Selected Speeches on Prakrit and Jainology ► Two Speeches as President ► Speech-1: 08-10-2010

Posted: 25.05.2012

International Conference
Jainism Through the Ages

[October 8th, 9th & 10th, 2010 Dasara Exhibition Ground, Mysore]


Speech-1: 08-10-2010


It is indeed a great privilege to be invited to preside over the three day's unique International Conference on Jainism at Mysore. I am grateful to the Department of Archaeology and Museums for the signal honour bestowed on me. I am pleased at the recognition so gracefully accorded to me for some personal reasons. This conference is held at Mysore and its very name unfurls fond memories. It is here that first my father studied in the Banumayya High School. Later I studied for my B.A. (Hons) and M.A. course in the Maharaja's College. I was first appointed as a lecturer here in the Maharani's College in September 1959.

Crowning all this, my learned wife Professor Kamala (Hampana) also studied here. She was my classmate in Maharajah's College and became my life mate! Thus Mysore has played a prominent role in my life and has blessed me with education, a job and an excellent wife. I am delighted to be back here to preside over an important and historical International Conference.

We have assembled here to participate in the International Conference on Jainism, which like Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, is an ancient religion in the world. The etymology of the word Jainism is debated. Jainism's name derives from the word Jina, 'conqueror, liberator'. Walther Schubring (1881 -1969) and some other Indologists were reluctant to approve formation of the word Jainism: « The word Jainism is an English rendering and etymologically not correct. In German works of Leumann, Winternitz, the author [W. Schubring] and others, the student will read "Jinismus" and "Jinistich" derived from Jina, as are, in all languages, "Buddhism etc.", from Buddha. Bauddhism etc., has never and nowhere been said » [Schubring 3]. However we have instances that very well go with Jainism. The usages like Śaivism and ViashNavism, which are from Śiva and VishNu respectively, justify the use of Jainism. Śaivism and VaishNavism are not used as Śivism and VishNism.

In the 19th century writings on Jainology, srawacs, Jeyne, Jain - are the words used to denote Nirgrantha creed, 'religion of Bondless Lineage'. The word Jinadharma, 'the Religion expounded by Jinas', instead of Jainism, would be more appropriate word. Arhatadharma could also be contemplated. The word Arhat figures prominently from first century in inscriptions also. KannaDa poet ŚAṁtinAtha (1062 CE) has employed the word Arhaṁtyadharmam in his poem the SukumAracarite.  « Like the use of the word 'Hindu', the use of the Sanskrit word 'Jaina' as a self-designation (not in the older sense of 'pertaning to Jains') seems to be a recent development » [Peter Flugel < The Invention of Jainism>]. But the word 'Jaina', like the word 'Hindu' is not at all a recent development. It is used by Poets Ponna (960 CE) as Jainadlkshitar < SAntipurANam, 8.129 >, BrahmmaSiva (1175 CE) as Jaina < SamayaparJkshe >, AggaLa (1189 CE) as Jainajana-manohara-caritam < CandraprabhapurANam, 2.1 > and as Jainajana in an inscription « EC. Vol. VIII (BLR), Soraba no. 28. CE 1208 ».

But in the 20th century, particularly after the post independent period the word Jainism has been widely used and it has come to stay. «One of the earliest occurrences of the anglicised word Jinism (Jainism) can be found in Neumann 1831» [Peter Flugel]. Therefore, I have, obviously in line with modern authors on the subject, employed the word Jainism without any inhibition, along with Nirgrantha-creed and anekAntamata, as synonyms.

Jains rever 24 Jinas as Tlrthariikaras, 'Ford-Makers'. Tlrthariikaras show the right path to bridge the gulf between samsAra, the phenomenal world', and moksa, 'liberation'. The words jina and TIrthankara are employed as synonyms. But the difference is to be underlined. All Tlrthaṁkaras are Jinas, but all Jinas are not Tlrthaṁkaras. In addition to the two words of Jina and TIrthaṁkara, another word Arhaṁta is also employed as a synonym. Jainism accepted and revered Jina, known for constant practice of non-injury, austerities and liberated from physical integument, as supreme, blemishless, omniscient and perfect. Jina and his followers, monks and nuns, were respected even by heavenly beings.

Jainism is a paurusheya, 'of human origin', and not an upuunishcyii 'of divine origin'. Giving prominence to individual effort and stressing the need of self-help, it accorded a prominent place for humans. It asserted that even gods should be born as human beings on this earth to get enlightenment and liberation. Jainism unhesitatingly refused to accept a creator. Thus man and earth occupied pivotal place in the Jaina concept. «The prominence of the perfected man in the Śramanic sect resulted in the theory of incarnation of God in the Vedic religion. RAma and KRshNa, though born as man, are believed in later Brahmanical literature as the incarnations, and similarly the ŚramaNic sects have the theory of Buddhas and Tlrthaṁkaras» [D.D.Malvania 3-4].

The history of Jainism, one of the oldest living religions, with an extraordinary volume of written records, is our nation's pride. Its history begins from an invisible point. Slowly and steadily it has made its circles wider and its flights swifter to shoot like a flaming comet from star to star, reaching with every turn almost to infinity. Often its long journey was not a bed of roses. Jainism had to pass through hurdles in the form of rivals. Yet converting stumbling blocks into stepping stones, building bridges with bricks thrown at it, and turning adversity into opportunity to show the finer mettle within, it sustained to spread the message of ahimsA paramo dharmah, 'non-violence is the paramount religion'. This motto summarises the vision, moral fabric and idealism of TIrthaṁkaras, the Makers of the River Crossing of this religion.

« The religious consciousness of the Jains varies considerably from all other faiths, especially from the Semitic religions. The root of non-violence and renunciation in India could be traced to the Jaina and other ŚramaNa religious traditions of India. Rooted in Indian cultural ethos also means sharing their elements enshrined in the various ritualistic and faith traditions of India. Jaina way of life offers an opening for such an understanding and osmosis. » [Vincent Sekhar 185].

MahAvIra evolved non-violent laws of love and preached ways of love. Using non-violent action, Jainism dissolved dictatorship. Breaking social barriers it achieved great things in its long life by spreading love, tolerance, and goodwill for all. It has kept the dynamo of its churning thoughts, rotating from time to time, and contributing much to the main stream of Indian culture in the realm of art, architecture, literature and other allied disciplines of knowledge.

As an author with historian's added advantage of going 'forward to the past'. I wish to place on record the work, vision and culture of Jainism in succinct. Furthermore, I desire to make known its phenomenal features that has prompted me to speak in its favour. To interpret the fundamentals of Jainism is not the intention of this speech. Instead I have focused on Jaina point of view from historical genesis and its functional role through ages.

After matured consideration, I have decided to devote this lecture to focus on some misconceptions apropos Jainism.

Among many pernicious misconceptions, the following need immediate attention:


  1. Jainism as an ascetic religion propagating only ahimsA.
  2. MahAvIra founded Jainism.
  3. Jainism was born to oppose yajna-yAgas of animal sacrifice etc.
  4. Jainism is a nAstika, agnostic / atheistic religion.
  5. SallekhanA is either euthanasia or suicide.
  6. Jainism never spread beyond India.
  7. Jainism is an offshoot of Hinduism.
  8. Jainism denied moksha to women.
  9. Jainism is conservative and static

These unfair notions have somehow crystallised and come to stay. Even historians are no exception to this over simplification, in spite of placing facts in right perspective. Let me address these false notions one by one.


  1. True, Jainism is basically against war and violence. But when it becomes the question of defending one's own land and language, culture and literature, it was always in the forefront to champion patriotism. Some of the greatest chiefs of armies that fought for their country, especially in medieval KarnATaka, were Jains. Jainism is also a religion of brave warriors with courage to fight and die rather than kill. Killing is easier than dying. Jaina warriors possessed unique spiritual power. They knew that thought without action amounts to abortion. To remove the rust from the weapons and to wield them effectively, Jaina warriors served their masters with loyalty and performed with duty. Albeit, non-violence is ambrosia for Universal peace, acting under all circumstances. It brings respite from friction.

  2. Mere antiquity is not the criteria for deciding validity or greatness. However, Jainism's roots go back into pre-historic age, to the remotest depths of the unrecorded past. Plausibly it starts from Stone Age onwards that covers the period of Rishabha and the other 20 TIrthaṁkaras up to NeminAtha whose spiritual achievements are very much associated with GirnAr hills. «The most celebrated MahAvIra was a contemporary of the Buddha in the fifth century BC, but the earlier Tlrthaṁkaras anteceded that period by centuries and some may date back to pre-Aryan times» [Heinrich Zimmer 15]. Elsewhere Zimmer reaffirms «the origins of this (Jaina) art reach back, like the origins of Jainism itself, to the remotest depths of the unrecorded past» [1955: 134] The Buddhist canons speak of the cAturyAma dhamma, the four-fold religion of PArSva. The Dhammottarapradlpa mentions Rshabhadeva and the Dhammikasutta of the Amguttara-NikAya speaks of ArishTanemi alias NeminAtha. Researchers have established that Jainism existed at least 300 years before Buddha was born.

    There are clear references to Rshabha and ArishTanemi in the Rigveda, and of Rshabha, AjitanAtha and ArishTanemi in the YajurVeda. The VishNu and BhAgavata PurANas regard Rshabhadeva as an avatAra, incarnation of NArAyaNa, prior to that of the usual daSAvatAras, 'the ten incarnations'. Since the historicity of the early 21 TIrthaṁkaras is hidden in the lap of hoary past, long before history came to the fore front, we get the reliable information from NeminAtha onwards. But that in itself is sufficient to trace the history of Jainism several centuries prior to MahAvIra. Therefore it is wrong and unhistorical to entertain any notion of antagonism against any religion that gave birth to Jainism.

    The Rock Edict number XIII of ASoka tells us that there was no country where these two classes of BrAhmanas and SramaNas (Buddhists and Jains) did not exist. BrAhmanism had so much common with Jainism even in monastic order, except that the former strictly abandoned women and the low-class people to enter nunhood and monkhood. Jainism opened the gates of monachism for women and for all people. This openness had wonderful reaction so favourable to the growth of the faith that it was like opening the flood gates hither to dormant and oppressed. This is one of the main reasons for more number of nuns than monks present in the samavasaraNa, 'the assembly hall of Jina's sermon'. Thus the injustice done to women and backward classes was redressed by Jainism. «Therefore it may be said that what Brahmanism never did and what Buddhism did only later, Jaina monachism did right at the beginning» [S.B. Deo 11]. Jaina sarṁgha or Jaina order stands on the four pillars of monks, nuns, laymen and lay women.

  3. Some of the recent writers make the statement that Jainism was born on account of discontent against Brahmanism. It is a mistake to say so. Such a wrong theory might have been originated by those who took VardhamAna MahAvIra as the founder of Jainism. The historical fact is that PArSva, about a century or two before MahAvIara, had also preached Jainism. Jaina creed had originated several centuries still earlier. «There is nothing to prove that PArSva was the founder of Jainism. Jaina tradition is unanimous in making Rishabha the first Tlrthaṁkara as its founder and there may be something historical in the tradition which makes him the first TIrthaṁkara» [Herman Jacobi].

    Albeit, both Jainism and Buddhism denounced the degeneration of BrAmin priesthood but not the idealised BrAhmin, a symbol of purity of conduct. For that matter questioning and ridiculing the authority of the Vedas started long before Buddhism and Jainism, but found the best expression through Buddha and MahAvIra. Jainism had the vitalising energy to win admiration even among BrAmins. Jain images were erected by a person, full of affection for BrAmins in the reign of Skandagupta (455-67') [Dandekar 186]. A BrAhmaNa couple gifted land for the maintenance of worship in a Jain vihAra in Bengal in the year A.D. 478-79 [Banerji, R.D 108]. Similar instances of cordiality are not lacking. In the sequel it may be recalled that the eleven gaNadhras of MahAvIra were Brahmin converts. Bhadrabahu, HaribhadrasUri, Kannada poet Pampa and ApabhramSa poet Pushpadanta came from BrAhmin families.

    Therefore, the statement that Jainism was born to oppose animal sacrifice and BrAhmanism has no basis. Jainism did oppose animal sacrifice but it was not the only aim of the faith. Hence it is improper to entertain any notion of antagonism against any religion. Let us not forget that all religions are great but not all men. The other contemporary religions which also flourished with royal patronage alongside, were not diametrically opposed philosophies. Despite dogmatic differences, some of them were complimentary to each other.

    Morality is embedded in the attitude of Jaina house holder towards other fellow beings. Amitagati's (965-1030) DvAtnmSatikA has codified the layman's ideal way of every day life and the method of cultivating equanimity;

    sattveshu maitrim guNishu pramodam
    klishTeshu jlveshu kRupAparatvam
    mAdhyastha bhAvam viparlta vRuttau
    sadA mamatmA vidadhAtu deva.

    Friendship towards all beings
    Delight in the qualities of virtuousness
    Utmost compassion for afflicted souls
    Equanimity towards those ill-disposed towards me
    May my soul have for ever such dispositions

    Any lay votary who perfectly practices sAmAyika, equanimity and self-control, has been praised as a monk over whom clothes have been draped. This not only stresses the importance of calmness and composure but also suggests it is not that easy to practice serenity.

  4. Jaina litterateurs did not write only about renunciation, retirement, discontinuance and be attitude. On the other hand, they have written so much about the active life of involvement in earthly life with equal interest in material life. They have emphasised that human behaviour depends on the inclination and predilection of each individual.

    By grouping the CArvAkas (LokAyatas), the Arhatas as heretics, the Jaina system has also been regarded as nAstika. But it is a misnomer. Jains do not believe that the world was created by god and could be destroyed by god. According to Jaina concept of the cosmos, this world was there and will be there. In a way Jainism is a Godless religion with the conception of immense divinity. Similarly, Jains made no doctrinal claims of a divine origin for the castes. On the other hand they admitted even out castes in to their order.

    Jaina philosophy is not negativist. Jaina tradition has its own Gods and goddesses like the SAsana devis and devas, Śrutadevi, VidyAdevis, DikpAlas, KshetrapAlas etc. Besides, aniconic symbols like svastika, dharmacakra, triratna, and āyAgapaTas are worshipped. They are endowed with ethereal and transcendental character. They are propitiated and invoked for material and mundane favours like winning wars, getting children and for success in business. Accommodating local deities, Jainism assimilated popular cult of worship. But they are not worshipped for avoiding displeasure or anger, and the mode of their worship did not involve the animal sacrifice. This proves that Jainism is in a way a Āstikadharma. Branding Buddhists and Jains as heretics on the ground that they do not consider the Vedas authority is incorrect. Contrarily, Buddhists and Jains could also call the VedAntins as heretics, because they do not respect the canons of Buddhists and Jains.

    It may be recalled in the sequel that the celebrated author Haribhadrasūri (C. 7th century CE) who had the title of paramaĀrhata, 'an excellent Jain', clearly describes in his Shad-darśana-samucchaya, Buddhism and Jainism as Āstika systems, and considers only Cārvāka as Nāstika.

    Therefore, belief and worship of each and every religion should be respected. Similarly Jains discarding linguistic ego, treated all languages as equal. Their vigorous adherence to the principles of ahimsA and anekAnta, created a cosmopolitan cultural centre where followers of diverse religions peacefully coexisted. This apparently, resulted in their being exceptionally prosperous, popular and above all more influential.

  5. For all mortals death is inevitable. Yet the fear of death stalks most people who regard it as an intriguing and ubiquitous part of human life. Surprisingly Jains are not frightened of death. Jainasysa vismayonAsti, nothing surprises the Jains. Instead of avoiding death, they welcome it with a smile. The wisdom enshrined in the canons and the knowledge of which has been passed on from generation to generation by the cognoscenti sages makes even the householder feel that death is the door to liberation, passage to moksha, eternal bliss, and the end of all desire leading to freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

    «Dharma, synonymous with English Religion, has two broad meanings in Jainism; one is generic in usage and the other technical and specific to the use of the term. Dharma in technical sense is the basis for dynamism in life, helps movement or motion and, as such, it is opposed to adharma, stillness or rest. They are the media or the occasioning cause for motion and of rest respectively, just as water is helpful for a fish to move about. No other system of thought in India has conceived these two terms in such a fashion as in Jaina system. It is possible that these two terms that signify life (movement) and death (stillness) have later acquired moral connotations» [Vincent Sekhar 185-86]. «Jains have been using the word Dharma in the very broader Sense with a special significance to denote the basic intrinsic principle of motion, analogous with the time of Rigveda, as far back as 7th-6th cent. BC» [Sachidanand Srivastava 135].

    Therefore, for Jaina men and women, monks and nuns, death is neither a problem nor an enigma. They seek the path which ensures complete liberation from all limitations that bind human life. Awaiting for the voyage of oblivion they willingly switch off mental preoccupations with mundane world and terrestrial interests. Welcoming death, con amore, they accept the vow of sallekhanA (Pk. sallehaNA, 'properly thinning out the passions and the body'), courting death with equanimity by abstinence from all kinds of food. «The strength to kill is not essential for self-defence; one ought to have the strength to die» [Mahatma Gandhi].

    This extreme form of self-mortification is neither euthanasia nor suicide, because the passions are attenuated in addition to abnegation of desires. The person who commits suicide has passions such as agony, anger, frustration, malice, violence etc. He who observes the vow of peaceful death is rational, calm, and non-violent. He sheds love and attachment, hatred and aversion, material possessions and possessiveness. The individual embracing sallekhanA asks for and grants forgiveness to everyone. This eliminates the differences between relatives and strangers, friends and foes, and life and death. And also he/she does not cherish for an extended life. It is a flight in pursuit of a higher spiritual ideal to reach the state of summum bonum, the chief good. Jaina seers, unarmed ascetics, walked bare-footed, from one end to the other preaching the way of salvation and eternal happiness. They are revered because SamaNo amogha vayaNo, (SramaNah amogha vacanah), the samaNas speak the truth.

  6. It is rather strange that often historians misrepresent the Jaina position. The impression that Jainism never spread beyond India is also misleading. The Jaina diaspora started long back, as early as in the last centuries of BC. A major Jaina monastery and sanctuary flourished at AnurAdhapura in Srilarhka, modern Ceylon, in the fourth century BC. According to the MahAvamSa, a Buddhist text, King PANDukAbhaya extended liberal patronage to Jaina monks at AnurAdhapura.

    Thanks mainly to the traders, Jaina faith has spread to many parts of the world. Approximately there are 30,000 Jains in

    Europe, 20,000 in Africa, 50,000 in North America and 5000 in Asian parts. More than one lakh Jains have migrated from India in search of greater economic opportunities. Mobilizing this large scale migration, mostly from Gujarat, Jains have commissioned and consecrated Jinamandiras in East Africa, UK, North America, New Zealand and Australia, and have preserved memories of their origin.

  7. Jainism is an Indian or indigenous religion. It is neither born from nor an offshoot of Hinduism. It is different from Hinduism and independent of it. But it is not an enemy of Hinduism or any ism. Spreading values as much as wealth, it is rooted in Indian cultural ethos. The Ājlvakas, Buddhists and Jains, who were all SramaNas propagated non-violence and renunciation. In many respects, in rituals and in vyvahAra, Jainism is not much different from Hinduism. But in principle and pAramārthika, 'related to most sublime truth', it is different. Jainism ab initio has its own entity, identity and clear distinctness. It cannot be clubbed with Hinduism. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikkhism are to be regarded and recognised as separate religions. They share many cultural background and social customs for having lived together for thousands of years. But SramaNic tradition is a parallel tradition. It has framed its own laws of life, code of conduct. Therefore it should not be inferred that Jainism is a fresh interpretation or slight modification of Hinduism. Jainism has something new in it to offer to and better the suffering lot of humanity at large. Jainism is simple and practical in its approach to the present day problems of human life.

  8. The question of moksha or spiritual accomplishment to women has been debated for centuries. Among the three earliest sects of Jainism- Digambara, SvetAmbara, and YApanlya, the Digambaras have, for dogmatic reasons, not accorded moksha for women in that birth. But the SvetAmbras have accepted moksha for women in principle and also consider Malli, one of the 24 Tlrthaṁkras, as woman. According to the YApanlyas also women can attain moksha in their very birth. The seriousness of Jaina faith and its pontificate to ameliorate the sufferings of women can be judged by the very fact that their priority in this direction was the empowerment of strlSakti for improving the worrying plight of women in religion, education and politics. They accorded equal socia-cultural status and opportunities to women in the family affairs and outside the home.

    It should be said to the credit of Jainism that the earliest University exclusively for Women, and possibly the first of its kind in the world, was started at VeDal / ViDAl in TamiLnADu (North Arcot Dt., Wandiwash Tk) in 885 CE. A unique feature of this Women University was there were 900 Jaina nuns. Kanakavlra kurattiyAr alias MAdevi Arandimamgalam, a disciple of GuNaklrti BhaTAra, was the Vice Chancellor [SII. Vol. III. No. 92. CE 885]. Lending an helping hand to a neglected soul, feeding the hungry, a compassionate smile towards the sad and dejected-was the language of Jaina women. They lived an exemplary life which emphasised that love and peace must be fostered within the individual, within the family and within the society. It is but natural that Jaina women commanded instant respect. None could equal the nuns in their strictly disciplined austerities and erudition.

    Many eminent Jaina women served as rulers and custodians of Indian culture. They have constructed tanks to facilitate irrigation in rural areas, built temples, and patronised art, architecture and literature. They were proverbially known for their erudition, virtue, four-fold charities, and chivalrous life. Epigraphical and literary premises validate the varied assiduousness of Jaina women and how they were ahead of men in liberally and zealously promoting Jinadharma.

  9. Jainism has stood on four pillars of monks and nuns, and lay men and women. Jaina monastic order was never static. The evolution and merger of schisms is a classical example. Recently in the past three decades, the friars and nuns, and the BhaTTAraks going abroad and travelling in vehicles etc., has become common. The percentage of house-holders eating food even after sunset, both in the urban and rural areas, is increasing. These gradual developments under the pressure of sociological environments, under changing conditions of time reflect the growth of Jaina sarṁgha and its prosperous state. Albeit, the core and sap of the Jaina tradition has remained in tact.

    The Jaina ethos, as mentioned above, is ab initio based on anekAnta, pluralism, tolerism, non-violence, peace and universal brotherhood. It has, time and again, emphasised the need to live and move together rather than fall apart. Its contribution is astoundingly phenomenal to India's culture, and history. To be more succinct, its contribution in all walks of life and branches of knowledge, including medicine to mankind and animal world, is immense. A panorama of Jaina art, architecture and literature would reveal the variety of Jaina idiom that enriched India. Additional points, as complimentary to this, will be added in my concluding speech to be delivered day after tomorrow.

Share this page on:




Selected Speeches on Prakrit and Jainology


Arkavati Prakashana, Govindarajanagara, Bengaluru 560 040, India


First edition 2012