Historical Background Of Jainism [1.1] Development of Indian Civilization [1.1.1] Anthropological and Archeological Studies

Posted: 09.05.2008
Updated on: 09.06.2015

Historical Background Of Jainism

1.1 Development of Indian Civilization

1.1.1 Anthropological and Archeological Studies

From anthropological studies, it becomes clear that the earliest human civilization in ancient times, especially in India, saw the clear formation of three distinct cultures as well follows.

A. Neo-Stone age 15000-8000BC:

The third ārā as per Jains is called Bhogabhumi

  1. The area i.e. the upper plains of Ganges and Yamuna extending from Vārānasi to Magadha was lush with vegetation, favourable climate supporting vegetarian diet, non-violent nature and indulgence in intellectual and spiritual pursuits. The people in this area worshipped idols, believed in reincarnation and soul and paid obeisance to great philosophers and learned people. They were called as Mānavas and started calling themselves as Aryans also. Ṛṣabha Deva, the first tīrathaṅkara of Jains was born in this community. This was the end of Stone Age and the beginning of Neo-stone age or work ethic based collective living (town) period.
  2. The second grouping was prospering in the area adjoining north, south mountainous ranges in north and south areas. These people were extremely good in art, craft, trade but were very backward in spiritual matters. They were called Dravids or Vidhyādharas, and they considered Mānavas as their spiritual gurus. There were mixing of the Mānavas and Dravids though marriages etc. Vidhyādharas benefited from the knowledge of Mānavas and Mānavas got benefited from the skills of Vidhyādharas.
  3. The third grouping was an offshoot of Mānavas who got rehabilitated in the hills of Northern and Western India. They were basically nomads and relied on agriculture and animal breding. They wondered towards north to Hindukush, Iran and western Asia onto Europe. They are the Indo-Iranians.

Ṛṣabha Deva, son of 13th Manu or Kulkara Nābhi was born in Ayodhyā (belonging to Mānavas grouping) to establish the work and knowledge based culture in India. Hastināpura to Ayodhyā was the area where he reigned supreme and established this culture. Besides the worldly activities like agriculture, trade, services and governance; he propagated the doctrines of non-violence, charity, self-study, devotion to teacher and the omniscient lords. His son emperor Bharat established the unified India and named the country as Bharat. His children and brothers were the ancestors of Dravid and Kuru dynasties, which ruled over India for centuries.

B. Metal age 8000 - 2000 BC:

4th time ārā as per Jains called the Karmabhumi.

During this period, the Indian civilization made strides in business, agriculture, movement of goods and people between the above four divisions of the country. Mohanjodāro (Nandur civilization) and Sindhu valley civilizations were showing prosperity and building of towns, cities with facilities similar to now. Fourth tīrathaṅkara of Jains Sambhava Nātha’s sign horse appear to be similar to the famous horses of Sindh while 9th tīrathaṅkara Puṣpa Danta’s sign turtle is similar to makar or turtle the name of Mohanjodāro are indicative of the existence and prosperity of Jainism during this period. Excavations from these places also show a number of idols and carving reflecting nude yogi in deep meditation representing Jains and total absence of havanakunda, the essential component of Vedic yajňas. This civilization was expert in using metals like copper etc, establishing cities, agriculture, making cloth and trading etc and is considered as forerunner of Sumeri, Pharos and other west Asian civilizations.

C. Rāmāyana - Mahābhārat - till Mahāvīra era. 1550 - 500BC.

End of 4th ārā.

Nothing can be said with certainty about the place of origin of Aryans but it appears they were from India and an offshoot of the Mānavas from the hills and moved towards west Asia. Animal sacrifice, recitation of mantras, polygamy for both sexes etc were their traditions. Study of Jain texts reveal that after 10th tīrathaṅkara Sital Nātha, Brāhamins started separating from Śramaņas to set up their Vedic cult. Language and script of Vedas are greatly influenced by Ardha Māgadhi and Brāhmi of Śramaņa. Slowly Vedics started prospering and moved towards Punjab with western U.P. as their center and forcing the other dynasties and cults towards Takṣilā and Sindhu river while retaining southern India.

This was period where Vedic religion was at its peak and Jain/ Śramaņas were existing and popular in several parts. Rāma tried to bring reconciliation amongst the two and is popular in both traditions with MuniSuvrta, the Jain tīrathaṅkara bring co-existent during his time. The most sacred and philosophical treatise of Hindus called Aṣŧādhayi having questions by Lord Rāma and answers by his gūrū Vaśiṣŧa and the description of the court of Janaka (father of Sitā) all resemble closely the Jain philosophical thoughts. Padamapūrāņa, story of Rāma is a sacred book of Jains having the life of Rāma. Similarly Kŗṣņa was also popular with both Jains and Vedics as he also tried to bring reconciliation amongst them. His cousin Nemi Nātha is the 22nd tīrathaṅkara of Jains. He was born in Shauripur near Mathura and later on the Yādavs migrated to Gujarat (Dwarka was their capital). All the Pandavas and even Balrama and Kŗṣņa were his disciples and practiced penance in different parts of Gujarat. Vedics were busy in yajňas and sacrifices to achieve their worldly objectives while Jains were busy in pursuing right conduct to achieve liberation. This was also the period when emphasis was shifting to knowledge over rituals and saw emergence of famous Hindu epics like Rāmāyaņa, Mahābhārata and Upaniṣads and the practice of giving up (nivratti) and development of mysticism over engagement (pravritti) of Vedics. Thus the period after Mahābhārat saw the rejuvenation of Śramaņas and decline of Vedic cult. Nemi Nātha attained liberation from mount Girnāra in Distt Kāthiavāda Gujarāt.

Pārsva Nātha, 23rd tīrthaṅkara of Jains and son of the Nāga dynasty king of Vārāņasi was born in 877BC in Vārāņasi. He renounced the world at the age of 30 and after penanceattained omniscience. After this he roamed all over India to rejuvenate Jainism and made it popular till southern parts of India. He attained liberation at the age of 100 from Sammedasikhar, which is now named after him. Ahikṣetra in Distt Bareily of UP had been an important place of penance of Pārsva Nātha. Families of both Mahāvīra amd Buddha were his followers. About 300 years after him, Mahāvīra was born in Bihar and Jainism, as we know today is his teachings and path of spiritual purification. He tried and succeeded to a large extent to divert the Brāhmaņas to Jain fold again and was extremely popular with the kings of Magadh and that area. Mahāvīra is a historical person and his period and thoughts are well documented.

Historians like Furlong, Carpentier, have established existence of Jain monks (called Vārtyas or Cāsyaps) in central Asia and Greece. The name Caspian see is assigned to these Jain monks and a number of temples, believed to belong to Jains, are being discovered in this area and Europe. Words like Jimanosophist, Jimnetāi, Oretāi (from ārātiya) and Veritāi, which are representative of Jains, are found in Geek literature. Recently there was a news item telling discovery of over 400 temples in Europe which appear to belong to Jain culture. Further we find that Greek philosophers like Pythagoras and others were vegetarians and practiced non-violence and other ethical postulates of Jains.

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