Life: Family, Caste, Date, Sect and Works

Life: Family, Caste, Date, Sect and Works


In India, philosophers, poets and writers always stood for system and subject-matter.  They never cared for their name and fame.  They rarely mentioned their name, parental heritage, education, time etc, in their works.  Umasvati is not exception to this tradition.  In the prasamaratiprakarana, neither in the beginning nor in the end, he mentions his name though, this work is recognized right from the beginning as a work of Umasvati.  But, fortunately Tattvarthasutra-svopajnabhasya, which is now accepted as a work of the same author, in its ending colophon (Prasasti) gives some important information about the family, heritage, teachers and spiritual initiators of our present author.  From these verses of the colophon we learn that he was born in Nyagrodhika village, he belongs to the Kaubhisaningotra (parental lineage), Svati was his father’s name and his mother was Uma of the Vatsagotra3.  His vidyaguru (teacher) was Sri Mula, who was a Vacakacarya and who has as his guru, Sri Mundapada-a mahavacaka ksamana,4 whereas his spiritual initiator (Diksaguru) was Sri Ghosanandi, well-versed in 11 angas and a disciple of Sri Sivasuri, a Vacakamukhya of great renown.5 He was also called Nagaravacaka,6 Sri Madhavacarya, presenting Arhatadarsana in his work Sarvadarsanasangraha, calls him as Umasvati Vacakacarya7.  It seems that Vacaka is honorable title added to his name.  This title shows his profound scholarship in Purva literature.8 He was so popular writer that later writers and commentators of Jaina literature mention him by mere Vacaka of Acarya9.  Another important point is that in olden days, there was a class of teachers known as Vacakavarga.  These Vacakas were the great Scholars of Agamic literature and capable of imparting Agamic knowledge on others.  Umasvati was belonging to this class of Vacakas.


The word ‘Vatsisuta’- son of a female descendent of Vatsa, mentioned by Umasvati himself in the colophon of Svopajnabhasya indicates that he was a Brahmin by birth.10 His mother’s Gotra was Vatsa.  Vatsagotra is as old as Brhadaranyaka Upanisad.11 Prof.  McDonnell and Keith rightly pointed out that Vatsiputra-son of a female descendent of Vatsa, a the name of a teacher mentioned in the last Vamsa (list of a teachers) of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, as a pupil of Parasariputra according to Kanva recension, as pupil of Bharadvajiputra according to the Madhyandina.12 Bhatta Bana and Vatsyayana were belonging to this Vatsagotra.  Asvalayana in his Srautasutra mentions two branches of Vatsagotra.  We learn from the Bijolia Inscription that some of the Brahmin kings of the 9th and 10th century were belonging to this gotra.  This was the gotra of the Chahamanas.13 Kubhisana14 gotra of Umasvati’s father; implies that he was a son of saivabrahmin.  Sri Gunakarasuri, (15th A. D.= 1426 V. S.) commenting on 11th verse of Bhaktamarastotra clearly states that Umasvati was a convert from Saiva Brahmin sect.15 Another important point in support of this argument is that it was un-usual for Jainas to have profound knowledge of non-Jaina Schools of thought in the classical period.  Umasvati’s mastery over Sanskrit language and familiarity with the concept of Brahmanical Schools of thought, especially with Nyaya-Vaisesika, Sankhya-Yoga, Ramayana and Mahabharata, shows that he was probably a convert from the Brahmanical faith.  We also learn from the early History of Jaina literature that most of the Jaina masters were learned Brahmins.  In Acaranga (Which is the earliest Agama) the auster Mahavira is addressed as a great Brahmin (Mahana).  It is from the beginning of Kalpasutra that Mahavira is known as Ksatriya, on account of possibility of dominance of the Ksatriya caste in society.  All the great Ganadharas were Brahmins by birth. So, it is quite possible that Umasvati was also Brahmin by birth before canversion to Jaina faith.

Date of Umasvati is still a controversial problem in the history of Jaina literature.  Very little is known about the exact date of the present author.  The colophon at the end of Tattvarthasutra-svopajnabhasya is not useful in fixing the date of Umasvati.  Scholars are not unanimous in fixing the date of Umasvati.  His date ranges between the 2nd and 5th centuries of the Christian era.  Dr. Satiscandra Vidyabhusana, thinks that Umasvati flourished in 2nd A. D. (1-85 A. D.)16 Hartmut Piper and Dr. Suzuko Ohira assigned the 5th century A.D., as the date of Umasvati17.  A careful study of his works revels that he was familiar with the Sankhya system, Yoga sutras and bhasyas, Nyaya-Vaisesikasutras, which are known to have been composed prior to the date of great Vijnanavadi Buddhist Vasubandhu who flourished in the middle of the 5th century A.D. Umasvati in his works clearly distinguishes the Jaina concepts, from the Sankhya systems, Nyaya-vaisesikasutra and Abhidharma Kosa of Vasubandhu.18 It seems that Umasvati and Vasubandhu were contemporaries in the 5th century A. D.19


Umasvati was so great personality that Digambaras and Svetambaras, the two major sects of Jaina community claim that he belongs their sect.  Digambaras believe that Umasvati was a pupil of famous Digambara Acary-Kundakunda.  Digambara Pattavali mentions Umasvati as the sixth Diagmbarasuri of the Sarasvatigaccha between Kunda-Kunda and Lohacarya II.20 He was also called Grddhrapiccha and Umasvami in the Digambara tradition.21  We learn from one of the Sravanabelagola Inscriptions (1433-A. D.) that there was some speciality in Umasvati being called Grddharapiccha.22 Digambaras believe that, Tattvarthasutra is the only work written by Umasvati.  They reject outright other works attributed to him.  Even Svopajnabhasya on T. S. is not accepted by them as a work as a work of the same author.

Svetambaras believe that Umasvati belongs to their faith.  They attribute T. S. and Svopajnabhasya and many other minor works to Umasvati.  Their claim is justifiable on many accounts.  The rock inscriptions of Sravanabelagola in which Umasvati was mentioned as Digambara, were all composed after 11th or 12th century A. D. Whereas in certain Svetambara texts23 written by Siddhasenagani (7-8 A. D.), Jinadasamahatara, (7. AD) Haribhadrasuri (8 A. D.), Abhayadevsuri (10th A. D.).  which are earlier that Sravanabelagola rock inscriptions, we find that, Umasvati was recognized as Svetambarite and, author of T. S. with Svopajnabhasya, Prasamaratiprakarana and many other small treatises.  Sri Haribhadrasuri of 12th A. D. (other than Yakinisunu-Haribhadra) clearly states in his commentary on Prasamaratiprakarana that Umasvati is the glory of the entire Svetambara family (Svetambarakulatilaka).  A careful study of his works reveals that he was a svetambarite.  The code of conduct for monks prescribed by him in Tattvarthasutrabhasya and Prasamaratiprakarana is clear evidence that he belongs to the Svetambara sect.24 A systematic account of a monk’s clothes, utensils and food mentioned in the Prasamarati is applicable to Svetambaras only.25

In Prasamarati, prescribing the rules of conduct for monks, he actually refers to Acarangasutra which is not accepted by Digambaras as Agama.26 The main reason in denouncing Svopajnabhasya of T. S. and other works as those of Umasvati by Digambaras is that the doctrines mentioned in these works ot only do not support the Digambara doctrines but they directly go against their very system.  It seems that even different readings of the T. S. are introduced by Pujyapada to suit Digambara view point, otherwise they are absent in earliest manuscripts of the T. S. text.27


Umasvati was a pre-eminent writer in those days and the tradition attributes to him not less than five hundred treatises called Prakaranagranthas.28 At the present state of our knowledge, it is very difficult to accept this traditional view.  But it appears that the might have written a few more texts than those handed down to us because, certain verses attributed to Umasvati by later writers like Siddhasenagani, Abhayadevasuri and Bhavavijaya, are not traceable in his extant works.29 At present Tattvarthasutra with Svopajnabhasya, Prasamaratiprakarna, Jambudvipasmasa, Sravakaprajnapti and Pujaprakarana are accepted as works of Umasvati.