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Jain Agamas

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Agamas are canonical texts of Jainism based on Mahavira’s teachings. Mahavira’s preaching were orally compiled by his disciples into various Sutras (texts) which were collectively called Jain canonical or Agamic literature. Traditionally these sutras were orally passed on from teachers (acaryas or gurus) to the disciples for several centuries. The scholars date the composition of Jain agamas at around 6th to 3rd century BCE.


Date of composition

While some authors date the composition of Jain Agamas starting from 6th century BCE [1], noted indologist Hermann Jacobi holds that the composition of the Jaina canon would fall somewhere about the end of the fourth or the beginning of the third century BCE [2] The general consensus amongst scholars is that the earliest portions of Jain canons were composed around 4th or 3rd century BCE.[3][4] This is also in agreement with Jain tradition according to which the agamic literature and the Purvas were passed from one heads of the order to his disciples for around 170 years after the Nirvana (Jainism) of Mahavira. However with time, it became difficult to keep the entire Jain literature committed to memory. According to tradition, there occurred a twelve years of famine around 350 BC where it was extremely difficult for the Jain ascetics to survive during this time. Under such circumstances they could not preserve the entire canonical literature. The Purvas or the ancient texts were already forgotten and lost after the famine. According to Svetambara tradition, the agamas were collected on the basis of collective memory of the ascetics in the first council of Pataliputra under the stewardship of Acarya Sthulibhadra in around to 463–367 BCE.[5] However, the Digambara Jain sect maintains that after the famine, the entire Jain canonical literature became extinct.

Final redaction


Aagam Tulsi Mahapragya

Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Mahapragya during Jain Agamas research

The Agamas were composed of the following forty-five texts:

  • Twelve Angās
  • Twelve Upanga āgamas (Texts that provide further explanation of Angās)
    • Aupapātika
    • Rājapraśnīya
    • Jīvājīvābhigama
    • Prajñāpana
    • Sūryaprajñapti
    • Jambūdvīpaprajñapt
    • Candraprajñapti
    • Nirayārvalī
    • Kalpāvatamsikāh
    • Puspikāh
    • Puspacūlikāh
    • Vrasnidaśāh
  • Six Chedasūtras (Texts relating to the conduct and behaviour of monks and nuns)
    • Ācāradaśāh
    • Brhatkalpa
    • Vyavahāra
    • Niśītha
    • Mahāniśītha
    • Jītakalpa
  • Four Mūlasūtras (Scriptures which provide a base in the earlier stages of the monkhood)
    • Daśavaikālika
    • Uttarādhyayana
    • Āvaśyaka
    • Pindaniryukyti
  • Ten Prakīrnaka sūtras (Texts on Independent or miscellaneous subjects)
    • Catuhśarana
    • Āturapratyākhyanā
    • Bhaktaparijñā
    • Samstāraka
    • Tandulavaicarika
    • Candravedhyāka
    • Devendrastava
    • Ganividyā
    • Mahāpratyākhyanā
    • Vīrastava
  • Two Cūlikasūtras (The scriptures which further enhance or decorate the meaning of Angas)
    • Nandī-sūtra
    • Anuyogadvāra-sūtra

Languages of Agamas and literature

The Jain literature includes both religious texts and books on generally secular topics such as sciences, history, and grammar. The Jains have used several languages at different times and in different regions of India.

  • Prakrit
Prakrit literature includes the Agamas, Agama-tulya texts, and Siddhanta texts. Composition in Prakrits ceased around 10th cent AD.
  • Sanskrit
Writing in Sanskrit became common after about 1st cent. CE., starting with Tatvartha Sutra of Uma Swati. Jain Sanskrit literature includes Puranas, Koshas, Shravakacharas, Mathematics, and Nighantus.
Produced from about 10th to 15th cent CE, these texts include Kahas, rasas, and grammars. Most of the known Apabhramsha texts are of Jain origin.
  • Tamil
Some of the early Tamil classics such as Valayapathi Cilappatikaram and Jivakachintamani are Jain works.
  • Hindi
In the past 8-9 centuries numerous Jain texts in Hindi have been written, which include Ardha-kathanaka, Chhah-dhala, and Mokshamarga Prakashaka.
  • Kannada
The earliest texts in Kannada, such as Vaddaradhane are works of Jain authors.
  • Gujarati
Bharata-Bahubali Ras, the first Gujarati book, was by a Jain author.

Jainism puts great value on learning. Jains have been prolific authors and avid readers for centuries. India's oldest manuscript libraries have been preserved in Jaisalmer and Patan by Jain scholars. According to the 2001 census, the Jains are the most literate community in India.

See also

Further reading


  1. Nagendra Kr. Singh. (2001). Encyclopedia of Jainism (Edited by Nagendra Kr. Singh). New Delhi: Anmol Publications. ISBN 8126106913 page 4308
  2. Jacobi, Hermann (1884). (ed.) F. Max Müller. ed (in English: translated from Prakrit). The Ācāranga Sūtra. Sacred Books of the East vol.22, Part 1. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. ISBN 070071538X.  p. xliii
  3. Yoga: The Indian Tradition. Edited by Ian Whicher and David Carpenter. London: Routledgecurzon, 2003. ISBN – 0-7007-1288-7 page 64
  4. C. Chappie ( 1993) Nonviolence to Animals, Earth and Self in Asian Traditions. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-1497-3 page 5
  5. Jacobi, Hermann (1884). (ed.) F. Max Müller. ed (in English: translated from Prakrit). The Ācāranga Sūtra. Sacred Books of the East vol.22, Part 1. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. ISBN 070071538X.  p. xlii

External links

  • Original Jain Scriptures (Shastras) with Translations into modern languages such as English, Hindi and Gujarati. Literature such as Kundkund Acharya's Samaysaar, Niyamsaar, Pravachansaar, Panchastikay, Ashtphaud and hundreds of others all in downloadable PDF format.
  • Jain Agams
  • Clay Sanskrit Library publishes classical Indian literature, including a number of works of Jain Literature, with facing-page text and translation. Also offers searchable corpus and downloadable materials.
  • Jainism in Buddhist Literature

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