Jainism and the role of its 24 Tirthankaras

Jainism and the role of its 24 Tirthankaras’ in the Sunday Guardian (07-02-2021)

While Mahavira is regarded as the most popular proponent of Jainism, it was only in the Digambara tradition that his preachings were implemented. The Svetambara sect relied mostly on teachings of Shri Parshvanatha Swami, the 23rd Tirthankara.

Going by the dictionaries of Jainism, the Sanskrit word ‘Tirthankara’ generally corresponds to a ‘ford maker’. The basic duty of his, after attaining enlightenment and preaching what is regarded to be the highest learning, is extended to helping his people or disciples cross the samsara (transmigration or reincarnation in some form, in some realm of existence) by directing them through a ford passageway, so as to help them attain moksha or freedom from the cycle of deaths and rebirths.
Mahavira, unarguably the most popular proponent of this religion, came to be the 24th in succession to attain enlightenment and popularise the Jaina philosophies. With his demise, Jainism, not unlike Buddhism, did segregate into different sects that began to believe in different principles of keeping up with their once integrated philosophical upbringing.
The two major schools that came to be formed (with much evisceration), were the Digambaras and the Svetambaras.
Digambaras, the school that moved south under the leadership of their exponent Bhadrabahu, did, in no time, oppose what came to be called the Svetambara ideals, formulated by Sthulabhadra (an earlier disciple of the former).
Although various sub sects came to be gradually dismantled from these two schools, the basic differences always stressed on four major points that can be classified as under:
Clothes: The Digambaras restrained themselves from wearing any clothes. They remained uncovered at all times, a crucial representation of this being the Bahubali statue at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. The Svetambara monks were called so because they took up the tradition of wearing white simple clothing, hence refraining from following what Bhadrabahu preached. Discipline: Monastic Order forms an integral component of any new formed religion. Although both had their own monastic principles, the Digambaras were way more rigid in following these principles, than their successors.
Preacher: While Mahavira can be considered to be the most popular proponent of Jainism, it was only in the Digambara tradition that his preachings were implemented. The Svetambara sect relied mostly on teachings of Shri Parshvanatha Swami, the 23rd Tirthankara.
Women: One of the most popular and prolonged debates between these two sects have always been with regard to women. Digambaras, the stricter monastic school of philosophy, considered that women could never attain moksha and that Mallinatha, the 19th Tirthankara was a man and not a woman as claimed by various scholarly researches. Svetambaras, on the other hand, were far liberal, when it came to gender equality and they believed that a Tirthankara could be anyone, irrespective of his/ her gender or position in the societal hierarchy. That Mallinatha was a woman and not a man as claimed by Digambaras, was stressed upon by the Svetambaras.
Mallinatha is a Prakrit word that literally translates to the “Lord of Jasmine”. Although scholar Vijay K. Jain, in his work, “Acarya Samantabhadra’s Svayambhustotra” confirms that the Tirthankara lived for ‘56,000 years, out of which 54,800 years less six days, was with omniscience (Kevala Jnana)’, little is known about the early life and ancestry of the Tirthankara.
Digambara traditions regard Mallinatha to be a male royal prince and worship ‘him’, effectuating rituals and rites that confirm ‘him’ to be no different from either Mahavira or the twenty three other Tirthankaras.
As observed however by Anne Vallely in her book entitled, “Guardians of the Transcendent: An Ethnography of a Jain Ascetic Community”, Svetambaras do provide a detailed description of the enlightened preacher’s early life. Mallinatha is believed to have been born into the illustrious Ikshvaku dynasty (ruling Suryavanshis of Ayodhya, to which Lord Rama and other notable kings and saints like Bahubali of Gomateshwara and Rishabanatha belonged) at Mithila, to King Kumbha and Queen Prajavati. They further state that she was, in the royal dynastic fashion, termed Malli Bai and it was only, after her enlightenment, that she came to be called Mallinatha.
Orientalist and Jain scholar Padmanabh Jaini, in the summary to his 1979 work ‘The Jaina Path of Purification’, clearly states that “The religious tradition of the Jainas, unique in many respects, presents a fascinating array of doctrinal and social structures that stem from the anti-vedic movements of ancient times.”
Taking it forward from the book’s summary, one might observe that the later Vedic period has been, at times, criticised for being too much exploitative for women since it was then that the woman member of the household probably lost all importance and rights she held earlier. The anti Vedic resentments could also have been directed to better the position of women to the Early Vedic age hierarchy and it wouldn’t be surprising enough to see a woman monk lead her disciples to the path of purification, as was the case of Mallinatha or Mallibai, in whatever terms she be recognised!
Jaini further states that whatever doubts her identity might be of to the segregated Jain sects, they do have a similar theory which promulgates that she became a siddha, cleansing herself of all karma, and ultimately, attaining moksha or the highest salvation (16th heaven in Jainism).
Temples in Mannargudi, Karkala and Kosbad have been dedicated to Mallinatha Swami alongside some of the other prominent siddhas and Tirthankaras as well. Whatever her gender might be and whatsoever debate there might persist between the Jaina ideals, it is to her, a woman, besides the 23 other enlightened Tirthankaras, that people pray, “I chant, appreciate, and praise Arihant Lords, and the Kevali Lords, who are the destroyers of Karma enemies, conquerors of love and hatred, founders of fourfold Sanghas and who cause luminescence in the entire universe. I bow down to them. I have praised you verbally, bowed down to you physically, and worshipped you mentally; hence do bestow upon me the benefit of true faith and deep meditation, and may you give me the supreme position of Siddha.”

Souhardya De is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of London, an author and podcaster. He is the recipient of the 2021 Rashtriya Bal Shakti Puraskar, the nation’s highest honour for civilians under 18, for his contributions to art and culture. De can be reached at hello@souhardyade.co.in

Vajrayana: The saga of Buddhist and Hindu Ideals


Tantras and Mantras have always been an integral part of what we call the distinct rituals of the various sects (sampradayas) of Hinduism. Mantra focusses on the centralised power of the mind (Satta) and Tantra deals with rationalised body power (Tama). Yantra, another of the three basic methods of worship, deals with the control over one’s ego and willpower (Rajas). As per the Hindu Website, ‘they are employed in the three important paths, which are mentioned in the Bhagvad Gita, namely the path of action (karma marg), the path of knowledge (jnana marg) and the path of renunciation (sanyasa marg)’.
Although the aforementioned manners of worship represent virtues that eventually help a person in attaining peace, prosperity and the path of truth, the excessively superior and puritanical views of the Brahmins (especially of the Later Vedic Age), resulted in a split in this ancient religion, that initially out-sprung from an erroneous interpretation of the ‘Shindu’! Thus were born alienated Hindus, who firmly denounced the rigid caste structure and sacred methods of worship (based on yajnas), as pronounced and preached by the various propagators of the religion!
Hinduism needed a reformation, but before it could even realise where it was heading to, masses had commenced following Buddhism and Jainism, both preached widely by Hindus who had, at certain point in their lifetime, lost faith in the philosophies of Hinduism (that were more focused on serving heavenly Gods with primer importance as compared to nature, animals and mortal men).
Buddhism, founded by the enlightened prince Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, way back in the 6th Century BCE, was seemingly more concerned with monastic orders (through which disciples could attain salvation) and moralistic life lessons (notable ones being the noble eightfold path and the Panchsheel) than finding out rites and rituals for an inexistent deity, both of which were eventually denounced!
In Buddhism at a Glance by the BBC UK, it is stated, “Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent and that change is always possible. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom. Buddhists believe that life is both endless and subject to impermanence, suffering and uncertainty.”
By the time the great preacher Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana, Buddhist ideals had succeeded in influencing many local Rajahs who served as chieftains of regional tribes and powerful emperors who ruled over impregnable Mahajanapadas (Buddha himself visited both Kosala and Magadha and helped in preaching his religious and philosophical views amongst their elites and intellectuals).
With patronage having been granted and the word of the newfound religious order having been shared amongst the subjects, young men and women were instantly drawn towards the religion for scholars have demented that Buddhism provided a middle path of attaining salvation. It was neither based on discriminating caste systems and vainly expensive yajnas like Hinduism and nor was it a rigid and unyielding path like Jainism. This middle path structure of Buddhism appealed mainly to the oppressed people of the day (among them the kings who were being dominated by their priests) who gradually converted themselves and their followers into Buddhism!
However, with the demise of the Buddha, disintegration followed, primarily due to differences in ideologies and philosophies of his most esteemed successors! Theravada, the oldest school of Buddhism, also called the School of the Elder Monks, came out first. It restrained itself to flexibility and adaptation, hence being strictly based upon the teachings of the Pali Cannon and thus, remaining confined to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Java, Sumatra and parts of South East Asia only. A later disintegration would form the Hinayanas, which in the opinions of IAS Officer and Culture expert Nitin Singhania, is in an almost ‘non-existent’ form today!
The Mahayana school was the third principal segregation from the unified Theravada monastic order. This was based on Chinese Buddhist cannons and was patronised primarily under the Han dynasty of China! Today, the Mahayanas have the largest number of Buddhist disciples under its umbrella.
The Vajrayana is a comparatively newer version of Buddhist philosophy and ideals that is said to have had its origins in the early medieval Indian history.
With the accession of the Pala rulers to the throne of eastern India, the Buddhists came to be patronised alongside the followers of the Hindu sects, Saivites and Vaishnavites.
Dharampal, one of the greatest and most righteous of the Pala kings of Bengal, on the request of the Shrivijaya rulers, built another institution of higher learning (apart from viharas and Buddhist places of worship) at Vikramshila.
Vajrayana is so called because of the tantric cults associated with it. Contemporary scholars like David B. Gray and Thomas Yarnall in their book, “The Cakrasamvara Tantra: The Discourse of Śrī Heruka (Śrīherukābhidhāna)” state that Vajrayana Buddhism was basically a product of Medieval Indian tantrism (referring to the tantric movement).
That this new form of Buddhism was widely influenced by Hindu rituals and rites is no doubt since the two major ritual symbols of Vajrayana Buddhism include a bell and a vajra (weapon used by Indra, Hindu king of the Pantheon).
Tantric figures and mahasiddhas or powerful sages who followed Buddhist customs (sometimes likened to black magicians) are said to have existed during this period. In his book “Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement”, scholar and religious historian Ronald M. Davidson quotes, “Buddhist siddhas demonstrated the appropriation of an older sociological form—the independent sage/magician, who lived in a liminal zone on the borders between fields and forests. Their rites involved the conjunction of sexual practices and Buddhist mandala visualization with ritual accoutrements made from parts of the human body, so that control may be exercised over the forces hindering the natural abilities of the siddha to manipulate the cosmos at will. At their most extreme, siddhas also represented a defensive position within the Buddhist tradition, adopted and sustained for the purpose of aggressive engagement with the medieval culture of public violence. They reinforced their reputations for personal sanctity with rumors of the magical manipulation of various flavors of demonic females (dakini, yaksi, yogini), cemetery ghouls (vetala), and other things that go bump in the night. Operating on the margins of both monasteries and polite society, some adopted the behaviors associated with ghosts (preta, pisaca), not only as a religious praxis but also as an extension of their implied threats.”
Scholar David Seyfort Ruegg has further presumed that the tantric philosophies associated with this considerably younger form of Buddhism employed various elements that are “pan-Indian religious substrate”, taken mainly out of Saivite and Vaishnavite principles!
Regarding the Vajrayana literature, Buddhist scholar Alexis Sanderson observes that it possessed a wide resemblance to the Saivite ideals for this fact is highlighted in the classical text, “Mañjusrimulakalpa” where, as told by Manjushri, the Vaishnava, Garuda and Shaiva tantras find practice!
Another intriguing characteristic of the Vajrayana tradition is women. Women, who’d often been looked down in Hinduism, starting from the Later Vedic Age, when their presence wasn’t really considered crucial in a yajna, did find their place in the Vajrayana tradition. The Candamaharosana Tantra clearly states that:
Women are heaven, women are the teaching (dharma)
Women indeed are the highest austerity (tapas)
Women are the Buddha, women are the Sangha
Women are the Perfection of Wisdom.
As for the deities, Yamantaka and Cakrasamvara in Tibetan Buddhism are said to have been based on Bhairava, the monstrous disciple of Shiva and Nataraja, as told in tales of Shaivism.
Although Vajrayana is essentially a Buddhist school in itself, most of its philosophies are based on the teachings of the Mahayana Buddhism. The tantrism is the only addition it probably has of its own!
Scholars have often debated over the consequence of the sampradaya having ever come into being. There have been theories that have likened it to the period and cause of the decline of Buddhist monastic ideals and a cultural intermix that led to a gradual intermingling into Hinduism. Nevertheless, the Buddhist order continues to be in existence, popular in China, Japan, Tibet and parts of eastern India, although its objectives have taken a major shift from being one that was based on non existent beliefs and tantric practices to one that is making fast progress in the socio-religious sphere with new humanistic ideals adopted!

Writer is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of London and can be reached at hello@souhardyade.co.in

Manyakheta: The Burnt Capital of the Rashtrakutas

History and Cultural Significance:

With Govinda III’s demise in 814 CE, his capable son Amoghavarsha I ascended the imperial throne of the Rashtrakutas. The new king, a man of literary and cultural intellect,   did not delay in transferring his officiating capital from Morkhandi in the Bidar district to Malkheda or Manyakheta, presently situated around 40 kilometres away from Kalaburagi, on the banks of the river Kagina, in around 818 CE.

The great king Amoghavarsha (himself the author of famed Kannada poetic work Kavirajmarga), one of the biggest patrons of arts and literature extant at that point of time in the subcontinent, rebuilt his newly adopted capital with an aim of challenging the glory and grandeur of Indraprastha, the regal city of Indra, the King of the Hindu Pantheon. 

With Amoghavarsha’s death 64 years later, Malkheda came to be renowned across the empyrean as a city where learned men of letters and men of all faith flood! As per the writings of Sulaiman, a 9th-century Muslim merchant, traveller and writer initially from Siraf in modern-day Iran, it is known that the Rashtrakutas were extremely tolerant in their patronising of religions, which is why even Moslem travellers and merchants were allowed to reside at Manyakheta and construct their own mosques and other holy sites, in an otherwise Hindu state. 

Malkheda was also home to two ancient institutions, as has been noted down in the Jain Newsletter by Padmanabh S. Jaini, released by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London: the Uttaradi matha led then by Madhvacharya and the Jain Bhattaraka Math led by the last Malked Bhaṭṭāraka, Devendrakīrti. Monuments include the temple of Neminath, the ninety six images of the panchdhatu shrine and the Hindu Kote Anjaneya Temple.  

With the decline of the Rashtrakuta power in the Deccan, Paramara King Harsha Siyaka is said to have annexed the capital city of Malkeda approximately around 972-73 CE, as is stated in Pāiyalacchi by Dhanapala. With the extirpation of the once gargantuan empire of the Deccan, the Paramara king went on further to burn down Malkeda in its entirety, as notable historian Satish Chandra quotes in his book, “History of Medieval India”. 

Malkeda continued to remain the officiating capital of the Chalukya kings who came into power after the Rashtrakutas, until about 1050 CE. However, since it had been completely burnt and demolished by the Paramara king, the capital city, however regal it be, could never rival Indraprastha in its the then state. Owing to this fact, successive rulers that included the Kalachuris, the Cholas,the Yadavas of Devagiri, the Kakatiyas of Warangal, the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, the Nizam of Hyderabad and even the British Empire simply kept it as a territory under their hegemony but continued to rule the land from distant places faraway from the vandalised and decimated remains of the imperial capital of Manyakheta. 

Travel: Manyakheta is a popular tourist destination (especially for history fanatics) at present, owing to the newly opened Kalaburagi airport, built by the Karnataka State Public Works Department with technical assistance from RITES Limited, and the Seram train junction, located at a distance of around 14 kilometres from this popular destination. 

Places to Stay: Malkeda has three star hotels built and owned by OYO, that average an approximate four thousand Indian rupees per night. These hotels are in a pretty good condition, with basic amenities easily available to tourists who reside in. Apart from these, there might be other hotels, locally owned and maintained. 

Amb Sharif: The Effaced Cardinal Remnants of the Hindu Shahis

The Amb Temples (Taken from original article at The Sunday Guardian, 03-01-2021)

The Hindu Shahis stood at a face off against the Ghaznavids, under Anandpal’s leadership, for one ultimate time, primarily to decide the fate of the nation, the northern boundaries of what they stood guarding for almost two centuries: Hindustan! With Jayapaldeva’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Mahmud in 1001 CE, Anandpal, Jayapal’s son and a favourable successor of the centuries old Hindu Shahis, had come forward to lead a confederacy of the local rajahs and the almost extirpated Kshatriyas, against Mahmud. An intense battle was what kicked off next, on the rugged fertile plains of Chhachh, (“a region located between Peshawar and Islamabad at the northern tip of Attock”), in which Anandpal, the king who was then considered as an invincible descendant of Porus, ended the battle the similar way his probable ancestor had ended one with Alexander, thirteen hundred years ago: a truce! History had to repeat itself and once again, the boundaries of the nation fell short for keeping the invaders at bay. Mahmud returned pompous and his purpose to loot the moneyed kingdoms of Hindustan, was partially accomplished.
Two years later, in 1010 CE, Anandpal, the king upon whose tactics the masses had placed their hopes high, passed away under normal circumstances, and a massive financial and territorial possession of the Hindu Shahis was lost to Ghazni.
Trilochanapala, son of the great king, sat on the gilded throne next but failed miserably to restore the dynastic prestige to its previous stature. Executed by his own soldiers in 1021 CE, he was succeeded by Bhimpala of whom not much is known other than the fact that he was possibly the very last of the once powerful Hindu Shahis. With his death, the empire that once stood guarding the borders of Hindustan like none other, faded away into uncertainty and was absorbed by internal conflicts and foreign invasions that led to the rise of the Saffarids, the Samanids and the Ghaznavids.
Their monumental forts and palaces soon waned into desolation, dying in despondency, and the region, culturally and religiously now, populated with people of the Islamic faith, failed even to recall the once massive temples (Tilla Jogian, Nandana, Katas, Malot, Amb, Kafir Kot and others) dotting the Sakesar Salt range.
In his article for The News on Sunday Pakistan, Omar Mukhtar Khan aptly calls out that, “It takes one around an hour from Quaidabad to reach Amb. The road actually passes through what was once the Amb fort complex, to reach another town down the hill. Such is our ‘love’ of built heritage that we allowed bulldozers in this archaeological site to clear the way for the road. Locals speak of instances of finding coins or clay pots but no systematic record has been maintained.”
Salman Rashid, in his work entitled, “The Salt Range and the Potohar Plateau” describes in detail, the ruins of the two temples that are considered to constitute the Amb Temple Complex. The main temple is observed to be around “eighteen metres through three storeys”, and is probably “the loftiest of all Hindu Shahya edifices in the Salt Range. It is imposing, too, because of the bulky pillars fronting it and giving it a clear Greco-Roman appearance. Made of the same pale gray limestone, the pillars appear to be part of the original building plan. Closer inspection, however, reveals the jagged remnants of a vaulted foyer that once afforded entry to the main chamber.”
Sadly, there exists no established view till date, with regard to who originally built the temples. Alexander Cunningham is said to have visited the site in the early 1860s and inspected the area for a certain stone tablet (something that probably had an inscription on it) that purportedly went missing and was never recovered!
However, there are two separate views on the origins of the temple complex, one by Cunningham himself, after having been informed of transliterations of the missing stone tablet by a Brahmin, and the other by Orientalist Colonel James Tod, as penned down in his famed work, “Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan”.
Cunningham credits Raja Ambarikha, the son of Mandhatari, a Suryavanshi Rajput with the establishment of both the temple and the city, in around 1st century CE.
Similarly, Colonel James Tod opines that this place was established not by Ambarikha, but by one Ambarisha, fortieth in the line of the glorious Sun Lineage princes.
Taking both the aforementioned views into consideration when writing about the temple and its origins, Salman Rashid, the noted travel writer, dismisses both of them and propounds his own theory of the establishment of the temple.
He quotes, “The truth is that Amb, like the other Hindu Shahya temples of the Salt Range, was built after the annexation of this part of the country by the great Kashmirian conqueror Durlabhaka Pratapaditya in the 7th century AD. Even then, unfortunately for the chronology given on the purported stone slab, one infallible dating element in the building shows that the temples of Amb were not built until about the end of the 10th century. The cinquefoil arch that repeatedly appears in the niches on the facades as well as on the entrance of the smaller temple – as surely as it would have crowned the now obliterated entrance vault of the larger building – is posterior to the trefoil arch seen at Malot. This element, the natural outcome of experimentation with embellishment and elaboration, followed in the course of development of the earlier trefoil arch and marks all later Hindu Shahya buildings in the area.”
Talking about Pratapaditya, the Kashmiri conqueror in whose support Rashid has put his views forward, art historian Michael Meister, in his work entitled “Fig Gardens of Amb-Sharif, Folklore and Archaeology”, published by Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente, observes Kashmiri motifs on the exteriors of the temple architecture, sometimes including a cusped niche, something that affirms what Salman Rashid propounded in his work.
However, going by what W.S. Talbot, ICS, in his paper, “An Ancient Hindu Temple in the Panjab”, published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1903, states, the resources that support the Kashmiri theory, are proved insufficient enough to be considered established! Talbot intricately observes that the architectural get-up of the main temple differs much from what we know as the Kashmiri Style (temple with sloping and pointed rooftop), and is more or less similar to the Kalar and Kafir Kot temples in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
As for the temple complex, there were two other temples, smaller in size (around seven to eight meters in height), located some seventy five metres away from the primary structure, atop a cliff with a vestibule chamber overlooking the main temple complex. One of these smaller temples survive till date whereas there’s almost no visible sign of the other having ever existed. Furthermore, the temples, having been built up on an elevated hillock, could have possibly provided for military support too, evident from the now demolished fortifications around the temple ramparts, the earliest of which, date back to the Kushan period.
In his column for the News on Sunday Pakistan, Omar Mukhtar Khan also details on the surrounding areas of the temple courtyard that include but are not limited to, the lush green mountains, the Ucchali lake which serves to be a breeding ground for birds coming from afar, the fortifications around the area known to the locals as ‘Rani wala mehal’ and of course, an abandoned Dak Bungalow near Dhoda Nallah.
However, through the centuries that passed since the complexes being abandoned, the Amb Temples have often been looted as a result of which mysterious cavities or vacant spaces, along its walls, are found today. Although the temple site is protected under the Pakistan Antiquities Act (1975) and any harm, however slightest it might be, to the temple complex is an offence in the eyes of law, it would be apt enough to conclusively quote what Omar opinionates, having visited this place of excellent historical and cultural significance, himself.
“I saw people climbing up to the roof of the main temple to take photographs, essentially risking both their lives and damaging the already crumbling monument…The whole complex is surrounded by a moat and walls which makes it probable that it was established as a fort. However, unless properly preserved, these remnants would be soon gone…Amb temples are part of our ancient heritage and both people and the government have a responsibility towards preserving this gem in the middle of lush green rolling mountains. The site should be protected and an archaeological research project as well as tourism promotion undertaken.”

The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of London and can be reached at hello@souhardyade.co.in