Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal

by Shubha Majumder | 2017 | 147,217 words

This page relates ‘General Study of 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.

This study includes different aspects of Jainism likes Jain philosophy, laws and doctrines, history of Jainism including its literatures and obviously Jain art, architecture and inscriptions. Among the philosophical works in Jainism, M.L. Jhavery’s The First Principles of Jain Philosophy (London, 1910) is a pioneering work in which the Jain cosmic theories, logic, epistemology and other metaphysical intricacies are discussed. In addition, several researches on the different philosophical aspects of Jainism were carried out by both European as well as Indian scholars like, Sinclair Stevenson (1915), C.R. Jain (1917), B.M. Barua (1921), S.N. Dasgupta (1922), T. Nathmal (1951), M.L. Mehta (1954, 1971), S.B. Deo (1960), K.C. Sogani (1967), D. Bhargava (1968), B.K. Matilal (1981) and others. In recent years, N.N. Bhattacharyya’s Jain Philosophy: Historical Outline (Delhi, 1999) is a comprehensive work in the field of Jain philosophical research. He not only deals with the different views of Jain philosophy but also describes the historical development of Jain philosophical concepts.

Study of Jain law and doctrines is another branch of research in Jainism and J.L. Jain’s book The Jain Law (Arrah, 1916) in a pioneering work which has attained the status of a source-book on the Jain legal treatises. Other monumental contributions are of P.C. Nahar and K.C. Ghosh (Calcutta, 1917). Besides, researches were also carried out by scholars likes C.R. Jain (1919), M. Bloomfield (1919), B.C. Law (1919), P.C. Bagchi (1921), A.B. Keith (1921), C.R. Jain (1926), C. Karuse (1929, 1930), H.V. Glasenapp (1942), A.L. Basham (1951), K.C. Sogani (1967), G.C. Pande (1978), P. Bothra (1995) and others.

Another research trend is to study the history of Jainism as well as Jain literature. These studies help us to know about the long history of this religious order as well as various religious aspects mentioned in the different Jain literatures. In this section, Benarasi Dass work’s entitled A Lecture on Jainism (1902) was pioneering and it was carried out from a typical Indian Jain viewpoint with the professed aim of clearing the misconception and misunderstanding which characterized the earlier studies on Jainism. Umrao Simha Tank’s Jain Historical Studies (1914) contained descriptive accounts of the careers of prominent Jains and famous events of Jain history. The first volume of the Cambridge History of India (Cambridge, 1922) contained a chapter on Jainism written by Jarl Charpentier under the title “The History of the Jains”. Walther Schubring’s Die Lehre der Jains (1934) was a major contribution to study the historical sketch of Jainism. B.C. Law’s India as depicted in the Early Texts of Buddhism and Jainism (1941) and H.R. Kapadia’s two books entitled History of the Canonical Literature of the Jainas (1941) and Jain Religion and Literature (1944) were important contributions in this field of research.

During this time some important texts were also edited by various scholars–Muni Jinavijaya edited the historical works of Kumārapāla-Caritra of Hemacandra, Prabandhakośa of Rājaśekhara, Prabhāvaka-Caritra of Prabhācandra, Vividhatīrtha-Kalpa of Jinaprabhasūri and A.N. Upadhye edited the Bṛhatkathākośa of Hariṣena, Dhūrtākhyāna of Haribhadra and Kuvalayamālā of Haribhadra. These literary works incidentally throw light on the history of Jainism. Besides these wonderful publications, several books in different vernacular languages were also published on the history of Jainism (Bhattacharyya 1999: 26-7). Bool Chand’s book entitled Jainism in Indian History (1951) was basically a historical outline with emphasis on its functional role in different walks of Indian life through the ages. S.B. Deo’s History of Jain Monachism from Inscriptions and Literature (1956) was another monumental work on this subject. J.P. Jain’s work entitled The Jain Sources of the History of Ancient India (1964) was an assessment of the historical worth of the Jain sources of Indian history during the epochmaking millennium of 100 BCE to 900 CE. M.L. Mehta’s Jain Culture (1969) presented a complete picture of various aspects of Jainism, its functional role in different walks of Indian life and its contribution to the development of Indian civilization with emphasis on the special Jain viewpoint and approach testifying its distinctiveness.

J.C. Jain’s Hindi work Prākṛta Jain Kathā Sāhitya (1971) was a study of Jain narrative literature which formed the nucleus of his subsequent bigger work in English to be dealt with later. B.C. Jain’s Jainism in Buddhist Literature (1972) began with a historical background of Jainism with emphasis on the antiquity of Śramaṇa cult, Jainism and its literature and Buddhism and its literature. R.C. Dwivedi’s edition of a volume entitled Contribution of Jainism to Indian Culture (1973) was a collection of papers on various aspects of Jsainism. Cultural Study of the Nisītha Cūrṇi by Madhu Sen was also very important for the purpose of historical study in which the contents of a source-book were analyzed and documented so that the social historian could use it profitably. Collet Caillat’s Atonements in Ancient Ritual of the Jain Monks (1975) had an in-depth study of Jain texts where, besides the usual account of the penances, the conceptual aspects behind the expiration of lapses were dealt with. Among other valuable works on this subject published in the seventies mentioned may be made of K.K. Dikshit’s Early Jainism (1978) and G.C. Pande’s Sramaṇa Tradition: Its History and Contribution to Indian Culture (1978).

In this trend of research A Comprehensive History of Jainism by Asim Kumar Chatterjee (2 vols. 1978-1984) is the first systematic historical study of Jainism. It is divided into two volumes. In volume I, the author outlined the history of Jainism from the earliest times to CE 1000. The second volume covers the period between CE 1000 and 1500. This work also contains chapters on Jain Tīrthaṅkaras and Jain tīrthas. Chatterjee had put forward in these volumes some interesting theories with respect to the dating of Jain literatures. In the History and Culture of the Indian People edited by R.C. Majumdar (1951), A.M. Ghatge supplied contributions on Jainism to the volumes of The Age of Imperial Unity and The Classical Age. L.M. Joshi’s work entitled Facets of Jain Religiousness in Comparative Light (1981) revealed a new approach to the understanding of certain aspects of Jainism. In 2010, K.C. Jain published his monumental work in three volumes entitled The History of Jainism. In the first part of this volume he tries to prove the historicity of Tīrthaṅkara, Pārśvanātha and Mahāvira through archaeological and literary sources, describing their life and education besides religious, political, social, artistic and literary conditions of their times. The second part surveys the history of the Jain dharma, its expansion and significance. The third part, associated with the middle ages of Jainism, describes that even though there was Muslim rule, still many organizations were sponsored with the influence of Jainism.

The study of Jain art, architecture and inscriptions is another important research field. Several archaeological discoveries of Jain sculptural and architectural remains in 19th and 20th centuries by several British administrators and later by Indian scholars confirm that Jainiam was strongly entrenched in different parts of the country over a long period of time. Among the earlier British investigators, A. Cunningham, J.D. Beglar, H. Coupland, J. Burgess (1874, 1876 & 1883) and others published several valuable information about different archaeological sites containing Jain sculptural as well as architectural remains. G. Bühler published two articles on Jain inscriptions from Mathura and a paper on Jain sculptures from Mathura, in Epigraphia Indica between 1892-94 CE. In 1903, Burgess translated in English Bühler’s paper, “On the Indian Sect of the Jainas”, appending himself an “Outline of Jain Mythology”. J. Anderson reported few Jain sculptures displayed in the Indian Museum collections and he described them in his Catalogue of Archaeological collections in the Indian Museum (1883). He also mentioned some Jain bronzes, of which the bronzes from Gwalior were neglected hitherto. J. Burgess in his article “Digambara Jain Iconography” (1903-04) gave detailed iconographic description of Jain images, including the Jain Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs.

Among the Indian scholars, D.R. Bhandarkar published some articles on Jain iconography. In one of his articles, he identified and described a sculpture depicting the Aśvāvabodha-tīrtha and Śakunikā-vihāra story associated with the life of Tīrthaṅkara Munisuvrata and also discussed the Jain Samanasaraṇa in another article (1911). In 1914, A.K. Coomaraswamy opened a new line of studies in his 'Notes on Jain Art', wherein he discussed miniature paintings of the Kalpa-sūtra, a cosmographical chart and a canvass paṭa of Pārśvanātha. He described the Jain miniature paintings, Jain Jātakascenes and also the iconography of Tīrthaṅkaras and other Jain deities (Indra, Naigameṣa and others) including the five kalyāṇakas in the life of each Tīrthaṅkaras in his Catalogue of Indian Collections in the Museum of Fine Arts (1924), Boston, volume IV, Jain Painting. His pioneering study of Yakṣas (parts I and II, 1928-31) has been largely helpful in our study of Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs in Jain art and architecture. H. Bhattacharyya’s Divinity in Jainism (1925) attempted to interpret the basic conception of the Jinas or the Tīrthaṅkaras and various śāsanadevatās and other categories of deities, constituting the Jain pantheon and defined their reciprocal relations. T.N. Ramachandran was the first scholar to give a systematic account of Jain iconography in his Triuparuttikunram and its Temples (1934). It was B. Bhattacharya who in one of his articles published in 1935 gave for the first time an outline of the scope of work on Jain Iconography by providing lists of different types of Jain deities for whom sādhanas were traced by him in Jain texts.

Brindavan C. Bhattacharya was a pioneering scholar in this field of study and in 1939 he published his book entitled The Jana Iconography. This was the first work of its kind aiming at presenting iconography of various Jain deities with the help of literary as well as archaeological sources. Till today this book is regarded as an outstanding work in this field of researches.

U.P. Shah, with his several researches on Jainism, came out as a great scholar in the field of Jain art and iconography. Although himself a Vaiṣṇava, with his tenacious energy he pursued his studies in Jain art and iconography. His two books Studies in Jain Art (1955) and Jain Rupamandana are most important books in this field. In the second book he not only dealt with the iconographic details of Jain Tīrthaṅkara images and other deities but he also surveyed the different parts of India to document the Jain sculptural specimens.

Iconography of Jain images also formed the basis of works by Benjamin Rowland (1977) and Susan L. Huntington (1985). In 1975, U.P. Shah and M.A. Dhaky edited a book entitled Aspects of Jain Art and Architecture and different articles related to the different aspects of Jain art and architecture was published in this volume. Some specific topics related to the Jain art and iconography was also published in the latter half of 20th century, among these the works of J.P. Sharma (1994), M.N.P. Tiwary (1981, 1983 & 1989), A.K. Bhattacharyya (2010) are noteworthy. S.L. Nagar’s Iconography of Jain Deities (1999), published in two volumes, is another outstanding book of recent times on Jain iconography. J. Maitra wrote a comprehensive article on Jain iconography published in the K. Vatsyayan edited The Cultural Heritage of India (2006). Besides these stupendous works, there are several articles dealing with different aspects of Jain art, iconography and architecture are published by research scholars in different Journals regularly.

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