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History of the Digambaras

A few Kegambara inscriptions have been found in Gwalior also. These are fragmentary and do not give much information.

Chittorgarh, like Khajuraho, was a stronghold of the Digambaras in the 12th and 13th century. This is proved by a number of Jain inscriptions found there. Four of them57 are by one Shaha Jijaka. It was he who had raised the famous Kirtistambha of Chittorgarh in 1300 AD Shaha Jijaka claimed to belong to the Kundakundanvyaya. This proves that not only was the tower raised by a Digambara merchant, but also that the practice of claiming descent from the line of Kundakunda, a practice quite common in South India, had spread to north by the 13th century.

However, the fact remains that it is difficult to build up a history of Digambaras of north India on the basis of the available epigraphic evidence. The number of inscriptions found so far are too few. In the five volumes Jain Shila Lekha Sangraha, a Digambara collection, the number of Digambara inscriptions recorded from north India after the 6th century would no be more than 20.

There is a paucity of literary sources also. The Digambaras of North India, unlike their counterparts in the South, composed very few works at least up to the 17th century. In fact in the early medieval period there was perhaps only one important Digambara writer in north India. Harisena who wrote is quite informative about the social and religious condition of India of this period. As mentioned earlier, the Shvetambara sect according to Harisena originated in Valabhi.

In the absence of sufficient epigraphic and literary evidence, one has to depend on the legendary materials for reconstructing the history of the Digambaras of north India.

One thing immediately becomes clear. The Digambaras, unlike the Svetambaras did not break up into large number of groups and sub-groups in north India. Most of them belonged to the Bisapanthis sect. The origin of this sect is not clearly known. "It probably originated in the 13th century. Glasenapp remarks that one Vasantakirti held the view that so long as the monks lived among the people, they should wear one garment. The believers of this opinion were called Vishvapanthis. This was corrupted into Bisapanthis. The monks of this pantha live in a cloister under the headship of a Bhattaraka. They install the image of Tirthankaras along with that of Kshetrapala deities such as the Bhairavas and others. They worship the images by offering fruits, flowers and other foodstuffs."58

Whatever might be the origin of the Bisapanthis, the descrition of their religious practices as given above is substantially correct. In fact the majority of the Digambara Jains of northern India followed these practices. As the days passed the Bhattarakas, who managed the properties of the temples and monasteries became more and more powerful. The popularity of the Kshetrapala deities (who for all practical purposes were folk Gods) continued to increase. A protest against such laxity in the Jain religion which by its nature is puritan was inevitable. Such a movement started some time in the 17th century in the Agra region. One of the leaders of this protest was Banarasidasa Jain. In course of time the movement grew stronger, and it was named Terapantha. According to Bakhtaram Shah, an 18th century author who was himself against this movement, the Terapantha sect originated in Sanganer, near Jaipur, sometimes in the early 18th century.

As it has always happened in the Jain reformist movements, the Terapanthis did not try to introduce any change in the basic tenets of the Jain religion. Their reforms were connected with small details of rituals only. For instance, this sect believed that one should not worship in the temples at night, that while worshipping one should be standing and not sitting, that kesara (saffron) should not be offered to image, etc.

Starting from the Agra-Jaipur region the Terapantha movement spread among all the Digambra Hainas of northern India. Those who did not accept the views of this sect were called Bisapanthis. As to which is the original sect and which the offshoot, remains a matter of perennial dispute.

In the 18th century, there was a learned Digambara Jain in Jaipur. His name was Todarmal. He translated into Hindi prose all the voluminous Prakrit works of Nemichandra (10th century) of Karnataka. In those days of the infancy of Hindi prose, Todarmal�s writings show a refreshing clarity and rhythm. Todarmal belonged to the Terapantha sect. His son Gumaniram was very orthodox in his religious opinions; and he thought that Terapantha had not gone back far enough to the original pristine Jain religion. He, therefore started a new sect which was named after him as Gumana- pantha. But as it happens with too puritan a sect, Gumana- pantha never became popular. Its adherents were always few in number. Some temples belonging to this sect in the Jaipur city and its neighborhood prove that the sect still survives.


1. "Sisena ya Bhaddabahussa" - at the end of his work Bodhapahuda (quoted by J. P. Jain, op. cit., p.121).

2. Schubring, op. cit., p. 63.

3. S. K. Rao, op. cit., p. 12.

4. See Appendix II.

5. The conjecture that Kundakunda lived in the first century AD was made by Winternitz (op. Cit., p. 476) on the basis of Pattavalis. The earliest inscription that mentions Kundakunda's anvaya is the Mercara cooper plate inscription of S. 388 (AD 466). Since it is now believed that this plate is a forgery of the 8th or 9th century, not much reliance can be placed on this inscription. The plate mentions 6 persons in the anvaya of Kundakunda, starting with Gunacandra-bhatara and ending with Chandranandi-bhatara. It has been argued that even if this plate was a copy of a genuine 5th century plate, and we assign 25 years to each person, Gunachandra, the first person named would belong to early 4th century AD If he was a disciple of Kundakunda himself, then Kundakunda also belonged to the some period. (A.K. Chatterjee, Comprehensive History of Jainism, pp. 137, 139 & 324-25). All other inscriptions which mention the anvaya of Kundakunda were inscribed after AD 900.

6. S.K. Rao, Jainism in South India, P.20.

7. Jain Siddhanta Kosha, Vol. II, P.126.

8. Jain Shila Lekha, Snagraha, Vol, I, pp. 197-98.

9. The discovery was made in the Epigraphic Report of the Southern circle for 1916; p. 134 Saletore. Op, cit., p.571.

10. S. K. Rao, op. cit., p.21; also Winternitz, op. cit., p. 578.

11. Winternitz, op. cit., p578.

12. Ibid., p. 579.

13. Nathuram Premi, the Digambara Scholar, wanted to solve this difficulty by maintaining that Umasvami was neither a Shvetambara nor a Digambara but that he belonged to the third sect- the Yapaniyas ( vide his Jain Sahitya aur Itihasa, p. 537); but there is nothing in Umasvami's writings to suggest this.

14. Winternitz, op. cit., p. 580.

15. Winternitz places him in the first half of the 8th century AD (Ibid., p.580).

16. e.g. Epigraph Carnatica II, No. 59.

17. P. B. Desai, Jainism in South India, pp. 9-10,

18. See Saletore, op. cit., pp. 10-11,

19. Rao, op. Cit., p. 25.

20. The number is that of the Jain Shila Lekha Sangraha, Vol. I.

21. Winternitz, op. Cit., pp. 580-81.

22. Some Jain technical words entered the Tamil language also. A list of 25 such words is given in the Comprehensive History of India, Vol. II, p. 683n.

23. A gist of the stories in these two works is given in A. L. Basham's The Wonder that was India, pp. 471-477.

24. Saletore, Medieval Jainism, pp. 241-42.

25. Ibid.

26. Chakravarti, Jain Literature in Tamil, p. 139

27. Saletore, op. cit., p. 245.

28. Goetz. op. cit., p 790.

29. Lakshmi Narayan, "Jains of South India," in the Times of India dated 16-1-1977.

30. S. Krishnasvami Aiyangar, Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture, p. 238.

31. V. P. Johrapurkas, Bhattaraka Sampradaya, pp. 1-2.

32. Bhattaraka Sampradaya, p. 1.

33. We do not know when exactly the divisions started. According to the Jain Siddhanta Kosa, they had started in the 1st century AD "The original Mulasangha was allowed to break up by Acharya Arhadvali in 593 AV. and it broke up into many sanghas, such as nandi, Vira, Aparajita, Sena, etc. None of these sanghas exist today." (Vol. I, p. 340).

34. Bhattaraka Sampradaya, p. 211.

35. Schubring, op. cit., p. 62.

36. S. K. Rao, op, cit., p. 41.

37. A manuscript of this work was identified and first brought to general notice in the Mysore Archaelogical Report, 1922. A detailed essay on this work was published in the Bulletin of the Department of the History of Medicine, Hyderabad, 1964, Vol. II, pp. 203ff.

38. Three incomplete manuscripts of this work were discovered by Professor Rangacharya in 1912 in the Government Oriental Manuscript Library, Madras. Sometime later a complete copy in Kannada script was found in the Government Oriental Library, Mysore.

39. Like Brahmagupta, Mahavira also fails to mention that the formula was applicable to cyclic quadrilaterals only.

40. Chatterjee, op. cit., pp. 186-190, gives the details about these kings.

41. Schubring, op. cit., p. 55.

42. Op. cit., p. 174.

43. Ibid., p. 173.

44. S.K. Rao, op. cit., p 55.

45. Imperial Gazetteer, Vol. XV, p. 44.

46. Ibid., Vol. XXIV, p. 422.

47. S. K. Rao, op. cit., p. 56.

48. James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, pp. 270-72.

49. S.K. Rao. op. cit., p. 57.

50. Ibid., p. 31.

51. Saletore, op. cit., pp. 287-289.

52. Ibid., p. 280.

53. Ibid., p. 282.

54. N. R. Guseva, Jainism, p. 73.

55. N.R. Premi, Jain Sahitya aur Itihasa, pp. 504-506.

56. Fergusson, op. cit., p. 456. (Fergusson perhaps never saw the temples; the comparison was made on the basis of Photographs. Ibid., p. 245n.).

57. Nos. 152-155 in the Jain Shila-Lekha Sangraha, Vol. V.

58. U.K. Jain, Jain Sects and Schools, p. 137.

59. Banarasidasa Jain is generally known as the writer of the Ardhakathanaka, the first autobiography in an Indian language.