Contributed by Audrey Truschke
The three centuries of the Delhi Sultanate witnessed the growth of varied encounters between Jains and their political rulers.
The Delhi Sultanate was a succession of short-lived Islamicate dynasties that ruled from Delhi beginning in 1206, controlling varying portions of north India. Many of these sultans or kings were of Central Asian descent and spoke Persian. The last of the Delhi Sultanates was overthrown by the Mughal Empire in 1526.
At times the Delhi Sultanate used temple destruction against Jain communities as a way of establishing political power. But overall the two communities experienced largely good relations. Śvetāmbara mendicants visited the royal court and gained decrees that advanced Jain interests, such as tax concessions for pilgrimage centres. Trade connections between the two groups blossomed, and Jain traders were even known to sponsor the construction of mosques for their Muslim business partners.
The early Delhi Sultanate rulers occasionally engaged in temple destruction, which had been a political strategy of both Islamic and Hindu kings in India for centuries. Śvetāmbara and Digambara communities alike experienced raids. For example, the key Gujarati pilgrimage site of Shatrunjaya suffered desecration in 1313. In the 15th century, a bhaṭṭāraka in Rajasthan distributed a thousand images across the subcontinent to replace those harmed by Islamic attacks. Jains often viewed these incidents as part of the degradation of the age rather than as religious conflicts.
The sultanates also used parts of ruined Jain temples in their own building projects, such as the Quwwat al-Islam mosque near the Qutb Minar. However, the extent and meaning of such reuse remains heavily debated today.
Despite occasional temple damage, Jains and Muslims generally associated on friendly terms during Delhi Sultanate rule. Strong trading relationships developed between members of the two communities, particularly in Gujarat. These business connections also extended to cultural and political favours.
In the 13th century, Jain merchants already enjoyed good relations with Muslims. For instance, Jagaḍū was a 13th-century merchant from Kachchh, Gujarat, who frequently did business with Muslims. Many details of his life are recorded in the 14th-century Sanskrit biography by Sarvānanda, entitled Jagaḍū-carita – Acts of Jagaḍū. Jagaḍū’s work occasionally raised ethical issues, such as when he profited from animal products that involved violence against living beings. One of the key Jain values is non-violence. Nonetheless Jagaḍū and other Jain merchants forged successful commercial connections with Muslims. They even subsidised the building of mosques in Gujarat for their trading partners.
The Islamic presence increased in western India after Alauddin Khalji’s generals raided Somanatha in Gujarat in 1299. The next few decades witnessed the spread of Sultanate rule in Gujarat, which prompted Jains and Muslims to interact more frequently and amicably. In one instance, Khalji soldiers aroused local resentment by damaging some Jain temples at the pilgrimage site of Shatrunjaya in 1313. Good relations were restored when a Patan merchant and the local Khalji governor jointly financed the temples’ repairs.
Jain traders flourished during Khalji rule both in Gujarat and Delhi. Thakkar Pheru may have been the first Jain to gain a prestigious position at the royal court in Delhi, where he was charged with caring for precious stones and minting coins in the Khalji treasury. Thakkar Pheru also served in this position under Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq.
During the 14th century, a monk from the Kharatara-gaccha sect named Jinaprabha-sūri visited the Islamicate court in Delhi. There he met the sultan, Muhammad bin Tughlaq, several times. Jinaprabha personally described these encounters in his Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – Guidebook to Various Pilgrimage Places. Jinaprabha converted his imperial influence into royal favours for the Jain community, beginning a pattern continued by Jain monks who gained political support from Mughal rulers.
In their first meeting, Jinaprabha impressed Muhammad bin Tughlaq with his eloquent poetry and sharp debating skills. The Tughlaq ruler rewarded Jinaprabha and his companion, Jinadeva, with many gifts, a lavish ceremony and a formal order granting protection to all Śvetāmbara Jains.
In later meetings, Jinaprabha secured:
Jinaprabha eventually left the court and headed south. He may have subsequently come across Muhammad bin Tughlaq on the road and accompanied the sultan on a military campaign. A contemporary of Jinaprabha narrates these later events.
Many Jain authors retold Jinaprabha’s experiences at the Tughlaq court, often with creative embellishments. For example, a Prakrit collection of stories called Vṛddhācārya-prabandhāvalī – Accounts of the Eminent Teachers – narrates that Jinaprabha exorcised a demon from Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s wife. An undated prabandha work changes the sultan to Firuz Shah, Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s successor, and claims that Jinaprabha nearly converted the Muslim ruler to the Jain faith.
This same text also questions the appropriateness of ascetics visiting a royal court. Mendicants renounced earthly concerns upon their initiation, and kingly courts were hubs of worldly affairs. This tension was a common issue for Jain monks who had relations with rulers of all religious faiths.
Sultan of Delhi from 1296 to 1316 and second ruler of the Khalji dynasty.
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.
Scientific instrument invented in Ancient Greece that uses the position of the stars and planets for many purposes, such as navigation, calculating time and reading horoscopes. Muslims brought astrolabes to India during their rule of the subcontinent.
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
Series of Muslim dynasties that ruled portions of northern and central India from 1206 to 1526.
A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.
Third of the Tughlaq sultans, who ruled from 1351 to 1388. He focused on promoting infrastructure rather than military expansion.
Founder of the Tughlaq dynasty, one of the Delhi Sultanates, in 1320. He ruled until 1324.
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.
The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:
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.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
(1261–1333) Kharatara-gaccha monk famous for writing Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – Guidebook to Various Pilgrimage Places. He also visited the court of the Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.
Literature, in either Sanskrit or an Indian vernacular language.
Second dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, which ruled from 1290 to 1320.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
Islamic place of public worship. Most mosques have facilities for ritual washing before praying and a mihrab or niche in the prayer hall, indicating the direction of Mecca, which Muslims face when they pray.
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).
Second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty, from 1325 to 1351. He expanded Tughlaq control across much of the Indian subcontinent and shifted the capital to Daulatabad in the Deccan.
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.
A small town in Gujarat that was a capital city in medieval times, a Jain centre of learning and art with beautiful temples. Some of these and remains of other structures can be seen today. Old name: Aṇahilla Paṭṭaṇa.
A widely used language in northern India for around seven hundred years, developed in modern south-western Iran. Used for administration and literary works in areas ruled by Islamic regimes across northern India, it became associated with culture, education and science, and was the official language of the Mughal Empire. Persian influenced other languages in India and was gradually supplanted by English and Hindustani – the forebear of modern Hindi – in the 19th century.
A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.
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.
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Title for a ruler in some Muslim societies.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. 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.
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.