Jainism before Shraman Bhagwan Mahavira?

September, 2020 by Ashish Jakhariya

Let’s run through the pages of history to find out.

23rd Jain Tirthankar Shree Parswanath’s fourth pattadhar (disciple) was Shree Keshishraman and their pattadhar (disciple) Shree Swayamprabhsuri was the leader of Vidhyadhar Kul and master of knowledge and many arts.

Shree Swayamprabhsuri eliminated many superstitious beliefs of Yagya and Hawans and directed his followers towards pure non-violent religion. He was a great saint and travelled a lot to spread non-violent messages. He understood and believed that Jain Religion (non-violence) cannot be spread until people accept it within their caste system. During that time, Hawans (sacrifice) was popular in the region of Abu, hence to make people aware of non-violence, he started his journey to Abu along with his 500 followers.

Growth of Jain Followers in Shrimalpur

Acharya Swayamprabhasuri marched towards Shrimalpur Town (current Bhinmal) from Abu (in 470 B.C. – 57 years after Shree Mahavir Swami’s Nirvana). At that time, King of Shrimalpur – Jayasen was busy in organizing a grand Yagya. On arrival in Shrimalpur, Acharya Shree debated with Brahmin Pandits on the topic of Sacrifice during Hawan / Yagya and other misbeliefs. In the debate, Acharya Shree was victorious in convincing everyone including King Jaysen that “Non-Violence” is the most important Karma of life. Brahmin families and Kshatriya families, including King Jaysen, decided to start following Jainism within their clan system/standards.

This can be treated as the FIRST incident of accepting Jainism by an entire kingdom, hence remembered as an initiation of Jainism in society.

Establishment of Porwal and Shrimal Sect

A Jain Follower group living in the eastern side of Shrimalpur and Padmavati (Eastern Region) were being called as “Pragvat” (currently Porwal) and others were being called “Dhanotkata ” or “Shrimal ” based on their financial status.

A disciple of Acharya Shree travelled to Padmavati, where he helped Yagya organizers to understand the importance of Non-Violence and stopped Yagya. Due to effectiveness and respect of people and King of the region, the whole region started being recognized as Pragwat Region i.e. Sirohi District, North-West part of Palanpur District, Godwad Region, Kubhbhalgadh of Medpat Region and Purmandal.

“Pragwat” is a Sanskrit word, while “Porwal” is commonly used in spoken language. Porwal is from Marwadi language of Rajasthan, which suggests a strong bond of Porwal community with Rajasthan.

Acharya Swayamprabhasuri further introduced the upper-class people of the ancient capital of Aravalli region, Padmavati into the fold of Jainism and brought them into the fold of Pragvat Samaj. Present-day Sirohi, north-west region of the state of Palanpur and Godvad (Giri region) was known as Pragavat region and the people living in the region who recently embraced Jainism were also known as Pragvat. In due course of time, this Pragvat Samaj was known as Porwal Jain Samaj

Origins of Oswal Shrawak Varg (Jainism Followers)

The origin of the name “Oswal” is tied to a small village in the Jodhpur District of Indian State of Rajasthan called Osian or Ossiya.There was once a large city at the site of Ossiya (Osian). The ancient names by which this city was known at various times were Uplesh Pattan, Urkesh, Melpur Pattan and Navmeri. Upkeshpattan is said to be analogous to such a town situated about 32 miles northwest of Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. It was the home to a Jain monastic order called Upakesh Gachchha (which is now extinct) belonging to the Svetambara Jain tradition.

According to an Upakesh-gachchha-charitra composed by Kakkasuri of Upakesh Gachchha in vikram 1393 (but some say it was written in 17th century), Jain Acharya Shree Ratna Prabhu Suriji the 7th Acharya in the line of Jain Tirthankar Parshvanatha’s sect, came here in 457B.C. with his five hundred disciples in year 70 after Mahavira’s Nirvana (457 B.C.). However other scholars do not agree to with this.

King Upaldev and his very able minister Uhad ruled the city at that time. After receiving proper guidance from Acharya, the King, his ministers, and more than one thousand Rajput soldiers gave up alcohol and meat and adopted Jainism. The Acharya gave this group the name Oshwals or Oswals. Thus, a new Jain corps called the Oswal Gaccha, the ancestors of the Oswal community, came into existence.

However, according to another publication “Ossiya Vir Stavan” written in Vikrama Samvat 1712(1656 A.D) by Jain monk ‘Naya Pramod Vijay’, the follower of Jain monk ‘Hir Udya Vijay’ the city of Ossiya (Osian) was founded in Vikrama Samvat 1011 and the conversion by Acharya took place in Vikrama Samvat 1017. But in the historical documents published in the city of Bhinmal, it is mentioned that Minister Uhad (the brother of king Punja of Bhinmal) left Bhinmal and founded the city in Vira Nirvana Samvat 70 after Mahaviraís Nirvana.

Also, in the documents available from the city of Korta (Rajasthan) there is a mention of a conversion of a large group to Jainism by Acharya Shree Ratna Prabha Suri in Osian in the Vira Nirvana Samvat 70 after Mahaviraís Nirvana.

Therefore, from the several historical accounts, it appears that Acharya Shree Ratna Prabha Suri, a leader of Lord Jain Tirthankar Parshvanath’s sect, established the Oswal Gaccha in the Vira Nirvana Samvat 70 after Bhagwan Mahavira’s nirvana.

Around 10th or 12th century AD, because of adverse natural conditions, a small number of these Oswal Mahajans left the village of Osian in search of better life and migrated to Sindh – what now is called West Pakistan & southern part of Rajasthan i.e. Bhinmal, Jalore, Raniwara, Sanchore. The conditions in Sindh were not any better. So, continued the migration southwards into Kutch, now a part of the State of Gujarat and settled in Vagad district. Later on, some moved to Kanthi district and onwards into other parts of Gujarat. Today, although many Oswal Jains visit Osian, there is a legend that all Jains must leave by sunset or risk being cursed. Today, very few Oswals actually live in Osian.

The original Kshatriyas were joined by people from other castes as Jainism grew as a philosophy. During the course of Indian history, Oswals are known to have played an important part in assisting many Hindu and Muslim princely states to finance their activities. Many Mughal administrations have placed great value on the Oswals ability to generate revenue. Many Oswals won patronage from various Mughal emperors due to their strong presence in commercial activities.

An Oswal immigrant who is said to have exercised decisive role in a series of events which culminated in the Battle of Plassey was Jagat Sheth a title bestowed upon him by the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb and who in revenge of a personal outrage financed and sided with the East India Company to bring about the downfall of Siraj-Ud-Daulah leading to the East India Company’s primacy in Bengal.

Within the caste hierarchy of the Oswals there are sub-groupings of Panca, Dasa and Visa, which mean five (5), ten (10) and twenty (20) respectively. These sub-groupings refer to various caste endogamic structures within the Oswals.

Another sub-group of Oswals within the Kutch and Halar areas of present-day Gujarat complete the non-marwari speaking group. These primarily speak Kutchi or Gujarati as their mother tongue. Over the preceding centuries, many Halar based Oswal families migrated first to East Africa and then to the U. K and have founded distinct close-knit societies in these countries.

Town of Shrimalpur (currently known as Bhinmal) was established during the time of Shree Mahavir Swami. The town was initially adopted by wealthy, high category and intelligent people, hence the name SHREEMALPUR. It is believed that this area was a luxury and enjoyment place for Laxmi Devi. Majority of residents of Shrimalpur belong to Brahmin and Vaishya caste. Back then, Shrimalpur used to compete with Avanti and Rajgruhi in terms of the prosperity of the town.

It is believed that the origin of three groups of Swetambar Jain followers – Shrimal, Porwal and Oswal is Rajasthan and the centre of the origin is Shrimalnagar.

Trade (Business) and Social Situations

Acharya Swayamprabhsuri and Ratnaprabhsuri educated people to live day-to-day life with the care of incurring as little sin as possible. sin. Followers were encouraged to undertake business where production, storage and transport are done with least sin. Over, time, followers developed kindness and a helping attitude toward others. In times of need, people used to donate food and money to less fortunate people. They believed that even hurting truly little to any soul is a sin. All the creatures of nature were being treated the same as they all were. Jain followers at that time used to be very wealthy so that even King’s Wealth was not as much as some of the business people’s. People used to spend their wealth helping the poor and building temples. Majority of the business network of India was under Jain follower’s hand. This is how the Acharya Swayamprabhasuriji converted around 80,000 Rajputs and Brahmans into Jain Followers.

It is worth reminding you that Acharya Swayamprabhsuri originated Shrimal and Porwal clans (Jain Followers) 57 years after Shree Mahavir Swami’s Nirvana, while Acharya Ratnaprabhsuri originated Oswal group 70 years after that.Other Acharyas originated Agrawal, Khandelwal, Baderwal etc. clans who followed Jainism.

About Author

Ashish Jakhariya

Ashish Jakhariya


Ashish is currently in his final year of B. Tech (Civil). In addition to pursuing civil engineering, he is a tech enthusiast and has a passion for classical music that is the reason for him being a successful founder of website “Jain Lyrics Official”.

Source: Shree Abhinav Mahavir Dham, Oshwal Nairobi.

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