Ancient India

Religions | Jainism


It is generally believed that the founder of Jainism was Mahavira.It is now recognized that Mahavira was the 24th Tirthankara.The sacred books of Jain tell us that their first Tirthankara was Rishab, the founder of Jainism. He was the father of Bharata the first Vedic king of India.Rishab was followed by 23 Tirthankaras.The Vishnu Purana and Bhagavat Purana describe Rishab as an incarnation of Narayana.His four main teachings were

  • Not to injure life

  • Not to tell a lie

  • Not to steal

  • Not to possess property

Varadhmana Mahavira

Jainism in Ancient India Religious
Jainism in Ancient India Religious

Mahavira was born in village Kundagrama in district Muzzaffarpur in a Kshatriya family in 540BC.He was a prince and related to Bimbisara ,the ruler of Magadha.He was married to Yasoda and had a daughter called Priyadarsana.He became ascetic after the death of his parents. For 12 years he practised extreme mortification. During this period he fully subdued his sense. In the 13th year he reached Nirvana under a Sal tree becoming a Jina and a Kevlin an omniscient at Jhrimbikagrama.He now possessed the four infinities- Infinite knowledge, Infinite power, Infinite perception and Infinite joy. Thus he became a Jina (a conqueror) or Mahavira (a great hero).

From the remaining 30 years Mahavira moved from one place to another and preached his religion. He founded a new sect called Jains.He also met Ajatashastru, the king of Magadha and is said to have converted him. At the age of 72 he attained Kaivalya (death) at Pavapuri near Patna in 468 BC.

Doctrines of Jainism

Mahavira accepted most of the religious doctrines of Parsava and codified the unsystematic mass of beliefs into an organized and rigid religion. He rejected the authority of Vedas and the Vedic rituals. He did not believe in the existence of God. He believed in Karma and transmigration of soul. Attainment of Nirvana or Moksha was the most important human desire. It could be attained through Triratnas:

1. Right faith (Samyak Vishwas)
2. Right knowledge (Samyak Jnan)
3. Right conduct (Samyak Karma)

Teachings of Jainism

Jainism taught five doctrines-
1. Non injury
2. Non lying
3. Non stealing
4. Non possession
5. Observe continence

It is said that only the 5th doctrine was added by Mahavira, the other four being taken over by him from previous teachers. The Jaina philosophy shows a close affinity to Hindu Samkhya philosophy. They ignore the idea of God and accept that the world is full of sorrows and believe in the theory of karma and transmigration of souls. In Jainism the devotees have been classified in five categories, in the descending order;

1. Tirthankara who has attained salvation
2. Arhat who is about to attain nirvana
3. Acharya the head of the ascetic group
4. Upadhaya,teacher or saint
5. Sadhu class which includes the rest

Sects of Jainism

Although Parsavanath the predecessor of Mahavira had asked his follower to cover the upper and lower portions of their body.Mahavira asked them to discard clothes completely. There were two sects:

Swetambaras (white clad):

They wore white dress. They were more liberal and supporters of change.

Digambaras (Sky-clad):

They kept themselves naked. They were orthodox and rigid. In order to spread the Sects of Jainism, Mahavira organized an order of his followers which admitted both men and women. Since Jainism did not clearly mark itself out from the brahmanical religion it failed to attract the masses. Despite this Jainism gradually spread into south and west India where the brahmanical religion was weak. Chandragupta Mauraya spread Jainism in Karnataka. Jainism spread to Kalinga in Orissa in the 4th century BC and in the 2nd century BC it enjoyed the patronage of King Kharvela. In the south Jainism was patronised by royal dynasties such as Gangas,Kadambas,Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas. One of the important cause of the spread of Jainism in South India is said to be the great famine that occurred in Magadha 200 years after the death of Mahavira.

This famine lasted for 12 years and in order to protect themselves many Jainas went to the south under the leadership of Bhadrabahu even Chandragupta Maurya accompanied him. But the rest of them stayed back in Magadha under the leadership of Sthalabahu.These emigrant Jainas spread Jainism in south India.

Contribution of Jainism to Indian culture

Jainism made the first serious attempt to mitigate the evils of Varna order and the ritualistic Vedic religion.Mahavira criticized the caste system and threw open the gates of Jainism for all people irrespective of their castes. He believed in the equality of mankind.he also laid stress on leading a simple life. He condemned all the complex rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices. He gave people a very simple religion to follow. The Jaina philosophy has certainly enriched Indian thought. The five vows ahimsa,satya,asateya,aparigraha and brahmacharya are relevant even today. The Hindu religious texts were all in Sanskrit. The early Jainas described Sanskrit language and adopted Prakrit language of the common people to preach their doctrines.Mahavira himself preached in Ardha-Magadhi.

Their religious literature was written in Ardha-Magadhi and the texts were compiled in the 6th century AD. The adoption of Prakrit by the Jainas helped the growth of this language and its literature. The Jainas composed the earliest important works in Apabhramsa and prepared its first grammar. In early medieval times the Jainas also made good use of Sanskrit and wrote many texts in it. Thus Jaina writings gave impetus to the regional languages. Even though these texts are religious scriptures yet we gain valuable information from them regarding the political and social state of those times.

Jaina Council

First council was held at Pataliputra by Sthalabahu in the beginning of the third century BC and resulted in the compilation of 12 Angas to replace the lost 14 Purvas.Second Council was held at Valabhi in the 5th century AD under the leadership of Devaradhi Kshamasramana and resulted in final compilation of 12 Angas and 12 Upangas.

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