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Jainism in Karnataka


Nithin Sridhar
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), has a nation-wide spread, but 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. Legend 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 epigraphic 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 Belguam) to Yapaniyas, Jainas (5). The same copperplate states 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 shows the tolerance of the era. 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 Jainism. 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.
These disprove 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 honour 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. Thus Jainas made enormous contribution 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)