History of Jainism ►Jainism in Tamil Nadu [1]

Author:  Image of P.M. JosephP.M. Joseph
Published: 29.12.2011
Updated: 13.01.2015



History of Jainism in Tamil Nadu (I)

Jainism might have reached Tamil Nadu, perhaps, a century after the nirvāṇa of Mahāvīra. The Buddhist chronicle, Maha-vamsa (mahā-vamśa; Ch. 10) states that the Sinhalese king, ṇḍukābhaya, built a temple for the Nigantha (nigatha) Jotiya and another for Nigantha Kumbhama. Nigantha is the pāli term for a Digambara monk.

The period of this king is the second half of the 5th century A.D. It is clear that during his time, Jainism was established in Ceylon. A comparative study of Prakrit words in Telugu-Kannada and Tamil-Malayalam groups showed that in the former, where there are Ardha-Magadhi (ardha-māgadhī) forms in certain situations, we find that in the latter group, there are borrowings from Magadhi. This shows that the preachers of Jainism, at least some groups of them, had come to these two regions from two different parts of India.

The possibility is that Jainism was spread in Ceylon - Tamil Nadu - Kerala regions by the same group. In that case, the missionaries might have reached Ceylon without touching the Andhra-Karnataka regions. Artha-śāstra mentions that there was a water route (sea-route) to Dakiāpatha (South India). Some of the Jaina missionaries from Eastern India might have taken that course to reach the Tamil Nadu - Kerala and Ceylonese areas.

Row of seated Tirthankaras with tri-chattra, Sittanavasal Jain Cave Temple.

There is a strong tradition that Viśākha-muni, at the instance of Bhadra-bāhu, sent missionaries from Shravana-belgola (śravaa-begoa) to the Pandya (pāṇḍya) and Chola (cōa) countries. After the 10th century A.D., perhaps, Shravana-belgola acted as a centre for South Indian Jainism. That there was contact of other South Indian Jaina centres with this great centre of learning and pilgrimage, is proved by tradition and epigraphical evidences. But, in South India, Jaina inscriptions, belonging to a period before Christ, are found only in Tamil Nadu. These are found mostly in cave-dwellings, in the rocky hills in and around Madurai. Though these are not dated, on paleographical grounds, it is inferred that the earliest of these belongs to the 2nd century B.C.

Some of these caves are shaped into rooms with raised platforms, which might have served as beds for the recluses. On one end of the bed, pillows also are found cut from the rock. The inscriptions, mainly labels, giving the names of the sages who used those, or the devotees who made them for the monks, are mostly on the sides of the stone pillows. In these respects, these rock-cut dwellings bear similarity with their contemporary caves in Ceylon.

Tamil has a literary tradition, starting from the 2nd century B.C. This is called Sangam (sagam), Pkt./Skt. sangha (sagha) period, the upper limit of which is the 5th century A.D. This period was dominated by the Jaina writers. One of the five epic poems in Tamil, Cilap-patikāram, was written by the Chera (cēra) prince, Iago, who was a Jaina monk. The picture of contemporary Jainism is reflected in this work. Most of the minor works which belong to this period are Jaina.

There is a view that the Drāvia sagha, founded by Vajra-nandi, in Madurai, was a literary sangha. But this view is not supported by evidence. This was an organization of the monks like any other sangha all over India, and their activities were similar to those of the monks of other sanghas. Another sangha, which seems to have been founded in Tamil Nadu, the Vīra-sagha, has been mentioned in an inscription in Tiru-narungodai (tiru-narugoai) in South Arcot. district. From inscriptional evidences, we find that there were other sects of Jainas in Tamil Nadu, but the Digambaras were dominant from the early period. There were the Yapaniyas (yāpanīya) at an early period. The Shvetambaras (śvētāmbara) were late to come.

Lotus gatherer (wall painting, Pandya, 9th century CE), Sittanavasal Jain Cave Temple.

Royal patronage gave Jainism in Tamil Nadu a boost in the early centuries of the Christian era. In almost all dynasties, we find that there were members, who were either believers of this religion or were tolerant to it. The Adiyamans (adiyamān) of Tagadur (tagaur; Dharmapuri) promoted Jainism. Adiyamān Neumān Añji (1st century A.D.) constructed a residence for the Jaina monks. He was celebrated by the Sangam poets, Paraar and Avvaiyār. He is known to be a Shaivite but his tolerance to Jainism is revealed by the inscription in Brahmi (brāhmī) characters in Jambai of Tiru-k-kōyilūr of South Arcot district.

Viukātalakiya Perumā (11th century A.D.), a kin of the Kerala kings and Adiyamans of Tagadur, renovated a Jaina temple in Tirumalai. The images of yaksha (yakṣa) and yakshi (yakṣī) were installed by his kin, Elini of Vañji. The Western Gangas, though they ruled in the southern part of Karnataka, had contacts with Tamil Nadu and there are epigraphical evidences to show that these kings were enthusiastic about the establishment of Jainism in Tamil Nadu.

One inscription in Vaḷḷi-malai mentions the foundation of a shrine by the Ganga king, Rāja-malla II, son of Raa-vikrama (A.D. 877-907). Some of the Chera rulers might have been Jainas by conviction. A Brahmi inscription belonging to 3rd-4th centuries A.D., found in Pugalūr, in Karūr taluq of Tiru-c-cira-p-paḷḷi district, mentions that a Chera prince, Iam-Kauko, son of King Perum-Kaukōn, made a stone abode for the Jaina monk, Vekāyappan.

The Cholas were tolerant to all religions. Some of their vassals and officers were ardent Jainas. During the time of Parantaka I (parāntaka; A.D. 911-35), some donations were made to various Jaina institutions in Mēlkūalūr of Gingee taluq of South Arcot district.

Another inscription says that in Wandiwash, one a-rāja-vīra-cōa (A.D. 993), who seems to have been the vassal of Raja-raja (rāja-rāja), made a gift to the god of Tiruppān-malai. Kundavai Pirāttiyār caused three temples to be constructed, of which one is Kundavai-Jinālaya, during the time of Raja-raja I (A.D. 1006), as mentioned in an inscription in Dādā-puram in Tindi-vanam (tiṇḍi-vanam) taluq of South Arcot district. During the time of Vikrama Chola (A.D. 1128), as is known from an inscription in Maaviāgam in Tindi-vanam, South Arcot district, a grant was registered for the maintenance of a feeding house, flower garden etc., for a Jaina temple.

Rock inscription, Tirumalai Jain Temples.

From an inscription in the Viṣṇu temple belonging to the period of Rāja-kēsari-varman (A.D. 1063), it is known that there was a monastery called Sundara-cola-p-penim-paḷḷi in ōlagapuram near Tindi-vanam. We understand that during the period of Parantaka I (A.D. 928), a grant was made to the ṭṭār-p-perum-paḷḷi in aiyūr in agōppāi, by one Sakkanvayiri. During the reign of Para-kesari-varma, according to an inscription in Toūr, in Gingee taluq (10th century characters), a chieftain, Viakōvaraiyan made some grants to the Valuvā-moli-p-perum-paḷḷi. During the reign of Raja-raja I (A.D. 1002), in the Appāṇḍinātha temple at Tiru-narungodai (South Arcot), an inscription has been engraved, which mentions that the commander-in-chief of the monarch made a grant to the temple on behalf of the king.

During the rule of Chola Rājādhi-rāja (A.D. 1031), a grant is made to the yakshi of Mēlir-paḷḷi. Chola Kulottunga (cōla kulōttuga) (A.D. 1070-1120) is historically introduced in an inscription in Tiru-narungodai. During the 8th regnal year of this monarch (A.D. 1078), another record is written to state that 40 cows had been donated for perpetual lamps in the shrine. In Paḷḷi-candal (South Arcot), an inscription of the period of Raja-raja-deva III (rāja-rāja-dēva) (A.D. 1222), refers to the Gaṇḍarāditta-p-perun-paḷḷi, which, according to scholars, was a Jaina institution named after the Chola monarch Gaṇḍarāditya. Kōnērinmai-koṇḍān donated land for the conduct of some festivals in Irungōla-p-pāi-nāu (Tiru-narungodai).

Another donative record of this king is available in the same place. Vikrama Chola has been introduced in detail and it is stated that in the year A.D. 1128 he registered tax-free lands for the expenses of the Vaikāśi festival to the gods, Animoli-dēva and Nityakalyāa-dēva, of Tiru-narungodai. Another grant of the same king to the temple is found. During the time of Raja-raja-deva II (A.D. 1155), Kiliyūr Malaiyamān made a grant to the temple for the worship of Appar and Pāliyil-ālvār of Tiru-narungodai. Kulōttunga III (A.D. 1178-1216) is mentioned in another inscription in the same place and stated that a grant was made to the Jaina temple.


Jainism in South India

Compiled by PK

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  1. Ardha-Magadhi
  2. Brāhmī
  3. Digambara
  4. Digambaras
  5. Gingee
  6. JAINA
  7. Jain Temples
  8. Jaina
  9. Jaina Temple
  10. Jainism
  11. Jainism in South India
  12. Karnataka
  13. Kerala
  14. Madurai
  15. Mahāvīra
  16. Nirvāṇa
  17. PK
  18. Prakrit
  19. Sangha
  20. Saṅgha
  21. Shravana-belgola
  22. Sittanavasal
  23. Sittanavasal Jain Cave Temple
  24. Tamil
  25. Tamil Nadu
  26. Tirthankaras
  27. Tirumalai Jain Temples
  28. Tolerance
  29. Yaksha
  30. Yakshi
  31. Yakṣa
  32. Yakṣī
  33. Yāpanīya
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