The Schisms

The First Seven Schisms

     The Main schism of the Jain Church was the one between the Svetambaras and the Digambaras. The Svetambaras believe that even before this schism, there had been seven other schisms. These schisms had started when certain important leaders of the Church had disagreed with the views of the Main Church on some points of philosophy or ritual. These leaders had then taken away their followers and established what one might call separate sects. However, these schisms had little permanent effects, for the newly formed sects had either disappeared or had joined the main Church again on the death of their leaders. The seven schisms have been all described together in Avashyaka Niryukti, VIII, 56-100. (The Digambaras do not know of these seven schisms at all.)


     The first of these schisms, as we have already seen, happened during the life of Mahavira himself. Its leader was his own son-in-law Jamali. Jamali broke away with his followers from Mahavira fourteen years after the latter had attained omniscience. The point on which Jamali differed from Mahavira would appear to an outsider to be a mere quibble.


     The second schism was started by Tissagutta in Rajagriha. This happened also during the life time of Mahavira and only two years after Jamali's schism. Tissagutta's followers were called Jivapaesiyas. They controverted Mahavira's view that the soul is permeated in all the atoms of the body.


     The third schism was led by Asadha at Seyaviya, 214 years after the death of Mahavira. Asadha's followers were called Avattiyas, and they held that there was no difference between Gods, saints, kings and other beings.


     The fourth schism was started by Assamitta in Mihila 220 years after Mahavira's death. Assamitta was a disciple of Kidinna who was a disciple of Mahagiri. Assamitta's followers were called Samuchchheiyas and they held that after the end of all life will come one day, the effects of good or bad deeds are immaterial.


     The fifth schism was started by Ganga at Kullakatiriya, 228 years after the death of Mahavira. Ganga was a disciple of Dhanagutta, another disciple of Mahagiri. His followers were called Dokiriyas, and they held that two opposite feelings such as cold and warmth could be experienced at the same time.


     The sixth schism arose in Antaranjiya and was started by Sadulaya, otherwise known as Rohagutta, 544 years 1 after the death of Mahavira. Sadulaya is said to have been the author of the Vaisheshika Sutras. His followers were called Terasiyas and they held that between life (Jiva) and non-life (Aliv), there is a third state `no-Jiva'. According to the Kalpa-Sutra, the Terasiya sect was founded by Rohagutta a disciple of Mahagiri. 2


     The seventh schism was led by Gotthamahila at Dashapura, 584 years after Mahavira's death. His followers were called Abaddhiyas and they asserted that Jiva was not bounded by karma.


     No trace of these seven schisms is now left in the Jain religion.



The Eighth Schism --- Digambaras and Svetambaras

     The Jain community is divided into two sects Digambara and Shvetambara. Both the sects have exactly the same religious and philosophical beliefs and practically the same mythology. The only noticeable difference in the mythology of the two sects is regarding the sex of the nineteenth Tirthankara Mali. The Svetambaras believe that Mali was a woman, while Digambaras think that Mali was a man. This difference of opinion about Mali arises out of the few differences in the beliefs of the two sects. The Digambaras think that it is not possible for a woman to achieve salvation, and as all Tirthankaras do achieve salvation, the nineteenth Tirthankara could not have been a woman. Another difference between the two sects is that the Digambaras think that all Jain ascetics should follow the example of Mahavira and remain nude, while the Svetambaras think that the practice of remaining nude known as JinaKalpa was given up by the great teachers of the church within a few generations after Mahavira (i.e. after Jambu) and they had started wearing white garments. This practice was known as sthaviraKalpa. the present-day ascetics according to the Svetambaras need follow only these great teachers (sthaviras), and it was necessary to practice the JinaKalpa. The third point on which the two sects differ is regarding the food of the kevali (omniscient). The Digambaras maintain that a kevali does not need any intake of food, while the Svetambaras think that they do. The point is academic, for both the sects are unanimous that nobody is going to become a Kevali in the foreseeable future.


     Digambaras also deny two of the Shvetambara beliefs about Mahavira, viz., that Mahavira's embryo was taken from the womb of the Brahman woman Devananda and transferred to the womb of Trishala, and also that Mahavira had married and had a daughter. (Other minor differences between these two communities are given later).


     It will be noticed that these and similar other differences are of a minor nature and do not affect the main tenets of the religion which were essentially same for both the sects. On the other hand, these differences minor though they might be, have cleaved the Jain community into two distinct groups with practically no inter-mixing on the religious or even social plane; for even inter-marriage between the two sects is not ordinarily permissible. This was because the two communities have necessarily their own temples, the Digambaras having the images of the Tirthankaras nude, and the Svetambaras clothed. The monks or ascetics who are the religious leaders of the sects are similarly nude, and clothed in white respectively. Also, due to some reasons mentioned later, the Digambaras refuse to recognize the canonical books of the Svetambaras, and have their own texts.


     Thus we see that the two sects both swearing allegiance to Mahavira and his teachings, behave in their practical religious life as two different societies. How a community with the same religious philosophy started behaving at some point of time as two distinct communities is not clearly known. The early religious literature of both the sects is practically silent on this point. It is thus possible to conjecture that the Church was undivided in the beginning, the more orthodox ones among the monks practicing nudity (JinaKalpa), and the others not discarding clothes (sthaviraKalpa). Indeed we have in the Parishishtaparvam of the Shvetambara polymath Hemchandra, the narration that during the time of king Samparti in Ujjaini, the Church had two leaders Mahagiri and Suhastin. After some time "Mahagiri made over his disciples to Suhastin and lived as a Jinakalpika, though Jinakalps had by that time fallen into disuse". 3 Thus perhaps while nudity was optional in the beginning, it became later the fixed manner of all those who adopted it, considering it to be the orthodox way of Jainism. The separation of the Digambaras and Svetambaras according to this thinking was thus a gradual process, and there was no point of time when there was any actual schism. This appears to be a plausible theory.


     A slight modification of this theory would be that Hemchandra was wrong, and the jinkalpika was never given up. One group of Jain ascetics continued to practice it throughout, and this group was later called Digambara. The Great scholar of Jainism Hoernle has argued in his essay on the Ajivikas in the Encyclopedia of religion and Ethics, that originally the Digambaras were those Ajivikas who were unhappy at the behavior of their leaders Makkhali Goshala at the time of his death. After leaving his sect they had joined Mahavira and had become the latter’s followers. Thus the Digambaras as a group were separate from the time of Mahavira himself. Hoernle's conjecture is based mainly on two grounds. Firstly, not only did the Ajivikas practice strict nudity (they were achelakas), but also a few of their other customs resembled those of the Digambara monks to some extent. On this latter point Hoernle has cited some instances which do not seem to be borne out by facts. For instance, Hoernle says that Ajivikas used to carry a stick (ekadandi), and so do the Digambara monks now-a-days. As a matter of fact, it is the Shvetambara monk who may carry a stick, and not a Kigambara monk who can have practically no earthly possession. The second point on which Hoernle bases his arguments is that many ancient authors and lexicographers have confused the Ajivikas with the Digambaras. A. L. Basham in his Ajivikas4 has shown that Hoernle has mis-read most of these ancient authorities, and there was no such confusion in them as Hoernle alleges. But Basham fails to explain one comment of the Shvetambara Pandit Shilanka (9th century). In his commentary on the SutrakritAnga, speaking about those ascetics who revile the followers of Mahavira, Shilanka said that these revelers were the Ajivikas or the Digambaras.5 Is it possible that such a learned Jain author as Shilanka would by mistake equate Ajivikas with the Digambaras? It is possible to think with Hoernle that Shilanka really thought that the Ajivikas were the same as Digambaras. The bulk of the evidence however, is against Hoernle's conjecture, and the theory that some Ajivikas formed the nucleus of the Digambara sect cannot be built upon this one stray reference by Shilanka.


     (In the same commentary Shilanka makes another enigmatic reference6 to the Ajivikas. This time he equates the followers of Goshala (i.e. the Ajivikas) with the Terasiyas the followers of Rohagutta, the leader of the sixth schism of the Jain Church).


     The Jains themselves both Svetambaras and Digambaras have their own versions as to how the schism between them occurred. These appear in their later books composed long after the alleged occurrences. As stated earlier these are mere legends and cannot be verified as history. The Shvetambara version is given in Avashyakabhashya a work of about 500 AD The legend is as follows:


     There was a person called Shivabhuti who had founded a sect called the Bodiya in the city of Rathavirapura. The occasion for doing this arose in this manner:


     Shivabhuti had won many battles for his king, and the latter showered honors on him. Naturally, Shivabhuti became very proud and used to return home late at night. His mother on the complaint of her daughter-in-law refused to open the door one night, and asked him to go to any place the door of which he was likely to find open. Getting wild Shivabhuti entered such a place that, however, turned out to be monastery. He asked the head priest to initiate him but the priest refused to do so, where upon Shivabhuti himself plucked out his hair and wandered as a monk.


     After some time this self-initiated monk Shivabhuti happened to come to the same place. The king, his former friend came to know of his arrival, and sent him a costly garment (ratnakambala) as a gift.


     Shivabhuti's superior protested and disallowed him to use such a garment. When Shivabhuti did not listen to his advice the teacher tore off that garment and used it as a mattress. Getting wild and excited Shivabhuti gave up all clothing.

     (A slightly different version of this says that the occasion for it arose when once, his teacher, expounding the texts to a class, came up against the following, alluding to a special stage of JinaKalpa.)


     "Jinakalpia ya... ... ... ... ... duviha". It meant that Jinakalpias were of two kinds. Some of them might have the necessary requisites, and others not. On hearing it Shivabhuti asked his teacher, “While there is the system of JinaKalpa, why should there be the bondage of clothes? A monk following JinaKalpa and living in solitude should follow the principles of austerity, including nudity". The teacher tried to bring him round, but Shivabhuti would not be persuaded, and gave up all clothing. He thus created a schism in the community.


     His sister Uttara also followed him and she also became naked. But when the courtesans of the city complained that nobody would go to them seeing the ugly nature of the female body, Shivabhuti disallowed his sister to accept nudity. Thus nudity was started by the Bodiyas under Shivabhuti. The Bodiyas presumably were later called the Digambaras. This, the eighth schism according to the Svetambaras occurred in 609 AV. or AD 83.


     The Digambara version of how the Svetambaras broke away from the main Church that the Digambaras call the Mulasangha is completely different. It was also recorded much later. The first record is found in Harisena's Brihatkathakosa of AD 931. This is as follows:


     In the reign of Chandragupta Maurya, Bhadrabahu had predicted a terrible famine in the country of Magadh, for a period of 12 years. Hence a part of the community emigrated to South India under his leadership, while the rest remained in Magadh.


     When after some time the leaders met together in Ujjayini, the famine was still there, and hence they allowed the monks to wear a piece of cloth (ardhaphalaka) to hide shame while on the begging tour. But even when the famine was over these monks refused to give up the use of the piece of cloth. The conservative elements protested against this. And thus these Ardhaphalakas proved to be the forerunner of the Shvetambara sect.


     The final separation came later due to Chandraledha, queen of king Lokapala of Valabhipura. It is related that these Ardhaphalaka monks were invited by her; but seeing them neither clothed nor naked, the king was disappointed, and the queen, therefore, asked them to dress completely. Thenceforth the Ardhaphalakas began to put on white clothes and came to be called Shvetapatas. This happened in AD 80.


     (There is a reference to a Shvetapata community in a grant issued in his fourth regnal year by the Kadamba king Mrigeshavarma, (AD 475-490). The grant of a village was made to a community of Jains living in the city of Vaijayanti. The Village was divided into three shares, the first to the holy Arhat, the second to the eminent ascetics called Shvetapatas, who were intent on practicing the true religion (Sad-dharma), and the third for the eminent ascetics called Nirgranthas. Thus the Shvetapatas and Nirganthas in this city in Karnataka were worshipping the same image of Arhat in a temple. Whether the Shvetapatas referred to in the inscription and the Shvetapatas sect referred to in the above Digambara legend were the same is not known).


     There is a serious weakness in this Digambara version: It is not supported by the earliest Digambara epigraph that mentions this famine. This epigraph, at Shravana Belgola, says that Bhadrabahu had predicted the famine in Ujjayini and not in Magadh, moreover he himself is not recorded to have accompanied the community to South India. Thus there are contradictions in the Digambara versions. On the other hand the Shvetambara version as to how the Church split into two is a bit too puerile for such an important event. It appears that all these stories were invented long after the actual split which in the beginning must have been a gradual process that was completed some time at the end of the 5th century. We do not know when actually the two sects finally separated but we have epigraphic records to prove that even in the 3rd century AD the difference, if any, within the community was not sharp. The images found at Kankali-tila in Mathura belong to this period. They depict the Tirthankaras in a nude state. Yet the donors of these images presumably belonged to the Shvetambara sect for the Shakhas and Ganas to which they belonged are the same as those which are mentioned in the Shvetambara Kalpa Sutra. Moreover it appears from a few of the inscriptions that some of the donors were nuns or the disciples of nuns. Thus though the images were in the Digambara style the worshipers did not observe the Digambara orthodoxy about disallowing women to become nuns. The exact dates of the Mathura inscriptions cannot be determined. They are dated in the Kusana era and the dates mentioned are from 5 to 98 of this era. However, the controversy as the when the Dusana era started is not yet over, and if we go by the date suggested by R. C. Majumdar then this era started in AD 244, and, therefore, the Mathura Jain inscriptions belong to a period from the middle of the 3rd century to the middle of the 4th century. Similarly, the other Tirthankara images of this period found in northern India are also nude. The Inscription8 of Kahum in the Gorakhpur district refers to the installation of five images of Adikartris. This inscription is dated AD 460. The images found here are nude. The conclusion would be that the difference in beliefs of the two sects, if they had at all parted company by that time, was not up to then clear-cut and both of the sects worshipped nude images.


     The actual parting of the ways perhaps came some time near the middle of the 5th century, when the Valabhi Council was held. It is said that the canon of the Svetambaras had been reduced to a state of disorder and was even in danger of being lost altogether. Hence in the year 980 (or 993) after the death of Mahavira (i.e. about the middle of the 5th century AD), a Council was held in Valabhi in Gujarat, presided over by Devarddhi Ksahmashramna the head of the shool, for the purpose of collecting the texts and writing them down. The twelfth Anga containing the Purvas, had already gone astray at that time. This is why we find only eleven Angas in the recension which has come down to us, and which is supposed to be identical with that of Devarddhi.


     The Digambaras completely deny the authority of the texts collected by this council. They say that not only was the knowledge of the 14 Purvas lost at an early period, but that 436 years after Mahavira's Nirvana the last person who knew all the 11 Angas had died. The teachers who succeeded him knew all the 11 Angas had died. The teachers who succeeded him knew less and less Angas as time went on, until the knowledge of these works was completely lost 683 years after Mahavira's Nirvana. Thus the Valabhi Council marks the final split between the Svetambaras and Digambaras.


     There is some iconographic evidence that supports the theory that it was the period of the Valabhi council when the two sects actually parted company. As stated earlier all the Tirthankara images found at Mathura and datable up to the Kusana period depict the Tirthankaras either in the standing position and nude, or, if seated, in the crossed legged position, are sculptured in such a way that neither garments, nor genitals are visible. Thus up to the Kusana period both the sects worshipped nude images. The earliest known image of a Tirthankara with a lower garment, is a standing Rishabhnatha discovered at Akota in Gujarat. The date of his image has been fixed at the later part of the fifth century.9 This was shortly after the period of the Valabhi Council.


     The geographical distribution of the two sects also would give some support to the theory that the Valabhi Council was the chief reason of the schism. It is found that the main concentration of the Svetambaras is round about and within 500 kilometers of Valabhi. Most of the Jains in Gujarat, and western Rajasthan are Svetambaras, while most of the Jains of eastern Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and the Jains of South India are Digambaras.


     It is possible that so far as the Jains of Northern India were concerned, they might have had a Council of their own at Mathura. Its president was Skandila. This name does not occur in the list of Sthaviras of the Kalpa-Sutra, but the name of Shandilya occurs 33rd in the list. Jacobi remarks10 in this connection: "I think Shandilya is the same as Skandila, who was president of the Council of Mathura, which seems to have been the rival of that in Valabhi."


     In other words, those who accepted the literature edited and collected at Valabhi as canonical were later called Svetambaras, and those whom either had their own Council at Mathura, or did not have any Council at all, as in South India, were later called Digambaras.


     The Digambaras of South India, long before the time the Valabhi Council of the Svetambaras had met, had started developing their own sacred literature. They had to do this because according to them the last of the acharyas who knew even a part of the Angas had died 683 years after the death of Mahavira. The Name of this acharya was Bhutavali. Nobody was left who knew even a part of the original canon. The next pontiff according to some Digambara lists was Bhadrabahu II. Kundakunda who claimed to be a disciple of this Bhadrabahu, therefore, started writing the sacred books for the Digambaras. He is said to have written altogether 84 such books. The names of all the works composed by Kundakunda are not known. But three of his works, viz., Samayasara, Pravachanasara, and Panchastikayasara are considered so important by the Digambaras that together they are called Prabhritatraya or Saratraya, a name that reminds one of the Prasthanatraya of the Vedantists. Indeed Kundakunda is considered so important a personality in the Digambara hagiology that a popular Digambara benedictory runs thus:


MAngalam Bhagavana Viro, mAngalam Gautamogani,

 MAngalam Kundakundyadyau, Jain dharmostu mAngalam.


To the Digambaras thus Kundakunda is as important a teacher as Sudharma is to the Svetambaras.


     Kundakunda was followed by many other Digambara writers such as Vattakera, Kartikeya Svamin, etc. Practically all these authors belonged to South India. Thus by the early centuries of the Christian era while the intellectual center of the Svetambaras was developing in western India, the Digambaras had their own intellectual center in south-west Karanataka. Perhaps this geographical separation of the intellectual centers was the main reason why the two sections of the Jains drifted. The Digambaras had their own intellectual center in south-west Karanataka. Perhaps this Geographical separation of the intellectual centers was the main reason why the two sections of the Jains drifted. To some extent even the Gods began to differ: The Digambaras in south-west Karnataka made Bahubali, a son of the first Tirthankara, one of the most important deities and built colossal statues for him. Bahubali on the other hand is scarcely, if at all, mentioned in the Shvetambara mythology.


     The Digambaras called their Church, the Mula Sangha or the Main Church. The Mula Sangha is then said to have branched off into Nandi, Sinha, etc. But all Digambaras to whatever gaccha (sub-sect) they might belong, claim the descent of their gaccha ultimately from the Mula Sangha.


In the few centuries of the Christen era, the dominant sect among the Jains of the Deccan and South India were the Digambaras. Only one inscription - a grant - has been found in these parts of India, which refers to the Shvetapatas (Svetambaras) by name. This is the Devagiri (Dharwar district) inscription11 of king Mrigeshavarmana referred to earlier. His period according to Saletore12 was AD 475-490.


The difference between the Svetambaras and the Digambaras


     The total number of points by which the Digambaras differ from the Svetambaras are eighteen. These are listed below:


     The Digambaras do not accept the following Shvetambara beliefs:


1. A kevali needs food;


2. A kevali needs to evacuate (nihara);


3. The women can get salvation. (In order to get salvation a woman has according to the Digambaras to be born again as a man).


4. The Shudras can get salvation;


5. A person can get salvation without forsaking clothes;


6. A house holder can get salvation;


7. The worship of images having clothes and ornaments is permitted;


8. The monks are allowed to possess fourteen (specified ) things;


9. The Tirthankara Mali was a woman;


10. The eleven of the 12 original Angas (Canonical works) still exist;


11. Bharat Chakravarti attained kevali hood while living in his palace;


12. A monk may accept food from a Shudra;


13. The Mahavira's embryo was transferred from one womb to another; and Mahavira's mother had fourteen auspicious dreams before he was born. The Digambaras believe that she had actually 16 such dreams;


14. Mahavira had a sickness due to the tejolesya of Goshala.


15. Mahavira had married and had a daughter.


16. A cloth offered by the Gods (devadusya) fell on the shoulders of a Tirthankara.


17. Marudevi went for her salvation riding an elephant;


18. A monk may accept alms from many houses.






1. For a discussion on the dates of these Schisms, see at the end of Chapter V.


2. Sacred Books of the East Vol. XXII, p.290.


3. Parishishtaparvam, Canto XI, SL. 1-4.


4. The Ajivikas, London, 1951.


5. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XLV, p. 267n.


6. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XLV, p. 245n.


7. Saletore, Medieval Jainism, p. 32.


8. Inscription No. 15 in Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. III.


9. Encylopedia Britannica, 15th Edn., Vol. 10, p.8.


10. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXII, p. 294n.


11. Jain Shila Lekha Sangraha, Vol. II, pp. 69-72.


12. Medieval Jainism, p. 32.