Jainism in South India
It is now an undisputed fact that Jainism entered into Karnataka and south India during the days of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya when Bhadrabahu, the distinguished leader of Jainas and the last of the Jaina saints known as sruta-kevalis, after predicting twelve years famine in the north India, led the migration of the Jaina Sangha to the South. Thus it is stated that the Jaina history in the South commences from the 3rd Century B.C. as according to all Jaina authors the death of Acharya Bhadrabahu took place in 297 B.C. at Shravanabelagola. But in this connection it is strongly asserted from further historical researches that this Bhadrabahu tradition is the starting point of a revival and not the commencement of the Jaina activities in south India and hence regard that Bhardrabahu was in fact the rejuvenator of Jainism in south India. In this regard, it is argued that if south India would have been void of Jainas before Bhadrabahu reached there, it is least conceivable that an Acharya of Bhadrabahu’s status would have led the Jaina sangha to such a country and for the mere sake of dharma-raksa, that is, protection of religion. Again, in this relation various archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence are brought forward to prove the antiquity of the Jainas in south India and it is asserted that Jainism had reached south India long before Sruta-kevali Bhadrabahu.
In any case Jainism prevailed in south India in 3rd Century B.C. and it continued as a popular faith for more than one thousand years of the Christian Era and it is significant to note that up to the 14th century A.D. Jainism played an important role in the history of south India.
The Kadamba Rulers
The Kadamba rulers of Banavasi (from the 3rd to the 6th Century A D.) were essentially Brahmanical in religion. Yet the royal Kadamba family gave a few monarchs who were devout Jainas, and who were responsible for the gradual progress of Jaina religion in Karnataka Eventually Jaina religion became a popular religion in the Kadamba Empire.
The Ganga Rulers
The Ganga Rulers (350 to 999 A.D.) of Talakada in Karnataka patronized Jaina religion to a great extent. In fact the Ganga kingdom itself was a virtual creation of the famous Jaina saint Acharya Simhanandi and naturally practically all Ganga monarchs championed the cause of Jainism.
The Chalukya Rulers
During the reign of Chalukya Rulers of Badami in Karnataka (500 to 757 A.D.). the Jaina religion was more prominent and many Jaina Acharyas were patronized by Chalukya kings including Pudakesi II.
The Rastrakuta Rulers
Many of the Rastrakuta emperors and their feudatories and officers were staunch Jainas and hence the period of Rastrakutas of Malakheda in Karnataka (757 to 973 A.D.) is considered as the most glorious and flourishing period in the history of Jainism in the Deccan.
The Western Chalukya Rulers
From the 10th to the 12th century A.D. the Western Chalukya rulers of Kalyan in Karnataka regained their ascendancy after the fall of the Rastrakutas and preferred to show the same liberal attitude to Jainism which the Kadambas, the Gangas and the Rastrakutas had shown.
The Hoyasala Rulers
The Hoyasala rulers during their reign from 1006 to 1345 A.D. over their kingdom of Halebid in Karnataka did strongly extend their support to Jaina religion. In fact like the earlier Ganga kingdom, the Hoyasala kingdom in the 11th century also owed its creation to a Jaina saint by name Acharya Sudatta. Further it has been specifically reported that many of the Hoyasala kings and their Generals extended their patronage to Jainism and that they very carefully looked after the interests of the Jainas.
Kalachuri of Kalyan
In addition to these major dynasties and their rulers it has been emphasized that the Kalachuri rulers (from 1156 to 1183 A.D.) of Kalyan were Jainas and naturally in their time Jainism was the state religion.
On the same lines the Alupa kings of Tuluva (i.e. modern South Kanara district of Karnataka) showed leanings towards Jainism and the inscriptions reveal that Jainism was patronized by these Alupa kings. Further, Jainism was the state religion of the minor states of Punnata of the Santaras, the early Changalvas, and the Kongalvas, as testified by their inscriptions. Similarly, the Rattas of Saundatti and Belgaum and the Silaharas of Kolhapur were Jainas by religion.
Thus from early ages various royal families came forward as champions of Jainism and it is no wonder if their example was followed by their feudatories.
In Andhra and Tamilnadu
In the far South, Tamilnadu discloses traces of Jaina domination almost everywhere and on many a roadside. a stone image of Tirthankara may be seen either standing or sitting cross-legged. From the ancient and important sangama literature and other archeological and epigraphic sources it is evident that Jainism flourished in the Tamil country from the earlier times intelligible with our present means. Jaina epigraphs have been discovered in Anantapur, Bellary, Cuddapah, Guntur, Krishna, Kurnool, Nellore, North Arcot, South Kanara, and Vizagapattam districts of former Madras Province. These Jaina epigraphs and other Jaina relics clearly indicate the larger vogue that Jainism once had in that part of the country.
Thus the whole of south India comprising the Deccan, Karnataka, Andhra and Tamilnadu was a great stronghold of Jainas, especially Digambara Jainas, for more than one thousand years. Apart from the provincial capitals, Shravanabelagola in Karnataka was the center of their activities and it occupies the same position even up to the present day.
Jainism, however, began to decline in south India from the 12th century due to the growing importance of Srivaisnavism and Virasaivism.