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.
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-darpaṇa – Mirror 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.
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.
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:
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.
City in modern-day Uttar Pradesh. One of the capitals of the Mughal Empire, Agra contains many fine examples of Mughal architecture, including the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal.
The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.
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 doctrine or belief that there is no God.
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.
Feat of concentration in which someone focuses on numerous things at the same time.
From the Persian for 'market', a bazaar is a permanent indoor market or shopping area.
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.
A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.
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.
'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.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
Persian term for an imperial order or decree.
The 'City of Victory' established by Emperor Akbar as the new Mughal capital in 1571. In 1585 the Mughals abandoned Fatehpur Sikri and moved the capital to Lahore. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this city near Agra in Uttar Pradesh also contains the tomb of Salim Chishti.
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Biography of a saint or holy figure. Hagiographies are often more focused on idealising the subject than providing an accurate historical account.
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
(1527–1596) Leader of the Tapā-gaccha sect, whose learning and devotion impressed the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Influenced by Hīravijaya, Akbar issued proclamations supporting Jain values, such as banning animal slaughter during the Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ.
Second Mughal emperor, who first ruled from 1530 to 1540. He was deposed by Sher Shah Suri and eventually regained his kingdom in 1555, but died the following year.
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.
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
The five vows taken by ascetics. Monks and nuns must follow these ‘absolute’ vows of:
The 24th Jina Mahāvīra added a fifth vow to his predecessor Pārśva's four, making the vow of celibacy not just implicit but a separate vow.
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.
The doctrine or belief that there is only one God.
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).
Youngest son of Shah Jahan, Murad Bakhsh lost the Mughal throne to his brother, Aurangzeb, and was executed in 1661.
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 Śvetāmbara group separate from the main Tapā-gaccha sect.
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.
A widely used language in northern India for hundreds of 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.
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
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 sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
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.
Prince Khurram was given the title of Shah Jahan – 'King of the World' – by his father, Emperor Jahangir. Succeeding in 1628, he became the fifth Mughal emperor and ruled until 1658, when his son, Aurangzeb, imprisoned him. Shah Jahan presided over the zenith of Mughal architecture, including the Taj Mahal, built in honour of his dead wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He died in 1666.
Wealthy Jain merchant and member of the lay community in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, who died in 1660.
A title for the leader of a religious order among the Śvetāmbaras. It is a higher position than ācārya.
'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 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.
The systematic study of God or religion, including doctrine, practice and spirituality.
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.
A highly decorated formal letter inviting a leading monk of a certain monastic group to spend the next rainy season in a certain place. Sent by lay people, the vijñapti-patra is a speciality of the Śvetāmbara Kharatara-gaccha and Tapā-gaccha communities.
Head of the merchant guild and a leading lay Jain in Surat, Gujarat. He was a rich and influential businessman, involved with early English trade in western India. Virji Vora died in 1675.
High-ranking minister or adviser to the ruler in an Islamic state.