(Last Updated on : 20/02/2013)
Jains have developed a rich canonical literary activity at all the times. The majority of Jain writers belong to the spiritual class: they are either monks who take advantage of the four month of monsoon during which they are not allowed to wander and carry on their literary activity, or those who have settled down at a place like Hemachandra
and other great personalities of the Jain history of literature. The character and. the content of Jain literature show the predominance of the clerical element among the authors, and this, incidentally, agrees fully with the Indian literatures
in general. These works are mainly theological and philosophical treatises, legends of saints, didactic works and laudations of the Tirthankaras. The basic religious feature also emerges strongly in works having mundane contents, in books of science and in poetry and works of narrative literature. This is also true of dramas and inscriptions.
The Jain literature is written in many languages and dialects, in Aryan as well as in the non-Aryan Dravidian. Indo-Aryan languages have, as it is well-known, three stages of development. They are:
1. The old Indian or Sanskrit.
2. The middle Indian or Prakrita and Apabhrarhsa.
3. The new Indian or Bhasa.
Jains have made use of the languages of all the three stages; however the oldest Jaina-works are not written in Sanskrit, as one would expect, in the old Indian, Sanskrit but in Prakrita.
The language used in the Jain canon show only the last mentioned characteristic, i.e., only half of the special characteristics of Magadhi; it is therefore called "Ardha-Magadhi", i.e., "Half-Magadhi". All Jain texts teach, agreeing with one another that Mahavira preached in this language which is a variation of the real "Magadhi" is Ardha-Magadhi supposed to be a mixture of languages. It consists mainly of Magadhi, but it also borrowed elements of foreign dialects.
canon is written in a language spoken by Lord Mahavira
. Digambara sect
has used a Prakrita in their metrical works which agrees no doubt with the later part of Swetambara canon.
Jainas have used the "Maharastri" quite extensively. It a middle Indian dialect which was spoken in Maharashtra
, a land of the Marathas on the Indian west Maharastri has the first place among all the literary Prakritas. It was also used by Brahmin
poets in lyrical stanzas. Jains have used it not only in their poetic works, but also in their prose-literature and in the commentaries on their canonical works.
When Jains wrote their literary works in the middle Indian popular languages and not in Sanskrit, their intention was to make them accessible to a larger public. In the course of time, Prakrita dialects themselves became rigid and became literary languages which were not generally understood any more; but the predominance of Sanskrit was so deeply rooted in the whole of India in its scientific use that Jains also had to make use of it.
The Sanskrit of Jain writers is distinctly different; while many authors try to use the language correctly and according to the classical norms of grammar, others try to write in such a way that it is understood, as far as possible, by all, and there-that it is intersperse their works with expressions which are borrowed from the popular language.
The oldest poets who used the Kannada language
were Jains: the predominance of Jainism in Kannada literature remained up to the middle of the 12th century A.D. The cult of Lingayats which emerged during this period began to compete with them in this field, and yet Jains gave significant authors to the Kannada language even later. Jains had a similar position also in the history of Tamil literature
; thus a few of the great classical works of Tamil literature were written by Jains. Repression of Jainism
by Shaivites and Vishnuites reduced also here the literary activity of Jains.
There are, of course, Jain works in English in the recent period but it is restricted for the time being mainly to the presentations of the doctrine according to the older sources, to polemical treatises and newspaper articles on relevant themes.
Jains, like Hindus and Buddhists, bequeathed their holy texts orally in the earliest periods of their history. Jains used for their script the precursors, derivatives and modification of the Devanagari alphabet as also the different South Indian alphabets. Since the Muslim conquest they used in exceptional cases Hindi interspersed with Persian-Arabic words, the so-called Urdu the reproduction of the texts, as also the Arabian alphabet. Since the recent past, they have even been using Latin script.
Jain manuscripts are characterized by clean and correct script, and this gives them advantage over other manuscripts; use of many coloured inks and inclusion of miniatures lends a special charm to many works.