History of Jainism

Jainism is a religion founded in ancient India. Jains trace their history through twenty-four tirthankaras and revere Rishabhanatha as the first tirthankara (in the present time-cycle). Some artifacts found in the Indus River Valley civilization have been suggested as a link to ancient Jain culture, but very little is known about the Indus Valley iconography and script. The last two tirthankaras, the 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha (c. 9th–8th century BCE) and the 24th tirthankara Mahavira (c. 599 – c. 527 BCE) are historical figures. Mahavira was a contemporary of the Buddha. According to Jain texts, the 22nd Tirthankara Neminatha lived about 5,000 years ago and was the cousin of Krishna.

Ancient :-

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion of obscure origins. Jains claim it to be eternal, and consider the first tirthankara Rishabhanatha as the reinforcer of Jain Dharma in the current time cycle. It is one of the Sramaṇa traditions of ancient India, those that rejected the Vedas, the Vedas were composed.

The historicity of first twenty two tirthankaras is not determined yet. The 23rd Tirthankara, Parshvanatha, was a historical being,dated by the Jain tradition to the ninth century BCE; historians date him to the eighth or seventh century BCE. Mahāvīra is considered a contemporary of the Buddha, in around the sixth century BCE. The interaction between the two religions began with the Buddha; later, they competed for followers and the merchant trade networks that sustained them.Buddhist and Jain texts sometimes have the same or similar titles but present different doctrines.

Medieval :-

Jain monuments in Nagarparkar, Pakistan
The ruins of Gori Jain temples in Nagarparkar, Pakistan, a pilgrimage site before 1947.
Jainism faced persecution during and after the Muslim conquests on the Indian subcontinent. The scholarship in context of Jain relations with the ruler of Delhi Sultanate remains scarce, not with standing there were several instances of cordial relations of Jains with prominent rulers of the Sultanate. Alauddin Khalji (1296–1316), as attested by the Jain texts held discussions with Jain sages and once specially summoned Acharya Mahasena to Delhi.One more prominent Jain figure Acharya Ramachandra Suri was also honored by him. During his reign, his governor of Gujarat, Alp Khan permitted the reconstruction of the temples razed during earlier Muslim conquests and himself made huge donation for the renovation of Jain temples. Muhammad bin Tughluq (1325-1351) according to the Jain chronicles favoured the Jain scholars.

Colonial era :-

A poster of Virchand Gandhi who represented Jainism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.
A 34 feet tall idol of Shrimad Rajchandra at Dharampur, Valsad
A Gujarati Jain scholar Virchand Gandhi represented Jainism at the first World Parliament of Religions in 1893, held in America during the Chicago World’s Fair. He worked to defend the rights of Jains and wrote and lectured extensively on Jainism.
Shrimad Rajchandra, a mystic, poet and philosopher revered amongst some Jains in Gujarat is believed to have attained jatismaran gnana (ability to recollect past lives) at the age of seven. Virchand Gandhi mentioned this feat at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.He is best known because of his association with Mahatma Gandhi.They were introduced in Mumbai in 1891 and had various conversations through letters while Gandhi was in South Africa. Gandhi noted his impression of Shrimad Rajchandra in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, calling him his “guide and helper” and his “refuge in moments of spiritual crisis”. Shrimad Rajchandra composed Shri Atmasiddhi Shastra, considered his magnum opus, containing the essence of Jainism in a single sitting of 1.5–2 hours.He expounds on the 6 fundamental truths of the soul:

  • Self (soul) exists
  • It is permanent and eternal
  • It is the doer of its own actions
  • It is the enjoyer or the sufferer of its actions
  • Liberation exists
  • There is a path to achieve liberation.

Colonial era reports and Christian missions variously viewed Jainism as a sect of Hinduism, a sect of Buddhism, or a distinct religion.Christian missionaries were frustrated at Jain people without pagan creator gods refusing to convert to Christianity, while colonial era Jain scholars such as Champat Rai Jain defended Jainism against criticism and misrepresentation by Christian activists.Missionaries of Christianity and Islam considered Jain traditions idolatrous and superstitious.