya is the same as Skandila, who was president of the Council of Mathura, which seems to have been the rival of that in Valabhi."

In other words, those who accepted the literature edited and collected at Valabhi as canonical were later called Svetambaras, and those whom either had their own Council at Mathura, or did not have any Council at all, as in South India, were later called Digambaras.

The Digambaras of South India, long before the time the Valabhi Council of the Svetambaras had met, had started developing their own sacred literature. They had to do this because according to them the last of the acharyas who knew even a part of the Angas had died 683 years after the death of Mahavira. The Name of this acharya was Bhutavali. Nobody was left who knew even a part of the original canon. The next pontiff according to some Digambara lists was Bhadrabahu II. Kundakunda who claimed to be a disciple of this Bhadrabahu, therefore, started writing the sacred books for the Digambaras. He is said to have written altogether 84 such books. The names of all the works composed by Kundakunda are not known. But three of his works, viz., Samayasara, Pravachanasara, and Panchastikayasara are considered so important by the Digambaras that together they are called Prabhritatraya or Saratraya, a name that reminds one of the Prasthanatraya of the Vedantists. Indeed Kundakunda is considered so important a personality in the Digambara hagiology that a popular Digambara benedictory runs thus:

MAngalam Bhagavana Viro, mAngalam Gautamogani,

MAngalam Kundakundyadyau, Jain dharmostu mAngalam.

To the Digambaras thus Kundakunda is as important a teacher as Sudharma is to the Svetambaras.

Kundakunda was followed by many other Digambara writers such as Vattakera, Kartikeya Svamin, etc. Practically all these authors belonged to South India. Thus by the early centuries of the Christian era while the intellectual center of the Svetambaras was developing in western India, the Digambaras had their own intellectual center in south-west Karanataka. Perhaps this geographical separation of the intellectual centers was the main reason why the two sections of the Jains drifted. The Digambaras had their own intellectual center in south-west Karanataka. Perhaps this Geographical separation of the intellectual centers was the main reason why the two sections of the Jains drifted. To some extent even the Gods began to differ: The Digambaras in south-west Karnataka made Bahubali, a son of the first Tirthankara, one of the most important deities and built colossal statues for him. Bahubali on the other hand is scarcely, if at all, mentioned in the Shvetambara mythology.

The Digambaras called their Church, the Mula Sangha or the Main Church. The Mula Sangha is then said to have branched off into Nandi, Sinha, etc. But all Digambaras to whatever gaccha (sub-sect) they might belong, claim the descent of their gaccha ultimately from the Mula Sangha.

In the few centuries of the Christen era, the dominant sect among the Jains of the Deccan and South India were the Digambaras. Only one inscription - a grant - has been found in these parts of India, which refers to the Shvetapatas (Svetambaras) by name. This is the Devagiri (Dharwar district) inscription11 of king Mrigeshavarmana referred to earlier. His period according to Saletore12 was AD 475-490.

The difference between the Svetambaras and the Digambaras

The total number of points by which the Digambaras differ from the Svetambaras are eighteen. These are listed below:

The Digambaras do not accept the following Shvetambara beliefs:

1. A kevali needs food;

2. A kevali needs to evacuate (nihara);

3. The women can get salvation. (In order to get salvation a woman has according to the Digambaras to be born again as a man).

4. The Shudras can get salvation;

5. A person can get salvation without forsaking clothes;

6. A house holder can get salvation;

7. The worship of images having clothes and ornaments is permitted;

8. The monks are allowed to possess fourteen (specified ) things;

9. The Tirthankara Mali was a woman;

10. The eleven of the 12 original Angas (Canonical works) still exist;

11. Bharat Chakravarti attained kevali hood while living in his palace;

12. A monk may accept food from a Shudra;

13. The Mahavira's embryo was transferred from one womb to another; and Mahavira's mother had fourteen auspicious dreams before he was born. The Digambaras believe that she had actually 16 such dreams;

14. Mahavira had a sickness due to the tejolesya of Goshala.

15. Mahavira had married and had a daughter.

16. A cloth offered by the Gods (devadusya) fell on the shoulders of a Tirthankara.

17. Marudevi went for her salvation riding an elephant;

18. A monk may accept alms from many houses.


1. For a discussion on the dates of these Schisms, see at the end of Chapter V.

2. Sacred Books of the East Vol. XXII, p.290.

3. Parishishtaparvam, Canto XI, SL. 1-4.

4. The Ajivikas, London, 1951.

5. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XLV, p. 267n.

6. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XLV, p. 245n.

7. Saletore, Medieval Jainism, p. 32.

8. Inscription No. 15 in Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. III.

9. Encylopedia Britannica, 15th Edn., Vol. 10, p.8.

10. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXII, p. 294n.

11. Jain Shila Lekha Sangraha, Vol. II, pp. 69-72.

12. Medieval Jainism, p. 32.