South Indian Jainism: The Role Of Religious Polemics In Tamil

Published: 23.03.2010
Updated: 30.07.2015

1. INTRODUCTION books which have been published within the last decade- Iravatham Mahadevan (2003), Peter Schalk (2002) and Paul Dundas (2002) - have so much material on South Indian Jainism, which if properly integrated, will throw lot of light on the history of Jainism as a whole. A kind of micro-study will be done to bring out clearly the historical processes Jainism has gone through in Tamilnadu which will explain to some extent such processes throughout South India. Tamilnadu will be dealt with regionally as South, West, North and East. Saivism and Vaishnavism will be treated separately in their encounters with Jainism and Buddhism. Tamil Jainism seems to be Digambara Jainism as is Karnataka Jainism, both of which could be characterized as South Indian Jainism. Jainism and Buddhism sometimes suffered together. But there was intense rivalry also between those two religions.

Even though Jainism originated in the Ganges valley and its sacred books are in Prakrit, it is in Tamilnadu, the Far South of India where we have probably the earliest Jain inscriptions, written in Tamil language, recording the donation of cave-dwellings to Jain monks. The earliest inscriptions from about the second century BCE to the fourth century ACE deal almost exclusively with donation to Jain monks. In the Tamil tradition, the Jains have always been referred to as ‘camaṇar’ (samaṇas/ śramaṇas). Even though śramaṇa traditions like Buddhism and Ājivikism have been present in Tamilnadu for many centuries, they must have entered the land later than Jainism and they were known by their specific names. During the two centuries before the common era, the city of Maturai in Pandya kingdom in the southern portion of Tamilnadu appear to have been surrounded on all sides with cave dwellings and cave inscriptions. It is quite possible that the Bhāgavatas, worshipping Kṛṣṇa, also came to Maturai from Mathurā in north India along with traders.

There are strong traditions associating Maturai and the Pandyas with the development of early Tamil literature. It is very probable that Jain monks modified Asokan Brāhmi and developed Tamil Brāhmi script to initiate the writing of Tamil language. Maturai scholars dominated the field of Tamil literary production almost up to the sixth century ACE. The earliest period of Tamil literature, often referred to as Caṅkam poetry, (almost contemporaneous with the times of the early Jain inscriptions, up to about the third century CE) collected in later times and preserved in the form of anthologies has an individuality of its own. There were a few instances of Brahmins performing Vedic sacrifices for some kings of all dynasties of ancient Tamilnadu. A kind of religious pluralism appears to have prevailed in ancient Tamilnadu. A few names of poets and some ideas of a few poems in the anthologies are sometimes identified as Jaina by some modern scholars. But this can be overlooked as more tangible Jain influence can be pointed out.

There are two distinct phases of early Tamil literature, the Caṅkam age and the Post-Caṅkam age. The latter age ends roughly with the beginning of religious conflict marked by religious polemics of the seventh century ACE. The second phase has clear markings of Jain influence and Maturai domination. The earlier phase is marked by indigenous features with a few traces of north Indian religious, cultural and linguistic influences. Saivism of a later age seems to have appropriated development of early stages of Tamil literature, especially in Maturai and the Pandya kingdom to itself. But present day researchers seem more and more certain that early developments of Tamil literature owe much to the Jains. Vaiyāpuri Piḷḷai (1891-1956) was the first Tamil scholar during the second quarter of the twentieth century- who happened to be the chief editor of the Tamil Lexicon - to stress on the strong influence of Jain culture among ancient Tamils.


Iravatham Mahadevan’s recent publication seems to be confirmation and further strengthening of the theory of strong Jain influence among the Tamils. He feels that the Tamil Brahmi, the earliest Tamil script available, might have been evolved by Jains in Tamilnadu. They appear to have contributed the three greatest works in early Tamil: Tol, Tkl and Cil. They are not texts on Jainism but works intended for a plural Tamil society where Jains were trying to become influential. Besides working out a descriptive grammar for early Tamil language, Tol has a third section on poruḷ, a word which has many meanings in Tamil like ‘meaning’, ‘wealth’, etc., and which covers miscellaneous fields. Jain Realism seems to have played an important part in shaping up the world-view of the early Tamils in that section which Tamils of the modern period look up to with pride. The notion of any creator God was not imposed on the outlook of the Tamils. This section speaks about the four classes of the society. The antaṇar (Brahmins or sages?) and the aracar (Kśatriyas) have been mentioned first and second probably because such notions were becoming popular in the society. The vaiciyar (Vaiśyas) have been mentioned by their Tamilised Sanskrit form, most probably because traders have not developed into a separate class in Tamil society at that time. The vēḷāḷar (peasants/cultivators) have been mentioned as the fourth class. How much does this system follow the fourfold classes of MDS and other such works are matters of controversy. Tol does not speak about the Vedas and sacrifices when it speaks about the antaṇar and Kśatriyas. So, it does not seem to be the teaching of Hindu Dharma Sāstras. As for the fourth class of Vēḷāḷars, it says that cultivating food is their sole occupation. Unlike the MDS, it does not say that they have to serve the other three classes. So, one cannot say that the Tol refers to the same category as the sūtras in the MDS.

Tkl is a comprehensive ethical guide which has remained very popular among the Tamils throughout. This work has universal appeal. It does not classify humanity into classes. It gives lot of importance to kings and rulers which is a characteristic of Jainism; it also could have reflected the situation in ancient Tamilnadu. The Brahmins, as an entity, have no role in this book. Nowhere in this book has been the kings instructed to seek the advice of Brahmins or to patronize them lavishly. The importance of education for individual and social advancement has been emphasized very strongly by allocating four chapters to it as learning, not learning, listening, and acquiring knowledge. Everyone is encouraged not to cease learning till the end of his life. This text shows strong Jain influence in some places even though it was claimed by followers of many religions in later times. The title of its first chapter is often translated as ‘In Praise of God’. It appears most probable that kaṭavuḷ, the word usually translated as God, is a Tamil rendering of Tīrthaṅkara.

The Cil preface itself claims that this narrative poem was composed by a royal renouncer who lived in a monastery. Kavunti, a Jain nun was an important character in that book talking about some basic Jain principles and going out of her way to be helpful to the suffering heroine. It is in this narrative poem that we first have literary evidence about the presence of Buddhism in the Chola kingdom (the eastern region).

The early period of Tamil literature has poems on Māyōṇ/ Tirumāl (Viṣṇu/Kṛṣṇa) and on Murukaṇ (Skanda). There were references to kings and Brahmins performing sacrifices. The Saiva and Vaishnava sectarianism does not appear to be strong before the seventh century ACE. Probably inspired by the Tkl, the orthodox groups also wrote didactic works. There is no mark of religious polemics up to the seventh century. The martial society of the early Tamils might have been changing gradually and all these four distinct sectarian religious groups might have had enough space to co-exist. There was a ‘Kalabhra Interregnum’ when ancient political order of the Tamils was rudely shaken and when heterodox religions appear to have had some patronage. In about 470 ACE, Vajra Nandi, a Jain monk is mentioned as founding a Drāviḍa Saṅgha in Maturai but it is not known whether he had royal patronage. The Pallavas and the Pandyas, each independently claimed to have defeated the Kalabhras and came to power in different parts of Tamilnadu in the sixth century. Simhavarman, a Pallava king, made a big land grant to Vajra Nandi, a Jain monk, by the middle of the sixth century. It must be during this latter phase the earlier poems of the Tamil poets were compiled into Caṅkam anthologies. Some of these anthologies claim that they were made under the patronage of the Pandya and Cera kings. It is quite possible that they were made under Jain inspiration, if not by the Jains themselves, as Jain monks had established themselves near their capital cities.


3.1 Attack on the Jains widespread and deep compared to attack on the Buddhists.

Mahendravarman I (571-630), Simhavarman’s grandson, was under the influence of Digambara Jain monks who had a monastery at Pāṭalipuram. South Indian Jainism seems to have been Digambara Jainism as far as evidence is available, even though no marker of identity is available for the early monks, as Iravatham Mahadevan points out. Appar, a Vēḷāḷar and one prominent leader of the Saivite bhakti movement, was a renegade Jain monk with the name Dharma Sena from that monastery. His conversion to Saivism, his zeal as a new convert, and his attempt to glorify Siva worship were considered as constituting a grave threat to the popularity of Jainism. The Jain monks sought the help of the Pallava king to get rid of Appar in one way or another. When Appar survived all attempts to get rid of him, it was the turn of the Pallava king to be converted to Saivism. The Ppm, a twelfth Saiva hagiography, claims that the king demolished the Jain monastery and built a Śiva temple, named after one of his titles. Appar’s polemics against the Jains were mainly autobiographical, bitterly regretting his past as a Jain monk. He was going around on pilgrimages to Śiva temples in the Pallava kingdom, composing hymns on most of those shrines.

Very soon, he was joined by a junior contemporary in Campantar (640-656), who was vehemently critical of both the Jains and the Buddhists. Campantar was a Chola region proud Brahmin who identified with Tamil culture and scholarship. Campantar had a very bitter confrontation with the Digambara Jains when he converted Arikesari Māṟavarmaṇ (640-674), a Pandya king, from Jainism to Saivism. He went round on pilgrimage to Śiva temples throughout Tamilnadu, composing hymns on most of them. Most of the Saiva polemics against the Jains in Tamil bhakti literature are found in the hymns of these two Saiva leaders. Cuntarar, the third of the triad Saiva leaders, was a Brahmin but hailed from Appar’s region. As a follower of Appar and Campantar, he directed his polemics against both Buddhists and Jains. Most of the Saiva polemics against the Buddhists in Tamil bhakti literature are found in Campantar’s hymns. According to the Ppm, after his victory over the Jains in the Pandya kingdom, he had a confrontation with monks of a Buddhist monastery in the Kāviri delta and defeated them. The Buddhist monastery did not seem to have any royal defendant.

Even though all the four religions had been established in the Chola kingdom, the Brahmins from the region resented the presence of heterodox religions. Like Campantar, there was a Brahmin Vaishnava leader in Toṇṭaraṭippoṭi whose Brahmin name was Vipra Nārāyaṇa(ṉ) from the same region. He too, was strongly critical of Buddhists and Jains in his hymns- it is important to note that he mentions the Buddhists first in the first of his allusions. It is in his hymn that we hear the first open violent declaration that he will cut the heads of Jains and Buddhists, who make derogatory references to Viṣṇu, if he gets an indication (from Viṣṇu?). Some Chola kings performed Vedic sacrifices even in the very early period. There is a separate Puṟanāṉūṟu poem on Viṇṇantāyaṇ, a Brahmin from Kauṇḍinya gotra who had performed a large number of Vedic sacrifices. The Chola kings from probably about the fourth century, appeared very pragmatic in accommodating the two heterodox religions. Some Brahmins from that region were ready to destroy the heterodox religions even by violence.

3.2 The Buddhists and the Jains critical of each other

Among the sixty-three leaders of the Saiva bhakti movement, there was a renegade Buddhist monk in Cākkiya (=Sākya) nāyaṇār. An allusion to him occurs first in Appar’s poems. So, he must have been either a contemporary or a predecessor. He too was a Vēḷāḷar like Appar. He came to Kanchi to study and become a Buddhist monk. The narrative about this Saiva leader in the Ppm mentions how he developed into a devotee of Śiva on his own and earned his own salvation from Śiva’s grace. His conversion to Saivism might have led to the decline of Buddhism among the Tamils in the Pallava kingdom, especially in the northern Toṇṭai region.

The Ppm also narrates more stories of conflicts between the Saivites and the Jains in some other localities but no more story about conflicts between the Saivaites and the Buddhists. Buddhism seems to have had a presence in Kanchi, the capital of the Pallavas but no evidence has come to light that any Pallava ruler patronized Buddhism. Mahendravarman I, the Pallava king, who leaned towards Jainism during the early part of his reign, is credited with the authorship of a satire of Buddhism known as the Matta Vilāsa Prahasana,”A farce on Drunken Games”. He was critical of not just Buddhist monks but even of Buddhism as such. This may reflect Jain attitude to Buddhism in South India. In this context, it is necessary to consider the significance of including the Buddha as one of the ten incarnations of Viṣṇu in a Pallava inscription of the Adi Varāha Cave of the seventh century. But it is very important to note that neither the Pallava kings nor the Vaishnava Āḻvārs or their followers appear to have made any attempt to accommodate Buddhism within the Vaishnava movement.

Compared to Saiva bhakti hymns, there are very few polemics in the parallel Vaishnava bhakti hymns. Buddhism was probably an established religion in the seventh century, only in the Chola region and in some urban centers while the Jains were more widespread, even influential in both of the two royal courts at about the same time for a short period. The chronology of the spread of Tamil Brahmi inscriptions show that the Jains began to receive patronage, first in the south (Pāṇṭi region), second in the west (Koṅku region), and third in the north (Toṇṭai region) of Tamilnadu. The Kāviri delta of the east does not have any Tamil Brahmi inscription, one reason may be, it does not have rocky mountains to have cave shelters. Anyway, the Jains who were established in other regions of Tamilnadu might have jealously guarded their regions of influence from the Buddhists. It is not clear why the Cholas, alone among the early Tamil dynasties, allowed the establishment of Buddhism. It was Andhra Buddhism which was first established in Kāvirippūmpaṭṭiṇam in the Chola region in about the fourth century.

Except for Campantar who seems to group together the Jains and the Buddhists when he criticizes them in a stanza in almost every one of his nearly four hundred hymns, there does not seem to be any co-ordination between the Jains and the Buddhists of Tamilnadu in resisting the onslaught of the bhakti movement. The Maṇimēkalai, a Tamil Buddhist narrative poem, of about the sixth century, rejects Jainism along with other religious creeds of Indian origin as false creeds. Saiva bhakti movement and Vaishnava bhakti movement seem to have continued to prosper. Jainism and Buddhism appear to have survived the seventh century onslaught but with diminished strength. Śiva temples received lavish patronage even though Viṣṇu temples were also favored by some rulers. Jainism appears to have received some patronage from some Pallava and Pandya kings till the end of the ninth century. No evidence has come to light that these dynasties ever patronized Buddhism. The Cholas from the Kāviri valley established an empire, incorporating the Pallava and the Pandya kingdoms in addition to other territories in South India and Sri Lanka. The Chola kings were staunch Saivites but they patronized to some extent the other three religions also.

Some Chola emperors of the eleventh century issued long copper plate inscriptions, making tax-free land grants to a Buddhist monastery in Nākappaṭṭiṉ̱am, the Chola emporium of trade and port of call. But they have specified that their patronage was on special requests from Buddhist Kaṭāra kings from Southeast Asia. A Buddhist monastery named after a Chola emperor flourished among Tamils of Sri Lanka during the Chola occupation. The twelfth century commentary of Vīracōḻiyam, a Tamil grammatical work, named after a Chola emperor, by a Buddhist author, has preserved poems of praise by Tamil Buddhist poets on Chola kings. Some schools of Buddhism seems to have continued to survive in the Kāviri delta from the fourth century to about the fourteenth century when Muslim invasions from Delhi might have dealt them a death-blow. Sri Lankan chronicles talk about contacts with Choliya monks till about late thirteenth century. Buddhism in Sri Lanka had suffered decline and two Sinhala Buddhist kings of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries invited disciplined Choliya monks of high erudition to purify the Buddhist order of monks there.

It is in the Civañāṇa Cittiyār, one of the Tamil Saiva Siddhānta treatises, which synthesize Tamil Saiva bhakti religion and Saiva Siddhanta philosophy that we come across polemics against four schools of Buddhism. One part of this particular treatise deals with shortcomings of all other then known Indian religions and it deals with Buddhism in that context. As this treatise does not deal with Theravāda Buddhism of Sri Lanka, it is quite possible that it is not treating Buddhist schools relevant in the then contemporary times in Tamilnadu. No other evidence exists for the existence of those four schools in Tamilnadu.


Some Saivites seem to have continued to target the Jains in polemics. The Saiva bhakti poems were collected and codified as Tamil Saiva Canon in the eleventh century by Nampiyāṇṭār Nampi, a Brahmin from the Chola region. The canonization of bhakti hymns gave renewed life to religious polemics in those hymns. Nampi was an admirer of Campantar, who was another Brahmin. He composed six literary pieces on him and one on Appar. In his codification of bhakti poems, the first three volumes belong to Campantar and the next three volumes belong to Appar. May be to justify his preference to Campantar who should appear as a hero, he introduced allusions to a story that Campantar not only defeated the Jains but also impaled eight thousand of them in Maturai. What Campantar did by demonisation of Jains was carried to a higher level by Nampiyāṇṭār Nampi. Open verbal polemics and bitter argumentation which are attested in Campantar’s hymns have a new additional story of annihilation of all Jain monks by impalement at stake. Later hagiographies of the Saivas could not overlook or ignore Nampi’s story. There is an interesting story of how they apportion praise or blame among different actors involved in the drama of debate. The views of two most important hagiographers can be noted. Cēkkiḻār, the Vēḷāḷa author of the Ppm of the twelfth century, says that the impalement at stake of the Jains was a Jain pre-condition in case of their defeat, when they participated in the debate with Campantar. The latter had not intervened in the matter because the Jains were held responsible for arson on the dwelling of the Saiva side on the night before the debate. This text tries to minimize the blame on Campantar.

Perumpaṟṟappuliyūr Nampi, the Brahmin author of the first one of the Tvp of the thirteenth century, says that Campantar had already declared that he would defeat the Jains and impale them, even before entering the Pandya kingdom. This Nampi builds on what the previous Nampi did. His xenophobia against the Jains was so intense that he modifies Campantar story to suit his own image. His hagiology which deals with sixty-four sacred sports of Śiva in Maturai has also other stories narrating Śiva’s intervention to help the Pandya king and Maturai city from the evil attacks of the Jains alone or the Jains and the Chola king together. The sixty-four sacred sports of Śiva narrated in two versions of the Tvp complete the process of supplanting the character of Maturai as a Jain sacred place and establishing it as a Saiva sacred place.

Maturai Mīnākshi Temple, the well-known Saiva temple associated with Campantar in his debate with the Jains, had paintings introduced about the impalement at stake of the Jains. Festivals were inaugurated in that temple and in some other Śiva temples to celebrate the impalement of the Jains. The demonisation of the Jains seems to have gone step by step to such extreme in the Pandya kingdom region that Jainism which suffered a serious setback in Campantar’s time and managed to revive and survive mostly in some far-away locations within that region, declined and disappeared completely from the region.


The western region of Tamilnadu, which is mountainous Koṅku, seems to have had a significant Jain community up to about the sixteenth century. Even though this region is located between southern Karnataka and Pandya kingdom, the Jains probably began to receive royal patronage only by the beginning of the Common Era. Chera kings, identified as a lineage of the Kerala kings, ruled this region during that early period. When the Ganga dynasty established its rule in southern Karnataka in the fourth century, it seems to have controlled most of Koṅku and it continued to do so till the end of the tenth century. Many Ganga rulers patronized Jainism lavishly. Many Jain temples and related inscriptions, beginning with the Ganga period have been discovered in this region. The first land grant as well as money grant to a Jain monastery and recorded in a copper plate inscription in Tamilnadu had been discovered in this region. The inscription is in Sanskrit and the donors were the Ganga chieftain and his consort.

Utayaṇaṇ Katai/Peruṅkatai(“The story of Utayanaṇ”) by Koṅkuvēḷir is a narrative poem which is a pioneer in borrowing a theme from Sanskrit and Prakrit sources. The author has received patronage from a Jain chieftain and introduced Jain elements into the story. Unfortunately only a fragment of the work has survived. The nativity of many important poets, grammarians and commentators of the medieval period up to the sixteenth century have been disputed between the western region and the northern region of Tamilnadu. Narrative poems like Cīvakacintāmaṇi and Cūḷāmaṇi, grammatical works like Nēminātam and Naṇṇūl, and commentators like Aṭiyārkkunallār and Mayilainātar are claimed for the western region. As Tamilnadu Digambara Jainism has survived to the modern times mainly in the northern region to the present day, many modern scholars favor the northern region. Most of the present day Tamil Digambara Jains live in North and South Arcots and in Kanchi of the northern region in addition to urban centers of Tañcāvūr and Kumpakōṇam in the eastern region. But it is quiet possible that Koṅku also had its share, because it has so many Jain archaeological remains.


The Jains appear to have followed the survival strategy of not confronting Saivism and Vaishnavism directly. They claimed outwardly that they were subscribing to many concepts and rituals of the Saivites and Vaishnavites, even accepting concepts like the four Vedas, attributes of Hindu trinity, etc., but not what the Hindus mean by them. But they took care to claim that only their concept of paramātman, “supreme self”, (practically seems to be equivalent to “God”), the teaching of the ford-makers, etc., which they accept and they don’t accept the divinity of Saiva and Vaishnava gods who seek female company and who indulge in violence. This strategy must have worked as a double edged sword. It is quite possible that Saiva and Vaishnava attacks got blunted. But it might have facilitated conversion of many Jains to the socially dominant Saivaites and Vaishnavites as substantial number of Jains might have felt the distinction between their religion and those religions not significant.

The Buddhists and the Jains in Tamilnadu turned against each other in a more systematic way from the tenth century. The Buddhists appear to have written the Kki, a narrative poem where a Jain nun-convert to Buddhism attacked Jainism vehemently. This work is counted as one of the five major narrative poems in Tamil, so it must have had broader literary themes also. May be because Buddhism disappeared from Tamilnadu, followers of other religions have not cared to save this work for posterity. An anonymous Jain author claims to have been hurt by this book so much that he came up with the Nki, a rejoinder to the Buddhist Kki. The rejoinder has the limited aim of apologetics for Jainism and vehement polemics against Buddhism. According to this book, not only Kki, but even the founder of Buddhism and his chief disciple also were forced to accept defeat in religious debates. This work is counted as one of the five minor narrative poems in Tamil. Polemical references against Jainism have been quoted from the earlier book and shown to be untenable in the latter book.

The Nki has some polemical references to other religions in Tamilnadu but they seem to be just a formality. It criticizes the Vedic school in a small section, with nothing specific about the Saiva and Vaishnava bhakti religions which were the real threats to Jainism in Tamilnadu. The Nki has an elaborate commentary, which is dated to the fifteenth century. That too must have hurt Buddhism in Tamilnadu directly. But the Saivites also made use of this devastating criticism as Ñāṇappirakācar, a commentator on Civañāṇa Cittiyār quotes extensively from the Nki and its commentaryto substantiate polemics against Buddhism.


7.1 Were there Jain dynasties in Karnataka?

South Indian Jainism seems to be a living tradition in a portion of Karnataka in some strength while in Tamilnadu, it has barely managed to survive in a portion. Padmanabh Jaini (1979) argues that some Jain royal dynasties continued to extend patronage to Jainism in Karnataka for a very long time. He mentions the western Gangas of Talakkad who ruled from about the third century up to the tenth century in southern Karnataka. From the twelfth century to the fourteenth century, the Hoysalas arose to rule southern Karnataka. There are Jain traditions that both of these dynasties owed their origin to Jain monks. He also mentions the imperial Rastrakuta dynasty which ruled northern Karnataka and other parts of western Deccan from the 8th century to the 10th century in between two Western Chalukya dynastic dominations.

Paul Dundas has discussed this issue and has pointed out that the religious leanings of all these dynasties are not as clear as there is evidence that all these dynasties patronized the Brahmins and conducted Vedic sacrifices also. What is clear is that Jainism had some appeal to these dynasties and they patronized Jainism also to a significant extent. The relatively stronger royal patronage in Karnataka by different dynasties for many centuries compared to Tamilnadu where royal patronage was intermittent and not that significant in scale must indeed have made a difference in relative well-being of Jainism in Karnataka. Saiva bhakti movement under the Lingayats and Vaishnava bhakti movement with Ramanuja’s influence were on the ascendant in Karnataka from the twelfth century. The Jains in Karnataka must have been under pressure for a shorter period compared to Tamilnadu. As in Tamilnadu, there does not seem to be any co-operation between Jainism and Buddhism in Karnataka also.

7.2.Vegetarianism in Jainism, Vaishnavism and Saivism.

Jaini says that intermarriages between Jains and Vaishnavites of comparable status have been taking place for a long time but not between Jains and Saivites because Vaishnavites are vegetarians while Saivites are not. This may be the situation in north-western India with the Śvetāmbaras. The situation seems to be different with the Digambaras in Tamilnadu, Karnataka and southern Maharastra. In Tamil usage, the word caivam (Saivism) is synonymous with vegetarianism. Vegetarian food is denoted by the word, ‘caivam’ while non-vegetarian food is denoted by the word, ‘a-caivam’. It is of course correct that most of the Saivites in Tamilnadu are non-vegetarians. One way of explaining this anomaly is that Jain communities which converted to Saivism in Tamilnadu, continued to keep up the vegetarian tradition. I understand that vegetarian tradition is strong among Vira-Saivites in Karnataka and southern Maharastra also, may be because of Jain influence.

7.3. Saivism devalues the role of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa.

Jaini correctly points out that the epics Mba and Rya have become so popular throughout India that Kṛṣṇa and Rāma, counted as divine incarnations, became very important in Hinduism and Jainism had to come to terms with these two characters. Many versions of Jain Rya came into being where Rāma was made to fit into the Jain ideal of non-violence. Lakṣmaṇa, and not Rāma kills Rāvaṇa. In Tamil too, there was a Jain Rya but only fragments of it have survived. It was difficult to rework Kṛṣṇa’s story in a Jain mould as in Jain perspective, there were too many sexual and violent misdeeds. The Jains had to send Kṛṣṇa to hell for his evil acts and then to get him to return to earth to work for his salvation. Jainism and Kṛṣṇa legends probably co-existed in Mathura of North India. Most probably they were introduced in Maturai of South India at about the same time. Before the seventh century, Maturai has produced some Vaishnava devotional poetry which is in the anthology called the Paripāṭal; some Vaishnava authors had also produced didactic literature like the Tirikaṭukam, Nāṇmaṇikkaṭikai, Iṇṇā-Nāṟpatu, Iṇiyavai Nāṟpatu, etc, probably influenced by the Jains.

Compared to the Rya, it appears that the Mba had more appeal among the early Tamils. The Rya becomes important after Laṅkā in the epic becomes identified with the island now going as Sri Lanka ̄. Allusions to the Rya story occur in bhakti poems from the seventh century. Vaishnava bhakti hymns in Tamil make considerable use of Rāma-Sītā-Rāvaṇa complex of the story but still allusions are not that many. Rya story becomes very important in Tamil tradition from the twelfth century when Kampan rendered that epic in Tamil. When Tamilnadu came to be ruled by Vaishnava Vijayanagar emperors and Nāyak kings for about four centuries from the fourteenth century, Rāma factor in Vaishnava bhakti was on the ascendant.

Saiva bhakti hymns from the seventh century have a large number of allusions to the Rya story but their focus was very different from that of the Vaishnava hymns. Appar and Campantar have the largest number of allusions to the story of the epic but they were talking of just Śiva-Rāvaṇa relationship except in one or two exceptional cases. Rāvaṇa tried to lift Mount Kailāsa on his shoulder to take it to his city in Lanka to enable his aged mother to worship. Lord Śiva punished him for his arrogance in trying to lift God and his mountainous abode. Rāvaṇa pleased him with worshipping him and chanting sāma veda music. Śiva not only released him but also rewarded him with a powerful sword. These allusions have nothing to do with highlighting Rāma incarnation.

Peter Schalk says that some of these allusions appear to be demonisation of the Buddhist kings of Sri Lanka as they refer to Rāvaṇa as a cruel rākshasa and as king of Lankā. While not discounting this interpretation, I think that there is more to it. It is quite possible that this allusion to Rāvaṇa was a warning to the Pallava and Pandya kings who were at one time Jains, trying to harm Appar, Campantar and their Saiva bhakti movement. These allusions almost disappear after the seventh century.

Appar and Campantar have allusions to Rāma-Rāvaṇa-Sītā complex but with Śiva at the top when they composed their hymn on Rāmēśvaram shrine. They refer to the main theme of the Rya, epic but they say that on his return from Lanka after killing Rāvaṇa, Rāma built a Śiva temple on his landing place for the expiation of the guilt/sin. Appar uses the Tamil name for Viṣṇu repeatedly when he refers to Rāma, implying that he was fully aware that Rāma was Viṣṇu’s incarnation. Rāmēsvaram was a temple not for Lord Rāma but for Śiva, Lord of Rāma/ Viṣṇu, according to this belief.

Apart from asserting Śiva’s supremacy over Viṣṇu /Rāma, this belief also seems to be questioning the correctness of the killing of Rāvaṇa. It is claimed in some accounts that Rāvaṇa was a half-Brahmin as his father was a Brahmin sage and so he should not have been killed. More than that, there seems to be some Saiva-Vaishnava conflict underlying the R̄ya episode. In the very popular television rendering of the Rya in India, the characters like Rāma, Lakshmaṇa, Hanumān etc., appeared with Vaishnava sectarian forehead marks while Rāvaṇa, Kumbakarṇa, etc., appeared with Saiva sectarian forehead marks. Campantar who has a hymn on the importance of the Saiva sacred ashes, seems to consider Rāvaṇa such an eminent person that he mentions him by name as somebody who wears this. In such a situation, the Tamil Jains probably did not feel that they had to rework the Rya epic as importance of Rāma began to grow more and more in Tamilnadu only after Vaishnava kings began to rule Tamilnadu from late fourteenth century.

Kṛṣṇa incarnation was of course the base of the Vaishnava bhakti movement. There are ample allusions to Kṛṣṇa’s exploits as a child, as a youth and as an adult in Vaishnava hymns. How Kṛṣṇa helped the Pandavas to win the Mahābhārata war and how Kṛṣṇa went as charioteer to Arjuna to ensure his victory have been alluded in a number of places. It is remarkable that the Bhagavad Gītā has not been given any prominence in the Tamil Vaishnava bhakti hymns. The Saiva bhakti hymns also accepted that it was Arjuna who clinched victory for the Pandavas. But their allusions to the Mba was Arjuna performing penance to Śiva to obtain Pāśupata missile and Śiva challenging him to a mock fight and then obliging him. According to the Saiva view, it was not Kṛṣṇa’s assistance but this missile which killed Karṇa, Arjuna’s chief rival, which brought ultimate victory for the Pandavas. Thus, the main stream Saiva bhakti movement in Tamilnadu has not glorified Kṛṣṇa and Rāma incarnations of Viṣṇu.

7.4. Outward conformity is a double edged sword.

The Jains had to contend with Purāṇic Saivism. The Jains appear to be sharing some concepts with Saivism. The Jain Cil refers to Jain concept of ultimate liberation as sivagati, “auspicious level” when it refers to Arhat as civakati nāyakaṇ,”lord of auspicious stage”, in the middle of the sixth century. Alone among leaders of the Saiva bhakti movement, Appar, the renegade Jain monk- turned Saiva hymnist, uses civakati, “refuge in Śiva”. Mount Kailasa has been Siva’s abode in the Purāṇas. The Jains claim that Mount Kailasa is sacred for them as Ṛṣabha, their first tīrthaṅkara, obtained his liberation there. The Jains also celebrate Śivarātri, “Śiva’s night”, a prominent festival of the Saivites as sacred to them as it was on that night that he attained liberation. This kind of adjustment might have helped the Jain minority not to feel isolated among the Saivite minority but it might have also helped some Jains converting to Saivism.


Religious conflict in Tamilnadu might have its beginnings by the beginning of the seventh century. Jainism was making slow progress in different regions of Tamilnadu and by that time, Jainism seems to have succeeded in converting both the Pallava and the Pandya kings. Buddhism was making some inroads in the Kāviri delta and Kanchi. It is not possible to estimate how widespread these religions were. Appar, a renegade Jain monk, and Cākkiyar, a renegade Buddhist monk probably started a slide in the fortunes of these religions. It is important to note that both of them were peasants from Toṇṭai region, the dominant community among the Tamils. The Brahmins of the Chola region seems to have found an opportunity to weaken and destroy Jains and Buddhists, both of whom originated as protest movements against claims of Brahmin authority. Burton Stein’s charaterisation of the Tamilnadu bhakti movement as Brahmins-peasants alliance seems to be correct to that level. But Jains and Buddhists were fighting against each other rather than against Saivites and Vaishnavites. They too appear to have contributed to their mutual destruction.

List of Abbreviations


Buddhism among Tamils in Pre-Colonial Tamiḻakam and Īḻam.








Mānava Dharma Śāstra.




Project Madurai.










Tiruviḷaiyāṭal purāṇam.


Cuntaraṇār Mīṇātci Te. Po., Campantarum Camaṇarum. Chennai: Uruttirā Patippakam, 1957.
Doniger Wendy & Smith Brian K,(translators) The Laws of Manu. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Dundas Paul, Jains. Second edition London & New York: Routledge, 2002.
Irācu Ce.pulavar, Koṅkunāṭum camaṇamum, Erodu: Koṅku āyvu maiyam, 2005.
Jaini Padmanabh, The Jaina Path of Purification. Berkeley - Los Angeles - London: University of California Press, 1979.
Lakshmi Champaka R. “̄Jain literature in Tamil”. Online article. See Accessed on Dec. 24, 2007.
Madurai Project. Online e-texts.
Texts accessed from this site: PM100 part III Tolkāppiyam Poruḷatikāram; PM 001 Tirukkuṟaḷ; PM046 Cilappatikāram; PM162, PM179 Tiruñāṇacampantamūrtti nāyaṇār tēvāram; PM182 Tirunāvukkaracu nāyaṇār tēvāram; PM 224, 226 Periyapurāṇam; PM005 Nālāyirat tivviya pirapantam, PM057 Puranānūṟu; PM127 Patinōrān Tirumuṟai. All of them accessed in Dec. 2007.
Nākacāmi Irāmaccantiraṇ, “Buddhist Icons of Tamilakam”, BATIPTI. Ed. Peter Schalk. Part 1, 109-145. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet,2002.
Patmanātaṇ Civacuppiramaṇiyam, “Buddhism in Nākappaṭṭiṇam”, BATIPTI, Ed. Peter Schalk. Part 2,569-609. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2002.
Sastri Nilakanta K.N., A History of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar. fourth edition. Madras: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Schalk Peter, “In Search of Buddhism in Pre-Colonial Tamiḻakam”, “Pallava policy on Buddhism”, “Introduction. Buddhism under the Imperial Colar”. BATIPTI, Ed. Peter Schalk. Part 1, 238-347; 378-430.Part 2, 514-559. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2002.
Stein Burton, Peasant Society and State in Medieval South India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Subramanian T.N. “Pallankovil copper Jaina Copper Plate of Early Pallava Period”, Transactions, 41-83. Madras: Archaeological Survey of South India, 1959.
Tamil Lexicon V, Reprint. Madras: University of Madras, 1982.
ThiruviLaiyAdalpurANam Online articles. See
accessed on January 1, 2008.
Vēluppiḷḷai Ālvāppiḷḷai “The History of Buddhism among Tamils in Pre-Colonial Ilaṅkai”, “Jainism in Tamil inscriptions and literature”, “Tirunāṇa Campantar’s polemical writings against the Buddhists and the Jains”, “Jain Polemic against the Buddhists in the Nīlakēci”, “Jain Polemic against Buddhism in the Tirukkalampakam”, “Some Significant Aspects of Vīracōḻiyam and its commentary”, “Presentation and Refutation of four schools of Pauttam in the parapakkam of Civañāṇa Cittiyār”. BATIPTI. Ed. Peter Schalk, Part 1.145-166; 167-203; 446-486; Part 2, 609-632;632-644; 644-662; 785-810. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2002.
Vēluppiḷḷai Āḻvāppiḷḷai, “Jainism in Tamil Inscriptions”. Jainism and Early Buddhism, Essays in honor of Padmanabh Jaini. Ed.Olle Qvarnstrom, 315-335. Fremont California: Asian Humanities Press, 2003.
Vēluppiḷḷai Āḻvāppiḷḷai, “The Position of Saint Appar in Tamil Saivism”, South Indian Horizons. Felicitation Volume for Francois Gros. Ed.Jean-Luc Chevillard & Eva Eilden, 29-47. Institut Francais De Pondichery, Ecole Francaise DÉxtreme-Orient, 2004a.
Vēluppiḷḷai Āḻvāppiḷḷai, Review of Early Tamil Epigraphy. IJDL. Volume xxxiii Number 1, (2004b) 133-154.
Williams, R. Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Medieval Śrāvakācāras, 1963.

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