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Life of Vardhamana Mahavira

  The Jain Church After Mahavira
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  History of the Digambaras
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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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History of the Digambaras


According to a pattavalli given in an inscription of 1163 AD at Sravana Belgola, Umasvati's disciple was Balakapiccha, and his disciple was Samantabhadra. He is also styled 'Svami' and referred to with reverence by later acharyas. Digambaras place the period in which he flourished as between AD 120 and 185.15 Samantabhadra was definitely a Digambara. He wrote among other books, a commentary of Umasvami's Tattvartha DhigamaSutra. The main part of the commentary is no longer extant but the introductory part of the commentary exists. It is known as Devagama-Sutra or Aptamimansa. The Jain philosophy of Syadvada was, perhaps for the first time, fully explained in this book. The work was therefore, discussed by non-Jain philosophers such as Kumarila (8th / 9th centuries ) and Vachaspatimishra respectively. Few Jain authors except Samantabhadra and Akalanka have been found worthy of such notice by non-Jain philosophers.


Some inscriptions16 mention that Samantabhadra was succeeded by Sinhanandi. In that case he should belong to the 2nd century according to the pattavali reckoning. Sinhanandi is not known as the author of any work. His fame rests on the legend that he was instrumental in the foundation of the Western Ganga kingdom in Karnataka. The legend is as follows:17

"Two princes of the Ikshaku family, Dadiga and Madhav, migrated from the north to south India. They came to the town of Perur (in the Cuddapah district in the Andhra State). There they met a Jain teacher whose name was Sinhanandi. He trained them in the art of ruling. At the behest of the teacher Madhav cut asunder a stone pillar which barred the road to the entry of the Goddess of sovereignty." Thereupon Sinhanandi invested the princes with royal authority, and made them rulers of a kingdom".

The fullest version of the story is met with in a stone inscription from the Karnataka state, dated the first quarter of the 12th century. The nucleus of the story or a few bare allusions to its main incidents, however, occur in the epigraphic records ranging from he 5th century onwards.18 Thus, is believed generally that with the foundation of the Ganga kingdom, but there is no independent inscription to prove that Madhav, the founder himself became a Jain as the later Jain inscriptions claim.

If Sinhanandi was the successor of Samantabhadra then the above incident should have happened by the first half of the 3rd century, but most authorities believe that the Western Ganga dynasty was founded in the second half of the 4th century. Thus Sinhanandi was not perhaps the immediate successor of Samantabhadra. In fact most Digambara pattavalis do not mention Sinhanandi at all.

According to one tradition the successor of Sinhanandi was one Davi Parmeshvara19 and his successor was Devanandi whose epithet was Pujyapada. However, the several Pattavalis of the Digambaras, all of which generally start with Bhadrabahu II, give conflicting names of the succeeding patriarchs. The pattavali given in the inscription No. 4020 in Sravana Belgola is as follows.

- Umasvati (sic)

- Banlakapichchha

- Samantabhadra

- Devanandi

- Akalankat

Some other pattavalis give the following list-

- Bhadrabahu II

- Guptigupta

- MaghanandiI

- Jina Chandra I

- Kundkunda

- Umasvami

- Lohacharya II,

- Yasakirti

- Yasonandi

- Devanandi

- Pujyapada

- Gunanandi I.

According to the first list above Devanandi was the successor of Samantabhadra. In the second list. There is no Smantabhadra, and at the same time Devanandi and Pujyapada are two different persons.

However, it is generally agreed that Pujyapada was the epithet of Devanandi. Hehad is another epithet, Jinendrabuddhi. He is generally known for this grammar called Jainendra Vyakarana. Vopadeva, in the 13th century, mentions him among the eight great grammarians of the country. Pujyayada had also written a commentary on Umasvami's work. This was called the Sarvarthasiddhi.

We come next to Akalanka with whom the period of the great Jain acharyas ends in the Karnataka region. According to one of the pattavalis given above he was the disciple of Pujayapada Devanandi. Winternitz, however, believed that he was a near contemporary of Samantabhadra and both of them lived in the first half of the 8th century. Apart from writing a commentary called the Tattvartharajavarttika on the great work of Umasvami, Akalanka wrote a number of works on logic, viz., Nyasavinischaya Laghiyastarya, and Svarupasambodhana. He was thus called a Master of Jain logic- Syadvada - Vidyapati. He as opposed, as stated earlier, by Kumarila, the great philosopher of Brahmanical orthodoxy. Akalanka wrote many other treatises also.

Thus beginning with the 1st century and up to the end of the 8th century, the Jains of the Karnataka region produced a number of distinguished scholars. The Jain community of Karnataka at that time must have been large and prosperous enough to provide for the maintenance of these scholars and their pupils.

Tamil Nadu

It has been surmised from the various references in the Tamil literature22 that Jainism was quite important in Tamil Nadu in the period 5th to 11th century. Jainism is not mentioned in the Sangam literature (4th century AD), but mention of the people professing Jainism is found in the two Tamil epics Silappadikaram and Manimekhalai.23 Both these epics belong to the 6th or 7th century AD. Manimekhalai is a Buddhist work and refers to the Jains as Ni (r) granthas. It gives a reasonably good exposition of the Jain religious philosophy. But naturally, being a Buddhist work refutes it. Silappadikaaram is the story of a wife's devotion to her husband. It mentions Uraiyur a Chola capital, as a center of Jainism. Both the classics relate that the Ni (r) granths lived outside the town in their cool cloisters. The walls of which were surrounded by small flower gardens. They also had monasteries for nuns.24 This description of Jain monasteries leads one to doubt its authenticity, for the Jains unlike the Buddhists do not favor living in monasteries. Also since the Jains of south India were Digambaras, there should not have been nuns among them, to say nothing of there being monasteries for them.

Another Tamil work, the Pattinapalai, speaks of the Jain and Buddhist temples being in one quarter of the city of Pugar, while in another quarter the Brahmans with plaited hair performed sacrifices and raised volumes of smoke.25

These references show that the number of Jains in Tamil Nadu was sufficiently large to be noticed in the popular literature of the period. One cannot avoid the suspicion, however, that there was a tendency on the part of these writers to mix up the Jains and the Buddhists. But Hiuen Tsang who was in Kanchi in the middle of the 7th century also reported that he saw numerous Nirgranthas at this place: and since he is not likely to have confused between the Buddhists and the Nirgranthas, is certain, that the Jain population of Tamil Nadu at that time was quite large.

The Jain population of Tamil Nadu was apparently larger in the 8th and 9th century than in the 7th century, for in the latter period there are very few Jain inscriptions. Most of the inscriptions in Tamil (about 80 or so), belong to the 8th and the 9th centuries, and these have been found mainly in the Madurai Tirunelveli area.26 [In the Salem district also there was a Jain temple or religious place in Tagdur (Dharmapuri) in AD 878.] Thus Jains were quite numerous in Tamil Nadu in the 9th century. Thereafter there was perhaps a slow reduction in the Jain population.

Many large and small Jain temples still survive in Tamil Nadu.. Two of these are important Jain centers even today. One is a Tirumalaipuram, and the other is a Tiruparuttikunram. The latter is a suburb of Conjeeveam, about three kilometers from the center of the town, and is in fact still called Jain Kanci. The presiding deity here is Vardhamana who is also styled trailokya nathasvami. The temple is one of the biggest in the taluk.

It is adorned with artistic splendor, and it has a large number of icons of the Jain pattern. From the inscriptions (about 17 in number) found at this place it appears that it was built by the Chola emperors Rajendra I (c. 1014-44) and Kulottunga I (c. 1070 -1120), and added to by Rajendra III (c. 216-46). Later additions were made by the Vijayanagar emperors Bukka II (in 1387-88) and Krishna Deva Raya (in 1518). There are some remarkable murals on the temple. These date from the 16th and the 18th century.

The fact that this large and beautiful Jain temple is the heart of the Tamil country was being adorned even in the 18th century proves that a sufficiently numerous and prosperous Jain community existed in the part of the country till then. Otherwise the temple could not have been maintained.

What happened to the Jains of the Tamil Nadu after that? The possibility is, that most of the richer sections of the Jain population got slowly absorbed in the dominant Shiv and Vaishnava community surrounding them, and the poorer section took to farming. In fact most of the 50,000 indigenous Jain that exist in Tamil Nadu today are farmers,29 and a majority of them live in the North Arcot district. It is perhaps the lack of many rich people among them, that has made the Jains inconspicuous in the Tamil Nadu. It is also possible, that their proportion in the total population is less than, it was a thousand years ago, when they started building the numerous temples still seen all over the place.

One story goes that there was a sudden reduction in the number of Jains specially in the Madurai area in the 7th century. This story is found in the Shaivite books. It starts with the story of the Shiv saint Gnanasambandha (end of the 7th century) as given in the Periyapuranam (AD 1150.) There was a Pandya king of Madurai. He was hunched backed. The boy saint Gnanasambandha cured him of his infirmity and the grateful king embraced Shiv region. This emboldened the Shiv population of the city who challenged the local Jains to prove the superiority of their religion. The wager was that each sect would throw a palm- leaf manuscript of its sacred text in the river, and the party whose text lose would be annihilated by the other party. The Jain text was washed away, but the Shiv text floated against the current. The 8,000 Jains of Madurai were then killed by impalement by the Shivs. This alleged incident proved by the evidence of a work composed almost 500 years later and also by the evidence of some frescoes on the walls of the Golden Lily Tank of the Minakshi temple (17th century) recorded 1,000 years later.

The story is not found in any Jain source, the Jains evidently know nothing about it; and so do not accuse the Shivs of this massacre. The Hindu historians on the other hand are at pains to prove the absurdity of the story by such arguments as that (1) the Jains would never enter into a wager where if they won they would have to kill human beings, (2) the king would not permit 8000 of his innocent subjects to be killed; (3) the Jain learned men continued to compose important works on grammar and lexicography in Mandurai itself even after the alleged incident. Among these works are cited the sendan Divakaram a Tamil dictionary of Divakara; the Neminatham and Vachchamalai, two Tamil grammars by Gunavira Pandit, etc. Lastly, if all the Jains of Madurai were massacred in the 7th century, there would not be, as we have seen earlier. A concentration of Jains in the same area in the 8th and 9th centuries.

The truth of the matter is that such stories of the annihilation of one sect by a rival sect, were a common feature of Tamil literature in those days. These were required to prove the superiority of one's own sect above that of the other. In fact in one such story a Jain king of Kanchi gave the Buddhists a similar treatment, and in another the Vaishnava apostle Ramnuja treated the Jains similarly by instigating the Hoysala king Vishnu Vardhana against them.30 Hagiography need not be taken as history.

The Ninth to the Seventeenth Century in Karnataka

This period was the most significant in the history of the Digambara Church. Throughout this long period Jainism was a prominent religion of south India, and especially of Karnataka. The Jains held important positions in the government. Much of the commerce of the country was controlled by the Jains. All these prosperous people spent lavishly for the construction of temples and monuments of their religion. While the rulers spent their wealth in building the Hindu temples at Ellora, Halevid, etc., the Jain commercial classes filled the region with gigantic statues of Bahubali and Magnificent stambhas (towers) and temples. Going by the number of the archaeological remains alone, it might be inferred that some parts of Karnataka, specially the area round about Sravana Belagola, and Karakal were entirely Jain areas.

This period may also be called the period of the Bhattarakas.3 The Bhattarakas could be compared with the abbots or Mahants of monasteries, but in place of monasteries that do not exist in Jainism, the Bhattarkas were the person who managed the temples and also the estates endowed to the temples by the rulers, and the rich devotees. Though these jobs were of a secular nature, the Bhattarakas were actually religious persons. They were the religious leaders of the community. Among the Svetambaras, such leadership was provided by the monks; but on account of the rule of strict nudity, few people became monks among the Digambaras, and the Bhattarakas thus necessarily had to assume this leadership. Another important function that the Bhattarkas performed was to lead the members of the community to various places of pilgrimage. The Bhattarakas were not strictly munis or ascetics, and therefore they did not go about naked, as Digambara munis were expected to live. According to a legend32 Sultan Firoze Shah Tughluq (1351-1388) invited some Digambara Jain saints and entertained them at his court and palace. Hearing of the great fame and learning of their chief, his queen desired to see him. For her sake the saint put on a piece of cloth to his nakedness when he appeared before her. He made religious atonements for this undue liberty, but the example set by him was adopted by his followers. Since then a new sect of yatis the Bhattarakas, started among the Digambaras. The legend has no historic basis for the mention of the Bhattarakas, is found in the 9th century in the Satkhandagamatika of Virasena, but the system must have started much earlier. For even in the inscriptions of the 5th century we find mention of the gifts of land to Jain temples, and there must have been some body to manage the properties so received.

The Digambara Jain Community was divided during this period into various sanghas and ganas.33 The Sena gana and the Balatkara gana claimed that they belonged to the Mula sangha. Similarly Mathura, Ladabagada, Bagada and Nanditata ganas claimed kastha as their sangha. The kastha sangha is said to have been established in 697 by Kumarasena in Nanditata (the present Nanded in Maharashtra). On the other hand the documents of these four ganas prior to the 12th century do not mention that they had any connection with the Kastha sangha. It has been conjectured therefore that perhaps the sangha itself was formed by the coming together of these four ganas.

All these speculations, however, are of little importance, for, the difference between one gana and another was negligible. When we come to the exact difference in the beliefs of the various ganas and sanghas, it appears that they mainly lie in the matter of using the various kinds of pichchhis (sweeps) by the monks and in nothing else. While the Sena gana and the Balatkara gana prescribed the peacock's tail for their pichchhi, the Ladabagada and the Nanditata prescribed the camara (yak's tail).34 The Mathura gana on the other hand did not use any pichchhi at all. Schubring, however, mentions an important point, that the kastha sangha allowed women also to take diksa.35 Perhaps this has affected the praxis of the northern Digambaras, for the Digambara Jains of northern India do allow the women at the present time to become nuns. (The nuns are allowed a long piece of white cloth to be worn as sadis. A Digambara nun does not expect to get salvation in this birth. She only expects to go to heaven as a reward for her religious life. When her allotted period of stay in heaven is over, she would be born as a man. He can then try for the final salvation.)