Jaina tradition & archaeological evidence

From some historic references it can be regarded that Rsabha-deva must be the founder of Jainism. In this connection Dr. Jacobi writes ” There is nothing to prove that Parsva was the founder of Jainism. Jaina tradition is unanimous in making Rsabha, the first Tirthankara, as its founder and there may be something historical in the tradition which makes him the first Tirthankara “. There is evidence to show that so far back as the first century B.C. there were people who were worshipping Rsabha-deva. It has been recorded that king Kharavela of Kalinga in his second invasion of Magadha in 161B.C. brought back treasures from Magadha and in these treasures there was the idol, known as Agrajina, of the first Jina (Rsabha-deva) which had been carried away from Kalinga three centuries earlier by king Nanda I. This means that in the 5th century B.C. Rsabha-deva was worshipped and his statue was highly valued by his followers. As we get in ancient inscriptions, authentic historical references to the statues of Rsabha-deva, it can be asserted that he must have been the founder of Jainism.

Other archaeological evidences belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age in the India also lend support to the hoary antiquity of the Jaina tradition and suggest the prevalence of the practice of worship of Rsabha- deva, the 1st Tirthankara along with the worship of other deities. Many relics from the Indus Valley excavations suggest the prevalence of Jaina religion in that ancient period (3500 to 3000 B.C.)

  1. It is observed that in the Indus Valley civilization there is a great preponderance of pottery figures of female deities over those of male deities and that the figures of male deities are shown naked. In this regard Dr. Earnest Mackey, the renowned Archaeologist intimately connected with the Indus Valley excavations, mentions that ” for some reason which it is difficult to understand, figures of male deities in pottery are distinctly rare. They are entirely nude, in contrast with the female figures, which invariably wear a little clothing; necklaces and bangles, may be worn, but this is by no means always the case “. This fact clearly reveals the traces of Jaina religion among the Indus Valley people as the worship of nude male deities is a very well established practice in Jaina religion.
  2. For example, we find that the figures of six male deities in nude form, are engraved on one seal and that each figure is shown naked and standing erect in a contemplative mood with both hands keeping close to the body. Since this kayotsarga way (i.e. in standing posture) of practicing penance is peculiar only to the Jainas and the figures are of naked ascetics, it can be maintained the these figures represent the Jaina Tirthankaras.
  3. Again, the figures of male deities in contemplative mood and in sitting posture engraved on the seals resemble the figures of Jaina Tirthankaras because in these the male deities are depicted as having one face only, while, the figures of male deities, supposed to be the prototypes of Lord Siva, are generally depicted as having three faces, three eyes and three horns.
  4. Moreover, on some seals we find the figure of a bull engraved below the figure of a nude male deity practicing penance in the kayotsarga way, i.e. in a standing posture. These figures appear to be the representation of Rsabha-deva, the 1st Jaina Tirthankara, because of the facts that among the Jainas there is an established practice of depicting the lanchhana, i.e. the emblem of each Tirthankara below his idol and that the emblem of Rsabha-deva is a bull.
  5. In addition, the sacred signs of swastika are found engraved on a number of seals. It is pertinent to note that the swastika signs engraved on seal No. 502, 503, 506 and 514 exactly resemble the established Jaina and Hindu practices of drawing swastika signs.
  6. Furthermore, there are some motifs on the seals found in Mohen-jo-Daro and it is suggested that these motifs are identical with those found in the ancient Jaina art of Mathura.

From these archeological evidences it can be stated that there was the prevalence of worship of Jaina Tirthankara Rsabha-deva along with the worship of the Hindu God who is considered to be the prototype of Lord Siva in the Indus Valley Civilization. This presence of Jaina tradition in the earliest period of Indian history is supported by many scholars like Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji, Gustav Roth, Prof. A. Chakravarti, Prof. Ram Prasad Chanda, T.N. Ramchandran, Champat Rai Jain, Kamta Prasad Jain and others. Dr. Zimmerman strongly supports this antiquity of Jaina tradition in the following terms. “There is truth in the Jaina idea that their religion goes back to remote antiquity, the antiquity in question being that of the pre-Aryan”. (Vide Zimmerman : The Philosophies of India, p.60).