Article: Jains and the Mughals

Contributed by Audrey Truschke

Jain relations with the Mughals began under the third emperor, Akbar. Jains from multiple Śvetāmbara sects, especially the Tapā-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha, visited the royal court for a variety of reasons. Jain leaders often gained political concessions from the imperial elite that advanced their religious and community interests. Some monks also participated in the cultural life of Akbar’s court, such as taking part in religious debates.

During the reign of Akbar's successor, Jahangir, relations between Jains and the Mughal court became rocky and ceased altogether by the 1620s. Nonetheless, outside imperial circles, contacts between Jains and Muslims remained generally affable, and commercial dealings prospered. Persian influences from Mughal painting can also be detected in Jain art of this period, especially that produced in Gujarat.

Digambara Jains do not appear to have visited the imperial court or to have had direct contact with the Mughal elite. But Digambara thinkers were highly aware of the Mughals and responded to their growing imperial power in both material and literary ways.

Akbar and the Jains

This illustration from the 'Akbar-nāmah' shows the Emperor Akbar on a black horse, after his 1572 conquest of Surat in Gujarat. During Akbar's long reign, Jains were frequently prominent at court and were often able to advance Jain interests

Akbar enters Surat
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum, London © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Mughal Emperor Akbar met members of three Śvetāmbara communities. The resulting encounters were highly varied and include:

  • political negotiations
  • religious debates
  • the bestowal of titles
  • the production of Sanskrit texts for the Mughals.

Modern historians have still not taken due notice of the diverse roles that Jains played at the Mughal court.

In the 1560s, Padmasundara of the Nāgapurīya Tapā-gaccha sect was the first Jain to visit the imperial court, then at Agra, in modern Uttar Pradesh. While there he crafted a treatise on Sanskrit aesthetic theory at the emperor's request, titled Akbara-sāhi-śṛṅgāra-darpaṇaMirror of the Erotic for Emperor Akbar. There is little additional information regarding Padmasundara’s time at court, except that he left behind a small library upon his death. Akbar later gave the books to Hīravijaya-sūri of the Tapā-gaccha. After Padmasundara, no more Nāgapurīya mendicants appear to have pursued relations with the Mughals.

Following Gujarat's absorption into the Mughal Empire in the 1570s, Śvetāmbara Jains in the region built up cordial relations with the ruling power. The Tapā-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha both developed significant imperial connections during the 1580s to 1610s. Though they often performed similar functions or even worked together at court, the sects also competed for Mughal edicts granting control over Shatrunjaya, a contested pilgrimage site in Gujarat.

Jains generally celebrated their leaders' close imperial ties and associated influence on Mughal rulers. Even so, there was some disquiet at the notion of Jain mendicants, who renounce worldly matters for spiritual progress, attending the court of an earthly king.

Akbar and his son Jahangir bestowed Sanskrit and Persian titles on members of both monastic lineages as marks of favour. Akbar also interfered with the ascetic ranks of both the Tapā-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha. He promoted ascetics to new positions – signified by titles, such as sūri – on several occasions. Members of the Jain community accepted the emperor's active role, but they often insisted on having the current head of their sect perform the rituals necessary to fomally recognise the change in status.

Tapā-gaccha contacts

This painting from an Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows monks preaching to lay men. The monks are of the Digambara sect even though their white robes resemble those of Śvetāmbara monks. Each monk sits on a dais and holds a scripture in a scroll. The books

Preaching monks
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Members of the Tapā-gaccha cultivated extensive connections with the Mughal elite. After Hīravijaya-sūri established relations in 1582, Tapā-gaccha monks were continuously present at the imperial court for 30-odd years. They asked for numerous political concessions from the Mughals and also participated in court life. Tapā-gaccha writers generally lauded these fruitful ties but also sometimes felt uncomfortable with the idea of ascetic monks attending a worldly court.

Hīravijaya-sūri, the leader of the Tapā-gaccha, first met Emperor Akbar in Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, in 1582. According to Sanskrit and Gujarati hagiographies, Akbar summoned Hīravijaya from Gujarat after hearing about the monk’s legendary wisdom and religious devotion. The Mughal takeover of Gujarat in 1572 to 1573 also provided political incentives for Jains from the region to build imperial relations. Hīravijaya travelled on foot to meet the Mughal king and remained at court for a few years along with several of his disciples.

While at court, Hīravijaya successfully asked the emperor to issue numerous farmāns – imperial decrees – promoting Jain interests. These included:

Several Tapā-gaccha monks frequented the Mughal court during the following decades seeking similar political concessions. Sanskrit texts narrate the imperial experiences of certain prominent figures, including:

  • Bhānucandra
  • Vijayasena
  • Siddhicandra.

Kharatara-gaccha contacts

Jains of the Kharatara-gaccha sect were not as numerous at the Mughal court as Tapā-gaccha ascetics. However, their relations with the ruling elite were also largely agreeable, and they too gained political favours for the Jain faith.

In the 1580s Kharatara-gaccha followers began frequenting Akbar’s court. Successive leaders of the sect, Jinacandra and Jinasiṃha, both visited the Mughal king, along with powerful lay members such as Karmacandra, a minister of Bikaner in Rajasthan.

Although they were not as successful as their Tapā-gaccha counterparts, Kharatara-gaccha Jains sought comparable imperial orders. Similarly, they wrote about their experiences in Sanskrit and vernacular texts.

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