Jainism in Western India
Jainism had very close relations with western India, that is, Gujarat and Kathiawar, where we find the largest concentration of the Jainas at present. Here on the Mount Girnar in Junagarh district, Lord Neminath, the 22nd Tirthankara of the Jainas, attained salvation. Here in the Council of Jaina ascetics held at Valabhi in the year 993 after Lord Mahavira, that is, in 466 A.D., the Jaina canon was, for the first time, reduced to writing. Just as south India is the stronghold of Digambara Jainas, similarly, west India is the center of activities of Svetambara Jainas.
Regarding the migration of Jainas to these parts of India, it is thought that the migrations must have taken place by 300 B.C. from Eastern India. In this connection the Cambridge History of India has given the following conclusion:
“From the facts that the Jainas tell us something about the regions of Chandragupta Maurya and his son Bindusara but at the same time they have practically nothing to tell about the reigns of Ashok and his successors in East India and that the division of the Jaina Church into two great sects of the Digambaras and Svetambaras had probably begun after the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. It is concluded that the Jainas were probably already at this time, i.e., 300 B.C., gradually losing their position in the kingdom of Magadha, and that they had begun their migration towards the western part of India, where they settled and where they have retained their settlements to the present day.”
Jainism flourished in Gujarat during the days of Rastrakuta monarchs, many of whom were devout Jainas, and it received a further fillip at the hands of that veteran Jaina ruler Vanaraja of Chavada family. About 1100 A.D., Jainism gained a great ascendancy when the Chalukya king Siddharaja and his successor Kumarapala openly professed Jainism and encouraged the literary and temple building activities of the Jainas.
During the days of Baghelas in the 13th century A.D. Jainism received patronage through the hands of Vastupal and Tejapal, the two famous Jaina ministers of the time. They were responsible for constructing the beautiful temple-cities at Satrunjaya, Girnar and Abu.
Afterwards, even though Jainism did not receive the royal patronage as before, still it continued to hold its position and the numerical and financial strength of Jainas gave their religion a place of honor which is acknowledged even to this day.
As in Gujarat, in the region of Maharashtra also the Jaina religion had settled and flourished from ancient times. In Jaina religion the siddha-ksetras, that is, the places from where Jaina saints and great souls had attained salvation, are considered sacred and ancient places of veneration and such siddha-ksetras are found at as many as four places in Maharashtra, that is, at Gajapantha (Dist. Nasik), Mangi-tuni (Dist. Khandesh), Kunthalgiri (Dist. Oosmanabad) and Muktagiri (Dist Amraoti). In this connection it is worthwhile to note that such a siddhaksetra is not there in the entire area of south India. Further, it is evident from ancient Prakrit Jaina literature that Lord Mahavira the 24th Tirthankar, had visited the Marathavada region of Maharashtra during his religious propagation tour of different parts of India. Moreover, in Jaina religion the mountain-caves and cave-temples are considered more ancient and sacred and in northern India such Jaina caves are found only in Udayagiri and Khandagiri hills in Orissa. But in Maharashtra such ancient cave-temples, in developed forms, are found at Ellora (Dist. Aurangabad), Ter (Dist. Oosmanabad) Anjaneri (Dist. Nashik) and at many other places in the interior areas. In this respect it is asserted from recent archaeological researches that out of total number of Jaina caves and cave-temples in India. Maharashtra has got the largest number, that is more than 75 percent. Again, it is pertinent to note that from ancient times the seats of respected Bhattarakas, that is, religious heads, and their mathas, that is, monasteries were located at different places in Maharashtra like Kolhapur and Nandani in western region. Later in Marathavada region and Karanja and Nagpur in Vidarbha region in Maharashtra. Similarly it is quite clear from literary evidences that from ancient times most renowned and influential Jaina saints like Acharya Samantabhadra. Virasena, Jinasena and Somadeva were intimately connected with Maharashtra also and had composed their sacred works and literary masterpieces in this region. Furthermore, it is remarkable to find that before the advent of Muslim rule in Maharashtra, continuously from the 3rd century A.D. the powerful ruling dynasties like the Satavahanas of Paithan. Chalukyas of Kalyan, Rastrakutas of Malakhed, Yadavas of Devagiri and Silaharas of Kolhapur and Konkan had extended their royal patronage, in a large measure to Jaina religion.
As a result we find that the Jainas and the Jaina religion had a prestigious position in Maharashtra during the ancient and medieval periods. The same position is continued to the present day and in this regard it is pertinent to note that the largest proportion of Jaina population in India today is found in Maharashtra. According to 1981 Census of India, out of the total Jaina population of 32,06.038 in India, the largest number of Jainas, viz. 9.39,392 are in Maharashtra and next to Maharashtra the population of Jainas in other states is Rajasthan (6,24,317), Gujarat (4,67,768), Madhya Pradesh (4,44,960), Karnatak (2,97,974), Uttar Pradesh (1,41,549) and Delhi (73,917). It means that out of total Jaina population in India the largest, that is, 29.3 percent Jainas are in Maharashtra followed by 19.5 percent in Rajasthan, 14.6 percent in Gujarat and 13.9 percent in Madhya Pradesh. In other words, as many as 43.9 percent of the total Jainas in India are concentrated in western India comprising the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. It is thus evident that western India is the stronghold of Jaina religion.