Jainism : The World of Conquerors ► 2 ► History ► 2.7 ► Popular Support

Posted: 20.11.2015

Earlier, we described the contribution of ascetics in the promotion of Jainism. Now we will examine the role played by laymen and laywomen, but there is little historical and biographical material on the lay orders. What follows has been compiled from material scattered throughout the Jain literature in the Gujarati language, but is neither definitive nor exhaustive, and in some instances, the status of individuals mentioned in this section, i.e. whether they were ascetics or laypeople, was not uniformly agreed by the sangha.

In the time of Mahavira, Sankha Sataka was head of the laymen's order and Sulasa and Revati heads of the laywomen. These and many other laypeople strictly adhered to the minor vows and because of their contribution to the promotion of Jainism, some, as below, are remembered daily by Jains in the recital of the morning liturgy:

Laymen: Karkandu, Sudarsan Sheth, Vankacul, Salibhadra, Dhanyakumar, Abhaykumar, Ilaciputra and Nandisena.

Laywomen: Sulasa, Revati Manorama, Damyanti, Sita, Nanda, Bhadra, Risidatta, Padmavati, Anjana, Sridevi, Jyestha, Prabhavati, Celana, Rukhmini, Kunti, Devaki, Dropadi, Dharani and Kalavati.

The laity have played an important role in building and maintaining temples, upashrayas, libraries, welfare institutions and other activities of the sangha. They attend to the needs of ascetics and their contribution has kept Jainism vigorous.

The earliest important layperson whom we know by name is Javadshah, who, according to the literary record, undertook the 13th renovation of the Satrunjay temples in 51 CE. The record is silent for many centuries until we encounter two brothers who were ministers of Gujarat, Vastupal and Tejpal. In the twelfth century they built the world famous temples of Delwara (Mount Abu), which extended the earlier temple built by Vimalshah. These brothers were said to be responsible for building 1,300 temples, 984 upashrayas, 700 schools, 3,000 Hindu temples, 700 Hindu monasteries, 64 mosques, 700 dharmasalas (boarding houses) for pilgrims and 700 other spiritual centres. They also renovated 2,000 existing temples and provided daily alms to more than 1,500 ascetics. Vastupal's wife Lalita and Tejpal's wife Anupama were instrumental in motivating the brothers to undertake these works, which demonstrated Jains' care for humanity by the provision of places of worship for all, irrespective of their faith. Their liberalism resulted in a deep friendship with the Muslim ruler of Delhi, Lil-Tutamish. Vastupal wrote many books and 24 honorific titles were bestowed on him. In 1230 CE the brothers undertook a pilgrimage to Satrunjay with 700 Svetambar aacaaryas, 100 Digambar aacaaryas, 2,100 ascetics and thousands of laypeople.

In the thirteenth century, under Muslim influence, iconoclastic movements spread through both Jain and Hindu communities. This disruption brought misery to many people, which was made worse by a great famine in Gujarat in the reign of king Visaldeva. Jagdushah, a wealthy Jain grains merchant, provided food for the entire population during the famine in Gujarat. His generosity also extended to the renovation of many Jain and Hindu temples and the building of a mosque.

Probable contemporaries of Jagdushah, a father and son, Pethadshah and Zanzankumar, were noted for their devotion to the community, building 84 temples and 74 upashrayas. Pethadshah revered the scripture known as the Bhagavati Sutra and had it copied and distributed to libraries throughout India. The Bhagavati Sutra is a record of thousands of questions put to Mahavira by his chief disciple, Gautam. When this scripture was read publicly Pethadshah gave a gold coin for each question to the sangha.

A thirteenth century minister of king Siladitya of Gujarat, named Bahadshah, undertook the fourteenth renovation of the Satrunjay temple with the approval of the king and, after he was wounded in battle, his son Ambadshah completed the work.

At this time, Kutubbudin Shah was the Muslim ruler of Delhi. His forces regularly attacked Gujarat, destroying non-Muslim places of worship and encouraging iconoclasm. Samarsinh, a Jain, minister in Gujarat successfully co-ordinated the defence of the territory, saving many temples from destruction.

In 1314 CE Samarashah carried out the fifteenth renovation of the Satrunjay temple, which had been destroyed by Allauddin Khilji. He undertook five vows, (celibacy, eating only once a day, sleeping without a mattress, giving up dairy products and sweet foods, and not shaving). He practised them faithfully until the renovation was completed.

Dharanashah, minister of Rana Kumbha, whose kingdom lay in modern Rajasthan, built the magnificent temple at Ranakpur in 1439 CE. Dharanashah was influenced by the Aacaaryas Hiravijay and Somasundar. The temple at Ranakpur is one of the wonders of Jain architecture. It has 1,444 hand-carved sandstone pillars and is one of the best examples of a Jain temple building and a major centre of pilgrimage. Extensive renovation has been carried out in the second half of the twentieth century by the Anandji Kalyanji Pedhi (a trust established to care for the temples and to promote the Jain way of life), under the supervision of Kasturbhai Lalbhai, a leading Jain philanthropist and expert on the Jain heritage. Great care has been exercised to recreate the quality of the original construction.

In 1523 Karmashah undertook the sixteenth renovation of the Satrunjay temple, with the consent of the Muslim ruler Bahadurkhan of Delhi and with the help of his local ruler Rana Sangha, whom he served as a minister and who was a Jain sympathiser. Karmashah also obtained an exemption from the toll tax for the Satrunjay temple pilgrims. This temple and its main image (murti) of Risabhdeva are in use as a place of worship today. The Anandji Kalyanji Pedhi is currently carrying out restoration work on this edifice. Shrenik Kasturbhai Lalbhai, an acknowledged expert on the Jain heritage is involved in this work and has donated generously to the cost of this and many other projects.

Velaka was the finance minister for Rana Kumbha of Cittoda, Rajasthan. He constructed the famous temple of Cittodagadh in 1448 CE and secured exemption for the Mount Abu temples' pilgrims from the toll.

Khema Hadalia is remembered for his generosity in feeding the whole of Gujarat, from his own resources, during an acute famine in 1493 CE. This is in keeping with the Jain teaching that wealth should not be accumulated for reasons of personal aggrandisement, but to help all living beings. The Muslim ruler of Gujarat was surprised at the generosity of this Jain merchant. He honoured him by coining the phrase: 'Ek Bania Shah, Bijo Badshah', meaning 'Bania (merchant) first and the king second' by which he meant that the merchant's generosity had raised him to a status higher than that of the king.

Around the 1590 CE, Bhamashah, the Jain minister of Rana Pratap, donated all his wealth to support the struggle of Mewar (Udaipur), which was seeking to maintain its independence in the face of Akbar the Great's imperial expansion. This philanthropy allowed Rana Pratap to keep an army in the field for twelve years, during which time he was able to recover most of Mewar from the Muslim invaders.

In 1631 CE, Dharmadas Shah built a temple on the Satrunjay hills which houses a fourteen foot high marble image of Adabadji (Risabhdeva). Many noted aacaaryas, upaadhyaayas and laypeople maintained Jainism's popular appeal through the composition of devotional literature, (pujaa hymns, rituals etc.) superficially modelled on Vaisnava lines. Among those who wrote devotional compositions are: Anandghana, Vinaya Vijay, Yasho Vijay, Jnan Vimal Suri, Udayratna and Devcandra; these works helped the Jain community to sustain a feeling of close-knit fellowship and to withstand pressures from the revivalist devotional (bhakti) Hindu cults.

In the nineteenth century, the British consolidated their rule in India. Bombay became the trading and commercial centre of the country. Many Jain merchants from Gujarat, among them Amicand, Motishah, Narsi Natha and Keshavji Nayak moved to Bombay. They used their new wealth to build temples, animal sanctuaries and other welfare institutions.

In Ahmedabad, the families and descendants of wealthy Jains such as Shantidas Sheth, Hemabhai and Premabhai used their resources to promote general education for everyone. Their philanthropic work earned a proud reputation for the Jain community. Jain merchants flourished as textile 'kings' and, in due course made Ahmedabad 'the Manchester of India', and it attracted many creative ascetics and laypeople, among whom are numbered prominent hymn writers. Many Jain laypeople became well known in the latter half of the nineteenth century, creating international interest in Jains and Jainism.

Rajendrasuri (1827 to 1906 CE): At the age of twenty, he was the first person in the nineteenth century to be initiated as a yati, and at the age of forty years he became Shri Pujya Yati. One of his outstanding achievements was to call together an assembly of the Jain community for a public reading of the forty-five-part canon for the first time in many centuries. Among his own literary works is an encyclopaedic seven-volume dictionary of Prakrit of 9,200 pages and defining 60,000 terms. He organised the mass recitation of the great Jain prayer, the Namokara Mantra, at which the mantra was chanted over twelve million times. In his lifetime he officiated at the consecration of 1,023 images of tirthankaras, established many social welfare institutions, including Jain libraries, and reformed the institution of the yatis.

Virchand Raghavji Gandhi (1864 to 1901 CE): Every Jain feels proud of Virchand Raghavji Gandhi. Gandhi is a common family name in Gujarat, but the various distinguished figures bearing that name are unrelated. Born in 1864 into a prestigious Gujarati family, he became a highly respected lawyer. He was active in the promotion of religious values and used his legal skills to gain exemption from tolls for pilgrims to the Satrunjay Hill temples, pursuing the case through the courts. He took on the Government in a case involving a proposal to build a factory near the pilgrimage site of Sammeta Sikhar in Bihar. This factory would have processed pig fat, contrary to Jain teachings not to commit acts of violence on living beings. As a result of his action, the factory project was shelved. He was politically active, participating in the National Freedom Movement against the British Raj; he represented Bombay at the Indian National Congress in Poona, and also represented Asia at an international commerce convention.

At the insistence of Aacaarya Vijayanand Suri, he represented Jainism at the Parliament of World Religions in 1893, undertaking extensive scholarly preparation for this event. He made such an impression on the international gathering that he was asked to deliver further lectures, which resulted in his staying for two more years in America, and then a year in the United Kingdom. He travelled abroad to speak on Jainism on two other occasions; reputedly he gave some 535 foreign lectures on Jainism and Indian philosophy. He gave courses on Jainism and attracted many followers outside India; and as a result Jain societies to promote interest in Jainism and Jain culture were founded by non-Jains in the United Kingdom and United States. He was awarded silver and gold medals for his lectures, all of which have been published and which, even today, are recognised for their substance and quality. Mahatma Gandhi held Virchand Raghavji Gandhi in great regard and regularly corresponded with him. It was a cause of great sadness that such an illustrious man died at the young age of 37, and Jains will long remember him with affection and admiration. A century after he attended the first Parliament of World Religions, he was remembered at the second Parliament in Chicago in 1993 again with great respect and regard. He exemplified the best in the religious, national, political and literary life of India and Jains will always regard him with pride.

Srimad Rajchandra (1867 to 1901 CE): In a short life of a mere 34 years, Srimad Rajchandra achieved greatness and left behind him the memory of a very great soul and an example which many have been inspired to follow. Srimad Rajchandra was born in Vavania (Gujarat) in 1867 CE, educated in local schools and married at the age of 20 to Zabakbai, a jeweller's daughter. He was extraordinarily intelligent and early in life he had mastered at least 5 languages. As his father's family was devotees of the Vaisnava Hindu tradition, it was from his mother that he learned about Jainism. It was his mother's practice of traditional Jain rituals such as the twice-daily penitence (pratikramana) which attracted him to the Jain view of life and spirituality. He found Jain practice to be the best means of happiness; he became a Jain in thought and action, and he remained such to the end of his life. As a result of his obvious inner spiritual knowledge and his excellent oratorical skills, people flocked to him for guidance in their spiritual quest. Such was his spiritual strength that he could overcome normal human physical desires, such as hunger for many days at a time, and although his physical body became emaciated, people remarked that his spirituality shone in his face.

In addition to his skills as an orator, he was a poet, writer, translator, scriptural commentator and an impressive letter writer. Of the more than two dozen books that he wrote, Atmasiddhi, Pravacanmala, Moksamala, Puspamala, and Bhavanabodh have achieved considerable popularity. These books and about 800 of his letters have been published and some have been translated into foreign languages, including English.

He had immense powers of concentration and memory (avadhaan). People would gather to witness his skill. An example of this was his ability to accept a hundred unconnected, random questions and then to answer them correctly in any order, merely by being given the number of the question, which is why he was known as the person with the 'hundredfold memory' (sataavadhaani). His spiritual teachings won him a wide following, including many ascetics who call him the 'true teacher' (krupaludeva or sadguru). They have since organised a chain of institutions called 'temples of knowledge' (jnaan mandir) throughout the world for the promotion of his Jain teachings.

He has become best known as the spiritual mentor of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he met in 1891 after Gandhi had been in England studying law. The timing of this encounter was significant, for Gandhi was facing a personal spiritual crisis, was uncertain of his faith, and considering conversion to Christianity. Srimad Rajchandra gave Gandhi an anchor in the values of Indian religious traditions, and it was Rajchandra's example which led Gandhi to follow the way of 'non-violence' (ahimsaa), utilising it as the main weapon with which to win independence for India. Throughout his life, Rajchandra expressed the truths that arose from his spiritual life and those who were close to him knew that they were in the presence of a great soul. He died in 1901 at Rajkot (Gujarat).

Kanji Swami (1889 to 1980 CE): Born in Gujarat in 1889, Kanji Swami was initiated as a Sthanakvasi ascetic at the age of 24. His depth of knowledge and speaking skills were such that he was honoured with the title of the 'mountain of light' (koh-inoor) of Kathiawar. During his scriptural studies he was highly impressed by the 'Essence of Doctrines' (Samaya Saara) of Kundakunda, which led him to study the books of Banarasidass, Todarmal and Rajchandra. He felt the 'soul-oriented' Digambar path was the true path and, in 1934, he proclaimed himself a Digambar layperson and began preaching Kundakunda's teaching.

Gradually, the number of his followers, both Svetambars and Digambars, grew to many thousands. His sermons encouraged his followers to adopt a habit of regular personal study and the distribution of Jain literature, and they impressed upon his followers the view that rituals and attire have no meaning without a proper understanding and the right frame of mind.

Many remarkable incidents have been associated with him, which illustrate his charismatic personality. His followers have popularised the devotional doctrine of the 'Living Tirthankara of Mahaavideha' (Simandhar Swami). Jain geography describes Mahaavideha as a continent of the Jambudvipa region, where people live and where there is always at least one living tirthankara, and Simandhar Swami is one of the present living tirthankaras on this continent.

The main centres for the propagation of Kanji Swami's teachings today are Songadh in Gujarat and Jaipur in Rajasthan, though there are outposts in Nairobi, London and the United States. Kanji Swami died in 1980, in Bombay.

Jains have remained a respected community in India and have been prominent in the economic life of India. They have contributed significantly to Indian culture and heritage, and are well known for their philanthropic and welfare activities, for animals as well as people. Jain values are highly regarded and attract support from Jains as well as from the wider community.

The above account of popular support is based on vernacular literature such as Atmanandji (1988), Devluck ed. (1985), Doshi (1979), Duggadh (1979), Khusalchandramuni (1990), Modi (1988), Shah R. (1992), Vaid (1980) and articles from the Jain (1982-1989).

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Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998