Oct 31, 2009

Emperor Akbar and Jain Community

By Mr. Surendra Pal

As is well known, the Jains were mostly concentrated in Rajasthan and Gujarat though their pockets existed almost throughout the country besides some places in western India and south India.

A work of the fifteenth century shows that the members of Jain community were also to be found in Malwa, in Sindh, Haryana, and the Punjab. We also learn that between Samvat 1475 and Samvat 1515 Jinabhadra Suria saint of Tapagachcha branch of Svetambara sect took up the arduous task of transferring Jain works written on palm-leaves to paper and established grantha bhandar or depositing center of books in Jaisalmer, Jawalpur, Deogiri (Daultabad in Maharashtra), Ahipur and patan. There is also a mention of such depositories in Mandapdurg or Manduin Malwa and Cambay in Gujarat.

In Gujarat and Rajasthan Jain were basically traders though in Rajasthan some of them also occupied important official positions such as the family of Bhargrmal Kawariya of Mewar whose members from the time of Rana Sanga onwards served Mewar as ministers and included such illustrious ministers as Tarachand, Bhema Shah, Jiwa Shah etc. Similarly, the Muhnot family was associated with the house of Jodhpur and provided several ministers in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, the most famous of them being Muhnot Nainasi, the writer of Muhnot Nainasi ra Khyat.

Their close connection with the ruling chiefs in Rajasthan and Gujarat facilitated quick and smooth integration of the Jain in the Mughal administrative system after these chiefs decided to cooperate with the Mughals in the time of Akbar. Their trust in the new policy is evident from their diffusion all over the Mughal empire under Akbar and his successors.

Akbar's policy helped to create conditions in which Jain traders began to migrate to the different part of north India from Rajasthan and Gujarat. This became possible because of the combination of a number of factors. First, by conquering the whole of north of India Akbar established a uniform system of government, a single fiscal and customs policy and basically one type of currency. Roads linking important trade and producing centers of Gujarat and Rajasthan such as Surat, Ahmedabad, Ajmer,Bayana etc. to Agra were built. Roads now connected Agra with Labore and halting places along the roads were provided. At the same time comparative security of persons and property was established which made long distance travel and transport of goods more safe and convenient. Akbar's policy of conquest had helped to forge one political unit out of northern and western India which created suitable conditions for conducting economic activities over a much wider region.

While these measures had created the much needed environment, the real breakthrough came after Akbar implemented his Rajput policy and instead of subjugating the Rajput chiefs and incorporating their kingdoms converted them into the allies and vassals of the Mughal empire, sometimes even by entering into matrimonial relations.

Many of these top Rajput commanders and administrators carried with them their advisers from their homeland to assist them in the task of administration. Among these some were Jains. Man Singh, while he was posted as the governor of Bengal with its headquarters at Rajmahal in Bihar, had with him Mahamatya Nanu Godha a Jain who served him for a long time and then returned carrying immense riches. Nanu Godha is reputed to be the most celebrated Jain personality among the Khandelwals in the seventeenth century. He is reputed to have constructed eighty temples in Bengal (by Bengal is meant both the present day Bihar and Bengal). He owned seventy-two elephants and his wealth was unparalleled..

The services of these Jains were also needed for arranging supplies to the armies led by the Rajput commanders in different parts of empire during the reign of Akbar. Personal knowledge of the different parts of the empire thus obtained helped the Jains to make up their minds about moving out of Rajasthan to earn a livelihood. Therefore, Akbar's Rajput policy not only led to the migration of Rajputs but also of the Jains to the different parts of the Mughal empire.

As is well known, Akbar by laying down that the land revenue should be paid in cash rather than in kind gave a boost to commercialization of agriculture as peasants become interested in producing cash crops which commanded a ready sale and fetched higher prices, at least on a part of their landholdings. This measure intensified rural-urban trade monetization of economy and was an important factor in promoting inland trade during this period.

The Jain community which was disperssed over this region took advantage of this opportunity for they had the necessary expertise and probably more important than this, though located in different places they remained in contact with each other through ties of family, friendship, occupation and religion. The members of the community could therefore, operate all over the region with greater confidence and better knowledge of the prevailing economic and political environment.

The family ties of Jaina covered a number of places as is evident from the fact that Banarsida's grandfather Muldas was attached to the ruler of Narwar near Gwalior while his maternal grandfather Madna Sing Chinaliya was a famous jeweller of Jaunpur. His father Khargsen had served in Bengal , Allahbad and Jaunpur. Banarasidas settled in Agra.

Another example of existence of family ties among Jains residing in distant cities is furnished by Hemraj Patani, a resident of Patna who was married to a niece of Seth Hiranand Mukim of Agra. In Bengal Diwan Dhanna Rai had under him five hundreds Shrimal Vaishyas who were employed in the task of revenue collection.

It is against this background that we must view the visit of Jain saints to the court of Akbar. It was reflection of growing interest of their lay followers in the continuously widening are of economic activities, made possible by the emergence of the new political entity. Akbar, of course, invited them to visit him following his desire to bring a about a rapprochement among the major religious communities of the country. Buy the growing involvement of their coreligionist in the Mughal polity and economy must have been an important motivation for them in seeking and maintaining good relations with the Mughal emperor. Thus from Padmasundar who appears to have been the first Jain monk to meet Akbar we have a continuous flow of distinguished Jain saints to the court of Akbar and his successor Jahangir. Of course, the most famous Jain visitor to Akbar was Hiravijaya Suri who met him in Samvat 1639.

Akbar was so much impressed by Hiravijaya Suri that he conferred upon him the title of "Jagad Guru" or "the preceptor of the world." The intention won over the confidence of the community. When Hiravijaya Suri quitted the court in 1587, he left behind his brilliant disciple Santichandra, the author of "Kriparasa-kosa" When he left the royal court in 1587 he asked Bhanuchandra and his disciple Siddhichandra to stay back. They lived even after the death of Akbar at the court and Siddhichandra who had also learnt Persian, wrote "Bhanuchandra Gani Charit" a biography of his master.

The faith of the community in Akbar and the Mughal polity was strengthened when the ruler issued firmans prohibiting the killing of animals on certain days sacred to the Jains. Similarly, they were permitted to renovate their temples and allowed to go on pilgrimage in large groups. The time span of eleven lunar years separating the two firmans of Akbar and also the continued stay of Jain teachers at the Mughal Court point to the continuing patronage of the Jains by the Mughal emperor.

We find a rich Jain trader of Agra Seth Hiranand Mukim, who later on became the personal jeweller of Emperor Jahangir leading a party of Jain pilgrims to Sammed Shikhar Bihar. While it was not unusual for Jains to go on pilgrimage to holy places in Rajasthan and Gujarat, it was certainly something new that a big party of Jains could go from Agra to Sammed Shikhar and the state extended protection to the party.

The practice of large parties of pilgrims visiting eastern India helped in integrating Jains residing in different parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc. This change should not be overlooked as earlier the Jains generally travelled to their holy places mostly located in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Eventually, this environment promoted inter-regional ties and trade.
Akbar's policy of religious toleration resulted in increases mobility of Jain saints and their entourage, which further reinforced the bonds among the members of the community. They could profess and practice their religion publicly. The new-found mobility enabled them to forge linkages at all levels of administration which furthered the commercial activities of their o-religionists as officials were now afraid to harass them.

Akbar's policies affected the Jain community in several other ways.

The good relations that developed between the Jain religious leaders and the Mughal rulers now extended to the members of the community at large. A number of them held positions in the Mughal administration and could influence the state policies and help their co-religionists whenever they felt harassed by the activities of the local Mughal officials. Also, they were now emboldened to settle down in groups in places where they could profitably follow their traditional vocation of trade.

Furthermore, the royal patronage helped the community to forget temporarily their dissensions and cooperate with each other in secular and temporal matters. Thus in March 1956, Jains from Punjab, Bengal, Rajputana and Gujarat forgetting their differences assembled on the Satrunjay hills to pay homage to their deities. This was probably and unforeseen and unanticipated consequence of the harmony developing between the Mughal ruler and the Jain community.
In the time of Akbar Agra emerged as an entrepot and was probably the greatest trade mart inside the country. We have substantial numbers of Jains residing in Agra in the time of Akbar. Many of them were fairly rich. They occupied official positions as well as carried on trade.
Karma Chand was a minister of Akbar, enjoying his trust. His biographer claims that for some time he prohibited fishing in Jhelum, Satlaj, Ravi and Indus rivers. He cites instances when Akbar conferred lavish rewards on Karma Chand.

Than Singh was another favourite and confidante of Akbar. AT the instance of the emperor, a center of collecting books relating to Jainism was started in Agra and Than Singh was asked to look after it. It was said that in the reign of Akbar's successor Jahangir eighty-eight important Jain belonging to the Svetambar sect resided in Agra and all of them were fairly well off.
All travel accounts of Jain saints in the reign of Akbar describe grand processions being organised in towns by Jains through which they passed, especially in Gujarat, Malwa and Rajasthan where they were present in large numbers. In many towns of Western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, they again received warm reception from their followers. The opportunity to display publicly their faith and opulence must have exerted a powerful psychological impact on them to continue to earn and accumulate wealth.

The assemblage of affluent Jains in substantial number in Agra gave an impetus to cultural and religious activities. In 1594 Parimal wrote "Scriplacharita" which gives a vivid description of Agra and its society.

Banarsidas, the writer of first autobiography in Hindi, grew up in Agra and he was a member of a group which discussed a variety of religious subjects, some of which were disliked by orthodoxy. Banarasidas, as is well known also came in contact with the famous Hindi poet Goswami Tulsidas and Sundardas.

The intensified trade activities of Jain is evident from their presence in small and big towns in north India.

The Multan (in Punjab) we know of a group of Jain traders who followed the teaching of Banarsidas. It is said that the leading member Vardhaman Nawlakha went to Agra to meet Banarasidas.

Shah Haranand was a leading Jain trader, who resided in Lahore. Nahar Jatmal of Lahore subsequently wrote a poem "Lahore Gazal" in which he extensively described the city.
The Jain saint Jinsingh Suri went to Lahor and stayed there at the instance of Karma Chandra. His lay followers such as Parbat, Man Singh, etc. besides organizing meetings for his sermons gave him very warm and grand reception.

In Delhi, many Jains resided. In the time of Shah Jahan they constructed the famous Red Jain temple in the vicinity of Chandani Chowk which still exists.

Mathura was another center which attracted their presence. East of Agra, they could be found in Prayag, Janupur, Varanasi, Patna, etc. and were rich. Some of them were fairly affluent while some of them were just able to make both ends meet. While they were trading in bulk items such as textiles and dyes and food stuffs, they were also engaged in high valued trade of diamonds, gold and silver, etc.

Finally, one should also take into account the fact that many of the Jain saints though generally moving in Agra, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat region, still preferred to write in Hindi besides writing in the Sanskrit, Prakrit, Gujarati and Rajasthani. Thus in the later half of sixteenth century, Ratnakirt (Samvat 1600 to 1656) wrote a number of poems in Hindi. He is reputed to have been the first Digambar Jain the annals of Hindi poetry. Many of these writers in Hindi belonged to the Punjab as well.

One should not forget to mention that the Jains are also among the early writers of of Hindi prose. As traders and administrators it was almost a compulsion for them to acquire proficiency in writing of prose. In the mix-sixteenth century Pandey Rajmal wrote a commentary on Kunkundacarya's Samayasara in Hindi prose. Banarasi also wrote Hindi prose. This points to a growing realization among the Jain saints and litterateurs that many of their co-religionists has settled down in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab region and had picked up the local language, therefore, it was necessary to speak and write in the language with which they were conversant, so that they could imbibe the message they intended to convey.

To students of history, another aspect of Jain literary works during the age of Akbar becomes important. Some of the writings dealt with the life and times of Akbar. Siddhichandra writes of Akbar "There is not a single art, not a single branch of knowledge, not a single act of boldness and strength which was not attempted by the young Emperor. One may not accept it but this is one dimension of how the contemporaries perceived their ruler. Similarly, while speaking of Abul Fazal, he says, "He had gone through the ocean of the whole literature and he was the best among all learned men." One can again questing this. But certainly one gets a contemporary view of one of the important chroniclers of Akbar's age.

Some biographical writings on Jain saints though highly eulogistic, throw light on the life-style of Jains, the status of women, the use of wealth, etc. and the religious schisms that affected the Jain society. We, therefore, have a glimpse into the history ;of a group, which though played an important role in the economy, but was largely ignored by the Persian writers. They remain, therefore, an important source for a fuller study of the society in the age of Akbar. To understand the age of Akbar, we have to read the writings of contemporary Jains.

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