History of the Digambaras
The history of the
Digambara Church after Mahavira can generally be divided into four
periods. These periods differ from one another not because each of them
necessarily had any special characteristic, but mainly because each of the
preceding period from the last is shrouded in more and more obscurity,
with the result that we know practically nothing substantial about the
first of these four periods, know a little more about the second, and so
on. These periods are as follows:
a) The first five or six centuries after Mahavira. i.e. the period between
Mahavira and the beginning of the Christian era.
b) The eight centuries from the beginning of the Christian era. This may
be called the period of the Acharyas.
c) The period of the dominance of Bhattarakas, i.e. up to the 17th/18th
d) The period of reformation - 17th/18th century to the present day.
The First Six centuries
As stated above, the first five or six centuries in the history of the
Digambara sect are hidden in obscurity. We know almost nothing about the
history of this sect as a separate Jain Church in these centuries. (The
reason most probably was that the two Churches had not till then
separated, and as such they had no separate history.) The Digambaras
unlike the Svetambaras have not written any history of their sect, and all
that we have are some lists of successive patriarchs. Not much reliance
can be placed on these lists for they were compiled many centuries later.
In fact the first list that we possess is the one inscribed in Sravana
Belgola in about AD 600, that is almost eleven centuries after Mahavira.
This Sravana-Belgola succession list is as follows:
Mahavira-Gautama-Lohacharya-Jambu- Vishnudeva- Aparajita-
Govardhana-Bhadrabahu- Vishakha- Prosthila - Karttikarya (Kshattrikarya)-Jaya-
Nama (Naga)- Siddhartha- Dhritisena- Buddhila, etc.
It will be noticed that the difference with the Shvetambara list starts
almost from the very beginning. The name of Gautama as successor of
Mahavira is not mentioned in the Shvetambara list as given in the Kalpa-Sutra.
In fact the Kalpa Sutra explicitly mentions that only two Ganadharas,
Indrabhuti and Sudharma, survived Mahavira, and it was Sudharma who
succeeded Mahavira as head of the Church and no other Ganadhara left any
spiritual descendants. Indrabhuti who was a Gautama by gotra is the person
mentioned in the Digambara list as the first successor of Mahavira. Both
the sects are in agreement in asserting that Indrabhuti Gautama was a
kevalin, but the Svetambaras deny that he ever headed the Church, or left
The confusion is carried on to the next name also. Many Digambara lists
including the Sravana Belgola inscription say that Gautama's successor as
the head of the Church was Lohacharya. The name Lohacharya is not known to
the Svetambaras. Other Digamabara lists (e.g. the one in the Harivansha
Purana) mention Sudharma as the successor of Gautama. Fortunately,
Lohacharya and Sudharma are the names of the same person. This is
explicitly stated in Jambuddvita Pannati (I. 10).
In the Digambara list Lohacharya's and in the Shvetambara list Sudharma's
successor is Jambusvami. Here for the first and last time the Digambara
and Shvetambara lists agree in regard to the order of succession.
(Digambaras and Svetambaras both agree that after Mahavira, only three
persons, namely, Gautama, Sudharma and Jambu became kevalins.)
The next three names in the Sravana Belgola list (AD 600) are Vishnudeva,
Aparajita and Govardhana. Later Digambara works such as the Harivanshi
Purana (late 8th century) include the name of Nandimitra between
Vishnudeva and Aparajita. The present day Digambaras accept this later
list of four names. However, none of these names are known to the
Svetambaras. They have instead the following three names: Prabhava,
Shayyambna (or Shayyambhava) and Yashobhadra.
Shayyambhava as we have seen was the author of the Dashavaikalika, one of
the most important texts of the Svetambaras, but the Digambaras neither
know his name, nor recognize the book.
The successor of Govardhana in the Digambara list is Bhadrabahu. In the
Shvetambara list, the corresponding place is occupied by two persons:
Bhadrabahu and Sambhutavijaya who were joint patriarchs of the Church.
Bhadrabahu is an important name for the Digambaras. It was Bhadrabahu who
had according to the Sravana Belgola inscription (AD 600) had predicted a
famine in Ujjayinai which led the Jain community there to leave for South
India under the leadership of one Prabhachandra (or, according to the
later versions, he himself led the Jain community (of Magadh?) to South
India). The difficulty can be solved if we accept that it was another
Bhadrabahu who had taken the community there. This second Bhadrabahu
appears as the 27th acharya in the Digambara list (the Svetambaras do not
know him) and was an Upangi i.e. knower of one Anga only, and not a
Shrutakevali like Bhadrabahu I, who knew all the 12 Angas. Bhadrabahu II
died 515 years after the Nirvana (i.e. in 12 BC) and we know that he
belonged to South India, for the great Kundakunda who undoubtedly belonged
to South India calls himself the pupil of Bhadrabahu.1
The matter is slightly confusing here for according to the pattavalis of
the Digambaras, Kundakunda was not the first but the fourth acharya after
Bhandabahu II. The actual list is as follows: 1, Bhadrabah II. 2.
Guptigupta. 3. Maghanandi. 4. Jinacandra I. 5. Kundakunda.
Perhaps the solution of this problem is that all these four persons from
Guptigupta to Kundakunda were pupils of Bhadrabahu II, and became acahryas
one after another.
Now to go back to Bhadrabahu I, he was as we know the last Shrutakevali.
The acharyas who came after him were dashapurvis that is, they knew the 11
Angas and the 10 Purvas. Their names were:
10. Deva I
Except for their names we know nothing about them.
They were followed by ekadashangis, who knew only the eleven Angas. Their
4. Dhruvasena and
Then came the upangis, who knew only one Anga. They were
3. Bhadrabahu II and
4. Lohacarya II.
Lastly there were the ekangis. They
had only fragmentary knowledge of the canon. Their names were:
4. Pushpadanta and
It is from the period of the ekangis, that is , Arhadvali, Maghanandi,
Kharasena, Pushpadanta and Bhutavali onwards that we get some material
facts about the Digambara acharyas. All these five were perhaps the
disciples of Bhadrabahu II.
It is said that it was Arhadvali who had divided the Original Church (the
Mula Sangha) into four different sanghas, namely, Sinha, Nandi, Sena and
Deva. "This we learn from the inscriptions dated 1398 and 1432, and from
the Nitisara composed by Indranandin between 1524 and 1565 and from the
pattavalis of the last century."2 It is, of course, not possible to say
whether this story of Arhadvali dividing the Mula Sangha into four
branches is correct or not. None of these branches exist, and even the
first mention of this division is almost thirteen hundred years after the
It is said that Dharasena, the third among the ekangis named above was the
last master3 of the Astanga Mahanimitta the "eightfold Mahanimittas." What
these Mahanimitta were, is not clear, but they seem to have something to
do with astrology or clairvoyance, for it was with this power that
Bhadrabahu had predicted the 12 year famine in Ujjayini as we know from
the Sravana Belgola inscription (AD 600): "Bhadrabahu-svamina Ujjayinyam
astanga-mahanimitta-tatvajnena- trailokya- darshina, nimittena dvadasha
samvatshara-kala vaisamyam uplabhya." (By Bhadrabahu-svamin, who possessed
the knowledge of the Eight Mahanimittas, the seer of the past, present and
future, was foretold by the signs a dire calamity in Ujjayini, lasting for
a period of 12 years).
Dharasena also had a partial knowledge of the canonical works like the
Angas, Purvas, etc. According to the legend, Dharasena lived in Girnar
Saurastra. He sent a message to the Digambaras of South India warning them
against the disappearance of the knowledge of the canons. The monks of
Dakshinpatha then sent two intelligent persons to Dharasena. Dharasena
passed on his knowledge to these two persons whose names were Pushpa Danta
and Bhutavali. These two then returned home and wrote an important work
Shat-Khandagama- Sutra based on that teaching. This work thus is revered
among the Digambaras almost as a canonical work.4 The work was completed
on the fifth of the bright fortnight of Jyestha: and that day is thus
celebrated every year as Shruta-panchami.
The Period of the Acharyas
Evidence either literary or in stone inscriptions about the existence of
Jainism in South India before the Christian era has not been found.
However, we can by inference presume the existence of the Jains at that
time in Karnataka. Kundakunda, the great acharya and prolific writer of
books on Jainism was living in the first century AD5 It is quite
inconceivable that such a writer could have flourished unless there was an
old tradition of Jains in that area, there must have been enough well read
Jains in south Karnataka to provide a readership for Kundakunda's works.
Moreover, Kundakunda wrote in Prakrit (which was akin to Shauraseni6 i.e.,
the language of the Mathura region) and this would be a language quite
unfamiliar to the local people other than the learned among the Jains.
As we have seen, it was Kundakunda who provided some of the philosophical
texts of the Digambara Church. In fact he is venerated7 almost as a
Ganadhara, that is as if he was as knowledgeable as one of the immediate
disciples of Mahavira. As time passed he gained in miraculous powers, and
in an inscription8 at Sravana-Belgola dated AD 1398, it is said that when
Kundakunda walked his feet would be four fingers above the ground.
Many places claim Kundakunda as their own. There is a village called Konda
Kumda or Konka Kunda 9 few kilometers from the Guntakkal railway station
(that is, practically on the borders of the Andhra and Karnataka states),
and this village is said to have been the place where he was born. This
would substantiate the claim that Kundakunda belonged to Karnataka. On the
other hand it has also been suggested that he lived in Kanchi, because his
place of work was said to have been in that area.
In fact, there is also some difficulty about his exact name. He is said to
have had the following names: Vakragriva, Elacarya Gridhrapincha,
Padmanandi and Kundakunda, but so far as the first four names are
concerned, there have been other ancient Jain authors with the same or
similar names in the later centuries. Thus it will be safer to call him by
the name of Kundakunda only.
Umaswami or Umasvati
The most celebrated acharya among the Digambaras after Kundakunda was
Umasvami. In the South Indian inscriptions he is mentioned immediately
after Kundakunda, l0 which implies that he was a disciple of Kundakunda.
Umasvami had the epithet Gridhrapincha or Gridhrapiccha, � Vulture's
feather�, which Kundakunda had too. According to most of the Digambara
pattavalis, he lived from about AD 135 to 219.
The Svetambaras on the other hand think that his name was Umasvati. He was
so called because his mother's name was Uma Vatsi, and his father's
Svati.1I The name of his teacher was Ghosanandi Kshamashramna. About his
period the Shvetambara traditions differ, but in any case none of them is
in agreement with the Digambara tradition.
It is not certain that he belonged to South India, for he wrote his great
work Taftvarthadhigama-Sutra "the Manual for the Understanding of the True
Nature of Things" in Pataliputra. This manual in Sanskrit is recognized as
an authority by both Digambaras and Svetambaras. Winternitz wrote, �Even
at the present day (this work) is read by all Jains in private houses and
temples. By reading this book once though one is said to acquire as much
merit as by fasting for one day. The logic psychology, cosmography,
ontology and ethics of the Jain, are treated in these Sutras and in the
commentary appended by the author himself, in the closest possible
agreement with the Canon, more specially with Anga VI (Jnatadharmakathah).
Even today it may still serve as an excellent summary of Jains dogmatic.
It is true that the commentary, which expresses views that are not in
harmony with those of the Digambaras is not recognized by this sect as the
work of Umasvami. It is doubtful, therefore, whether the Digambaras are
justified in claiming him as one of their own.�12 However, Umasvami is an
important writer for the Digambaras. They honour him as an equal of the
Shrutakeavlins of old (Shrutkevaldesya) and would not like to SUI render
him to the Svetambaras.13 The Svetambaras also greatly respect Umasvati,
and give him the epithets puravit knower of ancient texts and vacakaearya
Umasvami or Umasvali is said to have been a prolific writer and said to
have written about 500 books. Very few of these are known today. The
Digambars think that the 14 Pujaprakarna Prasamarati, and Jambudvipasamasa
are his works.
Among the early commentators of Umasvami's Tatvartha- dhigama-Sutra was
Siddhasena Divakara. He too like Umasvami is regarded by both Digambaras
and Svetambaras as one of their own.14 He is perhaps the last acharya to
be claimed by both the scats. However, his name does not appear in the
Digambaras pattavalis of south India).