Contributed by Audrey Truschke
Two of the minority religions in Hindu-dominated India, Jains and Muslims have interacted in interesting, diverse ways for more than a millennium. Jain communities in Gujarat were among the targets of periodic attacks by Arab and Central Asian raiders from the eighth century onwards. Beginning in the 13th century, Islamic monarchs, including the Delhi Sultanates and Mughal Empire, ruled significant portions of the subcontinent. During these six hundred years, Muslim rulers and Jain subjects developed a wide range of hostile, co-operative and warm relationships.
The two religious communities first encountered one another during Muslim raids to seize wealth in the eighth to 12th centuries. More substantial relations developed during the late 13th and 14th centuries as the Tughlaqs, one of the Delhi Sultanate kingdoms, gained control over western India. During this time, Gujarati Jain monks visited the royal court at Delhi, and Jain intellectuals and merchants associated with local Islamicate elites. This range of complex connections expanded after the Mughals came to power in 1526. During the colonial and modern periods, Jains and Muslims continued to converse over religious questions, such as the practice of idol worship.
Under the Delhi Sultanates and the Mughals, Śvetāmbara Jains exerted political influence over some rulers to promote their religious values and regional interests. This influence peaked in the reign of the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, when a number of representatives from both the Tapā-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha were present at the royal court. During the rule of Jahangir, Akbar’s successor, the Jain presence at court faded, as did Jain political weight.
Other types of interactions between Jains and Muslims also flourished throughout Delhi Sultanate and Mughal rule, even after the collapse of consistent links with the political centre. Jains frequently enjoyed good relations with local Islamic officials, particularly in Gujarat, and commercial alliances prospered. Additionally, Islamicate culture stimulated Jain art and literature. Persianate influences can be found in works from Gujarat in particular. Jains also wrote a great deal about their contacts with the Mughals.
In addition to these positive connections, Muslim rulers also presided over the destruction and defacement of Jain temples and religious objects. However, Jains also suffered iconoclasm from members of other religions. Rather than link such attacks with Islam or other faiths, many Jains viewed these events as signs of the deterioration of morals in the current era, which is a time of depravity according to traditional Jain notions of the cycles of time. Only during the British Raj and later did Jains consider Muslim iconoclasm to be an idea that emerged from Islam.
Jains first encountered Muslims when the latter began raiding western India in the late eighth century. In 782 Arabs moved against Vallabhi, a rich city in Saurashtra that was a centre of Jain learning. At the start of the second millennium, the Ghaznavids of Central Asia engaged in similar activities, such as Mahmud of Ghazna, who sacked Somanatha in Gujarat in 1025 to 1026. Some Jain authors later produced accounts of this event, although they tended to focus on rivalries with Hindu sects during this period.
The campaigns in Gujarat intensified under the Ghurids, the Ghaznavids’ successors. It is uncertain how many Jain temples were harmed or destroyed during these raids, but Jain statues were carried back to present-day Afghanistan. It is likely that they were publicly displayed as war trophies there, alongside Hindu images.
Jains and Muslims initiated more substantial and varied relations during the late 13th and 14th centuries as the Tughlaqs, the third Delhi Sultanate, expanded into western India. Trade relations thrived during this period, and individual Jain and Muslim merchants often developed commercial connections. Temples and religious images were still occasionally attacked, although the extent and frequency of iconoclasm is uncertain.
During Sultanate rule, Gujarati Jain monks visited the imperial court at Delhi and gained royal decrees supporting Jain interests. Jain intellectuals also associated with local Muslim elites, particularly in Gujarat. Jains authored various texts that demonstrate the impact of ties with the Islamic world in their language, content and style.
When the Mughals rose to power in the 16th century, Jain relations with Muslims intensified. Members of several Śvetāmbara sects frequented the courts of Akbar and Jahangir. Leading monks from the Tapā-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha gained political concessions from the Mughals, including:
Jains also performed a variety of additional roles at the Mughal court, including writing Sanskrit texts for imperial figures and conducting Jain religious rituals for the royal family.
Sustained Mughal relations with Jain ascetics ended during Jahangir’s reign, although Jain authors wrote about their imperial affiliations for several more decades. The tastes and practices of the Mughal court and broader Islamicate culture also continued to impact Jain writings and art.
Jains also engaged with the Mughals in other ways. Jain merchants forged connections with imperial officials well into Aurangzeb’s rule in the second half of the 17th century. Perhaps unwillingly, they even bankrolled certain state operations, such as Murad Bakhsh’s 1657 bid for the imperial throne while he was governor of Gujarat.
Commerce also remained one of the main areas in which Jains interacted with Muslims beyond the imperial elite. Business dealings prospered and may have helped to foster amicable relationships.
Although Digambaras do not appear to have established direct connections with the Mughal elite, they were highly aware of political developments. They wrote about the Mughals in Sanskrit and vernacular texts, such as Rayamalla's Jambū-svāmi-carita and the memoirs of Banārasīdās. Muslim disapproval of public nakedness seems to have made it risky for Digambara monks to practise traditional nudity in some locations. This may have boosted the institution of the bhaṭṭāraka, Digambara clerics who wore clothes and lived in monasteries.
Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, third Mughal Emperor of India from 1556 to 1605. Akbar's long reign is often thought of as beginning the peak of the Mughal Empire, as it grew and became rich and powerful, witnessing a cultural and intellectual flowering, and degrees of religious tolerance.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
The sixth Mughal ruler extended the empire to its largest, controlling most of the Indian subcontinent at one point. He took the title of Alamgir – ‘Conqueror of the World’ – and reigned from 1658 to 1707.
Sankrit term meaning 'pontiff'. This title is given to a type of Digambara clergy who are not mendicants. Instead of practising the 'wandering life' – vihāra – of Jain monks and nuns, a bhaṭṭāraka stays in one place, living in a kind of monastery called a maṭha. There are several bhaṭṭārakas in south India, who lead the local Jain community.
Formally recognised leaders within a religion. The clergy often perform rituals, lead worship and instruct believers in religious principles. Lay men and women usually complete formal study before being initiated into the clergy. Clerics are active among lay believers, often living in society. They may have specific roles or ranks and may progress through a hierarchy to become top leaders of the religious organisation.
Series of Muslim dynasties that ruled portions of northern and central India from 1206 to 1526.
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
Turkish dynasty based in Central Asia from 977 to 1186, which periodically controlled parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Central Asian dynasty that established the Delhi Sultanate in 1206.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
From the Greek for 'image-breaking', iconoclasm is hostility towards items of religious or political importance, which may lead to their destruction. Iconoclasts hold iconoclastic beliefs.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
The monotheistic religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the sixth century CE. A believer in Islam, which means ‘peace’, is a Muslim, ‘one who submits to God’ in Arabic. Islamic practices and beliefs are based on the Qu’ran and the hadiths or stories about the Prophet Muhammad. A diverse faith, most Muslim sects accept the Five Pillars of Islam:
Term for cultural patterns and practices that are common in Muslim societies but are not overtly religious in nature. In contrast, the adjective 'Islamic' often refers to things directly connected with the religion of Islam.
Nur-ud-din Salim Jahangir, Mughal ruler of India from 1605 to 1627. A great patron of the arts, Emperor Jahangir was also tolerant of the many faiths of his subjects.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century.
The Mughal Empire lasted from 1526 to 1858, a period noted for its wealth, overall religious tolerance, and cultural and intellectual achievements, particularly in art and architecture. Originally Muslims who swept down from Central Asia, the Mughals' best-known ruler is probably Akbar the Great (1556–1605).
Generally considered founder of the religion of Islam (approximately 570–632), who converted the Arabian peninsula into a Muslim region. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the last and greatest in a line of prophets, who reformed a corrupt tradition. The complete word of Allah or God was revealed to Muhammad and set down in the Arabic Qur’an or ‘recitation’.
Youngest son of Shah Jahan, Murad Bakhsh lost the Mughal throne to his brother, Aurangzeb, and was executed in 1661.
Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.
A Muslim, or ‘one who submits to God’ in Arabic, follows the religion of Islam, which means ‘peace’. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last in a line of prophets. The complete word of Allah or God was revealed to Muhammad in the sixth century CE and set down in the Arabic Qur’an or ‘recitation’. Nearly all Muslims belong to either the Shia or Sunni sects, with Sunni Muslims comprising around 90% of Islamic believers.
The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.
Term for the period before the 'modern' age, which began around the 1500s in Western Europe. The pre-modern era was characterised by general belief in the divine and a strong sense of tradition and social order. In contrast, the modern period witnessed the spread of:
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
One of the dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate, the Tughlaqs ruled much of India from 1320 to 1414.
The wealthy city of Valabhī – now Vallabhi – in Gujarat was a major centre of Jain intellectual life in the early medieval period. The final version of the Śvetāmbara canon was written down there under the supervision of the religious teacher Devarddhi-gaṇi Kṣamāśramaṇa in the fifth century CE.
The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.