South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Hidden in Plain Sight: The Digambar Jains in Gujarati History

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Cypress, New Building

A commonly repeated "fact" is that before all the migrations of the past two centuries within India, Digambar Jains were found in southern India (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, southern Maharashtra), and also in Rajasthan, northern India, and central India; while Shvetambar Jains were found largely in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Punjab. In this paper, I show the extent to which this characterization is false, and always has been. There has been a long-standing Digambar presence in northeastern Gujarat, around Idar (and extending into what is now Rajasthan, in Sagwara), where there was an important seat of bhattarak (“monk”); and also an equally long-standing presence in the Surat area, where there was the seat of another bhattarak. We also find a long-standing Digambar presence in central Gujarat, in towns like Kheda and Sojitra. Even Patan, long a stronghold of Shvetambars, had a Digambar population into the late medieval period, although there is not one now. These older Digambar communities have been augmented over the past century through the migration of many Digambar Jains from Rajasthan and MP into Gujarat, especially Ahmedabad. Further, Gujarati-speaking Digambars have themselves migrated, to towns like Ratlam in MP and Sholapur in southern Maharashtra, as well as to Bombay. This paper looks at the extensive evidence of the Digambar Jain presence in Gujarat, with the goals of enhancing understanding of the Jain presence in Gujarat, the social history of the Digambar Jains, and the medieval and early modern socio-religious history of Gujarat.

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