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History of the Digambaras


The Rashtrakutas ruled over a large area in the center of India for two centuries beginning with the middle of the 8th century. One of the important patrons of learning among them was Amoghavarsha Nripatunga (815-877). He was himself a scholar, and wrote an important Kannada work on poetics. One of his ecpithets was Atishayadhavala.36 Jinasena wrote the Jain Adipurana during his period. The commentary on the certain parts of the Shatkhandagama was also perhaps prepared during his period. This commentary is known as Jayadhavala.

It was during Amoghavarsha's time that Ugraditya wrote a treatise on medicine called Kalyanakaraka.37 It is a voluminous work in Sanskit containing 8,000 slokas. Ugraditya says that the original author of this work was Pujyapada, and he had only revised and enlarged it. Who this Pujyapada was is not clear? The famous Pujyapada was not known to be a writer on medicine.

Ugraditya divides the book in eight chapters, as was usual with other contemporary Ayurvedic works. However his main attempt was to eliminate the use in medicine of meat and other similar animal products and all types of intoxicants. In other words, it prescribed only those medicines that a Jain could safety take. The author refers to Agnivesha, Kashyapa and Charaka among the ancient authors but does not mention Susruta or Nagar Juna. Mercury and other metals are important ingredients medicine in the Kalyanakaraka. This was perhaps due to the introduction of Arabic influence, for, mercury and other metals though mentioned are not very important as medicines in earlier Indian works.

Another scholar who flourished during this period was the Jain mathematician Mahaviracharya, who wrote his Ganitasarasangraha 38 in c. 850. Mahavira found out the rule for calculating the number of combinations of n things taken r at a time (problem number VI, 218). This can be put in the modern notation as

r! (n-r)!

It is, however, not certain that it was his discovery, for Mahvira never refers to any earlier mathematicians, not even to Brahmagupta whose famous rule for the area of the (cyclic) quadrilateral he mentions. 39

A mathematical discovery of this period was the use of logarithms for calculations with large numbers. These logarithms were with the bases 2, 3, and 4. Reference to the use of logarithms occurs for the first time in the Dhavala commentary mentioned above. Use of logarithms for the ease of calculations with large numbers that occur in Jain cosmology, continued at least for a hundred years, for Nemichandra at the end of the tenth century mentions the rule of logarithm (which he called ardhacchheda, i.e., logarithm at the base 2), as:

"The ardhachheda of the multiplier plus the ardhachheda of the multiplicand is the ardhachheda of the product" Trilokasara, Gatha 105)
or, in modern notations,

log2A + log2B = log2 A.B

Later Gangas

In the later centuries of Ganga rule in southern Karnataka we see evidence of great material prosperity of the Jains. Epigraphic records indicate that these rulers were all patrons of the Jains and made grants to various Jain temples. Indeed, some of them might have themselves become Jains. These were Nitimarga I (853-870), Nitimarga II (907- 935), Marasinha III ((960-974), etc. In fact, Marasinha III died by the Jain vow of starvation, known as Sallekhana in the presence of Ajitasena Bhattaraka in AD 974. 40

Some ministers and generals of these Ganga rulers also were devout Jains and spent large sums of money in building temples and other architectural monuments. The 17 meter high statue of Bahubali was built at Sravana Belgola by Chamundaraya in 983. Chamundaraya was the minister and general of Rachamalla, a king of the Ganga dynasty.

Nemichandra, the famous Digambara scholar was a friend of this minister. Three of Nemichandra's works are still considered quite important for the sect. These are Trilokasara, Labdhisara and Gommatasara. The first is a work on Jain cosmography. Nemichandra displayed his mathematical talent in writing this book. The other two works are on Jain philosophy. (All these three works of Nemichandra were translated into Hindi prose by Todarmal of Jaipur, in the 18th century).

The Gangas ruled over south Karnataka from the fourth to the 10th century and all through their period they were helpful towards the Jains.


Karnataka entered its period of artistic glory with the establishment of the Hoysala dynasty in the 12th century. The capital of the Hoysalas was at Dorasamudra. They attained great power under Vishucardhana (1111-52) and his grand son Vira Ballala II. The last notable ruler of this dynasty was Vira Ballala III. He sustained defeats at the hands of Kafur, the general of Ala-ud-din Khailji, and finally perished in or about 1342.

The Hoysala kings built many beautiful temples in south Karnataka. These temples are the glories of Indian art. While the kings built temples of the Shiv and Vaishnava faiths, their ministers and the merchant princes among their subjects built Jain temples. Ganga Raja, a general and minister of Visuvardhana the greatest of the Hoysals, built the Parshvantha basadi (basadi in Karnataka means a Jain temple) at Chamarajanagar near Mysore. Gangaraja also built the surrounding enclosure to the statue of Bahubali in Sravana Belgola. In 1116 Hulla who was treasurer or bhandari for three successive years, Hoysala rulers built the Chaturvinsati- Jinalaya (also known as the Bhandari-basadi) in Sravana Belgola. Another basadi in the vicinity is the Viraballabha- Jainalya built in honor of the Hoysala king Viraballabha II by a merchant in 1176.

We thus see that all these dynasties that ruled over Karnataka were friendly to the Jains. Schubring has well summarized the situation: "Individually as well as in their subsequent members quite a number of princely houses such as the Ganga, Rashtrakuta, Chalukya, Hoysala have proved friendly to the Jains. And yet taking into account the well-known versatility of the Indian princes in religious affairs, we must be careful not to overrate the role acted by Jainism in political life, and it is rather bold to speak of "adeptes ad jainism" (initiated into Jainism) in this connection. It may be assumed, that more often than not it was for reasons of prudence, that it was thought necessary to suit the order so influential owing to its wealthy laymen."41 Schubring is generally correct in his assessment. Some later Ganga kings it appears actually were initiated into Jainism. But the evidence for this was not available to Schubring when he wrote in 1934.

Viyayanagara Empire

This empire was known among other things for the revival of Brahmanic learning but if we go by the number of existing monuments spread throughout the empire, it was also a period of great building activity of the Jains.

In fact the large building activity seen among the Jains was due to the fact that the main commercial class of Karnataka, the Vira Banajigas had become ardent Jains. As Saletare puts it, "The real clue to the understanding of the high position which Jainism held in the land is seen in the ardor and devotion of the commercial"42 classes; and again, "with the immense wealth of which Vira Banajigas were the traditional custodians, the Jain sages had magnificent Jinalayas and images constructed".43

If we take the period from the 10th to the early 17th century, we find that the main center of constructional activity of the Jains in the first half of this period was Sravana Belgola, but by the second half of this period the center had shifted westwards towards Karkala, almost on the sea-coast near Mangalore. Karkala itself was the seat of the Bhairarasa Wodeyars,44 a powerful Jain family (of which no representatives are now left.) The second largest image of Gommatadeva (or Bahubali) about 12.5 metres high was built here in AD 1431. It was built by Vira Pandya Bhairarasa Wodeyar. At Haleangadi, close by is the finest Jain stambha in the district. It has a monolithic shaft 33 feet (10 metres) high in eight segments, each beautifully and variously ornamented, supporting an elegant capital and topped by a stone shrine containing a statue. The total height is about 50 feet (15 metres)". 45

Another very large Bahubali statue was built in Yenur (or Venur) now a village in the Mangalore Taluk. The statue is 37 feet (11.1 metres) high and was built in 1603. At that time the place must have been quite important, for besides this statue there are numerous other Jain remains there.46

The place nearby which became the center of Jainism in South India in the period 13th to the early 17th century is Mudabadri, about 16 kilometers from Karkala. The place is so important that it is described as Jain-Kasi. This Jain center is said to have been started near about AD 714 when a monk from Sravana Belgola established the first Jain temple, the Parshvanatha-basadi here. The place became important after 1220, when an important acharya Charukirti Panditcharya arrived here from Sravana Belgola.47

From then on wards till the early 17th century this whole area was a scene of large constructional activity of the Jains. The architectural style adopted was also peculiar. As Fergusson remarks, "When we descend the Ghats into Kanada, or the Tulava country, we come on a totally different state of matters. Jainism is the religion of the country, and all or nearly all the temples belong to this sect, but their architecture is neither the Dravidian style of the south, nor that of northern India, and indeed is not known to exist anywhere else in India proper, but recurs with all its peculiarities in Nepal.

"They are much plainer than Hindu temples generally are. The pillars look like logs of wood with the angles partially chamfered off, so as to make them octagons, and the sloping roofs of the verandas are so evidently wooden that the style itself cannot be far removed from a wooden original...

"The feature however which presents the greatest resemblance to the northern (i.e. Nepalese) styles, is the reverse slope of the eaves above the varandah. I am not aware of its existence anywhere else south of Nepal, and it is so peculiar that it is much more likely to have been copied than reinvented".48

Most of the Jain religious buildings in and near about Mudabadri were built by the wealthy merchants of the area. The thousand pillared basadi or temple, known as the Tribhuvana-tilaka-chuda-mani' was built by a group of Jain merchants (settis) in 1430, and this is the most magnificent Jain shrine in south India.49

Mudabadri temples also became depositories of Jain literature. Indeed the famous commentaries Dhavala and Jayadhavala were found only in the Siddhanta-basadi here.50

As the Mudabadri-Karkala area, also known as the Tuluva country, became more and more important, the influence of Jainism declined in the rest of South India. The one reason for this was the revival of the Brahmanical religion under the kings of the Vijayanagar empire. The Vijayanagara kings were not against the Jains. In fact, they were always consoling just when any civil dispute arose between the Jains and others. Saletore51 cites two cases, one in 1363 and the other in 1368, where the disputes between the two antagonistic groups of Jains and non-Jains were amicably settled by the Vijayanagara rulers. These settlements were duly recorded in stone inscriptions. The cause of the decline was thus not the hostility of the kings. It has to be looked some where else.

Of all the places in South India, it was Karnataka where Jainism was strongest. Two things happened there, which in the course of a few centuries, reduced the influence of Jainism in the greater part of the region. Ultimately by the 16th century its stronghold was left only in one corner of the region. That is in the Tuluva country, round about Karkala, Mudabadre, etc. The first of this was the rise of the Vira-Shiv or the Lingayat religion under the leadership of Basava in the 12 century. He himself being a minister was able to convert many of the local chiefs such as the Santaras, rulers of Coorg, etc., to Vira-Shaivism.52

The second and perhaps the decisive reason was the conversion of the main mercantile class the Vira Banajigas from Jainism to Vira-Shaivism.53 By this one stroke the main patrons of Jainism were lost to a rival religion. Added to this was the fact that after the period of the acharyas, say, by the end of the 9th century, there were no out standing Jain leaders in Karnataka to give fresh intellectual life to this community.

Jainism, therefore, slowly became extinguished in south India, leaving comparatively small pockets of devotees in the centers, which were great at one time. These were, for instance, Sravana Belgola and Mudabadre. Jain religious groups have survived there to this day. So far as the other scattered Jain populations were concerned the richer people among them were converted to some Brahmanical religion such as Vaishnavism or Shaivism, and the poorer mostly took to farming and thus became inconspicuous.

The indigenous Jains who are left in South India today are endogamous clans and so do not intermarry with the Jains of North India. They are all Digambaras and are dividend into four main castes, viz. Setavala (not found in Karnataka), Chaturtha, Panchama, and Bogara or Kasara, and three small castes, Upadhyayas, Kamboja and Harada. Their priests are Brahmans.

"Each of the four main castes in the South is led by its own spiritual leader (bhattaraka), who occupying intermediary positions between ascetics and laymen can individually resolve disputes between the members of the caste and expel from it whom so ever he considers it necessary."54 The Chaturthas are mainly agriculturists, the Setavalas are agriculturists as well as tailors, the Kasaras or the Bogaras are coppersmiths, and the members of the Panchama caste follow any of these professions.55

The Digambaras of North India

Thanks to the numerous stone inscriptions and religious literature found in South India, more or less a continuous history of the Digambaras Jains can be traced from the 5th to 17th century AD. We know much less about the Digambara communities in the north during the corresponding period. As stated earlier, most of the statues of the Tirthankaras that have been found in the 4th and 5th century in the area now covered by Uttar Pradesh, were nude. The majority of the Jains in this area today are Digambaras. We may thus conclude that when finally the great schism occurred (and this might have been a gradual process) the Jains of north India found themselves in the Digambara camp. Later monuments also support the view that most of the Jains of eastern and northern Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa were also Digambaras. Mention has already been made of the Digambara images found in Bihar (12th century), and Orissa (11th to 15th centuries). Much more important is the Jain group of temples in Khajuraho (10th-11th century). These are all Digambara temples and must have been built by the rich merchants living in the capital city of Chandela Rajput kings of Bundelkhand. One temple in this group, that of Parshvanatha, has even been compared favorably56 with the renowned Kandarya Mahadev temple of this place. Another important group of Digambara Temples is in Deogarh in Jhansi district. The Jain merchants of Bundelkhand were perhaps as well looked after by the Chandela rulers as their counterparts were in Karnataka.