jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir





Although Jain religion owes its origin to the teachings of the first founder Tirthankar Rishabhnath, its sacred literature was, for the first time, given an organized and systematic format by the last and 24th Tirthankar Mahavir in about 600 B.C. Until then principle tenets, doctrines, rituals and practices as they kept evolving remained preserved in memory as per the then prevalent oral tradition and passed on from generation to generation by sramana ascetics and Tirthankars.

Indrabhuti Gautam, the chief disciple of Bhagwan Mahavir codified and classified the teachings of Omnicient Mahavir based on his innumerable sermons and long philosophical debates and discussions with his principal disciples called the eleven Ganadharas led by  Indrabhuti Gautam. Learned Ganadhars followed by Sruta Kevalis and later Daspurvis methodically compiled, composed and preserved these teachings in the oral format during 150 years after the nirvana of Mahavir in form of 12 main texts (sutras). When they were originally revealed by Bhagwan Mahavir, the medium of revelation was Ardhamagadhi, otherwise called Prakrit, the language of the common public.

These 12 main texts came to be called Anga-Agamas. Anga-Agamas or Dvadasang are the oldest scriptures and they constitute the soul and the backbone of the extensive canonical literature developed by both Digambar and Swetambar Jain traditions. It is noteworthy that Jain religion does not have one single sacred book like the Koran in Islam and the bible in Christianity. Its scriptural literature together with learned commentaries written on them in later centuries by learned ascetics runs into volumes.

The twelve Anga Agamas give comprehensive coverage to detailed enunciation of Jain religion, its basic tenets and philosophy, modes of worship and code of conduct for the ascetics as well as the lay followers. They provide a treasure house of information in a rationally presented and scientifically articulated manner of the spiritual and philosophical aspects reinforced by relevant knowledge base of yoga and meditation techniques, cosmology, metaphysics, astronomy, astrology, mathematics, literature, history, geography, art, logic, music, stories and event narration. They also mirror the then prevailing socio-cultural environment, customs, traditions and the folklore.


Out of the 12 Anga Agamas, 1,7 and 10 deal with Samyak Charitra (rational conduct), while 2 compares Jain philosophy with contemporary philosophies during Mahavir’s time. 3,4 and 5 deal with Samyak Darshan and Samyak Gyan, while 6,8,9,11 and 12 provide guidelines and lay down the road map for proceeding on the spiritual path leading to eventual salvation.

Digambar tradition maintains that in the long passage of time all the 12 Anga Agamas were gradually lost in their precise form. Swetambar tradition maintains that 11 agamas remained intact in memory, and were documented in oral tradition by swetambar monks during the two conferences held in Pataliputram  (320 B.C.) and Mathura and Vallabhi (380 B.C.), and for the first time in writing at Valabhi in 520 B.C. The 12th  Anga-Agama viz Dristivad was lost. It comprised fourteen Purva texts, also called the Purvas or Purva-agamas.

Sruta Kevalis inheriting knowledge of Dvadasang created additional Sutras (texts) further interpreting and elucidating  the contents of the Anga Agamas. These texts came to be called Anga-bahya Agamas. As per Digambar tradition, there were in all 14 Anga-bahya agamas which were lost starting about 200 years after Mahavir’s nirvana. Swetambar Murtipujak, Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi sects however maintain that there were respectively 34, 21 and 12 texts, all of which survived in memory and later rendered in writing.

In the absence of full texts of authentic scriptures, Digambar tradition uses two main texts, three commentaries on main texts and four Anuyogas comprising 20 texts as its scriptural base. These scriptures were put in writing by great acharyas between 100 to 1000 A.D. based on memory-versions of original Agama sutras inherited from their distinguished predecessors.

The scriptural base of the Digambar tradition is SHATKHANDAGAM in six parts containing the essence as well as the substance of the original Anga Agamas as passed on by erudite Shrut-jnani Acharya Bhadrabahu (around 364 B.C.) to Acharya Dharsen and Ganadhar, and later on reduced to writing by Acharya Pushpadant and Bhutbali around 160 A.D. It has become a hoary tradition to celebrate the date of completion of Shatkhandagam as SHRUT PANCHAMI. Acharya Ganadhar also composed  KASAYAPAHUDA, which is rated in importance next to Shatkhandagam in Digambar scriptures.

Around 780 A.D., Acharya Virsen wrote a learned Commentary called Dhavla-tika on Shatkhandagam comprising 20,000 stanzas, while remaining portion comprising 40,000 stanzas called Mahadhavala-tika was completed by his pupil Acharya Jinsen after his death. Likewise Jaya-dhavala-tika was  written as commentary on KASAYAPAHUDA. Abiding contribution to Jain religious literature was made during 100 A.D. by Acharya Kundkunda. He wrote 23 books among which SAMAYASAR, Panchastikaya, Pravachansar, Niyamsar, Ashtapahuda, Moolachar and Dwadasanupreksa are highly rated as of quasi-scriptural status reflecting creative and in-depth interpretation of Jain spirituality and its various facets.

TATVARTHA SUTRA written in Sanskrit language is another renowned religious book highly regarded by all the Jain sects and traditions. It was written by Acharya Umaswati in 200 A.D. and contains the entire essence (TATVA GYAN) of Jainism. In the centuries that followed many renowned saints in both Digambar and Swetambar traditions wrote commentaries on it. Around 500 A.D. Pujyapad-swami wrote the famous SARWARTHA SIDDHI. In 600 A.D. Acharya Samantabhadra Swami wrote the famous RATNAKARANDA SHRAVKACHAR, now regarded as an authoritative text on conduct code for the lay persons. Between 600 to 1000 A.D. Padmapurana, Harivansha Purana, Adi Purana, Uttara Purana, Mahapurana, Mulcara , Gommatsara and such other significant religious books were written which enriched Digambar Jain literature.Poet Banarsidas and Pandit Todarmal revitalized the Digambar tradition through their writings  in 16-17th century deeply inspired by  Kundakundacharya

It is relevant to note that around 350 B.C., a 12 year famine in Magadha (Bihar) led to major schism in the Jain community through parting of ways between Digambar and Swetambar sects. Acharya Bhadrabahu led a group of some 12000 digambar sky-clad munis including Emperor Chandra Gupta as one of them in their migration to South India in order to be in a peaceful  place where unaffected by famine conditions and social upheaval, they could follow all the austere rituals  as well as pursue writing of commentaries on original scriptures. Jain religion was already being followed in South India . Migration of ascetics from north gave fresh vigor to it.  By the time most of them returned to the north, Swetambar tradition saints had gone ahead with differing versions and interpretations of original scriptures, modes of rituals and rules of conduct

Swetambar Acharya Sthulibhadra presided over the first Swetambar conclave of saints at Pataliputra in 320 B.C.. He had been a disciple of Acharya Bhadrabahu from whom he imbibed the knowledge of Dvadasanga and Purvas. Acharya Bhadrabahu was venerated both by Digambars and Swetambars., and was the fountain source for both to secure the knowledge about ancient Jain scriptures. This was the first organized effort to preserve intact in memory the original Anga Agamas except the 12th which was regarded as lost in its precise format. The second such conference led by Acharya Skandil was held in 380 A.D. after the great famine in Mathura as well as Valabhi, where serious thought was given to the preservation of the original scriptures.

Shwetambar sect deeply venerates Acharya Sthulibhadra for his pioneering work in preserving the holy scriptures. In the Mangalacharan, his name is included following the names of Bhagwan Mahavir and Ganadhar Gautam Swami :

Mangalam bhagavana viro, mangalam Gautam prabhu Mangalam Sthulibhadradya, Jaina dharmostu mangalam.

 (to be continued)