Jainism in Karnataka

Jaina Dharma or sramana dharma is a small  but very influential religious tradition in India. It has been a major  cultural, philosophical, social, and political force since the dawn of Indian  civilization. Called Nirgantha (without bonds) by ancient texts, it is one of  the oldest sramana (ascetic) traditions still surviving in India. The community  today has a population of 4 million (2001 census), a nation-wide spread and is  most prominent in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It has a good presence in Delhi-Mathura, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Bundelkhand regions.

The Rig Veda contains clear references to  Rishabhdeva, the first Tirthankara and to Aristanemi, the twenty-second. The  Yajur Veda mentions the names of three Tirthankaras, viz. Rishabhdeva,  Ajitanatha and Aristanemi. Rishabha has also been mentioned in the Bhagavata  Purana (1).

Parshvanatha, the twenty-third  Tirthankara, is the earliest Jaina leader who can be reliably dated, and probably  lived in the ninth century BC. The pervasive influence of Jaina culture and  philosophy in the ancient Bihar region may have stimulated the rise of  Buddhism. It has been said that when Siddhartha Gautama left home, he went into  the forest for penance and moved about naked and plucked his own hairs and  lived like a Jaina Niggantha (2).

The beginnings of Jainism in Karnataka  are unknown. Tradition has it that Mahavira visited Karnataka and initiated  King Jivandhara of Hemanagada country of the Kuntala (Karnataka) region, and  this probably accounts for the early origins of Jainism in Karnataka, generally  assigned to the fourth century BC by Jaina tradition.

Tradition states that Bhadrabahu and his  royal disciple Chandragupta Maurya migrated to the South along with many  followers due to a famine in the north. The group settled at Shravana Belagola  in the Mysore region, where Chandragupta undertook sallekhana (death by  fasting) at the Chandragiri hill named after him.

Chandragupta Basadi at Shravana Belagola,  a latter day structure, is linked to this tradition, but there is unfortunately  no epigraphic or literary evidence to corroborate it. The first mention of this  tradition is found in a Shravana Belagola epigraph of the seventh century.  “Brhatkhosha” of Harisena of 931 AD also mentions this tradition.  Narasimhachar, who has examined the sources in detail, believes this tradition  has some basis (3).

Political position of Jainism under  Karnataka Kings
Historically, Jainism received huge  patronage from Karnataka Kings, royal families, merchants and common men. A  large number of monuments throughout the state attest to Jaina influence. A  large number of epigraphical references mention the patronage and grants  received from Kings and Queens to the Jaina faith. From the reign of the  Kadambas of Banavasi until the Vijayanagar period, Jainism received generous  grants from Kannada monarchs.

Kadambas of Banavasi (345-525 CE): The earliest grant from the  Kadambas comes from the time of Mrigesavarman in his fourth regnal year (4).  The copper plate mentions the grant of an entire village for the benefit of  Jaina Gods (Bhagavat, Arhat and Mahajinendra). He also gave thirty-three  nivartanas of land (in modern Halsi in Belgaum) to Yapaniyas, Jainas (5). The  same copperplate state that Jaina ascetics must be fed during rainy seasons.

Gangas of Talkad (350-1000 CE): Tradition connects the  origins of the Gangas to a Jaina teacher, Simhanandi. Shripurusha gave  Devanahalli grant to Jinalaya and Narasimharajapura grant to a Jaina Caityalaya  (6).

Prithvipati I’s Billur grant records the  gift of twelve villages on the banks of Lakshmanathirtha to Satyavakya Jinalaya  at Pannekadanga (7). There are many inscriptions showing huge grants made by  Rachamalla IV, and his minister Chavundaraaya.

Chalukyas of Badami (sixth century): Despite being staunch  Hindus, they extended patronage to the Jainas. The existence of a Jaina cave  side by side a Vaishnava cave at Badami is an eg of co-existence during that  period. During the reign of Kirthivarma II, Kaliyamma built a Jinalaya at  Annigeri (8); Sendraka Durgasakti donated lands to Sankha-Jinalaya at Puligere  (9); and Vijayaditya gave village Seribaluru near Laksmeshwar.

Rashtrakutas (eight century) and  Chalukyas of Kalyana (twelfth century): Altekar characterizes the age of the  Rashtrakutas as the most flourishing period in the history of Jainism in the  Deccan. Amoghavarsha I was more Jaina than Hindu (10); many court officers were  Jainas. The Rattas of Saundatti were staunch supporters of Jaina Dharma.  Altekar estimates that at least one third of the total population of the Deccan  during this period was Jaina (11).

The Chalukyas of Kalyana patronized all  religions. Taila, founder of the dynasty was a patron of the great poet Ranna  (a Jaina). Satyashraya had a Jaina teacher as Rajguru. Attimabbe constructed  many basadis. The king gave a golden kalasha to one basadi at Lokkigundi (12).  Shantinatha, a minister of Someshwara II, built Mallikamoda Shantinatha basadi  at Baligrama (13).

Hoysalas (tenth-fourteenth century):  The Hoysalas are traditionally connected with Jainism from their origins. Sala  was himself a Jaina. Ereyanga is said to have made many grants at Belagola.  Vinayaditya II built a large number of Jaina shrines.

According to the Belur inscription,  Vishnuvardhana received prasadam of God Vijaya Parshwa from the Jinalaya and  made provisions for the performance of ceremonies of Vijaya Parshwa and 24  Thirthankaras. His wife Shantaladevi is described as a jewel of Jainism (14).  Many of his generals including Mariyane Dandanayaka, Punisa and Boppa were  Jainas.

This disproves allegations that  Vishnuvardhana after conversion to Vaishnavism ignored Jainas. Narasimha I, a  Vaishnava, made grants to Sravana Belagola. Ballala II built Nagara Jinalaya at  Dorasamudra. Patronage to Jainism continued in the days of Narasimha and  Ramanatha.

Vijayanagar (1336-1646 CE): With the establishment of  the Vijayanagar kingdom, the emphasis shifted to Hinduism and Jainism received  a great setback. Yet, Jainas received some grants. Harihara II patronized Jaina  ministers. He also constructed Kuntha Jinalaya at Vijayanagar (15). A Shravana  Belagola inscription of 1442 mentions grants for Gommateshwara.

These show that Jainas enjoyed patronage  from Kings and were a dominant political force in Karnataka.

Kannada Literature
Kannada literature is often classified  into Jaina, Vaishnava and Virashaiva literatures, in recognition of the  prominence of these faiths in giving form to and fostering the classical  expression of the language (17). Starting with the Kavirajamarga (c.  850), and till the middle of the 12th century, literature in Kannada was  almost exclusively composed by the Jainas, who found eager patrons in the  Chalukya, Ganga, Rashtrakuta and Hoysala kings (18). Jainas dominated Kannada  literature till the 12th century.

The earliest existing prose in old  Kannada is a Jaina text Vaddaradhane  (Worship of Elders, 9th century) by Shivakotiacharya. Jaina writers like  Adikavi Pampa, Sri Ponna and Ranna, are collectively called the ‘three gems of  Kannada literature.’

Pampa wrote “Adi Purana” in 941 AD, which  narrates the life history of Rishabdeva, the first Tirthankara. Ponna wrote  “Shantipurana,” a biography of the 16th Tirthankara Shantinatha. Ranna's poetic  writings reached their zenith with “Sahasa Bhima Vijaya”.

The Jaina contribution to architecture is  immense. Shravana Belagola, Chandragiri, Indragiri, Moodabidiri, Karkala,  Dharmasthala, Venur, Gerosoppa, Hadolli, Bilgi, Lakkundi are some of the  important centers of Jainas monuments in Karnataka.

The earliest references to Jaina  monuments are found in Halasi and Devagiri inscriptions of the Kadamba period.  According to the Gudnapur inscription, the Kadamba King Ravivarma built a  temple, Kamajinalaya for Manmatha.

The monolith 60-feet high Gommateshwara  statue at Shravana Belagola is testimony to Jaina contribution to architecture  and sculpture. It was built by the Ganga minister and commander Chavundaraya in  honor of Lord Bahubali, the second son of the Tirthankara Rishabdeva, also  known as Adinatha.
  The Badami Chalukyas built a cave temple  dedicated to Adinatha. Another Jaina cave is at Aihole. The structural temples  built by them include Meguti Jinalaya at Aihole and the Jinalaya built by  Kumkuma Mahadevi at Lakshmesvar.

Jaina monuments of the Rashtrakuta period  are found at Pattadakal, Malkhed, Lakshmeshwar, Koppal and Bankura of North  Karnataka. The Neminatha basadi at Malkhed, capital of the Rashtrakutas, belongs  to ninth century AD. The Jaina temple at Naregal is the biggest Rashtrakuta  temple in Karnataka. It was built during the period of Krishna III by  Padmabbarasi, queen of Ganga Permadi Bhutayya in 950 AD.

Many Jinalayas were built by Kalyani  Chalukyas, including Brahma Jinalaya at Lakkundi and Sankha Jinalaya at  Lakshmeshwar. Chaturmukha basadi, Neminatha basadi, Vardhamana basadi and two  Parsvanatha basadis at Gerusoppa are important Jaina monuments built during the  Vijayanagar era.

These show the enormous contribution of  Jainas in every aspect of life of Karnataka people.

1] The Bhāgavata says: “In the womb of  Merudevi, wife of Nabhi, Rishaba had his eighth avatara. He showed himself in a  form that is to be worshipped by all Shramanas.”
2] Majjima Nikaya: Maha Siha Nada Sutta,  mentioned in “Buddha and Mahavira: A Philosophical Perspective” by Dr. T.G.  Kalghatgi
3] Epigraphia Carnatica, Sacred Books.
4] Indian Antiquary, Vol. 7, mentioned in  Karnaraka Kings and Jainism, Dr. A.V. Narasumha Murthy
5] Ibid.
6] Ibid, Vol. 2, mentioned in Karnaraka  Kings and Jainism, Dr. A.V. Narasumha Murthy
7] Epigraphia Carnatica, Vol. 1
8] Epigraphia Indica, Vol.32
9] Karnaraka Kings and Jainism, Dr. A.V.  Narasumha Murthy
10] Ibid
11] Ibid
12] South Indian Inscriptions, Vol.11
13] Shikripur 136, mentioned in Karnaraka  Kings and Jainism, Dr. A.V. Narasumha Murthy
14] Soraba inscriptions.
15] South Indian Inscriptions, Vol. 9
16] Jainism and Veerashaivism, Dr. G.  Marulasiddaiah
17] Narasimhacharya (1934)
18] Ibid
19] Sastri (1955)

Also read:
1] Sravengelagola pictures
 2] Vir Saivism

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