Article: Studying Jainism

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Indian centres of Jain research

The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) is a government-sponsored centre in Pune, Maharashtra. Set up in 1917, the institute now has around 30,000 Indian manuscripts, including a few thousand Jain manuscripts

Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
Image by Joy1963 – Jayanta Bhattacharya © CC BY-SA 3.0

There are several centres of Jain research in modern India. Among them are the Jain Vishva Bharati in Ladnun, Rajasthan and the Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Institute of Indology in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The former was created by the sect of the Terāpanthins under the impulse of Ācārya Tulsi while the guiding force behind the latter was Muni Puṇya-vijaya.

When a Jain lay scholar and a monk join their efforts, the result is a new journal, Anusandhān (Research). Founded in 1993 by Harivallabh C. Bhayani and Vijay-shila-candra-suri, the journal features editions or new editions of short Jain literary works in Sanskrit, Prakrit or Gujarati, among other things. This is only one instance meant to show how various Jain groups work for a better knowledge of their tradition in a scholarly perspective.

In Indian universities, the study of the Jain literary tradition is carried out in departments of Sanskrit or of Prakrit. The approach is therefore more similar to studies of languages and literatures than that of religious studies. Examples of departments that run degree courses are found in the Gujarat University in Ahmedabad and the University of Udaipur or the University of Madras in Chennai.

A special case is the Jain Vishva Bharati University in Ladnun, Rajasthan. It is closely associated with the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin monastic order but offers programmes in academic fields beside Jain studies.

An instance of a government research institution of great importance is the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, in Pune, Maharashtra. This boasts one of the largest collection of Jain manuscripts and a staff of professors or researchers who specialise in Sanskrit and Prakrit.

Research into Jainism is also performed in institutes managed by private trusts. Featuring prominent members of the Jain lay community, these members have a say in the governing rules and in the predominantly sectarian orientations of the organisation. Both centres of research and repositories of resources, these private institutions may number about 50.

Several institutions are oriented towards Śvetāmbara research and are detailed in the table.

Major centres of Śvetāmbara research in India

Institution

Location

Activities and resources

Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology

New Delhi

  • manuscript library
  • publication of a specific collection of books
  • organisation of seminars

Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Institute of Indology

Ahmedabad, Gujarat

  • manuscript library
  • publication of a specific collection of books
  • publication of the Sambodhi journal in English, Hindi and Gujarati
  • organisations of seminars
  • the L. D. Institute is a national centre affiliated to the National Mission for Manuscripts and has a special section for manuscript preservation and cataloguing
  • the L. D. Museum, in an adjoining building, holds an important collection of Jain artefacts – statues, manuscripts and monastic equipment that belonged to Muni Puṇya-vijaya, and the N. C. Mehta Collection of paintings
  • Muni Puṇya-vijaya, a Śvetāmbara monk, was the leading force in establishing these institutions.

Mahavir Aradhana Kendra

Koba, near Ahmedabad in Gujarat

  • manuscript library
  • publication of books
  • Jain museum

Parshvanath Vidyashram Research Institute

Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh

  • manuscript library
  • publication of books
  • publication of the Śramaṇ journal in Hindi and English

Others tend to focus on research into Digambara Jainism, and are given in the following table.

Major centres of Digambara research in India

Institution

Location

Activities and resources

Apabhramsa Sahitya Academy

Jaipur, Rajasthan

  • manuscript library with an important collection of Digambara items
  • organisation of seminars and courses

Bahubali Prakrit Vidyapeeth

Shravana Belgola, Karnataka

Publication of journal Prakrit Teerth: Quarterly Journal of Prakrit Studies.

Kundakunda Bharati

Mehrauli, near Delhi

Publications of books in Prakrit, Hindi or English

Resources for studying Jainism

A Jain temple-library holds sacred books, individually wrapped and labelled. The rice on the table in front is an offering left by worshippers. Jains consider their scriptures to be holy objects, with books often the focus of religious rituals.

Jain holy texts
Image by Malaiya © CC BY-SA 3.0

The Jains have a long tradition of keeping manuscripts of holy texts and other writings in libraries attached to temples. The physical artefact of a manuscript and the content are venerated independently in the Jain faith, with festivals among the different sects that are dedicated to both individual texts and to the concept of knowledge. These customs mean that there are several thousands of manuscripts in the temple-libraries across India. Some of these are in a poor state, since these often centuries-old documents may be kept in storage conditions that do not protect them against ravages of the climate and insect life.

However, original manuscripts have increasingly been preserved in accordance with international curatorial standards. The modern centres of research in India often have significant collections of manuscripts that are the focus of scholarly exploration.

Many manuscripts have also been purchased by foreign scholars, private collectors and public institutions. The proportion of foreign-held manuscripts is a matter of speculation, as a good number appears to be in private hands and therefore does not feature in the catalogues of institutions such as museums. The early Western scholars of Jainism frequently bequeathed their private collections to universities and museums, which provided the foundation of several prominent public collections. These collections are usually in good condition, though cataloguing is patchy. This is partly because many manuscripts were acquired before the establishment in Western academia of Jainism as a tradition separate from Buddhism and Hinduism and thus they were often miscatalogued.

In addition, printed resources are also significant sources for Jain scholars. Books printed in India and elsewhere both publish research and provide material for fresh investigation. Increasingly, Jain texts and other resources are being put online. The use of the internet to store and access all kinds of material enables professional scholars and interested amateurs to examine items that are physically remote and share their findings. Several professionally produced websites of Jain material can be found online as well as countless other Jain-oriented sites on the world wide web.

Jain manuscript collections outside India

It is likely that many countries outside India have at least a few Jain manuscripts, while some countries have good collections. A world-level inventory or survey is out of reach here for the following two reasons:

  1. many private collectors have Jain manuscripts of which nothing is known
  2. there are numerous public collections for which no list is available or is not available outside the holding institution.

This section is preliminary. It will have to be enriched by the feedback of curators, private collectors and so on. It does not include Jain manuscripts in Asian countries or New Zealand, for which information is not readily available.

However, the European collections are probably the richest holdings of Jain material outside India. North America boasts large numbers of manuscripts and other artefacts, a large proportion of them in private hands.

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