In ethnography it is generally accepted that Jainism started spreading in south India from the third century B.C. i.e. since the time when Bhadrabahu a preacher of this religion and the head of monks' community came to Karnatak from Bihar.
But there also exists another viewpoint, viz. that Jainism was known here long before the arrival of Bhadrabahu and that he only infused new life in this old religion. The adherents of God Shiva knew and accepted from Jainism much. which was already known to them from religious teachings-ascetism, the yoga-asana posture, protection to animals. etc.
In the course of the first century A.D., Jainism spread along south India quite intensively and smoothly. It was widely known in the empire of Satavahanas (whose fall is dated in the third century A.D.) and availed the patronage of rulers of Ganga dynasties (second to eleventh centuries), early Kadamba (fourth to sixth centuries), Chalukya (sixth to eighth centuries), Pallava (fifth to ninth centuries) and other dynasties. Many rulers built Jain temples and monasteries and set up kitchens for feeding monks.
The modified Brahmanism, as applied to local conditions became during this period a widely known religious system. Departing from the worship of a majority of Vedic gods, and forbidding to a significant degree sacrifices of animal, Hinduism in the main adopted in this epoch the form of Bhagvatism (from Bhagvat-deity) i.e. the upper deities were set apart from the innumerable gods of Hinduism, as though they were the heads of the pantheon. Gods Shiva and Vishnu, became the chief objects of worship of Bhagvats in south India. And thus two main currents-Shivaism and Vishnuism-took shape in Hinduism.
This was the early epoch of bhakti, the religious movement in Hinduism, calling for unlimited, self-renouncing love towards the deity Shiva or Vishnu.
Bhakti-Shivayats (i.e. the fanatic adherents of Shivaism) known by the name of Nayanars and Bhakti-Vishnuits (Alvars) composed hymns in praise of these gods. These hymns serve for the historians as a great and extremely interesting section of literature of the early Middle Ages in south India.
From these sources it can be seen that enmical relations sprung up between the Jain community and Bhakti-Hinduists in the south towards the middle of the first millennium A.D.
The Jain religion-preachers founded a monastery in the district of South Arcot (modern stated of Madras), and named it Pataliputra-evidently in memory of one of the northern strongholds of this religion. The monks in Pataliputra converted a wide strata of local population into Jainism, including several strong rulers of south Indian states, as for example, Mahendravarman of the Pallava dynasty (beginning of the seventh century A.D.).
This monastery was not the only influential centre of Jainism in the south. The Jain monasteries in Puhar, Urapur, Madurai and in a number of other places in south India acquired fame in the first half of the first millennium A.D.
It is evident that rivalry due to influence of the Jains on the rulers and also due to economic benefits (struggle for land, donated to monasteries and temples for rich contributions etc.) served as one of the reasons for the enmity between the communities.
The fight between the Jains and the Bhakts sometimes led not only to public disputes (in those disputes, the defeated were to adopt the faith of the winner) or to contests in demonstrating 'miracles' but also to mass executions of Jains, instigated by the Brahmin advisers who had influence on the rulers.
There is evidence that in Maharashtra, the Jains were subjected to fierce attacks from groups of local population, led by persons known by the name of Bhairavs. This name shows that those groups of population were evidently 'Shaivas' since the word 'Bhairav' is one of the names of Shiva.
In the temple of goddess Minakshee in the town of Madurai (state of Madras) there are frescoes on which mass execution of Jains are carved. Here, even at present, on the day of annual festival of this goddess, a picture of a Jain, impaled, is carried in procession.
The chief reason for such enmity was those social-economic changes, which made their appearance with the development of feudal relations. There are no indications of such intense enmity between the communities until the beginning of the Gupta epoch. New social strata (and first of all, feudal rulers) rising in Gupta epoch, and after that epoch i.e. in the period of growth of feudalism, made reformatory Brahmanism-Hinduism, its own ideological banner. This was Hinduism in the form of the early bhakti. It meant adherence only to supreme god. And then started active attacks on the bearers of the old forms of ideology which was attended by those social-economic relations, destined to disappear from historical arena, since they were closely tied with the epoch of formation of class relations.
The victim of this fight was Buddhism, which could not adopt itself to new social-economic conditions and was practically forced out from India towards the eighth-ninth centuries A.D. Jainism, as a religious faith, distinguished itself by its great simplicity and closeness to practical life of the people. It also probably possessed in a greater measure, roots stretching into the thickness of the faiths of ancient peoples and therefore could withstand this conflict.
It is certain that Jain preachers (Acharyas) ordained the members of the community to adhere to the customs of every people, amongst whom they lived (if only these customs did not happen to contradict the basic principles of Jainism). Thus two types of religious-ritual practice came into being in case of every Jain. Those types were 'Laukika' (worldly), practical and 'Paralaukika' (only for the soul). Not only pilgrimage, but also productive activity formed part of the Laukika.
It is difficult to say whether there was common profession for all the members of the ancient Jain community. All the tasks connected with the destruction of living beings or with causing harm to them were considered as prohibited. That is why Jains reject for example, agriculture, assuming that while ploughing fields, one caused harm to various living beings. But precisely in which period Jains rejected agriculture is not known. Evidently this religious teaching, mainly spread in the environments of cities even in ancient times.
In Karnataka, there existed only one caste called 'Chaturtha' amongst the Jains. This caste is engaged in agriculture. This might call forth the suggestion that members of some strong agricultural caste of a given locality sometime adopted Jainism and continued to engage themselves with agriculture because it was difficult for numerically big groups of people to change the profession in a short time and to settle in the towns for the occupation of trade or usury.
Proceeding from the fact that the activity of trading and usury is the traditional occupation of the Jains in the course of many centuries, it is possible to assume that Jains concentrated on this occupation all their efforts in the period of the blossoming of feudalism. If the Jain-monks lived in the monasteries and cloisters outside the cities, then the Jain-laymen were mainly concentrated in cities. Evidently, the high degree of their influence on many rulers can be explained precisely by the fact that they granted big loans and financed one or another enterprise.
The epoch of early feudalism, development of handicrafts and trade must have objectively facilitated the consolidation of Jainism and helped it to withstand the blows from the side of Hinduism.
Already in the Gupta epoch, many cities (Mathura, Vallabhi, Pundravardhana, Udayagiri, Mysore, Kanchi and others, in which handicrafts and trade flourished) were well known as big centres of Jainism. In the year 453 A.D., an all-Jain synod was convened in the city of Vallabhi for amending and fixing canonical texts. This testifies to the fact that this religion had consolidated itself in the early Middle Ages and it had spread in south and west India. During this period, many commentaries on these texts were written, forming a great section of Jain literature.
However, development of feudalism (and in the sphere of ideology the process of formation of Hinduism) was inseparable from the development and consolidation of caste structure. The Jain community adopted this feature of social-economical and ideological life of India and gradually castes, adopting many restrictions and prohibitions, which existed in Hindu castes took shape in Jainism also.
The ability of the Jain community to adopt to changing historical conditions can be explained by the well known liberalism of Jain canon and the entire structure of the community. Jain preachers did not oppose changes, which time introduced in the organization of the community. As also in antiquity, the community did not shut its door to anybody.
The significant reason for the formation of Jain castes in this period was the mass conversion of Hindus to Jainism in those states, the rulers of which, gave patronage to the Jain community or themselves became Jains. These newly converted preserved within the framework of the new religion their previous tenor of life, based on caste-structure.
The division of the community into castes, finally taking place mainly in the thirteenth-fifteenth centuries added to the division into four varnas, which had already orginated in the ancient (in Bihar) period of development of Jainism. Jain castes proper arose in the main according to the local indications-according to the place of settlement of one or another group of Jains. This is corroborated by the fact that the place of formation of many Jain castes is definitively known. This place is the cities in an overwhelming majority of cases.
In north and west India, merging of Hindu and Jain communities was especially active. Here in the edifice of many Jain castes, there are groups, professing Vishnuism, and in the edifice of many Hindu castes, there are components which are registered as jains. In the south, its own castes were formed in the Jain community, and those castes as a whole, fell apart from the Hindu community
Here the names of Jain castes are not met with in the edifice of Hindu castes. Possibly this shows that the process of formation of Jain community in the south took place on the basis of greater isolation from Hindu community, in which, as is known, the early Bhakti sect attained high development. In this, the struggle between communities, which is referred to above is also reflected. The struggle did not cease even in the first half of the second millennium A.D. It is known that Jains complained to the ruler of Vijaynagar, Bukkarai about oppression from the side of Vishnuits and he commanded in 1368 both the communities to end enmity and to profess their own faiths peacefully.
Southern Jains do not have recourse to the services of the Brahmins, as Jains from the north and west do, and have their own Upaddhyayas (priests) serving within their own community.
In the ninth-fifteenth centuries the south Indian Jain-Digambaras were called 'Panchamas' (the fifth) i.e. those who are placed outside the framework of the four varnas of Jainism. It is true there is another interpretation of this name and that is that in the fifth group amongst Jains, there are only those members of the community who acknowledge marriages of widows because of which other groups of Jains regard the pancham as the 'lowest' group. In order to free themselves from their low position, many panchams merged into Shaivaite sect of Lingayats, who did not acknowledge the caste restrictions.
It is considered that much of the ethical teaching and philosophy of Lingayats is borrowed from the Jains. The majority of Lingayats, as also the Jains, are traders and usurers, which fact serves as direct confirmation of extensive conversion of Jains into Lingayats. In the course of several centuries the Jains and the Lingayats lived together peacefully but in the sixteenth century, during the rule of Raya dynasty in Vijaynagar, conflicts took place between them. Thus Krishnadeo Raya ordered severe punishment to the head of the Lingayat community, becuase he killed several priests of the Jain sect of Shvetambaras.
One can see all-around in the south, the statues of Tirthankars, and Jain temples, testifying to the extensive spread of their religion here over long period of time. In various regions of south India, centres of Jainism were formed but the chief amongst them was the centre in Shravanbelgol in the State of Mysore (where, according to legend, Bhadrabahu who came here a short time before his death, died).
From the thirteenth century Jainism in south India started to decline. In this period anti-feudal movement, the religious ideological expression of which was the teaching of Bhakti (especially the Vishnuite bhakti) started growing. It embraced wide strata of the rural population and the urban handicraftsmen. This movement was so extensive that many representatives of other religious communities joined it. A great number of Jains turned to Vishnuism and the Jain community not only decreased numerically but also lost its influence.
Finally, the Hinduised rulers of south India States ceased to patronise the Jains.
During the period of Mohammedan conquests and especially after the fall of Vijaynagar empire (end of sixteenth century) the Jain community in the south practically lost all its positions.
In north India Mathura, Ujjain and Rajputana were the centres of Jainism (mainly of the Shvetambara sect) in the medieval period. Mathura, was since a long time, a trading city and during the rule of the Satavahan dyansty it turned into one of the main centres of trade with the western countries. Here Jain merchants concentrated, generously subsidising the erection of Jain monasteries and temples in the course of many centuries.
In the north and the north-west, as also in the south, conflicts sometimes flared up between Hindu and Jain communities. The incidents of destruction of Jain temples and their alterations as Hindu temples are known. Also incidents of persecutions and executions of Jains are known.
During the rule of the Mohammedan dynasties, Jains were not subjected to persecution. This can be explained by the fact that they held in their hands many key positions in taxation -fiscal department, in trade and usury and also gave loans to the Moghuls. Jains were rich and influential and precisely in this period built from their own resources richest temples, in Rajputana and Gujarat, which are famous in the whole world. The Jains profited by the patronage of many Rajput kings and were ministers at their court. These Jains who were engaged in trade and usury in Rajputana and Gujarat formed the basis of the communities which was later known by the name of Marwari (from the place of its formation-Marwar).
They did not only engage in trade, usury and in granting big loans to Rajput feudals but also in collecting taxes in buying up handicraft products, in extensively transporting and re-selling and in granting credits in other regions of India and in other similar operations.