In the political history of
India in ancient times, East India figured more prominently than any other
part of India. From the middle of the seventh century B.C. the kingdom of
Magadha, the modern south Bihar, had assumed the position of the
recognized political center of India. As Lord Mahavira happened to belong
to this part of the country, we find that many kings, chiefs and masses
gave their full support to Jainism.
The Saisunaga Dynasty
King Chetaka, the most
eminent amongst the Lichchhavi princes and the ruler of Vaisali, the
capital of Videha, was a great patron of Jainism. He gave his sister,
princess Trisala, in marriage to Siddhartha, to whom Lord Mahavira was
born. As king Chetaka was related to lord Mahavira and as Lichchhavis are
often mentioned in the Jaina literature, it is supposed that practically
all Lichchhavis were the followers of Jaina religion.
In the Saisunaga dynasty
(642-413 B.C.), Bimbisara or Srenika and Ajatasatru or Kunika were the two
important kings who extended their full support to the Jaina religion.
Both Bimbisara and his son Ajatasatru were the near relatives of Lord
Mahavira, in whose contact they frequently came, and hence the Jainas
believe that they did belong to the Jaina religion for a considerable
period in their life-time.
The Nanda Dynasty
The Nandas (413-322 B.C.)
who were the successors of Saisunagas in Magadha, were, according to the
inscriptions of king Kharavela of Kalinga, the followers of the Jaina
faith because the inscriptions speak of King Nanda I who led a conquering
expedition into Kalinga and carried off an idol of Adi-Jina, that is, the
first Jaina Tirthankar Lord Adinatha or Rsabhanatha. Dr. Vincent Smith in
his 'Early History of India' also mentions that the Nandas were Jainas.
The Maurya Dynasty
The Jaina tradition, which
is ancient in origin and is referred to in subsequent ages down to the
present day as well-known and authentic, asserts that Emperor Chandragupta
Maurya (322-298 B.C.), the founder of the Maurya dynasty, turned Jaina and
that he abdicated the throne, joined the Jaina migration led by Acharya
Bhadrabahu to the South. became the chief disciple of Bhadrabahu, by
entering the ascetic order of Jaina monks and died in a Jaina way (i.e. by
observing the vow sallekhana or peaceful death) at Shravanabelagola
after leading a life of Jaina ascetic for twelve years. This tradition is
now accepted as true by famous historians B.L. Rice and Vincent Smith.
Regarding the early faith of Emperor Ashok (273-236 B.C.) it is maintained
by some historians that he professed Jainism before his conversion to
Buddhism. The famous edicts of Ashok are said to reveal this fact.
Further, according to Ain-i-Akbari, Emperor Ashok was responsible for
introducing Jainism into Kashmir and this is confirmed by the
Rajatarangini, the famous work depicting the history of Kashmir. Many
other reasons are also given in support of this contention.
Emperor, Samprati, the
grand son and successor of Ashok, is regarded the Jaina Ashok for
his eminent patronage, and efforts in spreading Jaina religion in east
Like Magadha, the kingdom
of Kalinga or Orissa had been a Jaina stronghold from the very beginning.
It is asserted that Jainism made its way to South India through Kalinga
only. Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankar, visited Kalinga and preached
Jainism to the people, who already belonged to the Jaina Sangha, as
organized by Parsvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankar. It is worth a mention that
in the second century B.C. Kalinga was the center of a powerful empire
ruled over by Kharavela and that he was one of the greatest royal patrons
of Jaina faith. It is further contended that even after Jainism lost the
royal patronage it continued for a long time as a dominant religion and
that this is testified by the famous Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang (629
A.D.) when he says that in Kalinga "among the unbelievers the most
numerous are the Nirgranthas (i.e., Jainas)."
Jainism had its influence
in Bengal also. Hiuen Tsang states that in Pundravardhana and Samatata,
that is, in western and eastern Bengal the naked ascetics called
nirgranthas are most numerous. Even now Jaina relics, inscriptions,
idols, etc., are found in different parts of Bengal. Even the name 'Vardhamana'
is given to one district in Bengal. In this connection it has been pointed
out that the indigenous people of western Bengal known as 'Saraka' are the
Hinduised remnants of the early Jaina people. Again, in some parts of
Bengal Jaina idols are worshipped as the idols of Hindu deity Bhairava. In
short, the influence of Jaina religion on the customs, manners and
religions of Bengal is very much visible even at present.