History of Jainism

Though many believe Jainism and Buddhism are contemporary religions, Jainism predates Buddhism by a few decades. Both Jainism and Buddhism were originated by Kshatriya (warrior) class in a reaction against ceremonialism and orthodoxy of the Hindu religion. They both rejected the caste system.

With the coming of Jainism and Buddhism a new epoch began in the history of India. Jain religion has survived in India for almost 2,500 years and is the only Sanskritic non-Hindu religion to have done so.

The name Jainism derives from the Sanskrit word 'jina' (conqueror). According to Jain tradition, the main proponent of the religion, Mahavira (Great Hero) was born in 599 BC near Patna in Bihar. He was born in a Kshatriya family. At the age of 28 he became an ascetic and meditated for a long time till he attained enlightenment. He preached the principles of Jainism for 30 years and died at Pavapuri (Bihar) in 527 BC.

Mahavira is the 24th Tirthankar (liberated souls) in a series of Tirthankars, stretching back through Parshva (the 23rd) to Rishabha. Rishabha, the first Tirthankara, is the original founder of Jainism. It is believed that there were an infinite number of Tirthankars before him, and there are an infinite number to come, although the next is not due for approximately 81,500 years.

Jainism does not believe in a creator god. Jains believe that Time is eternal and formless, world is infinite and never created by a deity and Space (akash) is all pervasive and formless. According to Jains, there are many different worlds --- human, hellish and heavenly, into which a jiva (soul) may be reborn, life after life. Through the centre of the universe is the place for mobile souls where living beings, including men, animals, gods, and devils, live. Above the central region is the upper world of two parts; below it lies the lower world subdivided into seven tiers.

They believe in the doctrine of `Ahimsa', or non-injury to all living creatures. That is why Jains are strictly vegetarian and some of the monks even cover their mouths with a piece of cloth in order to avoid the risk of swallowing an insect by mistake. Belief in reincarnation is strong and they believe that by following the right path shown by the Tirthankars, salvation or Moksha is possible. They also believe in the perfection of man's nature, which is achieved through monastic and ascetic life.

They believe in the three ideals of Samyagdarshana (right belief), Samyagjnana (right knowledge), and Samyakcarita (right conduct). This leads to the liberation of soul from the cycle of life after life. The Tirthankaras are liberated souls and have preached the way to liberation to others. Fasting plays a key role in a Jain's life. Some Jains observe the ritual death by fasting (sallekhana) towards the end of their natural lives.

Some six to seven thousand of Jains are ascetics or renouncers, called sadhus or munis (monks), and sadhvis (nuns). Ascetics preach the religion and take good care not to cause any harm to any living thing. The covering of the mouth with a cloth to avoid accidental intake of any insect, the sweeping of the ground on which they walk are all a part of the tradition of non-violence. The ascetics are not supposed to stay at one place for very long due to fear of attachment. During the rainy season, when there is an abundance of wildlife the ascetics stop moving as they might hurt the living beings. They stay in shelters called Upashrayas.

During this retreat the major religious festival of Paryushan takes place (in September), when ascetics speak of the life of Mahavira& other Tirthankaras and the Jains follow a strict regiment of fasting and praying.

Around 79 A.D., Jainism was divided into two sects called the Digambars (Sky-clad or naked) and the Svetambars (White-robed). The Digambars are austere and believe that one should possess nothing, not even clothes. They also believe that salvation is not possible for women. Their final division may have been due to a dispute over the authority of religious texts.

There are around 4.5 million Jains in India divided between two major sects, the Shvetambaras and the Digambaras. They are concentrated in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, and there are thriving communities in larger cities like Ahmedabad and Bombay. Today there are nearly 100,000 Jains in North America.

A large number of Jain temples, ancient and modern, can be found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat, and Mount Abu in Rajasthan are important pilgrimages. The `Temple City' of Palitana, Gujarat is India's principal Jain pilgrimage site, the temples are dated 5th century.The oldest Jain temple is believed to be of ShankheshwarParshwanath in North Gujarat.

Jain temples have metal images of various types and metal plaques depicting auspicious symbols. PavaPuri is one of the chief holy places of Jain pilgrimage. Rajgir and Parasnath Hill in Bihar, Mount Kesariaji in Rajasthan and AntariksaParsvanatha in Akola, Maharashtra are other religious centres. The cave temples of Udayagiri and Khandagiri in Orissa, Ellora in Maharashtra, Aihole in Karnataka and Sittannavasal in Tamil Nadu contain images depicting the lives of the Tirthankars.

The huge rock-hewn statue of Bahubali (the son of the first tirthankara) at ShravanaBelgola in Karnataka is perhaps the best-known Jain monument. It is also the object of a famous head-anointing ceremony, held every 12th year, which attracts thousands of Jains.A religion based upon so profound a belief and denial of life might have found some popular support in a country where life has always been hard; but even in India its extreme asceticism limited its appeal, from the beginning the Jains were a select minority.

Jainism Timeline

877 B.C.E. (estimated)
Birth of Parsvanatha, 23rd Thirthankara (Prophet of Jainism). Gave his followers a more defined approach and created a more distinct sect of ascetics. Born a prince, he renounced his life to become a monk.

599 B.C.E. (approximately, some hold that he was born some 60 years later in 539 B.C)
Death of VardhamanaMahavira, the 24th Thirthankara (Prophet of Jainism)

590 B.C.E. (approximately)
The first Jainist nun, AryikaChandana.

327 B.C.E.
Mauryan Empire founded

175 B.C.E.
Kharvel brings the Indian subcontinent under his control.

87 C.E.
Pushpadanta starts to write the Shatkhandagam

156 C.E.
Bhutbali completes the writing of the Shatkhandagam. Bhadrabahu, the last man who was the leader of the undivided Jainist.

First Century C.E. (approximately)
The lifetime of Kundakunda, the celebrated author of the four influential Jainist books Samaya Sara (Treatise of the True Self), Pravachana Sara (Treatise of Lectures), Niyama Sara (Treatise on Pure Rules), Panchastikaya Sara (Treatise on Five Universal Components) and AshtaPahuda (Eight Steps).

3rd Century C.E.
Rise of Gang Dynasty

345 C.E.
Rise of Kadamb Dynasty

454 C.E.
Devardhigani Complies Jain agams

6th Century C.E.
Rise of early Chalukyas

7th Century C.E.
8000 Jains massacred in Madurai

753 C.E.
Rise of Rashtrakuts

821 C.E.
The Jainist Emperor Amoghavarsh takes the throne; he was considered one of the four mightiest emperors of the world, His capital was Manyakhet. He left the throne to pursue spiritual matters.

1022 C.E.
Rise of Hoysalas

1160 C.E.
Rise of Chauta Dynasty at Tulundada

1350 C.E.
Rise of Saluva rulers in Karwar, Karnatak

1451 C.E.
Lonkashah founded the Dhundhia Order of Jainism.

1867 C.E.
Shrimad Rajchandra was born.

Kanaji Swami was born.

Virchand Gandhi attends the first world religion conference.

1963 C.E.
The death of RajendraSuri who wrote and published the Abhidhana-RajendraKosh (Encyclopaedia) which took 13 years to write and 21 years to publish.