Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal

by Shubha Majumder | 2017 | 61,684 words

This page relates ‘History of Researches on Jainism’ of the study on the Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal based on the fields of Geography, Archaeology, Art and Iconography. Jainism represents a way of life incorporating non-violence and approaches religion from humanitarian viewpoint. Ancient Bengal comprises modern West Bengal and the Republic of Bangladesh, Eastern India. Here, Jainism was allowed to flourish from the pre-Christian times up until the 10th century CE, along with Buddhism.

The history of researches on Jainism is very long; however, in different areas Jainism is still in a nebular stage. Before discussing about the different aspects of Jainism in ancient Bengal we must focus about the series of researches on Jainism in India in general.

The study of Jainism was initiated in India under the auspices of the Asiatic Society. The first published writing on the subject appeared in the Asiatic Researches in 1794 though this was a very casual reporting about the Jain community. Major C. Mackenzie made communications to the Society about the doctrine and practices of the Jain sect on the basis of information gathered from some Jain sites of India and he published a paper in the ninth volume of Asiatic Researches (Mackenzie, 1809: 244-286). In this volume, H.C. Colebrooke also published a well-researched paper entitled “Observations on the Sect of the Jains” (1809: 287-350). Colebrooke’s paper was based on Hemacandra’s Abhidhānacintāmaṇi and Bhadrabāhu’s KalpaSūtra. His work widely helps us to understand about the different aspects of Jainism including Jain iconography. We can accept this work as the beginning of a new phase in the archaeological researches on Jain iconography.

Apart from these two scholars, the names of Delamaine (1827), Tod (1957/1829), Francklin (1827), Stevenson (1848) and others (both British and German scholars) may be mentioned for their interest in Jainism (Gupta 199394: 216-17; Flugel 2005: 1–10). George Bühler was a pioneer in this field of research and gave a new dimension to the research of Jainism (1878: 141-60; 1903). He carried out his research works in two ways -by bringing to the scholarly world the treasure of Jain manuscripts and by editing inscriptions referring to the Jainas. Hermann Jacobi, under the shadow of Bühler’s influence, edited the Kalpa-Sūtra of Bhadrabāhu (1879) and later made a translation of it (SBE, XXII, XLV 1884; 1964 a & b) which was qualitatively different from the earlier one made by Stevenson with respect to its merit. He also edited the Pariśiṣṭaparvan of Hemacandra (1883).

During this preliminary stage of researches, the main debates that generated interest among the scholars were devoted to Jain literatures and about the origin and development of Jainism. Wilson, Lassen and even Weber suggested that Jainism was an off-shoot of Buddhism and that the former originated around c. 350 B.C., when it seceded from the original sect. On the other hands some scholars thought that it was a form of Hinduism (Bhattacharyya 1999: 17).

Bühler and Hermann Jacobi were in the other camp and advocated the theory of separate origin of Buddhism and Jainism. In 1878, Bühler edited three new edicts of Asokā, which distinguished between the Buddhists and the Jainas or the Nirgranthas as they were called in those days (Bühler 1878: 141-60). These inscriptions, thus, provided tangible evidence of distinct identity of these two sects even during the 3rd century B.C. Jacobi., who was a close associate of Bühler in his manuscript hunt in the Princely States, also tried to prove on the basis of textual evidence that both Mahāvira and Buddha were historical persons and both the sects gained prominence under the same socioeconomic situation (Jacobi 1880: 158-61). Indian scholars also supported the theory of Buhler and Jacobi and they believed that Jainism had great antiquity (Jain 1913; Jain 1951, 1964; & Ramachandran 1944).

This debate, however, was finally settled when archaeological remains in the form of inscriptions, sculptures, temple architecture and other excavated materials were discovered and helped us to believe that Jainism had its own remote antiquity and it was completely distinct from Buddhism.

From the beginning of the 20th century the trends of research on Jainism may be divided into two facets: (1) General study of Jainism; and (2) Regional study of Jainism.

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