Article: Studying Jainism

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Textual studies

Scholarly examination of Jain texts can be divided into several groups, according to the approach taken.

Research into texts in Jain studies

Types of studies

Jain texts

Leading scholars

editions and critical editions of Jain scriptures

  • Hermann Jacobi
  • Ānandasāgara-sūri
  • Muni Puṇya-vijaya
  • Muni Jambu-vijaya

descriptions and translations

Śvetāmbara canon

  • Albrecht Weber
  • Jacobi

historical formation of and distinction between various textual layers

investigation of various layers of commentary

Jain commentaries on the canon

  • Ernst Leumann
  • Indian editions of the works

discovery of major narrative works in Prakrit reflecting the earlier stage of narrative literature

  • Vasudeva-hiṇḍī
  • Samarāiccakahā
  • Kuvalayamālā

translations of major narrative works

Hemacandra’s standard books on Jain Universal History:

  • ­Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣa-caritra
  • Pariṣiṣṭa-parvan
  • Helen M. Johnson
  • Johannes Hertel

translations and studies centring on major scriptures

Tattvārtha-sūtra

  • Jacobi
  • Pandit Sukhlalji

investigation of debates among different monastic orders

  • Padmanabh S. Jaini – Gender and Salvation, 1991
  • Paul Dundas – Scripture and Controversy, 2007

Language studies

Dr Adinatha Neminatha Upadhye (1901–1975) was a distinguished scholar of Jain studies, who worked primarily on Prakrit texts. He spent the last part of his career as the first professor of the Department of Jainology and Prakrit at Mysore University

A. N. Upadhye
Image by unknown © unknown

Many Jain scriptures, especially those dating back to the early period, are written in various forms of Prakrits, not in Sanskrit. The foundation study for these languages is Richard Pischel’s 1900 Grammatik der Prakrit Sprachen (Grammar of the Prakrit Languages), later translated into English and Hindi.

Texts produced by the Digambara sect are associated with the later form of Prakrit called Apabhraṃśa. Some Apabhraṃśa Prakrit works were edited in Europe between 1918 and 1937 by Hermann Jacobi and Ludwig Alsdorf. But later on, all the editions and tools were produced in India, especially by A. N. Upadhye and Hiralal Jain. Beginning in the 1970s, Western academics in France and Belgium – at the University of Ghent – have again turned to this rewarding area of study. They have worked on Digambara authors such as Yogīndu and on the Apabhraṃśa versions of the Rāmāyaṇa.

Although overwhelming in quantity, the rich Śvetāmbara Jain literature in Old Gujarati has almost exclusively been the focus of interest of Indian scholars, whether monks or lay people. They are usually native to the region and have first-hand knowledge of the language. Western scholars are exceptions in this area thus far.

Studies of Jain art

A wall of Jina figures dating from the 8th to 9th centuries. Cut into the rock face at the cave temple at Kalugumalai in Tamil Nadu, these images nearly all depict the 24 Jinas.

Carvings of Jinas
Image by Jennifer Howes © CC BY-NC 3.0

The scholarly study of Jain art is a relatively new field and mainly falls into the two areas of:

  • temple architecture
  • manuscript painting of western and central India.

There are hundreds of Jain temples in India and they are often distinctively Jain in terms of their style and architecture. However, Jain temples display enormous variation too, demonstrating technical development over the centuries and incorporating local styles and materials. Significant examples of Jain temples that have inspired academic exploration include:

  • cave temples, with famous examples at Ellora and Badami
  • the important temple complexes of central India such as Khajuraho and Deogarh
  • the temple-cities of Shatrunjaya and Girnar
  • the impressive temples at Mount Abu and Ranakpur.

Paintings in manuscripts have always been one of the main ways of transmitting religious knowledge among Jain communities. Prominent work in this field of study has been completed by Indian scholars who had direct access to the material preserved in temple-libraries, such as Muni Puṇya-vijaya, U. P. Shah, Moti Chandra and Saryu Doshi. But the three books published in the 1930s by the American scholar W. Norman Brown remain the essential reference works on manuscript illustrations of the three major texts of the:

Development of this trend in Jain studies has been favoured by important events among the Jain community. Examples include the celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the final liberation of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina in 1974 and the thousandth anniversary of the consecration of the colossal Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola in 1981. These events have created an increased awareness of the richness of Jain heritage, and have been the starting point of art books published in India.

Initially, there tended to be many more studies of the Jain art of western and northern India than of south India. More recently, this has been balanced by various projects such as:

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