The Jains Today

     Of the two sects of the Jains the Svetambaras, as we have seen, belong mainly to western India, that is , to Gujarat and Rajasthan. They have spread from there for purposes of business to the rest of the country. The Digambaras on the other hand can be divided into two distinct geographical groups. The indigenous Jains of South India are all Digambaras. Professionally they are artisans and farmers and not ordinarily businessmen. They are tightly knit communities and their religious and social lives are controlled by the Bhattarakas. They do not have any kind of social intercourse with the North Indian Digambaras who in their turn are hardly aware of their existence except perhaps when they see them during pilgrimages to South India. Educationally also the South Indian Digambaras are not very advanced. Most of the Jains who write about their religious community thus ignore them. They are remembered only when the past glories of Jainism in South India are considered. The Digambaras of North India are spread through-out eastern Rajasthan, Haryana, U.P. and Bihar, in small scattered communities.


     Talking of Jains, it appears that the one great fear that pervades throughout the community is that of being lost in the great ocean that is Hinduism. This fear appears to be a recent one, and in any case perhaps not more than 50 years old. Formerly, (and even today among the rich) it was quite common for Shvetambara Jain Agravales and non- Jain Agrawales to intermarry, the bride adopting the religion of the husband. Indeed, the term Hindu was never used, the term for the religion of the non-Jain Agrawales being Vaishnava. Among the Osavales of Rajasthan today some are Jains and the others call themselves Vaishnavas. Things are, however, changing. Inter-marriages between the Jains and the non-Jains are not very much liked by the leaders of the Jain society today. "Now there is a growing tendency to eradicate every non-Jain element from the Jain community. As a result many Jains have stopped keeping marital relations with the Hindus."1


     There is one interesting difference between Hinduism and Jainism. The Hindus have no religious creed, but they have a large literature on social customs and civil law. These are known as the Dharmashastras. The Jains on the other hand, one might say, have a religious code of conduct enshrined in their five vows; but they do not have any ancient law book. Thus for instance, marriage among the Hindus is a religious matter, while for the Jains it is more or less a contract. "It is not ordained in Jain religion to marry for the emancipation of soul. Marriage is not concerned with life here-after! When no offerings are to be made to the forefathers, the question of discharging obligations due to departed ancestors does not arise. Jain scriptures do not lay down elaborate rules and regulations regarding marriage."2 The later day Jain religious books like the Adi Purana or the Trivarnikachara generally quote the corresponding Hindu rules for social matter. For instance, such books mention the same eight forms of marriages as are mentioned in the Manusmriti. In theory, the Jains also allow the remarriage of widows and quote the same shloka that occurs in the Hindu Parashara-Smriti on the basis of which Ishvara Chandra Vidyasagar was able to get the law on the remarriage of the Hindu widows enacted. According to Nathu Ram Premi, the Jain work Dharmapariksha (11th century) supports the view that the word patau occurring in this shloka means a legally married husband, even though the grammatically correct form for such meaning should be patyau.3 In any case widows' remarriage among the Jains follow the regional caste customs. It is not uncommon in the South, while it not socially favored in North. In the matter of exogamy the Jains follow the same rules as their Hindu neighbors. For instance, in the Karnataka region marriages between cross-cousins and even marriages between maternal uncles and nieces are quite common, while in the North the Jains leave out the same number of gotras as their Hindu neighbors do; and also observe the same rituals. Thus the marriage ceremony is considered to have been completed as soon as the saptapadi or a similar ritual, has been performed.


     There is a big difference between the Hindus and the Jains in their manner of treating the ascetics. Among the Hindus an ascetic is for all practical purposes outside the society. There is in theory no relationship between him and the lay society, unless of course, he becomes a God-man. This is not the position among the Jains. The Jain ascetic maintains a life-long relationship with the lay society, and is generally treated as a religious teacher. The society not only provides food and, if necessary, shelter to him but also maintains a constant watch on his behavior. No transgression of the ascetic vow is tolerated. For instance, one Jinavardhana who had become the 55th leader of the Shvetambara Kharataragachchha was removed from the Suri ship for breaking the fourth vow.4 Thus, since a Jain sadhu need neither worry about his food nor is allowed to be away from the watch-full eyes of the society, so the only thing he can do to spend his time is to read and write. All through the ages, therefore, there have been innumerable writers among the Jain sadhus and the volume of writings they have produced is enormous. The quality however has not, except in rare cases, been commensurate with the quantity. The Jain religious philosophy being practically frozen from the time of Mahavira, there is little scope of speculation. The later philosophical books written by the Jain monks are, therefore, dry. The Jain monks have also composed many works based on the Jain mythology, but since they had to avoid every-thing even remotely connected with sensual love, there is little of poetic value in these writings. Nearly the whole of the vernacular literature of the medieval period of India is devotional. Here also, the Jains were at a disadvantage, for the Jain religion has no place for devotional fervor.


     Even though their writings may not have any lasting value as literature, the studious life that the Jain ascetics had to lead meant that they had to be provided with libraries. Thus book collections, "Grantha Bhandaras", exist at every place where there are a group of Jain families living. Dr. K. C. Kasliwal has anumerated 100 such collections in Rajasthan alone, in his work the Jain Grantha Bhandaras in Rajasthan. These collections contain not only Jain religious works but many secular books such as the works of Kalidas, and sometimes works on music also.


     One valuable contribution of the Jains to Indian culture is the innumerable beautiful temples that they have built all over the country. Some of them being in out of the way places have escaped the hands of the idol-breakers. But due to this very fact some of them are not well known even to-day. As examples, one might mention the temples at Ranakpur in the Pali district in Rajasthan, and the 31 Jain temples at Deogarh (Lalitpur Tehsil in Jhansi district). This latter place has more than a thousand Jina images. One of them has been described as "one of the greatest masterpieces ever created on Indian soil".


     The Jain merchants since the ancient times have been well- known for their wealth. Not everybody was rich, but a remarkable thing is that some of the families who were the richest in a city and were thus given the title of Nagara- Seth by the Mughals, remain rich even now. Two examples are, Seth Kus-Turbhai Lalabhai the Nagara-Seth of Ahmedabad, and Jivaraj Walchand Gandhi, the Nagara-Seth of Sholapur.6 Many Jains have utilized their wealth well. In building charitable hospitals, schools, colleges, dharmashalas, and other such institutions the contribution of the Jains has been proportionately many times higher than that of the rest of the population of the country.






1.V. S. Sangave, Jain Community--A Social Survey pp. 427-28.


2 Ibid., p. 140.


3 Premi, op. cit., p. 501.


4 Appendix VI.


5 Klaus Bruhn, The Jina-images of Deogarh.


6 Sangave, op. cit., pp. 347-48 .