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Jul 24, 2009

Jain Art And Culture

The Jains played a very important part, first in the development of the ancient Prakrit languages, as also of the Dravidian languages of the South Tamil and Kannad. Somewhat later they adopted Sanskrit to elucidate the contents of the original prakrit canon and gradually produced a vast Sanskrit literature comprising valuable works on almost all subjects : Philosophy, logic, grammar, laxicography, poetics, politics, mathematics, astronomy and astrology. Indian literature in all its branches is thus indebted to the achievements of Jaina authors. The "Augustan Age" of Tamil literature was the period of the predominance of the Jainas in intellect and learning. Jainism became the religion of some of the Pandyan Kings. Nevertheless they retained in full their intellectual vitality which had in earlier times produced such classical works as the "Kural", Valaiyapati, Silappadikaram and Jivaka Shinamani. Three of the five Tamil Mahakavyas, were composed by Jain writers. Moreover, the Jainas continued to enrich the Tamil vocabulary by introducing a large numbers of Sanskrit derivatives and bringing them into conformity with Tamil Phonetics.

The Jainas rendered valuable and extensive services to Kannada literature also. Some of the greatest among the Jaina poets flourished during the 10th Century A. D., the Golden Age of Kannada literature. Thus Ponna, a Jaina Saint upon whom the Rashtrakuta King Kannara conferred the title Kavichakravarti, composed Shantipurana and Bhuvanaika Ramabhyudaya during the period. Next we come to the great poet Pampa who was regarded as the father of Kannada literature. Another great Jaina writer of Kannada prose and poetry in that century was Chamundaraya, who besides being an able administrator and warrior, was a patron of Ranna, among others. It was he who had the colossal image of Gomateshvara carved at Shravana Belgola. Jaina influence on Telugu deserves careful investigation.

Almost every decade during medieval times in Gujarat saw a progressive enrichment of Gujarati literature with remarkable creations, major contributions here being the books written by the Jaina saints. Moreover, the unique service of the Jain Bhandaras in preserving the manuscripts, especially those on palm-leaves, is very memorable. Besides book-writing, the Jaina have carried out the laudable task of preserving and spreading knowledge.

The Jainas were also great patrons of art. Indian art, both Northern and Southern, owes to them a number of remarkable monuments. And in architecture their achievements are still greater.
As singular edifices illustrating the beauty of Jaina art, both in design and elaboration of workmanship, one may cite the temples of Mount Abu.

In South India, too, idol worship and temple building on a grand scale may be attributed fianlly to Jaina influence. The colossal monolithic Jaina statues of the South, such as that of Gomateshvara at Shravan Belgola, are among the wonders of the world. The grandeur of Jain sculpture is an outstanding aspect of Jain heritage. The inspiring dignity of Shatrunjay temples, the stately vastness of Shravan Belgola, the fine subtleties of Ranakpur tirtha and the artistic carvings of Delvada temples - are some of the unique examples of the Indian Cultural heritage. The Jaina literature is written in several Indian languages so as to reach many people is a rich compendium of diverse interests. The writings of these acaryas have manifold attractions not only for those in Jaina studies but also for lovers of literature, history, culture, philosophy, and comparative religion. It is to this vast source that we now turn for an understanding of Jaina beliefs of the universe, religion and mortality.

It was however, at the hands of Shalivahana the great artist who flourished in the reign of the connoiseeur of art, the Mogul Emperor Jehangir that Jaina art of painting attained its glory. In the private collection of Shri Narendra Singh Singhi of Calcutta, there is a manuscript Shalibhadracharita illuminated by this artist with more than 20 paintings, some of which are superbly executed. Jainism has thus significantly enriched Indian culture in the fields of ethics, philosophy, literature, science and aesthetics.

Lord Mahavir emphasized that man should not only care for the welfare and advancement of his soul but also help the soul of all sentient beings towards the same goal by giving them protection and by helping them to march forward on the path of salvation. He who loses his soul, loses everything. Self-help and self-reliance constitute the basic motto of Jain religion. According to the Jain religion, 'Atma' is the creator of weal and woe : the notion of exploiting others by way of labour does not occur in this system. One of the twelve vows of a Jain Shravak specifically mentions that he would never expropriate others means of livelihood. One has to appreciate the inner meaning and spirit of such preaching. In a book entitled "Dharmabindu Prakaran" Haribhadrasuri has enjoined upon the Jain Shravak to make his living in a judicious way. The Sadhu way of life is the climax of the self-reliant life style of the Jaina.

The Jaina have a rich political heritage. There were Jaina Kings like Chola King in the South and Kumarpal in Gujarat. And their royal counsellor or the minister always happened to be a Jain Shravak. This was the tradition in Gujarat and Rajasthan generation after generation. Alongwith administration, these ministers always kept in mind the welfare of the state and enjoyed the total confidence of the rulers. The Jain Shravakas also always remained trustworthy and honest and never betrayed anybody. The names of Vastupal Tejpal, Vimalshah and Udayan Mantri have become immortal for their royal devotion and religious steadfastness.

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