Rediscovery of Jainism in Tamilnadu- A kaleidoscopic picture
The forgotten history of the sacred jaina land- brought to you in a series
Dr.Kanaka.Ajithadoss Jain and P.RajendraPrasad Jain
Once spread throughout Tamilnadu Jainism is the oldest living religion of Tamilnadu;
It was a popular religion of the masses ( very much attested by inscriptions,literature, monuments, relics,paintings and adoption of its philosophy & thought ).Jainism played a vital role in molding the culture , art of Tamil people;Jainism left indelible mark on the thought and life of Tamil people;Jainism’s contributions in the sphere of language, literature, art, architecture, paintings, education, medicine, charity, social service, etc., have no parallel in the history of any country
Antiquity of Jainism in Tamil country
Reference in valmiki Ramayana ( 8th BCE):
there is a reference about Rama while wandering in the forest met jaina Ascetics indicating even before the arrival of Acharya Badrabhahu (3rd BCE) to the south Jainism was prevalent in Tamil country .
Reference in Mahavamsa; a Buddhist chronicle
There is a reference in Mahavamsa about the presence of jaina ascetics in 4th BCE in Srilanka. A king called pandukapaya ( 377- 307 BCE) established in his capital Anuradhapura several jinalayas. This very clearly indicates that Jainism spread to Srilanka through tamil country as early as 4th BCE.
Tamil Literary works ( 2-3rd BCE to 2nd CE) amply attest the antiquity of Jainism in Tamil country . References in Pattinappalai, Madurai Kanchi etc. In Ahananuru (1st CE)jaina ascetics are very much praised;
Dravida sangha in Madurai: Devasena , the author of Darsanasara, a prakrit work written in 853 CE states that Vajra nandhi, the Pupil of celebrated digambara Achrya Pyjyapada , founded Dravida sangha in Mathurai in the South in vikram era 525 ( 468- 69 CE). this Dravida Sangha was so famous that it is referred to in Kannada inscriptions from Karnataka.
Tamil Brahmi inscriptions ( from 3rd– 2nd BCE ): All Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are jaina inscriptions only, indicating the antiquity of Jainism that is unchalengeable
Existence of Jaina antiquities on a large scale in all parts of Tamil nadu ; the survival of good many Jaina works of high classical standard in Tamil literature ; influence of Jaina thought and philosophy in the life of the fellow country men etc; speak immensely for the popularity of the Jaina faith in the Tamil country at one time. This popularity rested not so much on the patronage it received from the royal families and high officials of the state as on the voluntary devotion of the common citizens who welcomed its teachings and followed them in practice.
Proof of popularity of Jainism in Tamil country ?
attested by Tamil Brahmi inscriptions; ( from 2BCE)and literary evidences from 1st CE)
Inscriptions record the endowments made by the royals, merchants, commoners
Royals : Relative of Pandya Emperor Neduncheliyan ( inscription at Mangulam- ) etc.
Tamil Brahmi inscriptions of Chera kings- making a cave shelter for a Jaina Ascetic Pugalur
Record of three generations of Chera lineage; in a rock shelter for a Jaina ascetic by Ilam kadumko son of , Pernkadunko son of Atan cel Irumporai.
Merchants- gold smith ( pon Kolvan), ( Alagar Malai-1st CE ), Trader in plough share ( Kozhu vanikan)-Alagar Malai (1st CE), Cloth merchant ( Aruvai vanikan)( Algar Malai-1st CE),Salt merchant (uppu vanikan ( Algar Malai-1st CE)
Commoners :(Thanman, Kasapan)- Tamil- Brahmi inscription in Alagar Malai-1st CE)
The early Tamil-Brahmi cave inscriptions in Tamilnadu are the earliest lithic records of the Jaina faith in India, as the Mangulam inscriptions of the time of Pandya king Neduncheliyan appear to be earlier than the jaina Prakrit inscription at Madura and those of King Kharavela of Kalinga.
2000- 3000 years old Tamil- Brahmi Jaina inscriptions are found in Mangulam, Alagar Malai. Anai Malai, Siththannavasal, Jambai, Mannar koil etc.
Ancient Literary evidences Maduraikanchi – About a Jaina Palli in Madurai
- Pattinappalai– Jaina Palli in Kavirip poompattinam
- Jaina Poets of Sangam period: Vulochanar, Nigandan kalaikkottu Thandanar, Kaniyan Poonkundranar, etc.
Jaina Sanghas (Associations) ; references in literature about Mula Sangam Sangam, Dravida Sangam Nandhi Sangam;Countless number of Jaina ascetics in ancient Tamil country attested in inscriptions:
Some of their names: Chandra Nandi, Kanaka Nandi, Maakanandhi, Naganandhi, Vajranandhi, ,
Bhavanandhi. Ajja Nandi, Devar, Vudhisi devar, Thiruthakka devar , etc.,
There was no period in the history of Tamilnadu during which Jainism was in non existence
Large number of monuments
Grant of pallichnadam ,endowments ( tax free land grants to jaina monasteries, jaina
Development of script for Tamil language
Even today Samanam (Jainism in Tamil land ) is a little known or unknown religious entity and “Samanars” (the native Tamil jains) are the invisible, voiceless community for majority of Tamil population and also for Jains living outside the borders of Tamilnadu as well those who migrated from outside and settled in Tamilnadu either recently or several decades earlier. There are two reasons for presenting the story of Jainism in Tamilnadu with reference to native Jains called Samanars ;
- With the recent discovery by ‘Ahimsa walk’ – an organisation formed to discover, and protect the abandoned Thirthankara sculptures jaina relics, monuments, in many villages towns, hillocks more and more individuals , students, archaeologists, historians, linguists, epigraphists, travellers Tamil writers ,journalists show keen interest in knowing about various phases and facets of Jainism in Tamilnadu particularly its origin here in Tamil land ;
- The history of native Jains of Tamilnadu and their rich contributions to Tamil language, literature, Culture and development of script has to be retold from time to time not only to jains outside the borders of Tamil nadu but also those who settled here as they know very little or nothing about Tamil jains and the ancientness of their history spanning several thousands of years; the dawn of civilization is the date of birth of Jainism in Tamilnadu; the glorious history of Tamil jains of bygone era is a mystery for many of them; this will clearly show , bring out the unique character and value of the ancient culture and civilization of the Tamil land that followed the ideal of Ahimsa as preached by the Thirthankaras.
Previously a brief outline was provided to understand the antiquity of Jainism in Tamil land. Now let us go in to the origin of Jainism in Tami land;
Migration theory of Jainism into the South and particularly Tamil land
Is Jainism alien to Tamil land?
Was the arrival from Karnataka, of Visakacharya a disciple of Srutha Kevali Acharya Bhadrabahu, with a large followers into Tamilnadu responsible for the introduction of Jainism in Tamil country?
Was it the initial factor?
Did Jainism enter into Tamilnadu from Andhra?
Did it originate from two frontiers – Karnataka and Andhra?
Is Jainism as older as the dawn of civilisation in Tamil land?
To trace the antiquity of Jainism in Tamil land one has to seek the evidence/s both within the borders of Tamilnadu as well outside it; the sources are diverse which include ancient inscriptions, literature, chronicles of history, and puranas etc.;
Jainism in Sravanabelagola (Karnataka) at the time of arrival of Acharya Bhadrabahu
Jainism was a popular religion in Sravanabelgola at the time of arrival of Sruthakevali Acharya Bhadrabahu; the arrival of that great Jaina ascetic from North is an unassailable fact attested by several inscriptions in Sravanabelagola, and Sanskrit literary works such as “Brahatkathacosa” of Harisena (931CE), “Bhadrabhahucharitha Munivamsabyuthya” of Sidhdhantha (1680CE) and Kannada work “Rajavali saritham” of Devachandra (1833CE) )
Several oriental as well the western scholars are of the opinion that Jaina religion was introduced into Tamilnadu after the arrival of Jain sangha into Sravanabelagola (Karnataka) under the leadership of the great Jaina Acharya Bhadrabahu (317- 297BCE) along with thousands of followers and ascetics, the prominent ones were the ascetic Visakacharya and the ascetic turned emperor Chandragupta (322- 298 BCE) ;
The question is this : Did Jaina religion already exist in Sravanabelagola- Karnataka at the time of arrival of the highly revered Struthakevali Acharya Badhra bahu ?
The answer is ‘yes’; this conclusion is based on the following valid assumptions:
Srutha kevali Acharya Bhadrabahu Sangha consisting of several thousands of ascetics would not venture to enter into an alien land if they were not sure of respectful welcome based on agamic traditions and sympathetic reverential support by the ruler and sravakas (house holders who know all about entertaining Jaina ascetics); the rules of practices in Jaina ascetic life in the distant past were very severe and strict and there is no exemption in practicing the austere life; a Jaina society who are well versed in rules and practices of entertaining jain ascetics alone can serve the ascetic community; in other words jain ascetics will not be able to practice ascetic life in a hostile environment; this makes us to conclude that Srutha Kevali Acharya Bhadrabahu chose a right place in the south where Jainism was the popular religion of the land.
Dawn of Jainism in Tamil land
The question as to the origin of Jainism in Tamilnadu, Did Tamilnadu wait for Vishakacharya’s arrival to get Jainism introduced in the Tamil land? The answer is ‘NO’; at the time of the arrival of Vishakacharya with a large group of ascetics and followers in Pandyan country (Tamilnadu) in about 3rd century BCE, Jainism was a popular religion followed by the royals, merchants and the masses ;
One of the reasons for arriving to this conclusion is that to support a large number of Jaina ascetics and followers the people of host country must be knowing all the do’s and don’ts of principles of Jaina ascetic as well the householders life which are based purely on Ahimsa dharma, equality and social justice; Had an unreceptive and hostile conditions prevail at the time of arrival of Vishakacharya, he would not have ventured to put his foot on the hostile soil; the best example is 6th and 7th century Madurai and the Pandyan, Pallava countries; a hostile environment was designed and brutal atrocities were executed by the Vedic religious extremists who unleashed terror on Jain population and ascetics in Madurai and Pandyan country; the terrorized jaina house holders and ascetics of Madurai (and the Pandyan country ) not getting proper support and security ,and could not withstand the hostile environment migrated out; this account has been recorded by the Vedic religious fanatics themselves in their literature; the conclusion is that Jainism was already a popular religion at the time of arrival of Vishakacharya and thousands of ascetics and followers of Vishakacharya were able to travel in Pandyan country strengthening the principles of Ahimsa in the minds of the people
References on Jainism in Tamil land in the ancient period Valmiki Ramayana ( 8th century BCE)
An inscription of Sravanabelagola (7th cent. CE.) tells that Acharya Bhadrabahu instructed His disciple ascetic Acharya Visaka to continue his vihar to Tamil country and Visakacharya travelled to Pandya country; this had happened in about end of 3rd or beginning of 4th cent BCE. But Valmiki Ramayana (8th century BCE) has another story to tell; when Rama came down to South to spend his forest life he met many Jaina ascetics in Tamil country. This indicates that even before the arrival of Vishakacharya with a large number of ascetics (3rd /4th BCE) into Tamilnadu, Jainism was prevalent in Tamilnadu.
Reference in Kambaramayana
Exactly a message similar to what recorded in Valmiki Ramayana is reflected in “Kamba Ramayanam” a highly revered by the Vaishnavites and universally acclaimed Tamil literary work by Kavi chakrvarthi Kambar.
Kambar describes through the character Sugrivan about the high ascetic qualities of sky clad (Nirganth) Jaina ascetics performing meditation; at the time of departure of Hanumaan and Angathan to Srilanka in search of Seetha, Sugrivan advises them to bow and pay their reverence to great Jaina ascetics performing very tough austerities at the foot of Venkata mountain. This indicates that during the Ramayana period Jainism was prevalent in Tamil country;
This gives another very important information that Jainism was well established in the northern part of Tamilnadu as indicated in Kamba Ramayana – the mountain Venkatam was the Northern boundry of Tamil country as indicated in Tholkappium – a 2nd or 3rd century Grammar literature – the oldest, ancient Tamil work extant by a Jaina ascetic Tholkappiyar (generally it is held that after the setback to Jainism in Pandyan country due to the militant and conversion activities of Vedic, Animal sacrifice promoting, bhakthi movement during 6th & 7th centuries, Jains moved to the north and settled; but according to Kambar, during Ramayana period Jainism was flourishing in the northern part of Tamil Land )
The ancient Tamil country with Tamil Sangha (Tamil Academies)
From ancient times, Jain poets along with others participated in the literary activities of Tamil land; the assemblage or group of poets is called sangha. (academy) (Tamil : Sangam); in the ancient Tamil land there were three such Tamil academies. when examined closely the conception of an assembly of intellectuals and the name ‘sangha’ both owe their origin to the leaders of Jaina religious movements in Tamil country; in the ancient period Jaina intellectuals and ascetics formed themselves into well constituted ascetic group as Sangha, Gana and Gachcha; Mula sangha, Nandhi sangha, Dravida (Dramila) sangha etc.;
Researches on the ancient land of Tamil Land show that the present Tamilnadu had an extensive area called “Lemuria Continent” to the south of Kanyakumari, the southern tip of Indian landmass; this Lemuria Continent of Tamils ruled by Pandya kings with a capital city called “Kapatapuram” was supposed to have been submerged by sea; events related to the submergence of land mass are vividly described in “Silapathikaram” – a masterpiece Jaina Tamil epic by Ilankovadigal – a Jaina ascetic; because of two catastrophic oceanic events (Tsunami?) occurred one after the other a sizable land mass of the ancient Tamil land got separated and became what is now known Srilanka (Swarna Dwip) ; Pandyan kings created and fostered two Tamil Academies called first and second Tamil sangams; when the Lemuria continent was swallowed by the sea Pandyan shifted his capital to the present Madurai; the period of existence of these Tamil academies was much earlier to that of arrival of Visakachariya into Tamilnadu; it should be noted that the Jaina ascetic “Tholkappiyar” (about 2nd/ beginning of 3rd century BCE), the author of the ancient Tamil grammer work, was one of the members of the two Academies ;
Jaina Tamil – Brahmi inscriptions dated from 2nd century BCE to 4th century CE
Epigraphical evidences assignable to the 2nd century BCE, at Mangulam, Arittapatti, Thiruvathavur, Kilavalavu, Anai malai etc. clearly indicate that Jainism already enjoyed the privilege of a popular faith in Tamil land even before the visit of Visakacharya (end of 2BCE or beginning of 3rd BCE ). To date more than 80 Tamil – Brahmi inscriptions related to Jainism dated from 2nd century BCE to 4th century CE are found in 30 places in Tamil nadu; A detailed account of these Jainism related ancient writings on rocks will be given later;
Ancient Tamil classical writings ( dated around 3rd or 4th BCE to 2nd CE)
Several ancient classic literary works furnish a good deal of information as to the ancientness of Jainism and prevalence of it in Tamil land even before the arrival of Vishakacharya from Karnataka .
To know about this period Sangam literature forms the basis; “Madurai Kanchi” – a sangam literature gives an elaborate description of Temple for Thirthankara; another sangam literature – “Pattinappalai“ describes about a temple for Arugan in “Kaveripoompattinam” A sangam poet called “Nigandan kalaik kottu Thandanar” has written a poem in Natrinai – a sangam literary work – here the name “Nigandan” refers to a Jaina ( Nirganthan = Nigandan – sky clad ); another poet “Ulochanar” was a Jain as the name Ulochan indicates the practice of plucking of hair by Jaina ascetic – These evidences are comparatively of early date; one cannot discredit the solid evidence provided by literature, inscriptions;
The Hathikumbha inscription of the famous Jaina King Kharavela – a friend Pandyan King – (2nd century BCE)
The famous 2nd century BCE Inscription of King Kharavela recorded the participation of Pandya king in the celebrations conducted by Kharavela
on the occasion of recovery of Kalinga Jina ( Thirthankara statue) from Magadha King; the inscription describing the events recorded the participation of Pandya King with horses, elephants, jewels and rubies as well as pearls in hundreds as presents to King Kharavela. Also we find a reference that Kharavela dismembered the confederacy of the T[r]amira (Dramira) (dramila – tamil) countries of one hundred and thirty years, which has been a source of danger to (his) Country (Janapada).
From this 2nd century BCE inscription of Jaina King Kharavela can infer that The Pandyan king was either an adherent of Jainism or a patron of Jainism. It should be noted that when the inscription talks about the confederation of Tamil kings mainly Chera, Chola and Pandya, it is Pandyan king only attended the celebrations conducted by Kharavela – a Jaina king. Thus at the time of the visit of Vishakacharya to Pandyan kingdom Jainism was already in existence and popular in Tamil nadu with the support of masses and the King .
Inscriptions from Andhra (4th century BCE)
The discovery of inscription of Mahamehavahana King Sada at Guntappalli indicates that Jainism was prevalent in Andhra in 6th century BCE; there is a view that Jainism in Andhra made a foot hold in northern part of Tamil land;
Mahavamsa account of Jainism in Srilanka (4th century BCE) – diffusion from Tamil land
Mahavamsa, a Srilanka chronicle undisputedly recorded the presence of Jainism in Srilanka in 4th BCE; according to Mahavamsa, Srilankan King “Pandukabaya” (BCE-377-307) when he established a new capital at Anuradhapura temples and places for ascetic life for Jaina ascetics were constructed; to quote English translation of Mahavamsa as far as Gamani – tank, a hermitage was made for many ascetics; eastward of that the ruler Pandukabaya built a house for the Nigantha Jotiya; in that same region dwelt the nigantha named Giri and ascetics of various heretical sects; and there the lord of the land built a chapel for the Nigantha Kumbhanda; it was named after him; there lived five hundred families of heretical beliefs; on the further side of Jotiya’s house and on this side of Gamini –tank he likewise built a monastery for wandering mendicant monks— ( Nigantha – Nirgrantha – sky -clad ascetics – Digamber Jaina ascetics) – ( English rendering of Mahavmas by Geiger). From this one can infer that Jainism was prevalent in about 4th BCE in Srilanka with the support of the King Pandukabaya;
The pertinent question is how did Jainism found foot hold in Srilanka?
What was the route through which it travelled?
Jaina ascetics should not cross or travel over sea; such is the rules and practices ordained for a digamber Jaina ascetic; hence they could not have travelled through the sea from North India or Kalinga country where Jainism was a popular religion at that time; the only passage available to Srilanka for jaina ascetic was land route – the present Srilanka was once a part and parcel of ancient Tamil country; after the catastrophic oceanic disturbances it was separated with a narrow and shallow sea lane or a strip of land ; Jaina ascetics and most probably Jain merchants might have used this land connectivity; it should be noted that the epic Ramayana vividly describes the construction of a bridge between the Tamil land and northern part of Srilanka, called Ramar bridge;
This very amply proves that even before the arrival of Vishakacharya Jainism was prevalent in Tamil country and from there it spread into Srilanka;
Reference in Mahapurana of Acharya Jinasena and Acharya Gunabadra about the rule of Jaina Vidhyadara King Ravana in Srilanka
The highly revered Jaina Mahapurana describes the life of 24 Thirthankaras, 12 Chakravartins, 9 Baladevas, 9 Vasudevas and 9 prathi Vasudevas; In that part of Mahapurana describing the life story of Munisuvratha Thirthankara (20th Thirthankara) a detailed account of Ravana – the prathi Vasudeva – the Jjain vidhyadara king of Srilanka is given; Ravana’s birth, establishment of kingdom in Thrisigari in the ocean island of Srilanka by his ancestors etc are given; it is interesting to note that there a famous mountain by name “Thirikuta giri’ ( Thrisigari of Mahapurana) with a foot print at it’s crest is present in SriLanka. Nowadays it is claimed by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims as their sacred place!!! Worshipping the foot prints of the emancipated souls is the practice of Jains from time immemorial!
Thus there is no element of improbability, there is no room for doubt about the fact that Jainism – the religion of Ahimsa has been the home religion of Tamils from the distant past. Thus there is no question of introduction of Jainism into Tamil land; It has been a native religion of Tamil land from the time of Lord Rishabha whose ‘Dhivyadwani’ (divine preaching) was heard in 18 major languages, one among them was Tamil.
(to be continued)