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7. Are Jains Hindus?

7.1. Joins in the Minorities’ Commission

One of the least vocal communities in India is the Jain community. When the Minorities’ Commission was formed in 1978, the Jains were somehow overlooked, though Sikhs and Buddhists were invited to join. No Jain protest was heard. It seemed that as a prosperous business community, the Jains were not too interested in the politics of grievances, and therefore they didn’t care too much whether they were entitled to minority status. In 1996, however, a delegation of prominent Jains submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Deve Gowda requesting recognition of the Jain community as a religious minority.1 In 1997, the Minorities’ Commission did invite the Jains.

The Sangh Parivar was angry at the 1997 move, though it merely confirmed the minority status accorded to the Jains in the Constitution (Art.25). The RSS weekly Organiser went out of its way to collect pro-Hindu statements from Jain sages and lay authorities. Thus: ‘Jain saint Acharya Tulsi has categorically asserted the Jains to be an integral part of Hindu society. In a statement released here, the Acharya asked the Jains to desist from any attempts to put them among minority communities. Hinduism is not a specific religion but refers to nationality or society, according to him.’2

So far, nothing has been gained: if ‘Hindu’ merely means ‘Indian’ (as the Sangh Parivar often claims), then Acharya Tulsi’s assertion amounts to no more than the trivial claim that Jains are Indians. It becomes more pertinent when he adds: ‘In a Hindu family, one member can be a Vaishnavite, another an Arya Samaji and yet another a Jain, all belonging to Hindu society’.3 Another Jain Muni, Anuvarta Anushasta Ganadhipati Acharya ‘pointed out that Jainism is an inseparable part of Hinduism, even though it believes in a different way of worship, follows distinct samskaras and has its own spiritual books’.4 And Sadhvi Dr. Sadhana, who leads the Acharya Sushil Kumar Ashram in Delhi, asserted that ‘the Jains and the other Hindus are the inheritors of a common heritage’.5

The Jains are divided in a few castes, some of which intermarry with (and are thereby biologically part of) Hindu merchant castes: Jain Agarwals marry Hindu Agarwals but not Jain Oswals.6 They function as part of the merchant castes in the larger Hindu caste scheme. If the observance of caste endogamy is taken as a criterion of Hinduism, then Jains are Hindus by that criterion. In September 2001, the Rajasthan High Court ruled that the Jains are Hindus, not a separate non-Hindu minority; but in some other states they are counted as a separate minority. Clearly, there is no consensus about this in lay society.

7.2. Joins in Hindu Revivalism

Given the actual participation of Jains in Hindu society, it is no surprise that we find Jains well-represented in the Hindu Revivalist movement, either formally, e.g. J.K. Jain, BJP media specialist and MP in 1991-96, and Sunderlal Patwa, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister in 1990-93, or informally, e.g. the late Girilal Jain, sacked in 1988 as Times of India editor when he developed Hindutva sympathies, and his daughters Meenakshi Jain and Sandhya Jain.

In a collection of Girilal Jain’s columns on the triangular Hindu-Muslim-secularist struggle (that is how he understood the ‘communal’ problem)7, we find his explicit rejection of Jain separateness: ‘Though not to the same extent as in the case of Sikhs, ( ) neo-Buddhists and at least some Jains have come to regard themselves as non-Hindus. In reality, however, Buddhism and Jainism have been no more than movements within the larger body of Hinduism.’8 According to Girilal Jain, what difference there was between Brahmins and Jain renouncers has been eliminated by competitive imitation, e.g.: ‘the Brahman would have adopted vegetarianism so as not to be outdone by the renouncer qua spiritual leader’.9 Whatever schisms may have taken place in the distant past, the ultimate origin is common, and ever since, coexistence was too close to allow for permanent separateness.

When BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi visited the predominantly Jain Indian diamond community in Antwerp (August 1992), someone in the audience asked him whether Jains are Hindus. Pat came his reply: ‘Jains are the best Hindus of all.’

7.3. Dayananda Saraswati on Jainism

When considered at the doctrinal level, Jainism may have some aspects which mainstream Hindus would disagree with. But the Sangh Parivar has a policy of deliberate indifference to inter-Hindu disputes, aiming first of all at uniting all sections of Hindu society ‘including’ Jainism. The only written argument against Jainism by Hindu revivalists was developed more than a century ago by the Arya Samaj.

In the introduction to his Light of Truth, Swami Dayananda tones down the polemical thrust of the chapters devoted to other religions and sects: ‘Just as we have studied the Jain and Buddhist scriptures, the Puranas, the Bible and the Qoran with an unbiased mind, and have accepted what is good in them and rejected what is false, and endeavour for the betterment of all mankind, it behoves all mankind to do likewise. We have but very briefly pointed out the defects of these religions.’10

Many schools of thought and religious traditions which contemporary Hindutva ideologues and even some outside observers would readily include in ‘Hinduism’, as part of the prolific offspring of the ancient Vedic tradition, are rejected in strong terms by the Arya Samaj. This class of substandard varieties of Hinduism includes the Puranic tradition and Sikhism.11 With even more emphasis, the Arya Samaj rejects the Nastika or non-Vedic traditions. Chapter 12 of Light of Truth is titled: ‘An exposition and a refutation of the Charvaka, the Buddhistic and the Jain faiths, all of which are atheistic’.12

The Charvaka (‘polemicist’) sect, founded in pre-Buddhist antiquity by one Brihaspati, can be considered a cornerstone in the spectrum of Indian philosophies because of its radical clarity in proposing one of the possible extremes in cosmology, viz. atheistic materialism.13 The several materialistic schools of ancient Indian philosophy have naturally been highlighted by Marxist scholars, even with a streak of patriotic pride.14 The ancient Indian atheists are also quite popular as reference among crusading ‘rationalists’, i.e. people devoted to debunking claims of the paranormal, quite active in South India.15 For this reason, they belong to the pantheon of the political parties which subscribe to ‘rationalism’: Dravida Kazhagam (Dravidian Federation, DK), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Federation, DMK) and Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (C. Annadurai’s Dravidian Progressive Federation, ADMK), Tamil chauvinist parties which are (or were) anti-Brahminical and anti-religious promoters of ‘rationalism’.16

By contrast, since it has been extinct as a separate sect for centuries, Indian Materialism does not figure in modern Hindutva discourse, except as a referent to contemporary secular materialism. It is nevertheless part of an atheistic-agnostic doctrinal continuum to which Jainism and Buddhism also belong, and for that reason, some references to it may appear in the following survey of Dayananda’s argumentation. The major part of this critique is directed against Jainism rather than Buddhism. The reason for this may simply be that Dayananda was more familiar with Jainism as a living presence in society, at a time when Buddhism was practically extinct in India.

Contrary to Dayananda’s refutations of Christianity and Islam, his critique of Jainism and Buddhism is limited to certain highbrow points of philosophy, and avoids attacks on the morality of the founder or on the humanity of the religion’s historical career. We leave the scholastic points on the epistemology and metaphysics of the Nastika schools undiscussed because they are hardly relevant for the effective relationship between the communities concerned, and because similar differences of opinion can easily be found within Vedic Hinduism itself, e.g. between dualist and non-dualist Vedanta.17 In this section on Jainism, we will consider the general argument of religion against atheism, of rationalism against irrational beliefs and practices; and the argument against Shramanic sectarianism.

7.4. Philosophical materialism in India

Chapter 12 of the Light of Truth starts with the classical counter-arguments against the equally classical arguments of atheism and materialism.18 Thus, against the position that the conscious subject (Self) dies along with the body, which makes short work of the notions of eternal soul, afterlife or reincarnation, Dayananda develops the well-known argument in defence of the soul as an entity separable from the body at death: ‘Your so-called elements are devoid of consciousness, therefore consciousness cannot result from their combination.’19 Like begets like, so matter cannot generate non-matter, yet non-matter (consciousness) is an observed fact of life, ergo there must be an entity which exists apart from matter. The conscious subject is an entity separate from the body and not bound to die along with it.20

We cannot hope to settle a debate on such a fundamental philosophical question as the ‘mind-brain problem’ here, and will be satisfied with noting that Dayananda uses the classical argument of religious people against this type of materialism. The point is that his is not necessarily the only ‘Hindu’ position. Indeed, those who like to argue for the ‘tolerance’ of Hinduism (including those Hindutva authors who defend the position that Hinduism and fundamentalism are intrinsically incompatible) often claim that ‘a Hindu can even be an atheist’. Thus, Balraj Madhok writes: ‘The theist and the atheist, the sceptic and agnostic may all be Hindus if they accept the Hindu system of culture and life.’21 On this premiss, it becomes much easier to include atheist Jainism in Hinduism.

Surprisingly, even in the hard core of Brahmanical ritualism, we find a strong atheist element. The highly orthodox ritualists of the Purva Mimamsa school developed the doctrine that the Gods, to whom sacrifices were made in expectation of their auspicious intervention, were mere terms used to label the unseen phase (in modern terms, the ‘black box’) of the purely mechanical process which leads from the ritual performed to the materialization of the effects desired.22 They were possibly the first deliberate atheists in world history, yet they were Âstikas, followers of the Veda.

Dayananda, by contrast, made it clear that he did not want to be associated with atheists, and that the Arya Samaj was a crusading force against atheism. Here we are faced with the fact that Dayananda had no intention of representing the broadest possible spectrum of Hinduism, unlike the Hindutva movement. He was a purist who rejected as unauthentic or un-Aryan all the Nastika (and, at least implicitly, even some Astika) traditions which did not conform to his own conception of Vedic doctrine.

Against the doctrines which reject or simply ignore the notion of a Creator-God, Dayananda argues: ‘Dead and inert substances cannot combine together of their own accord and according to some design unless the Conscious Being-God-fashions and shapes them.’23

At the time of his writing, it was probably too early for a provincial Indian pandit to realize the implications of the findings of modern science. We see dead substances combine and recombine all the time: even before the first life forms appeared on earth, a lot of chemical processes took place which scientists have explained entirely in terms of the Laws of Nature, without needing the hypothesis of divine intervention. At face value, Dayananda’s point seems to be close to the medieval idea that the planets could only move because of angels pushing them forward; but a more sophisticated reading of his view would be that at least the first beginnings of life and of the physical processes require some kind of divine intervention. Ultimately, the planets and the force of gravity which explains their motions, and more generally all substances and the Laws of Nature which govern them, cannot have come into being without being created by a Creator.

The claim that nothing exists without a cause, and that the world itself must therefore have a ‘cause’, viz. a divine Creator, is one of the classical proofs of the existence of God, the main proof for Muslims and one of the five proofs given by Saint Thomas Aquinas.24 The atheist counter-argument is that if an eternal entity is admitted, viz. the one which theists call God, then the universe itself might just as well be that eternal and uncreated entity.25 But Dayananda was entirely unaware of the philosophical debates which had taken place in the West, and was not very broadly informed even about those in India.

7.5. The ethical argument for God

Another argument well-known to Western debaters on the existence of God is the ethical argument: without any kind of punishment and reward, people will not be motivated to do good and shun evil, and since the history of the world tells us about numerous good people ending in misery and evil people enjoying success, the just punishment or reward has to be meted out by God in some future life (whether in heaven or in new incarnations).26 According to Dayananda: ‘If there were no God (the giver of the fruits of their deeds to souls), no soul will ever, of its own free will, suffer punishment for their crimes.’ Dayananda compares it with burglars who will not volunteer for getting punished, ‘it is the law that compels them to do so; in like manner, it is God Who makes the soul reap the fruits of its actions, good or bad, otherwise all order will be lost; in other words, one soul will do deeds while the other will reap the fruits thereof.’27

Dayananda’s argument is unlikely to convince those who hold the opposite view. indeed, one can think up several ways in which people do ‘reap the fruits of their actions’ without requiring divine intervention, in a purely mechanical way. Jains conceive of Karma as a mechanical process, in which experiences in this life are preserved in seed form to determine the contents of one’s next life, without any need for a personal God who records man’s sins and metes out appropriate punishment at some later time. They share Dayananda’s moralistic view that any good we do is ultimately rewarded and any evil we do is ultimately paid for, but they are satisfied with their non-theistic model of explanation.

Alternatively, the non-moralistic possibility should be faced that we are not bound to ‘reap the fruits of our actions’: if you kill someone, he definitely reaps the fruits of your action, viz. by losing his life, and that is where the causal chain ends. You yourself also reap indirectly in the form of that which you wanted to take from the murdered man (the money he carried, the shared secret which he threatened to divulge, etc.), but you are not going to undergo punishment for this murder unless the human law machinery catches up with you. It is perfectly conceivable, as indeed the Indian Materialists hold, that there is no justice in this world except as a human artefact, that evil is not punished nor good rewarded except (with luck) in this lifetime by ordinary human means.28

In that case, ethical behaviour comes without future reward, whether divine or mechanical. Or rather, it will have to be its own reward, by giving a feeling of serenity, peace of mind. This approach is a lot closer to what we can glimpse of the original Vedic conception of ethics than the ‘divine punishment’-mongering which the alleged Veda fundamentalist Dayananda offers. The Rigveda, at least, is a very unmoralistic book. It praises certain virtues (generosity, truthfulness etc.) without trying to lure anyone into practising them: those who don’t practise them merely reveal their own ignoble character, but they are not threatened with any divine punishment for that. This is but one of many occasions at which Dayananda holds theistic and moralistic opinions which are classically enunciated not in his revered Vedas but in the reviled Puranas and Smritis.

At any rate, anyone familiar with the old debate about the existence of God and related fundamental questions will notice that Dayananda is not offering any compelling argument to make committed atheists change their minds.

7.6. With the joins against priestcraft

Swami Dayananda is in agreement with the Nastikas on another issue which figures prominently in standard atheist discourse: the absurdity and non-efficacity of funeral rites and other priestly practices. He welcomes the atheist argument that if one can benefit one’s ancestors in heaven by throwing food into the fire, how come one cannot save a relative on his journey through the desert from hunger and thirst by similar means?29 Thus, ‘the practice of offering oblations to the manes of departed ancestors is an invention of priests, because it is opposed to the Vedic and Shastric teachings and finds sanction in the Puranas ( ) Yes, it is true that the priests have devised these funeral rites from motives of pecuniary gain but, being opposed to the Vedas, they are condemnable.’30

On this point, the contrast between the Arya Samaj and the contemporary RSS Parivar is complete: whereas the latter tries to group all Hindus and implicitly condones all existing Hindu religious practices, the former takes objection to everything which, in its opinion, is not well-attested in the Vedas. Veer Savarkar rejected all superstitious practices too, and even forbade any funeral rites for his own departed soul, but he never waged an ideological campaign against such practices, as this would have greatly harmed his effort to unite all Hindus. In the case of the RSS Parivar, the same concern for unity stands in the way of this type of religious purism, except when it comes to superstitions which directly affect the unity effort, most notably untouchability, or which harm Hindu interests otherwise, e.g. the taboo on widow remarriage with its negative effect on the Hindu birth rate.

However, the ‘protestant’ objections to priestcraft, which are in effect similar to Luther’s objections against Roman Catholic practices, do not define an antagonism between Hinduism (even if limited to the Vedic tradition) on the one and Jainism and Buddhism on the other hand. The antagonism between ritualists and non-ritualists cuts through both Hinduism and the Shramanic traditions. The shift in emphasis from Vedic Karmakanda (ritual) to Jñanakanda (contemplation) is a central theme of the Upanishads, while Buddhism, supposedly a revolt against empty ritualism (among other things), had its limited array of non-icon-centred rituals from the beginning, and soon developed its own rich array of rituals in temples before impressive Buddha statues, culminating in the near-suffocation of silent meditation by endless rituals in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. Jainism, too, has its network of temples where idols of the 24 Tirthankaras (‘ford-makers’, founding saints of Jainism) are venerated.

The Arya Samaj itself, though professing a decided skepticism (which most Westerners would readily qualify as ‘healthy’) vis-a-vis murti-puja (idol-worship), pilgrimages and other rituals, has some rituals of its own. Indeed, rather than being a rationalistic rejection of all ritual per se, it represents a restoration of Vedic ritual to the detriment of rival ritual practices. If the ritual of feeding the departed souls is incapable of affecting the souls of the deceased, why should the Arya/Vedic ritual of Homa or Agnihotra be taken to have any effect upon any being whether living or dead? Here, we are faced with the common phenomenon that apologists of a religion are very rationalistic when it comes to evaluating the supernatural claims of rival traditions, but do not extend the same logic to an evaluation of their own doctrine.

7.7. Critique of Jain chronology

Another example of the same tendency to judge others by more exacting standards of rationality than one’s own tradition is Dayananda’s critique of Jain chronology. The 24 Jain Tirthankaras, among whom the historical teacher Parshvanath is listed as 23rd and Mahavira Jina as 24th, are credited with astronomical lifetimes and body sizes, e.g. the first in the list, Rishabhadeva (claimed to be attested in the Vedas)31 was 500 dhanush (= 500 x ca. 2 metres) tall and lived for 8,400,000 years. Dayananda laboriously criticizes this scriptural hyperbole, and additionally blames it for similarly grotesque claims in the Puranas: ‘Let the wise consider if it is possible for any man to have so gigantic a body and to live so long. If the globe were inhabited by people of such dimensions, very few would be contained in it. Following the example of the Jainees, the Pauraniks have written of persons who lived for 10,000 years and even for 100,000 years. All this is absurd and so is what the Jainees say.’32

True, if ever there was a human being called Rishabhadeva, he probably lived for less than 8 million years. But if the Jain tradition is highly unrealistic at this point, how should we judge Dayananda’s claim that the four Vedas were given in complete form at the time of Creation itself? This claim, made in accordance with a long-standing Vedic tradition, implies a rejection of any historical interpretation of all factual mundane data (e.g. the Battle of the Ten Kings, sung in the Rigveda). It necessitates forcing a universal symbolical interpretation on mundane data such as names of rivers, mountains, places and persons, and thereby replaces the real and complex meaning of the Vedic text with a simplistic though elaborate Hineininterpretieren. Worst of all, the belief that a book has been in existence since millions of years, though it was written in a historical language which only came into existence several thousands of years ago as a dialectal development from Proto-Indo-European, is really little better than the Jain claims about the sizes and lifetimes of the Tirthankaras.

7.8. Dayananda on Jain sectarianism

Swami Dayananda rebukes the Shramanas, particularly. the Jain monks, for keeping a haughty distance from others: ‘The Jains are strictly prohibited to 1) praise a person belonging to another religion or to talk of his good qualities, 2) to salute him, 3) to talk much to him, 4) to talk to him frequently, 5) to bestow upon him food and clothes, 6) to supply odoriferous substances and flowers to enable him to worship his idol. Let the wise consider with what feelings of hatred, malice and hostility the Jainees are actuated in their relations with those who profess a religion different from theirs.’33

Similarly: ‘Again, the Jain teachers teach: ‘Just as a ruby, which is embedded in the head of a venomous snake, should not be sought after, even so it behoves the Jainees to shun the company of a non-Jainee, no matter how virtuous and learned he is.’ It is clear, therefore, that no sectarians are so much biased, perverse, wrong-headed and ignorant as the Jainees are.’34 Similar quotations to the same effect include: ‘Let not the Jainees even look at those that are opposed to the Jain religion.’35

Here, Dayananda definitely has a point. The Shramana sects, consisting of people who had given up all worldly responsibilities and had thereby acquired ample leisure to concentrate on doctrinal matters, were quite literally sectarian. Spending a lot of their time and energy on polemic against rival sects as well as against non-sect beliefs and practices, they produced a polemical literature which has no counterpart in pre-Buddhist Brahmanism. The need, not so much of a sect’s founder but of his followers, to set the founder apart from his contemporaries, automatically leads to a somewhat hostile attitude towards other traditions, specifically those closely related. It is part of this same tradition that contemporary Buddhists and Jains go out of their way to magnify the differences with Hinduism.

An aspect of Jain history not considered by Dayananda, is the influence of Islam on the Sthanakvasi branch of Jainism, founded by a Muni who lived at the court of Mohammed Shah Tughlaq 1325-51, and on its Terapanthi offshoot. In imitation of Islam, these communities denounce temple-going and idol-worship, common enough among the Shwetambara mainstream (contrastively also known as Murtipujaka Sangha, ‘image-worshipping assembly’)36, and from there it is but a step to assuming that the social separatism enjoined in the passages quoted by Dayananda is equally due to Islamic influence; that interpretation has at least been given to me by Hindutva-minded Jains. In my opinion, however, the purity notion intrinsic to Jain tradition (conceived as a need to avoid accumulating Karma) is sufficient as an explanation for this Jain practice of keeping distance from the uninitiated.

The allegation of haughtiness and keeping distance would of course fit orthodox Brahmins as well as Jain sectarians, but the Arya Samaj cannot be accused of double standards here, i.c. of neglecting to produce a similar anti-Brahmin invective. On the contrary, it can take a certain dubious credit for ‘hinduizing’ the anti-Brahmin rhetoric propagated by Christian missionaries. What may, however, be held against the Arya Samaj, is that it is similarly sectarian itself, sometimes in a more aggressive way than the Jains as per Dayananda’s description.

In the early decades of the Samaj’s existence, its more zealous activists would disrupt traditional devotions and insult priests, with ‘pope’ as a common taunt for Brahmins. Some would even go into Hindu ‘idol temples’ and relieve themselves right there to show their contempt for idolatry in no uncertain terms.37 Dayananda’s own writing against more traditional forms of Hinduism is very intemperate, full of harsh words and lacking in patience and human sympathy. Sectarianism has made school inside Hindu society.

7.9. Did Hindus demolish Jain temples?

During the Ayodhya conflict, Muslim and secularist polemicists tried to counter the Hindu argument about the thousands of Hindu temples razed by Islamic iconoclasm with the claim that Hindus had likewise destroyed or desecrated Buddhist and Jain temples. While the few cases of alleged Hindu aggression against Buddhism are either of doubtful historicity or easily and credibly explainable from other motives than religious intolerance, there are a few cases of conflict with Jainism which seem more serious. They have formed the topic of a debate between Marxist historian Romila Thapar and Sita Ram Goel.

For a start, in the 12th century, ‘in Gujarat, Jainism flourished during the reign of Kumarapala, but his successor [i.e. Ajayapala] persecuted the Jainas and destroyed their temples’.38 According to D.C. Ganguly: ‘The Jain chronicles allege that Ajayapala was a persecutor of the Jains, that he demolished Jain temples, mercilessly executed the Jain scholar Ramachandra, and killed Ambada, a minister of Kumarapala, in an encounter.’39

Here, the alleged crime is related by the victims, not by the alleged aggressors (as is usually the case for Muslim iconoclasm). It is possible that they exaggerated, but I see no reason to believe that they simply invented the story. However, since the Jains had been dominant (‘flourishing’) in the preceding period, one might suspect a case of retaliation here. We shall see shortly that in South India, what little of Hindu aggression against Jainism occurred was due precisely to earlier oppression by the Jains.

Ganguly adds that Jains had opposed Ajayapala’s accession to the throne: ‘After the death of Kumarapala in AD 1171-72 there was a struggle for the throne between his sister’s son Pratapamalla, who was apparently backed by the Jains, and Ajayapala, son of Kumarapala’s brother Mahipala, who seems to have been supported by the Brahmanas.’40 Clearly, a political intrigue is involved of which we have not been given the full story. Predictably, Goel comments: ‘The instance she mentions from Gujarat was only the righting of a wrong which the Jains had committed under Kumarapala.’41

Next, there was the attack by the Paramara king Subhatavarman (r. 1193-1210) on Gujarat, in which ‘a large number of Jain temples in Dabhoi and Cambay’ were ‘plundered’ in retaliation of plundering of Hindu temples in Malwa by the Gujaratis during their invasion of Malwa under Jayasimha Siddharaja (d. 1143) who was under great Jain influence. Harbans Mukhia cites this as proof that ‘many Hindu rulers did the same [as the Muslims] with temples in enemy-territory long before the Muslims had emerged as a political challenge to these kingdoms’.42 However, it is well-known that the Muslims did more than just plunder: even temples where there was nothing to plunder were desecrated and destroyed or converted into mosques in many places, for the Muslims’ motive was not merely economic.

The most important and well-known case of ‘persecution of Jains’ is mentioned by Romila Thapar: ‘The Shaivite saint Jnana Sambandar is attributed with having converted the Pandya ruler from Jainism to Shaivism, whereupon it is said that 8,000Jainas were impaled by the king.’43 To this, Sita Ram Goel points out that she omits crucial details: that this king, Arikesari Parankusa Maravarman, is also described as having first persecuted Shaivas, when he himself was a Jain; that Sambandar vanquished the Jainas not in battle but in debate, which was the occasion for the king to convert from Jainism to Shaivism (wagers in which the second or a third party promises to convert if you win the debate are not uncommon in India’s religious literature); and that Sambandar had escaped Jain attempts to kill him.44 This Shaiva-Jaina conflict was clearly not a one-way affair, and as per the very tradition invoked by Prof. Thapar, Jains themselves had been the aggressors.

It is even a matter of debate whether this persecution has occurred at all. Nilakanth Shastri, in his unchallenged History of South India, writes about it: “This, however, is little more than an unpleasant legend and cannot be treated as history.’45 Admittedly, this sounds like Percival Spear’s statement that Aurangzeb’s persecutions are ‘little more than a hostile legend’46: a sweeping denial of a well-attested persecution. However, Mr. Spear’s contention is amply disproves by contemporary documents including firmans (royal decrees) and eye-witness accounts, and by the archaeological record, e.g. the destruction of the Kashi Vishvanath temple in Varanasi by Aurangzeb is attested by the temple remains incorporated in the Gyanvapi mosque built on its site. Such evidence has not been offered in the case of Jnana Sambandar at all. On the contrary: ‘Interestingly, the persecution of Jains in the Pandya country finds mention only in Shaiva literature, and is not corroborated by Jain literature of the same or subsequent period.’47

On the other hand, the historicity of the Jain-Shaiva conflict in general is confirmed by Shaiva references to more cases of Jain aggression, none of which is mentioned by Romila Thapar. Dr. Usha Sivapriya, before duly quoting classical Tamil sources, argues that the literatures posterior to Manikkavasaghar (an ancient Tamil sage, author of Thiruvasagham) ‘had plenty of reference to the nature, torture and terrorism of Jaina missionaries and rulers in Tamil kingdom’.48 It all started with the invasion by Kharavela, king of Kalinga, at the turn of the Christian era: ‘Kharavela defeated the Tamil kings headed by Pandiyans and captured Madhurai. The Kalinga or Vadugha king enforced Jaina rule in Tamil kingdom. People were forcibly converted at knifepoint, temples were demolished or locked down, devotees were tortured and killed.’49

And it continued intermittently for centuries under Pandya and Pallava rule: ‘When the Digambara Jaina missionaries had failed in converting the masses, they tried to torture and kill them. ( ) After failing in the attempt of converting Pandiyans the Digambara Jains tried to kill the Pandiyan Kings through various means, by sending a dangerous snake, wild bull and mad elephant.’50

Dr. Sivapriya links the advent of Jainism in Tamil Nadu with an episode of conquest by non-Tamils. Goel adds: ‘The persecution of Jains in the Pandya country by some Shaivas had nothing to do with Shaivism as such, but was an expression of a nationalist conflict which I will relate shortly. What 1 want to point out first is that most of the royal dynasties which ruled in India after the breakdown of the Gupta Empire and before the advent of Islamic invaders, were Shaiva ( ). The Jains are known to have flourished everywhere; not a single instance of the Jains being persecuted under any of these dynasties is known. ( ) M. Arunachalam, in a monograph published eight years before Professor Thapar delivered the lectures which comprise her pamphlet ( ) has proved conclusively, with the help of epigraphic and literary evidence, that the Kalabhara invaders from Karnataka had occupied Tamil Nadu for 300 years (between AD 250 and 550), and that they subscribed to the Digambara sect of Jainism.’51

So, this is where ‘nationalist’ resentment against the conquerors came to coincide with resentment against Jainism: ‘It so happened that some of the Kalabhara princes were guided by a few narrow-minded Jain ascetics, and inflicted injuries on some Shaiva and Vaishnava saints and places of worship. They also took away the agraharas which Brahmanas had enjoyed in earlier times. And a reaction set in when the Kalabharas were overthrown. The new rulers who rose subscribed to Shaivism. It was then that the Jains were persecuted in some places, and some Jain places of worship were taken over by the Shaivas under the plea that these were Shaiva places in the earlier period.’52

In such cases, ‘Professor Thapar does not mention the Jain high-handedness which had preceded. (… ) Professor Thapar should have mentioned the persecution of Shaivas practised earlier by the Pandya king who was a Jain to start with, and who later on converted to Shaivism and persecuted the Jains. This is another case of suppressio verb suggestio falsi practised very often by her school.’53

To clinch the issue and confirm that the Pandya incident of persecution of Jains is atypical and disconnected from Hindu doctrines, Goel adds: ‘But the reaction was confined to the Pandya country. Jainism continued to flourish in northern Tamil Nadu which also had been invaded by the Kalabharas, where also the Shaivas and Vaishnavas had been molested by the Jains, and where also the Shaivas had come to power once again. It is significant that though Buddhists also invite invectives in the same Shaiva literature, no instance of Buddhists being persecuted is recorded. That was because Buddhists had never harmed the Shaivas. It is also significant that the Vaishnavas of Tamil Nadu show no bitterness against the Jains though they had also suffered under Kalabhara rule.’54

7.10. Jains and Virashaivas

A later offshoot of Shaivism, viz. the Virashaiva or Lingayat sect, also showed its hostility to Jainism repeatedly. Indeed, Prof. Thapar’s next piece of evidence is that ‘inscriptions of the sixteenth century from the Srisailam area of Andhra Pradesh record the pride taken by Veerashaiva chiefs in beheading shvetambara Jains’.55 Concerning such cases, she alleges that: ‘The desire to portray tolerance and non-violence as the eternal values of the Hindu tradition has led to the pushing aside of such evidence.’56

Now, the Veerashaivas were an anti-caste and anti-Brahminical sect. As these are considered good qualities, secularists have tried to link them to the influence of Muslim missionaries (‘bringing the message of equality and brotherhood’), who were indeed very active on India’s west coast, where and when the Veerashaiva doctrine was developed. If we assume there was indeed Muslim influence on the Veerashaiva sect, the secularists should acknowledge that the Veerashaivas’ occasional acts of intolerance may equally be due to the influence of Islam. At any rate ‘Brahminism’ cannot be held guilty of any misdeeds committed by this anti-Brahminical sect.

But it seems well-established that the Lingayats did give the Jains a hard time on several occasions. Prof. Thapar’s continues: ‘The Jaina temples of Karnataka went through a traumatic experience at the hands of the Lingayats or Virashaivas in the early second millennium AD.’57 After a time of peaceful coexistence, which Romila Thapar acknowledges, ‘one of the temples was converted into a Shaiva temple. At Huli, the temple of the five Jinas was converted into a panchalingeshwara Shaivite temple, the five lingas replacing the five Jinas in the sancta. Some other Jaina temples met the same fate.’58

Could this be a case of a peaceful hand-over? Maybe the community itself had converted and consequently decided to convert its temple as well? After all, the temples were not destroyed. No, because: ‘An inscription at Ablur in Dharwar eulogizes attacks on Jaina temples as retaliation for Jaina opposition to Shaivite worship.’59

It may be remarked at the outset that the element of retaliation sets this story apart from Christian or Islamic iconoclasm, which did not require in any way that some form of aggression had first been committed by the other party. When Saint Boniface, the Christian missionary to the Frisians and Saxons, cut down the sacred trees of the Frisians, he was not taking revenge for any wrong committed by them against him: he was unilaterally destroying cultic objects of what he believed to be a false religion (in glorification of his chopping down sacred trees, he is iconographically depicted with an axe in his hand). When Ghaznavi invaded India and took great strategic risks to venture as far as Prabhas Patan and destroy the famous Somnath temple there, he was not retaliating but unilaterally initiating an aggression.

In this case, however, the inscription cited by Prof. Thapar herself justifies the unspecified ‘attacks’ on Jain temples as an act of retaliation. This proves that either the Jains had indeed been the first aggressors, or if they were not, that the Shaivas felt the need to claim this: otherwise, attacking someone else’s temple didn’t feel right to them. Christian and Islamic iconoclasts had no such scruples. No Hindu revivalist historian could have mustered better evidence for the radical difference between the alleged cases of intolerance by Hindus and the Islamic and Christian religious persecutions, than this brief information given in passing by Romila Thapar.

There is a second aspect to this inscriptional evidence. Here again, Mr. Goel accuses Prof. Thapar of distorting evidence by means of selective quoting. The inscription of which she summarizes a selected part, says first of all that the dispute arose because the Jains tried to prevent a Shaiva from worshipping his own idol.60 It further relates that the Jains also promised to throw out Jina and worship Shiva if the Shiva devotee performed a miracle, but when the miracle was produced, they did not fulfil their promise. In the ensuing quarrel, the Jina idol was broken by the Shaivas. The most significant element is that the Jain king Bijjala decided in favour of the Shaivas when the matter was brought before him. He dismissed the Jains and showered favours on the Shaivas.

Again, in this story the conflict is not a one-way affair at all. We need not accept the story at face value, as it is one of those sectarian miracle stories (with the message: ‘My saint is holier than thy saint’) which abound in the traditions surrounding most places of pilgrimage, be they Christian, Sufi, or Hindu. Goel cites the testimony of Dr. Fleet, who has edited and translated this inscription along with four others found at the same place. He gives summaries of two Lingayat Puranas and the Jain Bijjalacharitra, and observes that the story in this inscription finds no support in the literary traditions of the two sects, and that Bijjala’s own inscription dated 1162 AD discovered at Managoli also does not support the story either.61 The fact that the inscription under consideration does not bear a date or a definite reference to the reign of a king, does not help its credibility either. And do authentic inscriptions deal in miracles?

I do not think that historians working with conflicting testimonies are in a position to make apodictic statements and definitive conclusions, so I will not completely dismiss this inscription as fantasy. It is possible that the Jainas had indeed fallen on hard times, and I do not dispose of material that would refute prof. Thapar’s contention that ‘in the fourteenth century the harassment of Jainas was so acute that they had to appeal for protection to the ruling power at Vijayanagar’.62 But note that the ruling power at Vijayanagar, whose protection the Jains sought, was of course Hindu. Clearly, the Jains’ experience with Hindus was such that they expected Hindu rulers to protect religious freedom and pluralism.

Not much is left of the allegation of ‘Hindu persecution of Jains’, and in that light, Goel’s conclusion must be considered relatively modest: ‘It is nobody’s case that there was never any conflict between the sects and sub-sects of Sanatana Dharma. Some instances of persecution were indeed there. Our plea is that they should be seen in a proper perspective, and not exaggerated in order to whitewash or counterbalance the record of Islamic intolerance. Firstly, the instances are few and far between when compared to those listed in Muslim annals. Secondly, those instances are spread over several millennia ( ) Thirdly, none of those instances were inspired by a theology ( ) Fourthly, Jains were not always the victims of persecution; they were persecutors as well once in a while. Lastly, no king or commander or saint who showed intolerance has been a Hindu hero, while Islam has hailed as heroes only those characters who excelled in intolerance.’63

And even if all the claims of a Hindu persecution of Jains had been true, they would still not prove the non-Hindu character of Jainism. From the history of Christianity, Islam and Communism, great persecutors of outsiders to their own doctrines, we know numerous instances where the worst invective and the choicest tortures were reserved for alleged heretics within their own fold.

7.11. Conclusion

At the institutional level, the Hindutva opposition to the recognition of Jainism as a separate non-Hindu religion is largely a losing battle. Religious separatism has its own dynamic, feeding egos who feel more important as leaders of a religion in its own right rather than a mere sect within a larger tradition. Anti-Hindu separatists are also assured of the support of secularist bureaucracies such as the Minorities’ Commission, of the secularist media and of all the non-Hindu religious lobbies. All of these are eager to fragment and weaken Hindu society.

Yet, at the sociological level, the Jain community is entirely part of Hindu society, caste and all. Even more importantly, a great many Jains (certainly a larger portion of the community than in the case of Sikhism or Buddhism) come forward themselves to affirm their Hinduness. Historically, Jainism has always enjoyed a place under the umbrella of Hindu pluralism, suffering clashes with southern Shaivism only a few times when its own sectarianism had provoked the conflict.

Deciding the question whether Jainism is a sect of Hinduism requires a proper definition of Hinduism. The answer varies with that definition. If Hinduism means veneration of the Vedas, then Jainism may formally be taken to be outside the Hindu fold, though it remains closely akin to Hindu schools of philosophy springing from Hindu thought (particularly Nyaya-Vaisheshika). If Hinduism implies theism, then Jainism should definitely be counted out; but a theistic definition of Hinduism is highly questionable, eventhough after centuries of theistic devotionalism, many unsophisticated Hindus would accept it.

On the other hand, if Hinduism means the actually observed variety of religious expressions among non-Muslims and non-Christians in India, then there is nothing in Jainism that would make it so radically different as to fall outside this spectrum. If Hinduism means all traditions native to India (as per Savarkar and the original Muslim usage), then obviously Jainism is a Hindu tradition.


  1. ‘The Jain Community’s Memorandum to the Prime Minister’, Muslim India, Nov. 1996, p.522. 

  2. Subhas Dev: ‘Jains are Hindus’, Organiser, 25-5-1997. 

  3. Subhas Dev: ‘Jains are Hindus’, Organiser, 25-5-1997. 

  4. Quoted thus in Organiser, 9-3-1997. 

  5. Thus quoted in Organiser, 9-3-1997. 

  6. The origin of the Oswals is that in AD 564, the Rajputs of Osian or Os, near Jodhpur, adopted Jainism along with Vaisyadharma (the trader caste duties), renouncing their Kshatriya (knightly) status and occupation, deemed incompatible with Jain non-violence. The Agarwals were originally, and since hoary antiquity, a republican clan in East Panjab, the Agrashreni mentioned by the Mahabharata and by Panini, and centred in Agrodaka (modern Agroha) and Rohtiki (modern Rohtak). 

  7. Editor Meenakshi Jain opens the posthumous collection of her father Girilal Jain’s columns by announcing (The Hindu Phenomenon, p.v): ‘Girilal Jain belonged to that minority of Indian intellectuals who welcomed the movement for the Ram temple as part of the process of Hindu self-renewal and self-affirmation.’ 

  8. G. Jain: The Hindu Phenomenon, p. 24-25. 

  9. G. Jain: The Hindu Phenomenon, p.26, quoting Louis Dumont: Homo Hierarchicus, p. 194. 

  10. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.vii. 

  11. Criticized together in Ch.11 of Dayananda: Light of Truth

  12. It is a different matter that Dayananda’s equation of ‘nastika’ with ‘atheistic’ is inaccurate. Buddhism is agnostic rather than atheistic, while theistic Islam can definitely be included in the nastika category because it does not pay any respect to the Veda. Conversely, dualist Samkhya cosmology is atheistic but not materialistic nor nastika. 

  13. See also the chapter ‘Concept of Materialism’ in M.G. Chitkara: Hindutva, p.23-32. 

  14. E.g. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya: Lokayata, a Study in Ancient Indian Materialism (1959) and In Defence of Materialism in Ancient India, a Study in Carvaka/Lokayata (1989). 

  15. About the Indian ‘rationalists’, a documentary was made by Robert Eagle and Adam Finch (broadcast on Flemish TV: BRTN TV 1, 26-1-1997). One of their leading lights was Abraham Kovoor, whose booklets debunking magic tricks employed by godmen or presenting the case against astrology (e.g. Begone Godmen!, 1976) are fairly popular. Another is V.R. Narla, see e.g. his polemical book The Truth about the Gita

  16. See e.g. DK spokesman K. Veeramani’s Tamil rationalist paper Viduthalai, or his attack on the Shankaracharya: Kanchi Sankarachariar, Saint or Sectarian? However, the DMK and ADMK have moved back to religion, still the mainstream in India: ‘No longer the ‘rationalists’ they once were, DMK leaders are realising that when your intention is to get votes, anti-religion ideology has to take a back seat’, according to G.C. Shekhar: ‘In Search of God’, India Today, 28-2-1997. 

  17. E.g., on Buddhist epistemology, see Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.512-520. 

  18. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p. 503-506, 525-545. 

  19. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p. 504. 

  20. We may consider it beyond the present endeavour to confront this argument with advanced scientific notions of a degree of consciousness present in all material life-forms (the feed-back mechanisms inherent in biological processes could be considered as a very material form of consciousness) and even in the behaviour of quantum-physical particles. More immediately relevant is the fact that modern neuro-psychologists are strongly inclined towards accepting the materiality of consciousness: they consider thoughts as a mere function of chemical processes in the brain, as suggested by the causal relationship between depression and lack of vitamins, or between altered states of consciousness and the intake of certain drugs. See e.g. Karl Popper & John Eccles: The Self, and Its Brain, and Daniel C. Dennett: Consciousness Explained

  21. Balraj Madhok: Rationale of Hindu State, p.20, with reference to S. Radhakrishnan. 

  22. Wide e.g. Lucas Catherine: De gelaagde religie (Dutch: ‘The layered religion’), Ch.8. 

  23. Dayananada: Light of Truth, p. 508. 

  24. However, as Immanuel Kant admitted, this proof is inconclusive; discussed in e.g. Hubert Dethier: Geschiedenis van het Atheisme (‘History of Atheism’), p.20-21. 

  25. As argued in Bertrand Russell: Why I Am Not a Christian (and again countered in the review of that book by T.S. Eliot, etc.), and in India by Jain and Buddhist philosophers, e.g. Dharmakirtti, see Chandradhar Sharma: Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, p. 139-140, para ‘Criticism of God’. 

  26. E.g. figuring prominently in the historical BBC debate on God between Frederick Copleston s.j. and Bertrand Russell, 28-1-1948, discussed in Caroline Moorehead: Bertrand Russell, p.458. 

  27. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.531. The expression ‘God, the giver of the fruits of their deeds to the souls’ is an allusion to the etymology of the word Bhagvan, effectively ‘the Lord’, literally ‘the share-giver’. 

  28. I have discussed the non-moralistic as well as the atheist-moralistic views of Karma in my Philosophy thesis: De niet-retributieve Karma-leer, Leuven 1991. 

  29. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.507. 

  30. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.509. 

  31. Mention of Rishabha in the Yajurveda (‘Om nama arhato Rishabho ’), along with two from the Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas, are given as proof for the pre-Vedic antiquity of Jainism by T.K. Tukol: Compendium of Jainism, p.11-12. However, the oldest mention of one Rishabha is inside the Rigveda, and not even in the oldest part: Rishabha, son of Vishvamitra, is listed as composer of hymns 3:13 and 3:14 to Agni; there is nothing typically Jain about these hymns. For all we know, the Vedic Rishabha is not the same person as the founder of Jainism. 

  32. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.578; similarly, p.577-585. 

  33. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.547, quoting from the Jain scripture Vivekasara, p.121, without further bibliographical data. 

  34. Dayananda: Light of Truth, p.549, quoting the Jain scripture Prakara?a Ratnakara 2:29. 

  35. Dayananda: Light of Truth p.549, quoting Prakarana Ratnakara 2:29. 

  36. See P. Dundas: The Jains, p.66. 

  37. A testimony of this type of Arya Samaj activism is given by S.R. Goel: How I Became a Hindu, p. 5. 

  38. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction and Early India: Tradition and Patronage, p. 18. 

  39. D.C. Ganguly: ‘Northern India during the eleventh and twelfth centuries’, in R.C. Majumdar: The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol.5: Struggle for Empire, p.78, 

  40. D.C. Ganguly: ‘Northern India during the eleventh and twelfth centuries’, in R.C. Majumdar: The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol.5: Struggle for Empire, p.78. 

  41. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.419-420. 

  42. Harbans Mukhia in R. Thapar, ed.: Communalism and the Wilting of Indian History, p.34. 

  43. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction, p. 17. 

  44. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.420. 

  45. Nilakanth Sastri: History of South India, p.424. 

  46. Percival Spear: A History of India, vol.2, p.56. 

  47. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temple, vol, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.420. 

  48. Usha Sivapriya: True History and Time of Mgnikkavgsaghar from His Own Work, p-134. 

  49. Usha Sivapriya: Manikkavasaghar, p.139. 

  50. Usha Sivapriya: Manikkavasaghar, p.137-138. 

  51. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.419, with reference to M. Arunachalam: The Kalabharas in the Pandiya Country and heir Impact on the Life and Letters There, University of Madras, 1979. 

  52. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.419-420. 

  53. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.419-420. 

  54. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.420. 

  55. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction, p.18, with reference to P.B. Desai: Jainism in South India

  56. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction and Early India: Tradition and Patronage, p.18. Note here that Veerashaivism is assumed to be a part of Hindu tradition, as it obviously should be. Yet, when its initial anti-caste tendency is praised, it is often presented as an anti-Hindu or at least non-Hindu ‘reaction of the non-Aryan natives restoring their pre-Aryan deity Shiva’ and the like. 

  57. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction, p.17; with reference to P.B. Desai: Jainism in South India, p.82-83, p.401-402. 

  58. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction, p.17. 

  59. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction, p. 18. 

  60. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temple_s, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.413, with reference to the inscription itself, reproduced in _Epigraphica Indica, vol.3, p.255. 

  61. Epigraphica Indica, vol.5, p.9-23. 

  62. Romila Thapar: Cultural Transaction, p. 18. 

  63. S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol.2 (2nd ed.), p.422. An evaluation of this statement presupposes some familiarity with the Hindu critique of Islam, which is discussed in K. Elst: Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, p.310 ff.