Even though according to the above tradition, the Jainas claim to have a hoary antiquity, it should be remembered that so far no historical evidence has been brought forward to establish beyond doubt the real existence of the first 22 Tirthankaras. The last two Tirthankaras, namely, Parsvanatha, the 23rd, and Mahavira, the 24th, are proved as historical personages. There are various literary evidences in the Jaina and Buddhist texts which presuppose the existence of a Nirgrantha Order headed by Parsvanatha before the advent of Mahavira and therefore, it can be said that there is much truth in the Jaina tradition that Mahavira was no more than promulgator of an older Nirgrantha Order.
Parsvanatha flourished towards the end of the ninth century B.C., 250 years before Mahavira. He was a religious teacher of great eminence and had to fight against the Brahmanic tyranny of caste system and the preponderance of 'himsa' (killing) of animals in Vedic sacrifices which was gradually filtering into the East from the Western part of India. He, therefore, threw open the doors of his religion to all persons without any distinction of caste, creed of sex. Both males and females could enter the Order of Parsvanatha on the basis of equality. He preached the four great vows, Ahimsa (non-injury), Satya (truth), Asteya (abstinence from stealing) and Aparigraha (non-attachmnent to worldly things) and emphasized the necessity of observing strict asceticism as a means for the attainment of salvation. Moreover, Parsvanatha divided the followers of Jaina religion into four categories according to sex and the strictness with which the members practice the injunctions laid down by the Jaina religion, namely, (i) Yatis or Sadhus or Munis, male ascetics: (ii) Arjikas or Sadhvis, female ascetics, (iii) Sravakas, male laity and (iv) Sravikas, female laity. This foundation of four orders in the community with their leaders to look after and supervise the conduct of members comprising the order shows that there was a pretty good arrangement to govern and organise the Jaina community from the earliest times. In fact, this is one of the important reasons put forward for the survival of Jainism in India as against its rival Buddhism.
After Parsvanatha, Mahavira became the leader of the Jaina Church. The religion preached by Mahavira was substantially the same as preached by his predecessor Parsvanatha. It is said that Mahavira added Brahmacarya (chastity, perhaps already included in Aparigraha) as the fifth great vow to the four great vows already preahed by Parsvanatha. Mahavira continued further the practice of fourfold division of the community and it is stated that at the time of his death there were 14000 Yatis, 36,000 Sadhvis, 1,59,000 Sravakas and 3,18,000 Sravikas. Mahavira had in all eleven Ganadharas. They were all religious teachers well-versed in Jaina scriptures. After the nirvana of Mahavira, the fifth Ganadhara Sudharman became the head of the Jaina scriptures. After the nirvana of Mahavira, the fifth Ganadhara Sudharman became the head of the Jaina scriptures. After the nirvana of Mahavira, the fifth Ganadhara Sudharman became the head of the Jaina Church, others either having attained salvation or 'Kevalinship' (omniscience) before the death of Mahavira. Sudharman is said to have narrated the Jaina Canon to his disciple Jambusvami in the manner he had heard from his Master. The Nirgrantha Sramanas of the present times are all spiritual descendants of the monk Arya Sudharman, the rest of the Ganadharas having left no descendants.
From the history of Jaina religion upto Mahavira it appears that sects and sub-sects had not arisen till that time. But later on, we find that various schisms arose in the Jaina community as a result of which Jainism was divided into several sects and sub-sects. There were various reasons which contributed to the splitting of Jainism in small sects and sub-sects. In the first place it may be mentioned that during the lifetime of Mahavira the spread of Jainism was limited and Jainism did not seem generally to have crossed the boundaries of the kingdoms of Anga and Magadha, comprising modern Bihar, Orissa and Western Bengal, where the Teacher mainly lived and concentrated his attention, but after the death of Mahavira, his successors and followers succeeded to a large extent in popularizing the faith throughout the length and breadth of India, so that it did not fail to enlist for a long period the support of kings as well as of commoners. As the number of adherents to the Jaina religion fast increased and as they were scattered practically in all parts of the country, the Ganadharas and religious pontiffs must have found it very difficult to look after and organise their followers. Naturally, different condition, customs, manners and ways of life prevailing in different parts of the country in different periods might have influenced in giving rise to various religious practices which might have ultimately resulted in creating factions among the followers of Jainism. Secondly, the religious doctrines, principles and tenets as they were enunciated and taught by Mahavira were not committed to writing during the lifetime of Mahavira or immediately after his death. The religious teachings of Mahavira were memorised by his immediate successors and they were thus handed down from one generation to another till they were canonised at the Council of Pataliputra in the early part of the 3rd century B.C. By this time much water had flown down the Ganges and what was canonised was not acceptable to all, who vigorously maintained that the canon did not contain the actual teachings of Mahavira. Again, there was the question of interpreting what had been canonised. As time passed on, differences of opinion regarding the interpretation of many doctrines arose and those who differed established a separate school of thought and formed themselves into a sect or sub-sect. Thirdly, it may be maintained that sects and sub-sects arise as a direct result of the revolt against the actions and policy of ruling priests or heads of the Church. Those who are at the helm of religious affairs are likely to swerve from their prescribed path and debase themselves or they are likely to be too strict in maintaining and preserving the religious practices in a manner they think it proper, without taking into account the needs of the changing conditions. In both the cases natural indignation is bound to occur on the part of the thinking population and there should not be any surprise if his accumulated indignation and discontent take a turn in formulating and organizing a separate sect. Martin Luther revolted against the high-handed policy of Popes and Priests in the Christian religion and founded the section of Protestants in that religion.
THE GREAT SCHISM
The history of the Jaina Church is full of references to the various schisms that had taken place from time to time and some of these schisms contributed to the rise of sects and sub-sects in the Jaina religion. There is no unity of opinion on the manner and nature of such schisms. According to Svetambaras, there were eight schisms, of which the first was caused by Mahavira's son-in-law, Jamali; and eighth, occurring in 83 A.D., gave rise to the Digambara sect. But the Digambaras seem to be ignorant of the earlier schisms. As the first seven schisms were comparatively unimportant, we may deal with only the eighth schism which ultimately split the community into two rival sects. In this connection it should be remembered that in order to prove the antiquity of their sect, both the sects have put forward their own theories regarding the origin of the other sect. As regards the origin of the Digambara sect, it is ascribed by the Svetambaras to Sivabhuti, who started the heretical sect of the Bhotikas in 83 A.D. This report is denied by the Digambaras; they maintain that they have preserved the original practices, but that, under the 8th successor of Mahavira, Bhadrabahu, a sect with laxer principles arose, and that this sect, which was called that of the Ardha-phalakas, developed into the present sect of Svetambaras in 80 A.D. Recent researches in Jaina history tend to prove the real existence of Ardhaphalaka sect and to consider the Ardhaphalakas as forerunners of the Svetambaras.
Really speaking, one cannot arrive at any definite conclusion from all these mutually conflicting traditions, and hence, it is almost impossible to fix an exact date for this great schism in the Jaina community. The main point of difference between the two sects was the question of considering whether the practice of nudity was an absolute necessity for achieving salvation. Taking into consideration these facts it seems probable that the separation of the sections of the Jaina Church took place gradually, an individual development going on in both the groups living at a great distance from one another, and that they became aware of their mutual difference about the end of the 1st century A.D. In view of this, it can safely be asserted that the origin of the two sects cannot be attributed to any specific incident which instantly divided the community into two opposite camps.
THE TWO MAIN SECTS
It is now necessary to see what is the exact difference between these two sects. Literally Digambara means 'sky-clad' and Svetambara means 'white-robed'. The monks of the Digambaras are naked while those of the Svetambaras wear white clothes. In fact there is very little difference between the two branches as regards the essentials of doctrine. For example, the most authoritative book of the Digambaras, namely Tattvarthadhigama Sutra by Umasvati, is one of the standard books also of the Svetambaras. However, there are some major as well as minor tenents on which the two sections are opposed to one another the major points of difference between the Digambaras and Svetambaras are as follows:
(i) While the Digambaras believe that a monk who owns any property, for example, wears clothes, cannot attain salvation. The Svetambaras assert that the practice of complete nudity is not essential to attain liberation.
(ii) The Digambaras hold the view that woman is not entitled to Moksa in this life. On the contrary the Svetambaras believe that women can reach Nirvana in this life.
(iii) According to the Digambaras, once a saint had attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience), needed no food, but could sustain life without eating. This view is not acceptable to the Svetambaras.
Leaving aside the trivial differences in rituals, customs and manners, the following are some of the minor points on which the two sects do not agree:
(i) The Digambaras maintain that the embryo of Mahavira, the last Tirthankara, was not removed from the womb of Devananda, a Brahmin lady, to that of Trisala or Priyakarini, a Ksatriya lady, as the Svetambaras contend.
(ii) The Digambaras believe in the complete disappearance of the ancient sacred literature of the Jainas and as such disown the canonical books of the Svetambaras.
(iii) The Digambaras assert that Mahavira never married but according to the Svetambaras, Mahavira married Yasoda and had a daughter from her by name Anojja or Priyadarsana.
(iv) The Svetambaras consider Mallinatha, the19th Tirthankara, as a female but the Digambaras state that Mallinatha was a male.
(v) According to Digambaras, the Tirthankaras must be represented as nude and unadorned, and with downcast eyes. This need not be so according to Svetambaras.
THE MAJOR AND MINOR SUB-SECTSThe division of the Jaina Church into two sects mentioned above was only the beginning of splitting the religion into various sects. Each of the two great divisions again got sub-divided into different major and minor sub-sects according to the difference in acknowledging or interpreting the religious texts. These major and minor sub-sects gradually sprang up for the most part on account of different interpretations the pontiffs put on the canonical texts from time to time.
The Digambaras are divided into following sub-sects:
(a) Major sub-sects: (i) Bisapanthi (ii) Terapanthi (iii) Taranapanthi or Samaiyapanthi.
(b) Minor sub-sects: (i) Gumanapanthi (ii) Totapanthi.
The Bisapanthis Worship the idols with flowers, fruits and sweetmeats. In their temples they keep the idols of Ksetrapala, Bhairava and other deities along with the idols of Tirthankaras. They perform Arati (waving lights over the idol) and offer sweetmeats (prasada) in the temple even at night. While worshipping they sit and do not stand. They consider Bhattarakas (ascetics below the order of Yatis or monks) as their religious teachers (Dharma-gurus), and heads of the religion (Acaryas.)
Terapanthis worship the idols not with flowers, fruits and other green vegetables (known as Saccitta things), but with sacred rice called Aksata, cloves, sandal, almond, dry cocoanuts, dates. etc. In their temples they do not maintain the idols of Ksetrapala, Bhairava and other deities. They neither perform Arati nor offer sweetmeats in the temple, While worshipping they stand and do not sit. They do not treat Bhattarakas as their religious teachers or heads. The last characteristic of Terapanthis, namely, non-recognition of the Bhattaraka system, is the main and important difference from Bisapanthis. From this it is clear that the Terapanthis appear to be reformers. They oppose to various religious practices, as according to them these are not real Jaina religious, practices. Digambara Terapanthis have no connection with Svetambara Terapanthis. Among the Digambaras, Bisapanthis and Terapanthis are so proud of their practices that they do not visit the temples of other Panthas or sects. Bispanthis are found more in Rajasthan and Gujarat and Terapanthis in Rajasthan, U. P. and M. P. Terapantha arose in 1683 V. S. as a revolt against the loose conduct of Bhattarakas and now it claims practically two-third members of the Digambara sect as its followers. Terepantha had performed a valuable task of rescuing Digambara sect from the clutches of Bhattarakas and hence the Terapanthis occupy a peculiar position in the Digambara Jaina community.
The sub-sect Taranapantha is known after its founder Tarana Svami or Tarana Swami. This sub-sect is also called Samaiyapantha because its followers worship Samaya, the sacred books. The population of Taranapanthis is nearly 40,000 and they are mainly found in Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh, former Central Indian States and some parts of Khandesha District. Members from the following six castes, namely Paravara, Asaiti, Golalare, Charanagare, A judhyabasi and Dosakhe Paravara, are the followers of this sub-sect. Taranaswami (1505-1552 v.s.) founded the sub-sect in the latter part of the 16th century of the Vikrama Era. He died at Malharagarh, in Former Gwalior state, and this is the central place of pilgrimage of Taranapanthis. They do not worship the idols but they do worship their own sacred books. Even though at present there are six castes among the Taranapanthis, they were really against the caste distinctions.
Taranaswami was looking with equanimity towards all persons and in fact he threw open the doors of his sub-sect to Muslims and low caste people. Ruiramana, one of the main disciples of Taranasvami, was a Muslim. Further, Taranapanthis gave more importance to spiritual values and the study of sacred literature. That is why we find a complete absence of outward religious practices among them. These three main traits of Taranapanthis, namely hatred of idol-worship, ban on caste distinctions and removal of outward religious practices, were evolved as a revolt against the religious practices and beliefs then prevailing in the Digambara Jaina Church and it appears that Taranasvami might have formulated these principles under the direct influence of Islamic doctrines and teachings of Lonkasaha, the founder of non-idolatrous sub-sect among the Svetambaras.
Gumanapanthis and Totapanthis are not so important and very little is known about them. Gumanapantha flourished of late in the 18th century A. D. and was so called from the name of its founder Gumana Rama.
In the Digambara sect, in recent years, a new sub-sect known as Kanaji Pantha, consisting of the followers of Kanaji Swami, is being formed. Kanaji Svami, a Svetambara Sthanakvasi by birth, has largely succeeded in popularising the old sacred texts of the great Digambara saint Acarya Kunda-kunda of South India. But Kanaji Swami's efforts, while interpreting Acarya Kunda-kunda's writings, to give more prominence to Niscayanaya (realistic viewpoint) in preference to Vyavaharanaya (practical viewpoint) are not approved by the Digambaras in general as they consider that both the view points are of equal importance. However, the influence of Kanaji Swami is steadily increasing and Sonagadha town in Gujarat has become the central place of varied religious activities of Kanajipanthis.
Like Digambaras, the Svetambaras are also split up into following sub-sects:(i) Pujera or Murtipujaka or Deravasi or Mandiramargi.(ii) Dhundhiya or Bistola or Sthanakavasi or Sadhumargi.(iii) Terapanthi
The original stock is now known as Murtipujaka-Svetamabaras as they are the through worshippers of idols. The offer fruits, flowers and saffron, etc. to their idols and adorn them with rich clothes and ornaments. Their ascetics cover their mouth with strips of cloth while speaking, otherwise they keep them in their hands. Again their ascetics have no objection to wearing yellow clothes.
The Sthanakavasis do not believe in idol-worship at all. Their ascetics cover their mouths with strips of cloth for all the time and they do not use the cloth of yellow or any other colour (of course except white). The Sthanakavasis arose not directly from the Svetambaras but as reformers of an older reforming sect, namely Lonka sect. The Lonka sect was founded in about 1474 A. D. by Lonkasaha, a rich and well-read merchant of Ahemdabad, and the main principle of this sect was not to practice idol-worship. Later on, some of the members of the Lonka sect diapproved of the lives of their ascetics, declaring that they lived less strictly than Mahavira would have wished. A Lonka sect layman, Viraji of Surat, received initiation as a Yati and won great admiration on account of the strictness of his life. Many people of the Lonka sect joined this reformer and they took the name of Sthanakavasi (those who do not live in temples but in Apasara) whilst their enemies called them Dhundhiya (searchers). This title has grown to be quite an honourable one. Except on the crucial point of idol-worship, Sthanakavasis do not differ much from other Svetambara Jainas and nowadays they invariably call themselves as Svetambara Sthanakavasis.
It is interesting to note that the two non-idolatrous sub-sects - Taranapanthis among Digambaras and Sthanakavasis among Svetambaras - came very late in the history of the Jaina Church and to some extent it can safely be said that Muhammedan influence on the religious mind of India was greatly responsible for their rise. In this connection S. Stevenson observes : "If one effect of the Muhammedan conquest, however, was to drive many of the Jainas into closer union with their fellow idol worshippers in the face of iconoclasts, another effect was to drive others away from idolatry altogether. No oriental could hear a fellow oriental's passionate outcry against idolatry without doubts as to the righteousness of the practice entering his mind. Naturally enough it is in Ahemdabad, the city of Gujarat that was most under Muhammedan influence, that we can first trace the stirring of these doubts. About 1452 A. D. the Lonka sect, the first of the non-idolatrous Jaina sects, arose and was followed by the Dhundhiya or Sthanakavasi sect about 1653 A. D., dates which coincide strikingly with the Lutherian and Puritan movements in Europe.
The foundation of Terapanthi sub-sect was laid by Swami Bhikkhanaji Maharaja in V. S. 1817. He was formerly a Sthanakavasi and when he perceived some difference in the religious practices of Sthanakavasi ascetics, he began to convert the people to his own views. As he laid stress on the thirteen religious principles, namely five Mahavratas, five Samitis and three Guptis, his sub-sect was known as the Terapanthi sub-sect. About 150 male ascetics, 300 female ascetics and one lakh ordinary laymen are the followers of Terapanthi sub-sect. Terapanthis are non-idolatrous and are vey finely organised by their Acarya (religious head) and every year on the 7th day of bright half of the month of Magha, a festival known as Maryada Mahotsava is celebrated when all ascetics and lay disciples, male and female, meet together and discuss the various problems of Terapanthis. The penance of Terapanthis is considered to be very severe.
The Terapantha is known for its disciplined organisation characterised by one Acarya, one code of conduct and one line of thought. The Terapanthis are considered reformists as they emphasise simplicity in religion. For example, the Terapanthis do not even construct monasteries for their monks, who inhabit a part of the house which the householders build for themselves. Recently their religious head, Acarya Tulsi, has started the Anuvrata movement which attempts to utilise the spiritual doctrines of the Jainas for moral uplift of the masses.
RISE OF SECTIONS AND SUB-SECTIONSApart from the splitting of the Jaina Church into various sects and sub-sects, we find that every main sect was further divided into several sections and sub-sections like Samgha, Gana, Gaccha and Sakha. In the Digambara sect, there a rose a number of Samghas namely, Mula (original) Samgha, and others like Dravida Samgha, Kastha Samgha, Mathura Samgha, etc. The Mula Samgha was further split up into four small Samghas for very trivial reasons.
The Guru Arhadbalin effected the excellent organisation of Samghas : the Simha Samgha, the Namdi Samgha, the famous Sena Samgha and the Deva Samgha were well-known as they were distinguished by the places of their establishment. Thus those who used to keep their rainy season's retreat in the den of a lion formed into a Simha Samgha, those in the lower part of a tree of the Namdi species, Namdi Samgha, those under the bushes, Sena Samgha and those in the house of a courtesan named Devadatta, Deva Samgha. Further, in the Samghas there were small sections like Ganas and Gacchas, the Namdi Samgha had Balatkara Gana and Parijata Gaccha.
Even though there were sections and sub-sections among the Digambaras, really there was no difference in them regarding religious practices and beliefs and it should be remembered that this fact was impressed on lay disciples.
The Ganas, Gacchas and others that have arisen from them, are the grantors of eternal bliss. There is between them no difference whatever in their monastic and other practices. If a man imagines any difference in the four samghas, he has travelled beyond the truth and is gone completely into the world. In them there is no difference of images nor of penitential observances, nor is there any distinction in their rules and readings.
A number of Gacchas came into being in the Svetambara sect also. They originated from the different Jaina teachers, who assumed themselves as heads of their own Gacchas, allenging differences in religious practices and holding different interpretations of the text of the Sutras, (holy scriptures). The literature of Svetambara sect has preserved the list of the Suris of hierarchs, right from Arya Sudharman, Mahavira's successor as head of Jaina Church, noting down the important events during their time. Therein, we find that after Udyotana Suri, his eighty-four disciples started eighty-four Gacchas as all of them were created Acaryas by him. This happened in A. D. 937 at a place named Teli near the famous Mount Abu. The following is a list of the names of the Gacchas commonly found and most of them have become now extinct.
Like Murtipujaka Svetambaras, The Sthanakavasi Svetambaras also have been sub-divided into 32 Gacchas.
ATTEMPTS OF RECONCILIATION
From the above discussion it will be seen that the Jaina Church which was one and undivided at the time of Mahavira has now been split up into sects, sub-sects, Samghas, Ganas, Gachchhas, etc. Apart from the religious divisions existing at present there might have been other divisions in the past. Such divisions must have flourished in the past but it appears that they could not survive upto the present day for want of followers or some other reasons. As an instance the name of 'Yapaniya or Yapya Samgha' can be cited. This Samgha was established by Sri Kalasa Acarya at Kalyana town in Gulbarga District in Karnataka. Like Svetambaras, it recognised the existence of sacred books and believed that women could attain salvation and saints could take food after attaining omniscience; but at the same time it was, like Digambaras, against using clothes and it followed the rules and regulations of Digambara ascetics. Neither its literature nor any of its followers is existing today. It appears that this Samgha was a connecting link between the Digambaras and Svetambaras or probably it was a solution to iron out the differences between the two sects. But this solution was not, it seems, accepted by the people and as such it has to remain as a separate Samgha and Vanish within a Short period for want of following. Afterwards no attempt worth the name was made in the long history of the Jaina Church to cement the outstanding differences between the sects and among the sub-sects within a sect. On the contrary it is a pity that more importance was attached to small differences of practice and this ultimately gave rise to various Samghas, Gacchas, etc. The main difference between the Mula Samgha and Kastha Samgha of Digambaras lies in the fact that while the ascetics of the former use the bunch of peacock feathers for warding off insects, those of the latter use a switch of cow's tail. There was a third section which did away with the use of a bunch or switch and hence it was called Nihpicchika Samgha. Even though the differences were meagre, the Mula Samgha declared the other two Samghas as Jainabhasa, that is, false Jaina Samghas. Exactly on the same lines various Gacchas like Kharatara, Anchala, Paurnimiyaka, Katuka, etc. arose among the Svetambaras due to little differences and there was practically constant rivalry among them. Books like Kupaksakau sikasahasvakisana, Tapomatakuttana, Ancalamatadalana, indicate this spirit of rivalry. Thus it will be found that there is nothing like unity in the Jaina Church but on the contrary there is a vivid tendency to magnify the differences and to split up the Jaina Church into small sections spread all over India. Moreover there was not during the last 2000 years even a single powerful personality in the Jaina community who could iron out the differences between the two main sects which insist more on their mutual differences. It goes without saying that this unusually large number of religious sections or divisions in a small Jaina community can hardly serve as an incentive for unity in that community.