Oct 19, 2010

Cultural Contribution of Jain Acharyas

By Dr. Vilas Sangave
The survival of Jainas, though as a minority community for the last so many centuries in India and especially in South India, can be safely attribute, among other things, to the glorious and continuous tradition of Jaina Saints for more than a thousand years. The Jaina Saints were extremely talented persons with a high and developed sense of social responsibility. They never attempted to lead a solitary life in isolation from others. On the contrary, the Jaina Saints always tried to forge and preserve intimate contacts with general masses so as to encourage them to lead a religious and virtuous life. further, the Jaina Saints took continuous interest in the social, political and educational advancement of the region. They exercised their benign influence to banish harmful anti - social practices from society, to create facilities for the spread of religious and secular education among the general public. Moreover, by their, valuable and strenuous scholastic and missionary activities the Jaina Saints made significant and lasting contributions with a view to enriching the cultural life of the region.

The varied activities of a large number of eminent Jaina Saints contributed to the continuation of the Jaina community for a long period, because these activities produced a deep impression upon the general public regarding the sterling qualities of Jaina Saints. They were mainly responsible for the spread of Jainism all over India. The Chronicles of Ceylon a test that Jainism also spread in Ceylon. As regards South India, it can be maintained that the whole of it in ancient times was strewn with small groups of learned Jaina ascetics who were slowly but surely spreading their morals through the medium of their sacred literature composed in various vernaculars of the country. It is clear that these literary, educational and missionary activities of the Jaina Saints ultimately helped the Jainas in South India to strengthen their position for a long time in the face of the Hindu revival. The important Jaina Saints from the South were Kunda-Kunda, Umasvati, Samantabhadra, Pujyapada, Akalanka, Vidyanandin, Manikyanandin, Prabhachandra, Virasena. Jinasena, Gunabhadra and Somadeva.

Of these illustrious Jaina Saints, Acharya Samantabhadra and Acharya Akalanka were the foremost in their zeal of spread of Jainism. Acharya Samantabhadra toured all over India and defeated his opponents in the public disputations. In the Shravana-Belgola inscription Acharya Samantabhadra is described as “One whose sayings are an adamantine goad to the elephant, the disputant, and by whose power this whole earth became barren (i.e. was rid) of even the talk of false speakers”. Similarly Acharya Akalanka defeated the Buddhists in public disputation at Kanchi in the 7th or 8th century A.D. in consequence of which they were banished to Ceylon.

Even in the political matters the Jaina Saints used to take keen interest and guide the people whenever required in the Karnataka region the Gangas and the Hoyasalas were inspired to establish new kingdoms by the Jaina Saints. The Ganga Kingdom in the 2nd century A.D. was a virtual creation of the famous Jaina Saint Simhanandi and naturally practically all Ganga monarchs championed the cause of Jainism. Like the Ganga Kingdom in the 2ne century A.D. the Hoyasala monarchs and generals extended their patronage to Jainism and carefully looked after the interest of the Jainas.

Along with the carrying of these missionary and political activities, the Jaina Saints tried to excel in their personal accomplishment also. In a work entitled “Pujyapadacharita” the names of 37 arts and sciences mastered by Acharya Pujyapada are given. In the 7th century A.D. the famous Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang had heard of old times during which the Nirgranthas (i.e. the Jaina ascetics) were skilled in divination.

In face the most impressive and permanent contribution of Jaina Saints has been in the field of literature, both religious and secular. Among the Jaina saint authors of the South. Acharya Kunda-kunda is by far the earliest, the best known and the most important. His influence over Jainism as a whole is indicated by the fact that almost all later writers, teachers and men of not, either in their works, genealogies or inscriptions, trace their descent from Acharya Kund-Kunda, calling themselves “Kundakundanvaya.” He is supposed to have composed in all not less than 84 works, but only 23 works are now extant of which Pravachanasara, Samayasara, Niyamsara, Panchastikaya, Rayanasara, Astapahuda and Baras Anuvekkha are more prominent. After Acharya Kunda-Kunda the next name in importance is that of Umasvati or Umasvami who is said to have been a disciple of Acharya Kunda-Kunda.umasvati is best known for his unique treatise entitled, “Tattvarthadhigama Sutra” which is respected both by the Digambara and the Svetambara sects of the Jains. This popular treatise is sometimes called “Jaina Bible” just as Acharya Kunda-Kunda’s works are at times described as “the Jaina Vedanta”. The Tattvarthadhigama Sutra” is considered unique because it has attracted several commentators of repute. Chief among these commentators are Samanabhadra, Pujypada, akalanka, Vidyananda, Prabhachandra and Shrutasagara. The extreme importance of Umasvati’s this treatise can be judged both by the number and extend of these commentaries. For example Samntabhadra’s commentary entitled “Gandhagasti-Mahabhashya” is supposed to have run into 84,000 stanzas, but unfortunately the work is not extant. Another Jaina Saint author of high eminence is Somadeva, perhaps by far the most learned of Jaina writers of the South. Somadev’s two works, which immensely raised his reputation among the authors of India are “Yashodhara written in mixed prose and verse, and ‘Nitivakyamruta’ a treatise on polity. What make Somadeva’s work of very great importance are the learning of the author which they display, and the masterly style in which they are composed. The esteemed position which he earned by his merit could be gauged by his following honorific titles; ‘Syadvadachalasimha’ i.e. the lion on the mountain of Syadvada, ‘Tarkika-chakravartin’ i.e. the lord of the logician, “Vadibhapanchanana’ i.e. a lion to the disputants, Vakkallaola payonidhi, i.e. an ocean of the waves of eloquence, and ‘Kavikularaja’ i.e. the king of the poets. As regards Somadeva’s position in Sanskrit literature, the great oriental scholar Dr. K.K. Handiqui observes thus : while Somadeva made substantial contributions to Jaina religious literature, his literary importance and achievement go beyond its narrow limits; and the value of his work can be assessed in relation to Sanskrit literature as a whole. He is one of the most versatile talents in history of Indian literature, and his masterpiece ‘Yashastilaka and Nitivakyamruta’ supplement each other. He is a redactor of ancient folk tales and religious stories, and at times shows himself and adept in dramatic dialogue. Last but not least, he is a keen observer of man and manners. The position of Somadeva is indeed, unique in Sanskrit literature”

a remarkable feature of Jaina Saint authors of the South is the direct succession of highly qualified and equally capable teachers and their disciples. The classic example of this rare type is that of Acharya Virasena, his disciple Acharya Jinasena, and Jinasena’s disciple Acharya Gunabhadra, who flourished in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. during the reign of the Rashtrakuta monarchs.

Acharya Virasena is supposed to have written “Siddha-bhupaddhatitika” a learned treatise on the measurement of land as he was a great mathematician also. But this treatise has not been traced as yet. He composed his famous “Dhavala - Tika” consisting of 72,000 stanzas in Prakrit and Sanskrit language. It is a commentary on the renowned work “Shatkhandagama Sutra”. Acharya Virasena also undertook to write “Jayadhavala-Tika” as a commentary on “Kashaya-Prabhruta” of Acharya Gunabhadra. Acharya Virasena died after composing 20,000 stanzas of the “Jayadhavala -Tika” which was to consist of 60,000 stanzas. The remaining 40,000 stanzas of the “Jayadhavala -Tika” Acharya Jinasena composed “Vardhamana-Purana”, the distinctive poetic work “Parshva-bhyudya”. In his “Parshvabhyudya” Jinasena has performed the wonderful feat of utilising each line of the love poem “Meghafuta” of Kalidasa for narrating the life of the 23rd Tirthankara Lord Parshvanatha. The concluding line of each verse in Jinasena’s poem has been borrowed from the successive stanzas of Meghaduta. Thus poetic work “Parshvabhyudaya” consisting of 334 stanzas in unparalleled in Sanskrit literature. Later on Acharya Jinasena started to write a great poetic work to be known as “Mahapurana” depicting the life-history of 63 Great Ones in Jainism. But unfortunately he could not finish the work. After composing 1 to 42 Parvas or Chapters and 3 stanzas of 43rd Parva, i.e. in all 10, 380 stanzas, Jinasena died. This portion of “Mahapurana” known as “Adi-Purana” was ably completed by Acharya Gunabhadra the disciple of Acharya Jinasena. Gunabhadra composed 43rd to 47th Parvas (i.e. In all 1620 stanzas) and completed the “Adipurana” the unfinished work of his teacher. In the same strain Gunabhadra also composed “Uttara-Purana” consisting of 8000 stanzas.

In this manner Gunabhadra very satisfactorily completed the literary project of “Mahapurana” commenced by his teacher, Jinasena. In addition, Gunabhadra composed “Atmanushasana” a poem of 272 stanzas and 3 Sargas or Chapters of “Jinadatta Charitra”. Thus in a very significant manner the continuity of literary activities was ably maintained by the Jaina Saints.

More than anything else, the role played by the Jaina Saints in the realm of learning is supreme. They educated the rising generations from the rudimentary knowledge of three R’s to the highest levels of literary and scientific studies. They initiated the intelligential into the mysteries of literary art and inspired their creative genius. All this produced epoch making results as witnessed by the posterity. Some of the best and the earliest literary productions in South India are from the Jaina Saint authors. It must be said to the credit of the Jaina saints that they took a leading part in the education of the masses. Various relics show that formerly Jaina ascetics took a great share in teaching children in southern regions viz. Andhra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In this connection Dr. Altekar rightly observes that before beginning the alphabet proper the children are required to pay homage to Ganesh, by reciting the “Shri Ganeshya Namah”, (natural in Hindu Society), but in the Deccan even today following the Jaina formula,” “Om Namah Siddham” shows that the Jaina teachers of the medieval age had so completely controlled the mass education that the Hindus continued to teach their children this originally Jaina formula even after the decline of Jainism. As a result of these varied and significant activities the Jaina Saints or monks greatly succeeded in exercising a mighty influence for serve centuries on the cultural life of the people of the south and in moulding its course in various respects. With a view to achieving the rapid spread of religion, the Jaina Saints penetrated into the farthest recesses of the land and established temples and monasteries for this purpose. The Jaina Saints, with their continuos, devoted and self-less service, made lasting impression on the mind and heart of the masses. The Jaina Saints attended not only to the spiritual yearnings and religious needs of the masses, but also looked to their material requirements.

Thus in South India the Jaina Saint came to be regarded as a symbol of learning and passed into the proverb as a “scholar par excellence”. This is illustrated by the following interesting citation which, though a series of epic metaphors, bestows the highest praise on him. The passage runs thus; “Who can withstand the Jaina Monk in a contest, when he lifts his pen, as when Arjuna, his Gandiva bow, Indra, his thunderbolt, Vishnu, his disc, or Bhima, his mace?”

In view if these high accomplishments of the Jaina saints and their varied contributions to the culture of the region concerned, princes and people alike had a great regard for the Jaina Saints in different parts of the country. Even the Muslim rulers of Delhi honoured and showed reverence to the learned Jaina Saints of South India. Similarly, the Muslim Emperors like Aurangazeb, Farrukhasiyar, Mohammadshah and Ahmedshah granted some privileges to the Jaina Saints of Marwar. Regarding the influence of Jaina Saints in Rajasthan, Lieutenant Colonel James Todd remarks: “To show the respect in which the high priests of Jainas are held, the princes of Rajputana invariably advance outside the walls of their capital to receive and to conduct them to it - mark of respect paid only to princes. It is no wonder that the character and activities of such influential Jaina Saints created and atmosphere which helped to lengthen the life of the Jaina community.

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