Jainism is an old religion appeared in India. The austerity of Jainism was complemented by a considerable culture-forming power, at least in certain regions of India and during certain periods. Moving southwards in the western half of India, via and ending in Tamilnadu, we travel through regions which at some time or other during the last two millennia have been strongly influenced by the Jains. Thus many of the various languages spoken in these regions were actually created by Jains as vehicles of literary expression. The Jain literature in Tamil, Kannada and Gujarati in particular is of staggering size. Besides, the Jains continued cultivating Prakrit, frequently resorted to Sanskrit and made ample use of. Northern can be regarded as a very rough dividing line between the %u015Avetambara and Digambara branches, the latter belonging to the southern part. In the south, Jainism flourished during almost the whole of the first millennium CE, though much later works were still produced in Tamil (Cort, 2001). Very soon, the Jains began to dominate the political and cultural scene towards the close of the first millennium CE, and, though suffering heavily from Islamic persecution, have maintained their prominence till the present day. In the history of Tamil literature, the Jains are not only known for their ancient moralistic classics (Dundas, 2002).
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Jains created a large amount of local, originally secular, folklore and epic material. The best-known work in this category is the epic Cilappatikaram. The year 892 CE saw the completion of another major literary enterprise. Began by Jinasena, continued by his disciple and finished by the latter’s disciple Lokasena, under the title of the a grandiose vista of world history and the role of the Jaina figures in it was expressed in the prestigious Sanskrit. To the many later works dealing with these themes and written in various vernacular languages must be added, on the %u015Avetambara side, Hemacandra’s History of the 63 Great Men (Cort, 2001).
The main concepts of Jainism are Karma, Dharma, Moksa, Navatattva, Samsara. The structure is filled with an infinite number of ‘souls’, which except for the liberated ones at the very top are all embodied in some form or other (as deva, human being, animal, denizen of hells. This invisibly fine material karma enters the jiva, whenever an ordinary knowledge, power and happiness. This invisibly fine material karma enters the jiva in thought, word and deed—is performed by an embodied being. Once inside a j%u012Bva, this karma in various degrees reduces or eliminates the innate characteristics of unlimited vision, knowledge, etc., stimulates further action by giving rise to desires and passions, and thus causes further rebirth. Later Jain went to amazing lengths of spelling out a great variety of types of karma and their respective effects on the new embodiment. Some amount of karma is used up during a life-span of an individual, through his moments of happiness and sufferings. The outlines of Jain teaching on liberation are clear from this sketch: man (the other classes of embodied beings cannot do so) must attempt to ward off the influx of further karma by controlling all his actions, and to eliminate the karma already present inside the jiva, by burning it up, as it were (Dundas, 2002). A strictly regulated ethical life followed by a check on all one’s senses will weaken one’s passions and desires and thus reduce the amount of karma flowing into the jiva. Ascetic practices (which in certain circumstances may go as far as starving oneself to death) serve as the fire to consume karma already present. Quite literally, one form of such tapas involves exposing oneself not just to the sun of the Indian summer, but adding to it by keeping fires burning all around oneself. When eventually the j%u012Bva has been cleansed by these means of all the karma filling it, no weight holds it down in this world of transmigration, and with its innate qualities fully realized, it moves into the realm of liberation, at the top of the universe, never to return into the world of matter. Jainism has extended its program to laymen and nuns, offering spiritual practices in preparation for a rebirth in which liberation becomes possible. With a zeal the Jains have from earliest times onwards developed the practical details of their spiritual path, from the moment a being becomes convinced of the truth of the Jain teaching to the achievement of final liberation.
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