Jaina Studies of Georg Bühler: Investigation and Insights

Posted: 02.05.2016
Updated on: 02.10.2016

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London

During his four-decade long research career, Georg BÜHLER (1837-1898) dealt with a variety of subjects, from Dharmaśāstra and palaeography to religion and epigraphy, but many of his insights and investigations proved vital to the progress of Jaina Studies. He spent nearly one third of his life in India (1863 to 1880). Resigning the position of Professor of Oriental Languages and Ancient History, Elphinstone College, Bombay, he accepted a position as Educational Inspector in the Department of Public Instruction of the British Government in India. This enabled him to travel across the country, to undertake extensive searches for manuscripts, to interact with all classes of people and to get intimate knowledge of Indian culture. According to BÜHLER, knowledge of contemporary India, especially of its living traditions, was of immense importance for the study of ancient Indian literature. In my dissertation, Contribution of Georg Bühler to Indology, I have illustrated how BÜHLER's knowledge of contemporary India helped him to gain an insight into the ancient past of the land.[1] Having studied his entire writings, I have tried to argue that the methodology and approach adopted by BÜHLER in his Indological pursuits is his major contribution to the field of Indology.

Jainism: Distinct from Buddhism

Till the third quarter of the 19th century, the Jaina religion was considered by western scholars mainly to be an offshoot of Buddhism, and it is well known that Hermann JACOBI (1850-1937) proved it to be an independent sect. It is not generally known, however, that BÜHLER reached the same conclusion independently by another quite interesting course.

Until the 1870s BÜHLER believed that Jainism was an old sect of Buddhism, even though he recognised the Jainas in the Buddhist school of the sammatiya. During his tours in connection with the search for manuscripts (1868-1880) he examined Jaina literature extensively. He also came in contact with many Jaina ascetics. Through some Digambara Jainas at Delhi and Jaipur, he learnt that the Digambaras had been called nigaṇṭhas since ancient times.[2] This seems to have led him to rethink the issue of the origin of Jainism. Finally, after the observation that the Buddhists texts recognise the nigaṇṭha and describe their founder as a rival of Buddha and mentioning that he died at Pāvā where the last tīrthaṅkara is said to have attained nirvāṇa, he inferred that these nigaṇṭhas must be none other than the Jainas and that the Jainas and the Buddhists sprang from the same religious movement (BÜHLER 1903: 24 n. 1).[3] Once this identification was done it also became possible to recognise that Aśoka mentioned the sect in his edicts and that it was of such an importance at the time as to mention it separately (BÜHLER 1903: 39f.).

Georg Bühler (1837-1898). Source: JOLLY Julius (1899), Georg
Bühler 1837-1898. Grundriss der Indo-Arischen Philologie und
Altertumskunde, Band I, Heft 1, A. Strassburg: Karl J. Trübner,
1899, p. 23.

Some of the Orientalists such as WEBER (1825-1901) and BARTH (1834-1916) were still not in favour of the argument. Although JACOBI answered successfully suspicions raised by BARTH, he did not use inscriptional evidences, which were more reliable sources compared to the literary ones. At this point, BÜHLER decisively proved the antiquity of the Jainas with the help of the large number of dedicatory inscriptions at Mathura which belonged to the era of Indo-Scythian kings first published in CUNNINGHAM's (1814-1893) Archaeological Reports (1873: 13-46). In the inscriptions, BÜHLER recognised the names of the schools of the Jainas, many of which are mentioned in the Kalpasūtra. He stated that the division amongst the Jainas must have taken place long before the beginning of the Common Era. He also argued that the tradition of the Śvetāmbaras really contains ancient historic elements, and by no means should be looked upon with distrust. He wrote a separate article on the subject in 1887, in which he showed successfully the authenticity of the Jaina tradition and the antiquity of the Jaina sect.


BÜHLER as a Collector of Jaina Manuscripts

BÜHLER was one of the pioneer collectors of manuscripts in India, which were largely undertaken in 1868 by the British Government. Since he had to travel as the Educational Inspector of schools, he used the opportunity to inspect private manuscript collections and Jaina bhaṇḍāras, and to procure manuscripts for the Government.

BÜHLER and F. KIELHORN (1840-1907) were responsible for manuscript searches in the Bombay Presidency, and divided among themselves the allotted area. Since BÜHLER was working as the Educational Inspector of the Northern Division of the Presidency (i.e., modern Gujarat), this Jaina populated region rich in manuscript tradition formed his area of search. It was larger than the area allotted to anyone working under the project. At many places BÜHLER was the first European who was allowed to enter the Jaina bhaṇḍāras. As rightly pointed out by S. K. BELVALKAR (1918: xvii), BÜHLER's achievements in this field were possible not simply because he happened to come so very early in the search for Sanskrit manuscripts, but also because the field he investigated was intrinsically so very valuable.

During 1868-69 BÜHLER visited Gujarat and Kathiawad, which then was part of the Bombay Presidency. In 1872, CUNNINGHAM suggested that the scholars working in the Bombay Presidency under the Government's manuscript-project should extend their researches beyond the limits of the Presidency and should visit Jaisalmer and Bikaner (GOUGH 1878: 81). Following his advice, during 15th December 1873 to 15th March 1874 BÜHLER made a tour to Rājputānā, (Rajasthan), and visited towns famous for their libraries and religious establishments (GOUGH 1878: 117).

His visit to Jaisalmer is of particular importance. The town is situated in the desert of Rajasthan and, at the time, the nearest railway station was ninety miles from it. This journey was usually done on camel back. BÜHLER believed that Rajasthan was a true representation of ancient Indian social and cultural conditions, as described in the ancient Sanskrit literature. Therefore, he suggested that those who wanted to study Indian history should see with their own eyes what the conditions really were. His article on the Wergeld (1893) is a quintessential example in this respect.

In Jaisalmer, after great trouble, the bhaṇḍāra of the Parśvanātha temple was partially opened to him where manuscripts dating from the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries were preserved. The oldest of these bore the date Samvat 1160 (1103-04  CE). In this bhaṇḍāra, BÜHLER made  some of his famous discoveries, the two historical poems Vikramāṅkadevacarita (MS. No. 50/1873-74) and Gauḍavaho (MS. No. 27/187374). With the help of JACOBI, who was on a private trip to India, BÜHLER copied the entire manuscript of Vikramāṅkadevacarita. The handwritten copy is now deposited in the Bhandarkar Institute. He was also able to discover there the Mahāvīracarita of Hemacandra (MS. No. 250/1873-74).[4]

The two scholars, BÜHLER and JACOBI, inspected every manuscript in the Pārśvanātha Temple library and selected 28 manuscripts to be copied for the Bombay Collection. But the copies were perhaps never made. BÜHLER requested repeatedly in vain. However, in Jodhpur he was able to procure some very important and unique manuscripts such as Hemacandra's Grammar (MS. No. 283/1873-74) and Deśināmamālā (MS. No. 270/1873-74).

His visit to Patan during 1874-75 was very successful. Patan, the ancient Anhilvāḍ, was in the princely state of the Gaikwads during the British period. BÜHLER described it as a true centre of Jainism in Gujarat. It was inhabited by a larger number of Śrāvakas than Ahmedabad, Vadhvan, or Cambay, and the Upāśrayas were numerous (GOUGH 1878: 126). The first bhaṇḍāra in Patan where BÜHLER got permission to enter was Pophliapadanobhaṇḍāra. However, his repeated attempts to enter into the famous bhaṇḍāra of Hemacandra failed. He visited the town thrice in six months' duration for the purpose, but was unable to inspect the entire library. He was shown only 600-700 manuscripts.[5]

Since 1873, BÜHLER obtained permission from the Government from time to time to send such manuscripts to European libraries for sale, texts of which are already well represented in the Government Collection (BÜHLER 1888: 534-536). The total number of manuscripts which found their way to European Libraries through BÜHLER is 904.[6]

BÜHLER’s Devanāgarī handwriting. A page from the manuscript of
Vikramāṇkadevacarita (MS. No. 50/1873-74) copied by BÜHLER
and JACOBI in Jaisalmer. (Courtesy: Bhandarkar Oriental Research

JACOBI’s Devanāgarī handwriting. A page from the manuscript of
Vikramāṇkadevacarita (MS. No. 50/1873-74) copied by BÜHLER
and JACOBI in Jaisalmer. (Courtesy: Bhandarkar Oriental Research

Important Jaina Manuscripts Discovered

The number of manuscripts collected by BÜHLER for the Government, the collection which now forms a part of the Manuscript Library of the Bhandarkar Institute, amounts to 2,876 as per BÜHLER's own record (BÜHLER 1888: 536). He was able to collect some very rare manuscripts of great antiquity. The oldest, containing the Bṛhatkalpasūtra, with its commentaries (MS. No. 128-130/1872-73), is dated 1334 Vikrama Saṃvat (1278 CE). The Ācārāṅgasūtra, with its commentaries (MSS. No. 78-80/1872-73), forming one large palm-leaf Pothī, the leaves of which are about 90 cm in length, and about 7.5 cm wide, dates back to 1348 Vikrama Saṃvat (1292 CE). Nine manuscripts procured by BÜHLER in 1871-72 were older than Saṃvat 1600 while seven manuscripts were older than 1500. In a single year 1872-73, BÜHLER bought twenty-four manuscripts which were written prior to Saṃvat 1600 (1544 CE), including three manuscripts written prior to Saṃvat 1400 (1344 CE).

Kashmiri Manuscripts

A special mention needs to be made of the Kashmiri collection of manuscripts that BÜHLER made for the Government during 1875-76. Since Kashmir had been for many centuries one of the chief seats of Sanskrit learning and literature, he proposed to the Government to extend his area further and to include Kashmir and Central India in his territory of search. (GOUGH 1878: 121). This tour proved the most successful one. He was able to procure 838 manuscripts, all important and rare; more so today, because of the disruptive conditions in the valley for approximately the last thirty years.

This collection comprises birch-bark and paper manuscripts written in Śāradā script, and 'new copies' made under the auspices of BÜHLER of those manuscripts that he could not procure in original form. The manuscripts are related to specialised subjects such as Kashmir Śaivism, Jainism and the history of Kashmir. The collection comprises 234 Jaina manuscripts out of which only twenty-two are new copies, the rest being original.

Out of the total 2,876 manuscripts procured by BÜHLER for the Government, 1,044, i.e., around thirtysix percent, pertain to the literature of the Jainas. As per the reported searches of manuscripts the total number of Jaina manuscripts in the collection stands at around 1,933.[7] Thus, BÜHLER has procured approximately 54 percent the manuscripts out of the total Jaina manuscripts now possessed by the Bhandarkar Institute.

Amruta Chintaman Natu is Assistant Curator In-charge of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute and also working as a Research Assistant to the Mahābhārata Cultural Index in the same Institute.



BELVALKAR, S. K. (1916). Descriptive Catalogue of the Government Collections of Manuscripts deposited at the Deccan College, Poona. Vol. I Part I. Poona: Deccan College, The Government of Bombay.

BÜHLER, Georg (1878) The Digambara Jainas. Indian Antiquary 7, 28-29. [From: Bombay Administration Report 1875-76].

 (1867-1884). A Digest of the Hindu Law. From the Replies of the Shastris in the several Courts of the Bombay Presidency. With an Introduction, Notes, and an Appendix. (Edited with Raymond WEST). (1867) Book I. Inheritance. (1869; 3rd edition 1884) Book II Partition. Bombay: The Government of India.

 (1887) A Disputed Meaning of the Particles iti and cha, WZKM 1, 13-20.

(1887) Über die indische Secte der Jaina. Almanach der kaiserlichen. Akademie der Wissenschaften. Wien, 225-268.

(1888) Two Lists of Sanskrit MSS. together with some remarks on my connexion with the Search for Sanskrit MSS. ZDMG 42, 530-559.

(1892) The Jagaḍûcharita of Sarvāṇanda, a historical romance from Gujarât. SBKAW 126, 5, Indian Studies I, 1-74.

(1893) Das Wergeld in Indien. Festgruss an Rudolf von ROTH zum Doktor-Jubiläum 24. August 1893. Stuttgart. 44-48.

(1894) The Roots of the Dhâtupâṭha not found in Literature, IA 23, 141-154, 250-255; WZKM 8, 17-42, 122-136. [Partial Reprint Staal J. F. (ed.) A Reader on the Sanskrit Grammarians, The MIT Press, 1972, 194-204].

(1903) On the Indian Sect of the Jainas. Translated from the German. Edited with an Outline of Jaina Mythology by James BURGESS. London: Luzac & Co.

CUNNINGHAM, Alexander (1873, Reprint 2000). Archaeological Survey Report. Vol. III: Report for the Year 1871-72. Calcutta: Archaeological Survey of India.

GOUGH, Archibald Edward (1878). Papers Related to the Collection and Preservation of the Records of Ancient Sanskrit Literature in India. Edited by order of the Government of India. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing.

JOHNSON, Donald Clay (1988). On the Origins of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute Library, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 69, 1-4, 111-124.

NATU, Amruta Chintaman (2014). Contribution of Georg Bühler to Indology. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, S. P. Pune University, 2015.

WINTERNITZ, Moriz (1898). Georg Bühler: In Memoriam. Indian Antiquary, 27, 337-349.


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