Oct 20, 2009

Jain Vestiges in Coimbatore District

M. AROKIASWAMI, M.A., Ph.D.

COIMBATORE, the headquarter of the district which goes by its namein the State of Madras, is well-known to-day as the "Manchester ofSouth India." There is perhaps not another place in the whole of thisregion to equal it not only in the numerous spinning and weavingmills it possesses but also in the general standard of wealth, healthcivilisation and culture. But few are interested in studying thehistory of this district and particularly the development of culturein this area. Of the era preceding the period of British occupationof the district, which began in 1799, particularly little or nothingis known.

In this paper I propose to make an enquiry into a subject which formspart of a larger whole, viz., the cultural development of theCoimbatore region in early times and the particular subject forenquiry here is an estimate of the Jain contribution to this quota.So many vestiges of Jainism are to be found in this district thatthere is no doubt about the great influence this religion must haveexerted over the people of this region in early times. That it musthave been much more than any one would suspect is certain. Names ofplaces like seenapuram clearly remaind one of the early jain influentover the region; while old jain shrines found in places like.Vijayamangalam, Tirumurthimalai and Karur bear an equally strongevidence to the same. A figure of the Jain Thrithankara is found inTirumurthimalai; and a number of Jain beds are found to this day inArunattarmalai in Karur Taluk while in Arasannamalai nearVijayamangalam the Neminatha temple has been now converted into aVinayaka temple. Not only this. The district of Coimbatore in earlytimes seems to have been the home of several Jain scholars, not theleast of whom was the great Bavanandi, the author of the celebratedTamil grammar, Nannul, who seems to have lived in the region ofVijayamangalam in Erode Taluk.

It is impossible for us to explain these vestiges unless we postulatea period of Jain glory in the district at some time during itssojourn in South India. The Kongadesarajakkal, a XVII century TamilMss., which has been recently edited by Mr. C. M. RamachandranChettiar, Advocate, Coimbatore, (Madras Govt, Oriental Series, VI,1950) brings to light a set of seven rulers called Rattas(Rashtrakutas?) in this region during the period between 250 A.D. and400 A.D. Many if not all of them are represented in this work asprofessors and strong supporters of Jainism.(Ibid., pp. 1-2). In thereign of the fourth ruler, Govindaraya, a grant to the jainArishtanna is mentioned and in that of the sixth ruler, Kannaradeva,the names of three great Jain theologians, of whom one Naganandi ismentioned by name, are referred to. (Ibid)

The history of the origin of the Ganga dynasty of Mysore indicateseven more clearly how deep-rooted was janism in the district ofCoimbatore in early times. It would appear that in the closing yearsof the IV century A.D., King Padmanabha of the Gangas had to send histwo sons, Dadiga and Madhava to the south by way of preparing himselfto meet his enemy, King Mahipala of Ujjain.(Rice; Mysore and Coorg;p. 31). The rest of the narration as found in Rice's words is asfollows:

"When they arrived at Perur, which is still distinguished from otherPerurs as Ganga-Perur (in Cuddapah district), they met there the JainAchariya Simhanandi. He was interested in the story of these Gangaprinces and taking them by the hand, gave them instruction andtraining and eventually procured for them a kingdom."(Rice: Op.,cit., loc., cit).

Many Ganga records like the Udayendiram plates of Prithvipati II, theKudlur grant of Marasimha and the Santara inscription on the Hunchastone* bear clear evidence to the fact that Simhanandi gave them akingdom and that he was a reputed Jain teacher. The last mentionedrecord indeed refers to him as "the archariya who made the Gangakingdom.":
"Ganga-rajyaman madida Simhanandy acharyya."(EC., VIII, Nr. 35)

Indrabhuti in his Samayabhushana names him as a great poet to be kepton par with Elacharya and Pujyapada.(IA., XII, 20). Still, no betterdescription can be given of Simhanandi than what is found in theJaina record near the Siddhesvara temple at Kallurgudda in ShimogaTaluk:
"The Vijaya or victory to the farthest shore of learning, the fullmoon to the ocean of the Jaina congregation, possessed of patienceand all the ten excellent qualities, his good life, a secure wealth,rejoicing in the modest, his fame extending to the four oceans,keeping at a distance from the evil, a sun in the sky of theKranurgana, devoted to the performance of the twelve kinds ofpenance, promoter of the Ganga kingdom-Sri Simhanandiacharyya."(EC.,VII, Sh. 4)
On the other hand we owe to the evidence of inscriptional recordslike those of the Parsvanathi Basti at Sravana Belgola and others tobe seen at Kallurgudda and Purale in Shimoga Taluk that Madhavadefinitely came under the influence of Simhanandi, who intiated himinto jain doctrines and conferred on him a kingdom on condition thathe always took care to uphold that Faith throughout its confines.(Ibid, also 64). The latter tow give a detailed account of thisorigin of the Ganga Kingdom, which deserves to be quoted at least inpart, as it gives one an idea of the depth of Jain influence thatruled over the region where the Ganga kingdom was founded:

"On Madhava impressing him with his extraordinary energy...Simhanandi made a coronet of the petals of the Karnikara flowersbound it on Madhava's head, gave them (the two brothers) the dominionof all the earth, presented them with a flag made from his peacockfan and furnished them with attendants, elephants and horses. Alongwith these he gave them also the following advice: 'If you fail inwhat you have promised, if you do not approve the Jina sasana; if youseize the wives of others; if you indulge in wine and flesh; if youform relationship with the low; if you give not your wealth to theneedy; if you flee from the field or battle-your race will go to ruin.

to cont.

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