From the study of the epigraphs and Tamil literature of the Pallava and Chola periods, it is evident that the Chingleput, North Arcot, Pudukkottai and Madurai areas were dominated by the Jains during these periods, though every area of the Tamil country had atleast a few Jain centres.

One of the inscriptions dated about A.D. 1116 in the reign of the Chola King Kulottunga Chola I speaks of the purchase of land made by the rishi samudaya or the assembly of Jaina monks of the place for the purpose of digging a channel17. Another epigraph, dated a few years later in the reign of Vikrama Chola, refers to two transactions, on two different occasions, pertaining to the sale of lands, free of taxes for the benefit of Jaina temples18.

At Vedal, there are two hills containing two large natural caverns. Each of the caverns has a mandapam annexe. Inscriptions in the place mention a Pallava among the patrons of one of the mandapams and Aditya Chola as the patron of the other mandapam19. Gunkirti Bahatarar was in occupation of one of the caverns. His lady pupil Kanakavira Kuratti and her lady students pursued their studies in this place after his death. Kanakavira Kuratti was one of the most eminent teachers in the history of Tamil Jainism. The Chola King Maduraikonda Parakesarivarman donated gold for providing food to a devotee at Jinagiripalli.

The hill popularly called Panchapandavamalai found at four or five miles south-west of the town of Arcot. There are two large caves, one natural and another artificial. A large number of sculptures are found inside the natural cave. The artificial cave contains six cells with six pairs of pillars20. The figure of a Jina is found on the rock above the cave. The inscriptions on a rock mention about the Pallava ruler Nandivarman. In all probability, this monastery had the support of Nandivarman, though the record is in the name of the Naranan.  Before 600 A.D., some of the royal members of Pallavas were associated with the Jain religion. The inscription dated to 6th year of Simhavarman II, father of Simhavishnu and grandfather of Mahendravarman was discovered a few years ago. It mentions the grant of a village to the Jain sage Vajranandin of Nandi Sangha at Vardhamanesvara Tirtha for conducting the worship of Lord Jina21. A devayatana, dedicated to Arihants, was constructed by the mother of the Pallava overlord Simhavishnu at the village of Pulligere. This temple was meant for the use of the monks of Yavanika sangha. A Jain monastery was established in Pataliputra in South Arcot (modern Cuddalore).  Pallava rulers patronised it. It was well known in the early half of the seventh century. Trirunavukkarasu acted as the head of this monastery before his conversion to Saivism.

A feudatory chief of the Chola king, Lataraja Vira Chola by name, was a zealous adherent of the Jaina creed and is described as a worshipper of the holy feet of the god of Tiruppanmalai. This chief assigned to the god of Tiruppanmalai certain income derived from the village Kuraganpadi at the request of his queen22.

In 945 A.D, a well and house were constructed into a nummery and placed under the supervision of the “Twenty Four” of the village.  The Chola king Parantaka I donated for this construction and its maintenance23. About a dozen inscriptions in Grantha alphabet and Tamil language referring to the history of Jainism have been discovered at Tirumalai. The earliest among them refers to the reign of the Chola king Parantaka I. It registers a gift of gold made by the two residents of Kaduttalai for feeding one devotee in the Jaina temple on the sacred hill at Vaigavur24.



The Sri Kundavai Jinalaya on the holy mountain at Vaigavur was a pallichchandam (a Jaina religious endowment). The name of the Jaina temple introduced here is interesting. Kundavai was a Chola princess. She was the elder sister of the famous Chola monarch Rajaraja I, and it is suggested that the temple owed its foundation to this great lady.

Arivar koil or the temple of Arihant is a cave temple excavated in the rock. The belief prevails that the Pallava king Mahendravarman I was its author25. The earliest copper plate grant namely the Pallankoil grant of the Pallava King Simhavarman [550 A.D.] recorded the gift of a village Amanserkai renamed as Pallichchandam to the Jain monk Vajranandi of Paruttikundran.

Next to Kanchi, Madurai must have attained pre-eminence as a powerful Jain centre from the earliest times. From the early rulers of the Pandya house at Madurai till the time of Soundara Pandya, Jainism was patronised. Madran Sadiyanan, an early king of the Pandya family, figures in two inscriptions at Kalugumalai. There is evidence to show that some members of a family of feudatory chiefs of the Cholas were zealous adherents of the Jaina faith. These were Lataraja Vira Chola and his queen Lata Mahadevi figuring in an inscription of Panchapandavamalai as the donors who made a gift in favour of the god of Tiruppanmalai. An inscription at Tirumalai shows that a collateral family of Chera chiefs hailing from Kerala was under influence of Jaina law for at least some generations. Jainism received due patronage from state officials also.

A good number of inscriptions connected with Jainism, belonging to the Chola period, show that the Jains were present almost everywhere in the vast Chola Empire. The earliest Jain epigraph of the time of Imperial Cholas belongs to the reign of Aditya [871-907], and was discovered from Vedal in North Arcot district26. Paranthaka I donated a village, with two gardens and wells as Pallichchandam to the Jain teacher Vaccirasinga Ilamperumanadigal. Sundara Chola’s [grandson of Parantaka I] gift provided for maintenance of Chandranandi Bhatara.  At Tanjore, a Jain shrine was constructed with the assistance of Kulottunga.

We have an important Jain inscription of the reign of Varaguna II, which is very important from the historical point of view. This is Aivarmalai stone inscription27. The Pandyan kings Sadayanmaran and Rajashimha II are said to have endowed several Jain temples, which proves that they were Jain patrons28. Perumandur [evidently a Jain centre in the ancient period] contains a record on the pillar of the mandapa in front of the Chandranatha shrine. This is a record of the fourteenth year of the Chola king Kulottunga Choladeva III. Rajarajan Sambuvarayan granted land to the image of Yakshi.

The Jains in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D. had vast political influence in the Tamil country, especially in the Pandiyan kingdom. From the time of the Kalabhra invasion down to the period of Kun Pandya’s conversion, the Jains must have controlled the policy of the state. The holy task of Hindu revival in the south was associated with Sambandar and another great saint Tirunavukkarasar. If Sambandar brought about the downfall of Jainism in the Pandyan kingdom, Appar drove the Jains out of the Pallava country29. The methods employed by Appar and Sambandar to defeat the Jains were not only crude but also cruel. Again the Jains were subjected to further persecution at the hands of Vaigunava Alvars till the 9th and 10th centuries, and they do not seem to have enjoyed any prominence in the land.

To be continued…

Dr. D. Janaki
Reader in History,
Quaid-E-Millat Government College for Women, Chennai.

Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 2000

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