Some Aspects of  Jaina Asceticism and its Vestiges In South India

By Mr. I. K. Sharma


Digambara Jainism has kept us strict ascetic codes and the ritual observaces continued unaltered inspite of the tremendous growth in the activities of Jaina sangha in south Indian. Ascetic life lends purity, uniqueness and unsullied fame to Jainism among Indian religions. Jain scriptures lay three modes of sallekhana, that is voluntary starvation, standing motionless till death.

  1. Bhakta patyakhyan - a person selects a holy solitary place spreads a bed of straw and puts up bravely with all physical aliments, gives up food and drinks. Even the limbs are not allowed to move.

  2. Ingita marana - a person lies on a bare ground, permitted to move the limbs, walk if tired of lying, sitting and standing but should not take food.

  3. Padapogamana - a person neither stands motionless like rock without food and water till death, no care of body nor takes help from other ascetics.

The last observance is the most difficult of all. Masena a sang of supreme glory strictly observed this vow of padapogamana right of parsvanatha basadi at sravanabelgola in the 7th century a.d. during the 7th - 8th centuries a.d. nearly 59 cases of ascetic deaths are found recorded in the inscriptions. Instead of sallekhana epigraphs used the terms samadhi and sanyasana which are synoymous to the above three Jaina modes of asceticism. In practice, jaina asceticism in a planned process of self mortification lasting from few days to year in some cases as the records at sravanbelgola reveal. The postures adopted are also severe - paryankasana or kayotsarga etc. the vratas envisage severing worldly bonds, emotions, renunciation off all aides of physical existence, total subjugation of all senes, confession of all mistakes and meditation under the guidance of a guru graduated fasting (from soli to fatty to liquid and none ultimately), nudity irrespective of sex and giving up all kinds of desires to live or die, renunciation of food and water shelter, pain and punishment, cold and warmth till one meets the end of the body(antargata kevali).

I Nisidhis : These are memorials raised for a Jaina who died after observance of the rituals sallekhana and samadhi. They marked such places where the ascetic breathed his last or where his body is cremated or bone relic was buried. Nisidis (its variants nisadhi, nistinge) were held in high respect. Pratistha and puja were performed at these sports 5 . In jaina text we find mentin of raised platforms ( Vedikas ) for monks who observed voluntary deat.

Although contextually and by faith different, the jaina nisidhigals found at Sravanabelgola, Bastipura and Arhatpalli, on bare rocks or boulders are like the memorial galleries with epitphs immortalising the names of monks, their scholastic merits or the stage they attained in sainthood so well documented at the contemporary kanheri, near Bombay. The most illustrative and distinct type among the nisidis of the Ganga period in karnataka is the stele sculputed and inscribed which depicts King Nitimarge-1(869) dying. This is form doddahundi, now in Bangalore museum (PL.I) however, the earliest nisidi comes from belvatte (My sore) raised at the instance of Ganga king sripurusa for one mahaprabhu gopayya who died observing samdhi. Several nisidis of jaina asscetics and acaryas who performed sanyasana and samdhi-marana were know right from seventh century A. D. on sravanbegola hills. In many early examples one cannot be certain of their antiquity and specific assignment. Besides acaryas and kings, the Jaina memorials are erected from women also who died observing the rite of sanyasa. 

Sravanbelgola: Distt. Hassan, Jaina Memorials : Sravanbelgola in channaraya Patna taluk is about 96 Kms. North of my sore, boasts of its hoary antiquity and the mulasamgha of this place ruled supreme over the entire south from circa 6th century A.D. in particular the hill called chandragiri or chikkabetta, the smaller but spacious hill has a large number of basadis, nearly 16, besides various jaina memorials. This is nearly eight more basadis within the lush green village plains and -Kolanus around.

This chikkabetta is also called ketavapra in Sanskrit and kalvappu or kalbappu in kannada inscriptions because of the holy samadhi guddas of Jaina risis, according to the earliest incriptions on this hill seven hundred risis accomplished samadhi. These were raised between early seventh to eighth century A. D. and represent the earliest relics of Jaina faith at this palace. A portion of the hill was, therefore, called risigiri. All the bastis are within a rubble-walled enclosure of 152 x 69 metres built during odeyar's time. 

Chandraprabha (natha) basadi is behind the chamundarya basadi and is regarded as the oldest jinalaya at sravanbelgola. The rock inscription near the parasvatha basadi on chandragiri hill, which narrates the legend of bhadrabahu-chandragupta, also reveals the death of Jaina ascetic prabhachandra by samadhi, on the rock10. This is the earliest known record. Outside the enclosure on the south- eastern slope of the hill never the grove of campaka trees, is a shallow cave named after bhadrabahu, which enshrines the footprints of this great teacher. On the peak of this hill a foot incised along with an inscription below stood for the observance of padapogamaana, the most difficult form of sallekhana wherein bhadrabahu stood motionless like a rock without food and water until death. This heralded the spread of Jainism in south india11.

It is said that maurya Chandragupta continued to live on this hill worshipping the foot print of bhadrabahu, his preceptor and died offering sallekhana. In course of time nearby 700 risis accomplished samdhimarana here according to a seventh century A. D. inscription. The word nisidhi or nisidita meant both a place ant the posture chosen by the person under the vow of sallekhana12 or more appropriately ingini-marana. The seventh ascetic rite of samlekhanament death by voluntary starvation standing erect in kayostarga posture, giving up the body to the care of panchabhutas. Nisidis are found all over doddabetta hill (sravanbelgola) either in the form of footprint inscribed around or us pillar or separated stelle enclosed in the form of foot-prints incribed around or us pillar or separate stele enclosed in the mandapas or basadis. Ganga marasimha is stated to be the patron of several mana-stambhas and bastis but the record does not mention the word specifically nisidi, so we can safely conclude that the kuge-brahmadeva pillar (PL, 2) was erected at chikkabetta after his death which took place at bankapuara in the dharwar district. So samadhi-marana at a holy place was not a precondition for the erection of a nisidi. According to an estimate, nearly a hundred nisidies were fount a sravanbegola, the establishment of nisidis was more frequent between sixth sixth-seventh century A. D. nearly 21 belong to this period. Ninteen12 more example belong to the late ganga phase, the rest extending right upto 16th century A. D. samadhimarana was confined mostly to saints, the total break up is as follows:

'Twenty six sanyasis, seven kantiyars and two sravaakas'.

2. Bastipur : District My Sore, Jaina Site : This place is known for its Jaina Nisidi inscriptions14 referring to the teacher pushpanandi. The site was explored once again by M. S. Krashna murti15, who brought to light an important Jaina settlement at this place. True to the name of village Basti or basdipura, the hillock, has huge granite out-crops with flattish bouldery surface of 100x33 meter atop the hill.

The quarrymen cleared some area and 'it was to their astonishment they found beautifully carved out footprints of a man with inscription surrounding them. It reads bhatarara sri padakke panada gorave rayavara' to the auspicious feet of bhatara panade gorave rayyavara. A nishidi16 was also caused at sravanbelgola to this very same acaryas panada goraava who seems to be identical with panada bhattaraka mentioned in the sravanbelgola nisidi record of eighth century A. D.

3. Arhatpalli : District Bellary, Nisidis : Less then 2 km. West of Araballi18 (also called yaraballi) in harpanahalli taluk, a kannada inscription of seventh century A. D. over a granite boulder furnishes us that several jaina ascetics had given up there mortal coils through the performance of sallegana vrata. These records can be ascribed to pulakesi ll's time. The hillocks here, like the sravanbelgola ones were prominent Jaina resorts for a long period, as justified by its arhatpalli.

4. Doddahundi : District Mysore, Nisidi : Doddahundi, 8 km. From T. Narasipur, taluk town has an incribed and sculptured stone stele, which reached the government museum, banglore (PL!). The inscription records 19 the death of the king nitimarga 'I' permanadi (853-869) who was a staunch Jina virtually bhagvat arhada bhattarka caranara vinda yugala madhupaya mana manasah, a 'bee at the pair of the louts feet of the arhat bhattaraka' jinasena, the writer of adipurana20. This kalnadu was raised by his son satyavakya permanadi and came to extence some time during 869-870 soon after the death of the king.

The sculptured part is set within a squarish panel whose border is marked with tounges of flames suggestion the death of a great king. The whole scene matches with the seriousness the death of a great king. The whole scene matches with the seriousness of the occasion. The king nitimarga is show sinking in the couch, a double pillow at the head and attended by his personal guard, agarayyaa. His warrior son (with sword and dagger), satyavakya permanadi, himself is standing behind the head with a personal indicating his position. Two other parasols relate to the king and all three have festoons. The face of the dying king is claim, dignified and serene in contrast to the agitated and somewhat agonised looks of the other two members of the royal household.

Begur : District Banglore Nisidi : Begur appears to be a sacred jainaplace also during this period. Several acaryaas performed ascetic rites. Nagaattara's daughter tondabbe ended herb life performing the vow of sanyasana21. Another records from the Begur fort refers to the Ravikanta siddhanti22, a Jaina acarya. Another Jaina teacher kumaranandi bhatara is also found mentioned (BN-95)

Vijayamangalam : District Erode, Nisidi : Pullava (ppa) the younger sister of chamundaraya (978) the great minister of Ganga king rajamall-4, died performing this rite and a slab was set up within the chandranatha basti at Vijaymangalam. The dead sravika pullavva is show on the upper niche seated in padmasana with folded hands. (PL.3) The other three facets of the stele contained the incription23 in grantha and Tamil relating to the nisidika. The village is celebrated birthplace of Jaina grammarian pavanadi, author of Nannul.

Asandi & Kadur : Nisidis : Both these places appear to be Jaina centres of great significance during the late phase. There was a Mulasthana-basadi at Asandi, in kadur taluk and prince vijayaditya. Son of the king sripurusa was holding charge of sandinaadu. A female devotee named vijikka hailing from dvaravanti (Dwarka in Gujarat) gave up her life in penance ans a nishidigal24 was raised during the time of king marasimha-3, which is dated in sake 883(991).

Another unique Jaina memorial (stone pillar) at the fort gate at kadur25, a taluk headquarter is important. This was raised for pambabbe, the elder sister of Butuga-2 (971). She was disciple of gunachandra bhatara of desigana, kundakundanvaya. She made her head bald by plucking out the hair, a Jaina vow observed by aryika and performed penance keeping the five vows for thirty years and died. Pambabbe tolevaridu muvattuvarisam tapamgeydaydam thirty year and died. Pambabbe tollevaridu muvattuvarisam tapamgeydaydam nont uchchhama- thanam eridar. The nisidi was raised by her three sons, each of whom inscribed his devotion, separately on the faces of the stone thus26

"Svasti- yama- svadhayaya 
Dhyana monanushtana parayane
Yarappa sri pambabbe kantiyar
Ayidam nont uchchhama - ttanameridar"

Almost of the same period is another memorial pillar from varuna27 (Nisidige-staambha), erected in Honour of the Jaina kanti gangakula. She is affiliated to tuganvaya and surashtha-gana and practicing sayasanevidhi mediating on the pancaparamesthis (aydannontu) voluntarily terminated her life (Suparaya sanyeydu) and obtained urdhavaloka. A special class of nuns in the monastic order was called kanti.

II. Mana-Stambhas : The set up of freestanding pillars alike is a honey practice. We have standing examples of dharma-stambhas set up by Ashok maurya, which were buddhiastic. Examples of dharma-stambhas set up by Ashok maurya, which were buddhiastic. In the earlier periods instances like the garuda-dhwajas at Besnagar, datable to 2nd century B.C. and more frequently later on the dhvaja-stambhs in front of Brahmanical temples at Nagarjunakonda Bhumara, aihole and ellora etc. are well known. From the beginning of the tenth century, the Ganga kings erected mana-stambhas frequently in front of the Jaina basadis.

These freestanding pillars called Brahmadeva-stambhas and Mana or Indra stambhas constitute a specialty. Among such examples the kuge-Brahmadeva column on Chandragiri hill; Tyagada Brahmadeva pillar at vindhyagirii, both in Sravanbelgola, the tall mana-stambha at Kambadahalli, are best known specimens of this class.

Sravanbelgola Kuge-Brahmadeva Pillar (Pl.2) : This stood at the south entrance of chandragiri hill. This is a lofty pillar with an image of Brahmadeva on the top its abacus facing east. This pillar commemorates the death of the great Ganga king Marsimha iii relinquished the sovereignty, observed the vow for three days, worshipped at the holy feet of Ajitsena Bhattaraka at Bankapura and accomplished samadhi-marana. We might compare this to the mana-stambhas at humcha29 (Mysore). The pillar stands on a high platform of three tiers- the lowest one broad and squarish, the middle one octagonal and the upper circular. The pithas are held by eight elephants each oriented towards the diks and vidiks, but now only a few remain in situ. Lions are show in between the middle tier which possesed the representation of asta-dik-palakas with retinue and musician. The column is square at the bottom octagonal mid-section with sixteen facetted kattus intermittently. The upper capital parts include as in the Mana-stambha at Kambadahalli, an elongate Kalsa, tadi, octagonal kumbha and a flat rectangular phalaka over which is the seated Brahmadeva. Unlike the kambadahalli stambha the lower part has the lengthy inscription on its four faces.

Tyagada Brahmadeva Pillar (Pl.4) : The tyagada-brahmadeva pillar on doddabetta30, height of 2.30 meters was erected in the frontage of the enclosure leading to the colossal Bahubali. It has a small gopura on top with kalasa as the crown. Inside is a seated figure of Brahmadeva. The four side of the pavilion on top contain Jaina figures facing the directions. This is an exquisittely carved pillar erected by chamundaraya as the inscription on its northern sideshow. Its shaft port ion has a bold scroll of fine bell-shapped flowers and creepers, as if in a carpet, very intricately carved in deep relief. The round shaft is over a square lower rectangular part within a bordered frame are figures of a seated seated chamudaraya, his guru Nemichandra (author of gomattasara), both seated over a high adhishthana (actually a lion throne) flanked by chouri-bearers. Nemichandra is receiving some object from chamudaraya through the right hand, while the left is in abhaya. Chamundaraya's queen is it the rear. The typical bun-shapped hair knows its Ganga as in the hiregundaklal hero-stones.

The basement carries trifold mouldings, the central kantha held by elephants at the corners and lions in between with the fore - paws raised. This ia a mana - stambha with a pavilion covering it. It might be noted that some of these columns have nothing to do with brahma31 and the name may have been derived from bhrm meaning to wander around.

Mahprusa Gommata : Larger than any know eqyptian statues, this jaina iconographical coloss measured 17.5 meters high from head to toe. Nude, standing erect in the Khadgasana pose with broad sturdy shoulders, long arms with triple coiled keyuras, massive at root (ajanubahu) dangling on the sides. The half -closed and wide contemplative eyes gazing the tip of the noise, the picked up large eye-brows, slightly projected and dimpled chin, the neck and the throat bearing trirekha (the three line of beauty), longlobe ears, the voluted ringlets like the peel of a custard apple, the dakshina vatra curls all 90 to enhance the grace charm and sublime stance of this colossal image. Conceived as the mulanayaka of a hypaethral temple, this gaintly human exhibites all the mahapurusa lakshanas, indeed he is a bahubali.

The greatest and noblest achievement of Rajamalla - 4 (974-975 A. D.) and his minister, the virtuous Jina, Chamundarya was set up of this gommata. Chamunaraya did mahamastakabhisheka (981 A. D.) to this monolithic giant of fulfill the cherished desire of his mother. Another version is that gommateshwara was caused after the sallekhana of rajamalla-4 at that very place to commemorate his death. Chanundaraya caused Gullakayaji and erected it in front of gommatesvara, as his patron diety Kushmandini Yakshi appeared before him in the garb of an old woman and blessed the successful performance of the abhishek.

Never before nor afterwards, Karnataka reached such great heights in religious and literary achievements. Verily the period of Rajamalla-4 and his great minister chamudaraya can be scribed in golden letters for the posterity32.



Author : Mr. I. K. Sharma ( 1994 ) Director ( Antiquities ), Archaeological Survey of India, Janpath, New Delhi. At. Preseent Director Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad-500002

Source : Arhat Vacana, Published By Kandakunda Jnanapitha, Indore
January 1994 Issue


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