Article: Jains and the Delhi Sultanate

Contributed by Audrey Truschke

Cultural impacts on Jains

Colossal Jinas cut into the cliff. These 15th-century Digambara statues may have been designed to survive the world's end. Their nakedness offended Emperor Babur, who ordered them to be destroyed. But they were only mutilated and some later repaired.

Figures of Jinas
Image by YashiWong © CC BY-SA 3.0

During the Sultanate period, relations with Muslims had notable effects on the Jain cultural sphere. Jains wrote about various features of the Islamicate world and began incorporating aspects of Persianate culture into Sanskrit texts. In addition, Jains responded in material forms to the Islamic practices they encountered.

Jains authored numerous texts that emerged from their exposure to Islamicate traditions. For example, the monk Jinaprabha has been attributed with as many as three works that use Persian extensively. The Śāntināthāṣṭaka remains enigmatic but is described as a 'Persian-language citrakāvya'. The other two texts are:

  • a one-stanza Persian praise to a Jina accompanied by a commentary
  • an 11-verse hymn to Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina.

Scholars have fruitfully analysed these works to show that, though written grammatically in Persian, they also conform to Sanskrit metrics. Therefore these two works have a peculiar position as truly cross-cultural projects.

Jains also produced various technical treatises that reflect their ties with Islamic culture. In 1365, Salakṣa crafted the first bilingual Sanskrit–Persian dictionary. Entitled Śabda-vilāsaPlay of Persian – it was sponsored by a regional Rathod ruler in Gujarat. The Jain monk Mahendra-sūri spent time at the court of Firuz Shah Tughlaq and authored the first Sanskrit treatise on astrolabes, called Yantra-rājaKing of Instruments – in 1370. His pupil, Malayendu-sūri, added a commentary to the work in 1382.

Jains were also responsible for some of the earliest historical kāvyas that feature Muslims as major actors. For example, Nayacandra’s Hammīra-mahākāvyaGreat Poem on Hammira – written around 1420, describes Alauddin Khalji’s military exploits in Rajasthan. Like many of his contemporaries, Nayacandra presents Islamic military victories as part of the inevitable depravity in the Jain conception of cyclical time.

Beyond texts, scholars have suggested that certain Jain building projects were also responses to Islamic authority. For instance, Digambara Jains carved a series of colossal statues of the Jinas at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, in the 15th century. These monumental images may have been designed to survive the end of the world, which was being ushered in by Islamic rule.

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