Renunciation has been the hallmark of classical Indian tradition of Sramanism. The Jaina religion represents an important branch of the Sramana tradition of ancient India. It is one of the most ancient living faiths in the world; it has held aloft the banner of ascetic ideal of renunciation for more than twenty-five centuries now, nearly four million modern Indian still profess the Jaina faith.

            Unlike Buddhism, Jainism has remained confined to India; unlike Buddhism too it has had, however, a continuous history in its homeland. Orthodoxy and resilience have characterized the history of the Jaina faith; the remarkable degree of tolerance and capacity of assimilation shown by the Jaina monastic samgha as well as the laity right through the ages are also marked features of Jinist history. These characteristics seem to reveal the secret of the continued vitality of the Jaina Community in India.

            The idea and practices expounded by the Victorious Ones (jinas) were continuously preached and developed by the munis or sramanas of the Jaina tradition. The highest ideal of the Jaina religious striving has been that of Liberation (moksa) from conditioned existence (samsara). This ultimate concern, the quest of Liberation from the realm of Karma and rebirth, has inspired a considerably complex system of moral and religious culture which we call the Jaina culture. The metaphysical presuppositions underlying the moral and religious principles and practices of Jainism are, for the most part, peculiar to it. This is realized and appreciated when one compares the Jaina theoretical framework of the goal and the technique of eradicating defilements and bonds with those of the other religious systems of India.



            In the nineteenth century, when the Jainist studies were in their infancy, scholars had expressed conflicting view about origin of Jainis. Wilson, Lassen and Weber had believed that Jainism represented one of the many sects of Buddhism. This erroneous view was founded on the striking similarities existing between some of the doctrines and practices of the Buddhists and the Jainas. On the other hand, Colebrooke, Prinsep and Stevenson had rightly believed that Jainism is older than Buddhism, though this belief was based on the wrong supposition of the identity of Indrabhuti Gautama, a disciple of Mahavira, with Siddhartha Gautama. It was the merit of Euhler, Jacobi and Hoernle that they established that historical contemporaneity of Vardhamana Mahavira and Sakyamuni Buddha after making a comparative study of the Jaina and Buddhist canonical texts. Hermann Jacobi had the particular distinction of pointing out that Mahavira had some predecessors and that the Jaina church was older than the Buddha.



            The older generation of Indologists taught the theory of the Vedic-Brahmanic origin of Jainism and Buddhism. They maintained that these religious ideologies came into existence as a result of “The revolts against the Brahman doctrines.” The ascetic doctrines and practices of Jainism and Buddhism were believed to have Vedic origin. In other words, Jainism originated as a protestant movement within Vedic-Brahmanic tradition.

            The theory of the Vedic origin of Jainism has been widely propagated for a long time, and it has become customary to refer to Jainism as a “heterodox system. A number of assumptions are at the basis of this theory. The first assumption is that the ascetic stream of culture, the Sramana thought, developed within the Vedic-Brahmanic tradition as a reaction to sacrificial ritualism of the Vedic Aryans. Another assumption is that the Vedic culture is the earliest culture of India; the third assumption is that the earliest Upanisads are older than Jainism and Buddhism. Not only the earliest Upanisads but also some of the Vedic sutra texts are believed to be the pre-Buddhist and pre-Jinist. The institution of the fourth stage, samnyasa-asrama, is also supposed to have been established first in the Brahmanical circles. Let us briefly examine the validity of these assumptions.



            The theory of the Vedic-Brahmanic origin of ascetic culture of Sramana thought was propounded at a time when practically nothing was known about non-Aryan and pre-Vedic cultures of India. After the discovery of the Harappan Culture or the Indus Valley Civilization this theory had to be modified. The ruined cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro revealed that before the Indo-Aryans arrived in India, a highly advanced and mature culture had been flourishing in the North-West of India. Compared to this culture, the Vedic-Aryan culture appeared to be primitive. The historians of Indian culture began to revise their notion of the antiquity of Vedic culture. The coming of Aryans into India is now generally dated in about 1500 B.C. The Vedic literature and culture began to develop after this date. The Harppan Culture, however, has been placed between 2500 and 1500 B.C. Thus the pre-Vedic and pre-Aryan Harappan culture is much more ancient than the Vedic Aryan culture.

            The legacy of the Harappans has been acknowledged by several modern archaeologists. It is now generally accepted that several elements of our ancient thought and culture are of non-Aryan and pre-Aryan origin. The ascetic stand in Indian culture has been traced to non-Vedic Harappan culture complex. The reaction to Vedic sacrificial ritualism found in the later Vedic texts, such as the old Upanisads, is now known to have been due to non-Aryan ascetic influences. Many years ago Dr. G.C. Pande had expressed this view in the following words :

“It has been held by many older writers that Buddhism and Jainism arose out of this anti-ritualistic tendency within the religion of the Brahmanas. We have, however, tried to show that the anti-ritualistic tendency within the Vedic fold is itself due to the impact of an asceticism which antedates the Vedas. Jainism represents a continuation of this pre-Vedic stream, from which Buddhism also springs, though deeply influenced by Vedic thought. The fashionable view of regarding Buddhism as a Protestant Vedicism and its birth as a Reformation appears to us to be based on a misreading of the later Vedic history caused by the fascination of a historical analogy and the ignorance, or neglect of pre-Vedic civilization.”

In his epoch-making researches into the genesis of Buddhism, Dr. Pande for the first time brought to light the facts of ultimate origin of sramana thought. Earlier, Johan Marshall had demonstrated in detail the Harappan origins of the practice of yoga (asceticism) and dhyana (meditation). The views of Marshall have been generally accepted because they are based on concrete archaeological evidence. The figures of men seated in ascetic posture of meditation or standing in yogic pose have been discovered among the antiquities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Dr. L.M. Joshi has pointed out that the ascetic sculptures of Harappan origin depict the figures of munis and sramanas of pre-historic India. What Marshall and others describe as the proto-type of Siva, he describes as the proto-type of yogin or muni. Referring to the famous steatite seal from Mohenjo-daro, discovered by E. Macay and described by Marshall as “the proto-type of historic Siva,”
Dr. Joshi makes the Following observation :

“Long before the ideas of Siva, Mahadeva, Trimurti and Pasupati had come into existence in historic Brahmanism and Hinduism, there had been in pre-historic India and in Buddhism and Jainism what are called munis, Yatis and Sramanas. The Indus seal therefore should be looked upon as the figure of an ascetic of pre-Vedic Indian culture.”

            The existence of yoga and dhyana practices in Harappan culture proves beyond doubt that the sramana thought is of non-Aryan and non-Vedic origin. The appearance of ascetic ideas in Vedic Upanisads must therefore be treated as a non-Aryan influence. As a matter of fact, old Vedic ideas and ideals were not ascetic; they were opposed to ascetic culture. The beliefs and practices of Vedic brahmanas ran counter to those of munis and sramanas. The contrast between Vedic Brahmanism and early Sramanism has been elaborately discussed by
Dr. G.C. Pande and Dr. L.M. Joshi.



            The Vedic Aryan conquerors were soon conquered by the culture of the autochthonous people. Non-Aryan influences have been seen in Vedic literature and religion. The Vedic god Rudra, for example, is now believed to have been originally a god of non-Aryan people. The Vedic literature occasionally refers to the non-Aryan ascetics. The Rgveda describes a, “silent sage” (muni) who practiced austerity and meditation. He is called “long haired” (kesin) and probably lived naked (vatarasana). Other Vedic texts show that the munis either lived naked or wore tawny-coloured or ‘soiled’ (mala) garments. Keith and Macdonell have rightly pointed out that a muni

“was probably not approved by the priests who followed the ritual and whose views were essentially different from the ideals of a Muni, which were superior to earthly considerations, such as the desire for children and daksina.”

            That the munis and sramanas were known to the Vedic teachers is proved by the Brahmana texts also. These texts, however, leave no room for doubt that the beliefs and practices of munis and sramanas were against the central philosophy of Vedic brahmanas. This is made clear in the following passage of the Aitareya Brahmana :

            Kim nu malam kim ajinam kimu simasruni kim tapah !
            Putram brahmana icchadhvam sa vai loko vadavadah !!

            “What is the use of wearing dirty or kasaya garments, what use of antelope’s skin, what use of (growing) a beard, what use of austerity ? Desire a son. O brahmana, that is the only praiseworthy thing in the world.”

            This Passage shows that there were some ascetics who wore tawny-coloured clothes, kept beard and moustaches, wrapped their bodies with antelope’s hide and did not live a married household life. The disapproval of ascetic mode of life was in accordance with the Brahmanical emphasis on leading a householder’s life. But the munis and sramanas seemed to have continued their ascetic tradition outside the pale of Vedic society throughout the Vedic period. In the course of time their ideas and practices deeply influenced the sages and seers of Vedic tradition.

            It has been pointed out by several scholars that the Yoga, Samkhya, Jainism and Buddhism were originally derived from the religious tradition of pre-historic munis and sramanas. Some characteristic ideas of these systems begin to appear in old Upanisads, obviously due to the impact of munis and sramanas. Referring to the great antiquity of Samkhya-Yoga ideas, Heinrich Zimmer had made the following remarkable observation :

“These ideas do not belong to the original stock of the Vedic Brahmanic tradition. Not, on the other hand, do we find among the basic tradition. Nor, on the other hand, do we find among the basic teaching of Samkhya and Yoga any hint of such a pantheon of divine Olympians, beyond the vicissitudes of earthly bondage, as that of the Vedic gods. The two ideologies are of different origin, Samkhya and Yoga being related to the mechanical system of the Jainas, which….can be traced, in a partly historical, partly legendary way, through the long series of the Tirthankaras, to a remote, aboriginal, non-Vedic, Indian antiquity. The fundamental ideas of Samkhya and Yoga, therefore, must be immensely old. And yet they do not appear in any of the orthodox Indian texts until comparatively late-specifically, in the younger stratifications of the Upanisads and in the Bhagavadgita, where they are already blended and harmonized with the fundamental ideas of the Vedic philosophy. Following a long history of rigid resistance, the exclusive and esoteric brahmana mind of the Aryan invaders opened up, at last, and received suggestions and influences from the native civilization. The result was a coalescence of the two traditions. And this is what produced, in time, the majestic harmonizing systems of medieval and contemporary Indian thought.”

            This shows that the traditional theory of the Vedic Aryan origin of Jaina ideas and sramana thought is untenable. Jainism, Buddhism, Yoga, Samkhya and ascetic ideas of old Upanisads were inspired by the ideas of munis and sramanas who continued a very old tradition of non-Brahmanical Harappan antiquity. These ideas included the doctrines of samsara, karma, yoga, dhyana and moksa or nirvana. The legacy of the munis and sramanas formed the dominant ideas in the formation of Indian culture.

            In view of the above argument it is no longer possible to trace the origin of the institution of samnyasa to Vedic Brahmanism. It has been already pointed out by distinguished scholars that the Brahmanical theory of the fourth asrama is post-Buddhist in origin. Dr. Sukumar Dutt has also stated that “the theory of the Brahmanical ascetic being the original or proto-type of the Buddhist or Jaina religious mendicant seems scarcely tenable.” In the old Upanisads the idea of the ascetic stage or samnyasa was not recognized.

            Dr. L.M. Joshi states that the word sramana occurs for the first time in Brhadaranyaka Upanisad and it never became a word of respect in Brahmanical literature. According to him, “no Upanisad text can be proved to be pre-Buddhist in date.” He has pointed out that even the two of the oldest Upanisads namely, the Brhadaranyaka and the Chandogya, are not older than Buddha and Mahavira. He places these two Upanisads in the fifth century BC. And the remaining of the oldest upanisad between 400 and 200 BC. He draws attention to the fact that king Ajatasatru of Magadha is mentioned in Brhadaranyaka Upanisad (II. 1.1) and the kausitaki Upanisad (IV. I). This king was a contemporary of Buddha and Mahavira. A.B. Keith had also said that :

            “It is wholly impossible to make out any case for dating the oldest even of the extant Upanisads beyond the sixth century B.C., and the acceptance of an earlier date must rest merely on individual fancy.”

            The Brahmanical Dharma-Sutras which mention the fourth asrama are post-Buddhist in date. The contention of Buhler, Jacobi and Charpentier, that the Jaina and the Buddhist ascetics borrowed the rules of Brahmanical samnyasins, is therefore not correct. The institution of samnyasa was accepted by the Brahmana law-givers after the Jaina and the Buddhist institution of the monastics.



            In the study of the history of Jaina ideas, we must take due not of the Jaina myths and legends. According to the belief of the Jainas, their religion is immensely old. They have preserved a list of as many as twenty-three Tirthankaras or Spiritual Teachers who preceded Mahavira. According to this view, Mahavira was not the originator of the Jaina faith, he was a discoverer of a doctrine which had been existing from times immemorial. The list of the predecessors of Mahavira includes the following names :
            1.  Rsabhadeva           2.   Ajitanatha           3.  Sambhavanatha
            4.  Abhinandana          5.   Sumatinatha        6.  Padmaprabhu
            7.  Suparsvanatha       8.   Candraprabhu     9.  Suvidhinatha
            10. Sitalanatha           11. Sreyamsanatha     12. Vasupujya
            13.  Vimalanatha        14. Anantanatha        15. Dharmanatha
            16. Santinatha            17. Kunthunatha        18. Arahanatha
            19. Mallinatha            20. Muni Suvrata       21. Neminatha
            22. Aristaneminatha   23. Parsvanatha.

            The twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara was Mahavira, the celebrated contemporary of Sakyamuni Buddha.

            It is not possible to establish the historical existence of these teachers. But the belief in the existence of so many predecessors of Mahavira shows that the tradition claimed a great antiquity.

            Some scholars believe that Rsabhadeva, the first in the list of Tirthankaras, is mentioned in the Vedic texts. Rsabha is mentioned also in the Visnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana. It is not certain whether these references refer to a historical person. But the Jaina tradition unanimously regards him as the originator of the Jaina path to Liberation.

            Among the successors of Rasbha, the Brahmanical Puranas mention Sumatinatha. The twenty-second Tirthankara, Aristaneminatha, is related to Krsna in legends.

            Parsvanatha : About the historicity of twenty-third Tirthankara Parsvanatha, however, there is some evidence. The Jaina tradition holds that he flourished 250 years before Vardhamana Mahavira. This would suggest eighth century B.C. as the date of Parsvanatha.

            Traditional biographies of Parsvanatha tell us that he was born as the son of King Asvasena and his queen Vama in Banaras (Varanasi). He lived the life of a householder for thirty years after which he became an ascetic. Throughout a course of ascetic austerity he attained omniscience (kevalajnana). Having preached his religion for about seventy years he attained nirvana at the age of 100 years at a place called Sammeta Sikhara in Bihar.

            The teaching of Parsvanatha is called Caujjama-dhamma (Caturyama-dharma) or the doctrine of four-fold restraint. The four rules included in this category are the following : (1) ahimsa (non-Killing), (2) satya (truthful speech),
(3) asteya (non-stealing) and (4) aparigraha (non-possession of worldly goods).

            The existence of the followers of Parsvanatha in the sixth century B.C. is proved by several passages in the Pali Canonical texts. Hermann Jocobi has already drawn attention to these passages. The Pali texts refer to the doctrines of Nirgranthas. Mahavira is referred to as Nataputta (Jnatrputra) because he belonged to Nata (Jnatr) clan and his parents were the followers of Parsvanatha’s ethical tradition.

            We come across many references in the early Buddhist canonical literature to Niggrantha Nataputta (Mahavira). In the Anguttaranikaya it is stated :

“The Nigantha Nataputta…knows and sees all things, claims perfect knowledge and faith….teaches the annihilation by austerities of the old karman, and the prevention by inactivity of new karman. When karman ceases, misery ceases.

            In the Mahavagga, Siha, a lay follower of Mahavira and the General of Licchavis, is said to have visited the Buddha against the wishes of his master. He rejected the Nirgrantha doctrine of kriyavada and adopted the Buddhist doctrine of akriyavada. The Jaina doctrine of kriyavada inculcates the belief in the soul, in the world, and in the action whereas adriyavada doctrine does not include these things.

            The Principles of the lay followers of the Nirgrantha are also discussed in the Anguttaranikaya. The vow of the Jaina Sravaka is thus stated : “ I shall go only in certain fixed directions today. The other passage of the Anguttaranikaya states the vow of uposatha which means to observe the fast for twenty-four hours during which time the layman is supposed to be like a monk in thought, word and deed.

            The Samannaphala-sutta of the Dighanikaya mentions the phrase catuyama-Samvuto. This reference occurs in the course of a dialogue between Lord Buddha and king Ajatasatru where the king relates his visit to Nirgrantha Nataputta. According to Jacobi the Pali Catuyama is equivalent to the Prakrit Caujjama, a well-known Jaina term which denotes the four vows taught by Parsvanatha. As E.W. Hopkins states : “The Nigganthas are never referred to by the Buddhists as being a new sect, nor is their reputed founder Nataputta spoken of as their founder whence Jacobi plausibly argues that their real founder was older than Mahavira and that this sect preceded that of Buddhism.

            This shows that there were followers of Parsvanatha even before Mahavira started his career as a teacher.

            The preceding discussion leads us to conclude that the Jaina tradition claims a non-Vedic and pre-Vedic origin. Jainism, like Buddhism, does not accept; the authority of the Vedic revelation. The Predecessors of Mahavira were the sages of Sramanic tradition. Mahavira inherited their spiritual legacy and systematized it. The Sramanic tradition, as noted above, seems to have been connected with the yoga practice of Harappan age. Several scholars have expressed the opinion that some elements of Jainism can be traced to Indus-Valley Civilization. Thus Jyoti Prasad Jain approvingly quotes following words of Prof. S. Srikantha Sastri :

“The Indus Civilization of c. 3000-2500 B.C., with its nudity and yoga, the wordship of the bull and other symbols, has resemblance to Jainism, and, therefore, the Indus Civilization is supposed to be non-Aryan or of non-Vedic origin.”

            Dr. Hira Lal Jain has also traced the origins of Jainism to Harappan culture. Among other things, he notes the striking resemblance between a Harappan piece of stone sculpture representing a nude male with the torso of a nude male found from Lahanipur.