The political, social and economic life of the Aryans in the 6th century B.C. underwent a great change. The valley of the Ganga and Jamuna in Madhya Desha and Eastern Indiabecame the center of gravity of the Aryan Civilization. Gradually sixteen Mahajanapadas became prominent. The important Janapadas were Kasi, Anga, Kosala, Videha, Megadha, Chedi, Vatsa, and Avanti.
Causes of the Rise of Jainism and Buddhism
- Rise of Kshatriya Class: In the 6th century B.C., the Aryan civilization expanded rapidly in Eastern and Southern India. In this process, the Kshatriya class gave the lead. They gained political ascendancy and became the most powerful community in the society. Still then they had to accept the superiority of the Brahmins who enjoyed the first place in the social hierarchy. They grudged the supremacy of the Brahmins. They had to hand over the wealth to the Brahmins for various sacrifices. In the context of new society, the Vedic religious practices became, in many cases, meaningless, the rituals increased, become elaborate and expensive for the people.
- Prosperity of the Vaisyas: Important social change was the growing prosperity of the Vaisya Class. They mobilized the services of the slaves and utilized the conquered arable and pastoral lands for farming. The use of iron produced various agricultural equipments. Though became wealthy, they were still placed as an inferior class in the society. The Brahmins dominated over them.
- Reactions against expensive ritualism: In the later Vedic period, rituals and religious ceremonies became more and more elaborate and expensive. This became a real burden for the people. This was one of the important causes for the rise of simple and less expensive religious faith.
- Corruption in religious practices: Slowly, corruption developed in religious matters. It became the tendency of the priests or organizes sacrifices on a large scale irrespective of the financial capacity of the people. It is an irony of fate that two Kshatriya princes founded both Buddhism and Jainism.
- Appearance of rigid caste system: Only Brahmins, Kshatriya and Sudras formed core of the society there was no social mobility. The Sudras practically became untouchable. They were not allowed to enter into any temple and draw water from common well. This class now wanted a religion, which would liberate them from this oppression of the upper three classes.
- Language: During the Vedic and later Vedic period, all literatures, hymns and associated sacred mantras were composed in Sanskrit language. But the common people failed to understand the meaning of those mantras. Naturally they wanted simple religion and simple language, which they could understand easily.
- Agriculture and religious practices: In the sacrifices, slaughtering of animals became a common feature. The Ashvamedha Yajna, vajpiya Yajna, Rajsuya Yajna were performed by the rulers. Both Jainism and Buddhism strongly preached for non-violence and ahimsa. Both Mahavira and Buddha started to criticize the existing religious beliefs.
Jaina tradition says that there were twenty-three Tirthankaras before Mahavira. Thus Mahavira was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara. The twenty-third Thirthankara Parsva or Parsva Nath was a historical figure. He left home at the age of thirty and became an ascetic.
The twenty-fourth Tirthankara, Mahavira was born in Kundagrama, suburb of Vaisali in 540 B.C. In the thirteenth year of his asceticism, at the age of forty-two, he attained the supreme knowledge. He was then known as Mahavira or Jina. After the attainment of supreme knowledge, Mahavira led the life of a wandering teacher. Mahavira preached inChampa, Vaisali, Rajagriha, Mithila and Sravasti. He also received royal patronage.
- Main Teachings of Jainism: Mahavira accepted most of the doctrines laid down by Parsva. Mahavira did not preach any new religion. Parsva advocated four principles, namely, truth, non-violence, non-possession and not to receive anything which was not voluntarily given. Mahavira declared that man can get freedom from the cycle of birth and death by practicing the following principles, namely, Right belief, Right knowledge and Right action. He rejected the authority of Vedas, objected to Vedic rituals and the supremacy of Brahmins.
Impact of Jainism
The main doctrine of Jainism was non-violence or Ahimsa. When the Kshatriyas accepted the faith, they gradually lost their fighting spirit. They became docile and this had a bad impact on the political life. The rise of Jainism had great impact on the contemporary religious and social life. This religion preached the idea of social equality and thus broke the barriers of caste and class. It promoted feelings of the social unity. Members of different castes were accepted in the religious fold. One of the important contributions of Jainismwas its art and architecture. They propagated their religious principles through art and architecture. They beautifully decorated those stupas and temples. Their art and architectures were seen at Parshavam Hill, Pawapuri at Bihar, Rajgriha, Girnar and Mount Abu. Another important contribution of the Jainism was its emphasis on Prakit, the language of the common people.
Gautam Buddha and Buddhism
Gautam Buddha was the founder of Buddhism. He was born in 566 B.C. at Lumbini near Kapilavastu in Terai region of Nepal. After the enlightenment, he delivered his first sermon at eh Deer Park at Sarnath in presence of five ascetics. In the Buddhist literature, this event has been narrated as Dharmachakra Privartan or the turning of the wheel of Sacred Law. Though the foundation of Buddha’s religion was laid in Magadha, its full development took place in Kosala. Mahaparinirvana Sutta states that Buddha made his last journey toKusinagar, the capital Mallas.
Buddha said that practice of Eight fold principles i.e. findings the right view, right aim, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration lead to growth of ental peace or Samadi, Prajna or knowledge. The attainment of Samadhi would lead to Nirvana or salvation of the soul. He also preached Ahimsa, denounced the caste system and practice of rituals like sacrifices and yajnas. Buddha thus tried to break the social barrier created by the Brahmins. Buddha thus tried to develop social harmony. These teachings of Buddha are compiled by his followers in three books known as the “Tripitaka.’ Buddhism spread over greater part of India and outside after the death of Buddha. But with the passage of time, Buddhism lost its pristine purity and doctrinal changes took place in it. After the death of Buddha, four general Councils were held to codify Buddhist doctrines and to accept an agreed formula.
The first Buddhist council was held a few weeks after the death of Buddha at Rajagriha in 487 B.C. under the auspices of Ajatashatru, the ruler of Magadha. The second council was held at Vaisali almost a century after Buddha’s death. At the council, futile attempts were made to reconcile the differences. The third General council was held at Pataliputra. The fourth General Council was summoned by the Kushana ruler Kanishka I at Kundala Vana Vihara in Kashmir.
Contribution of Buddhism
The contribution of Buddhism had been felt on Indian life in different ways. Buddhism denied the supremacy of the Brahmins, condemned the caste system and over burdened rituals of Hinduism.
- Firstly, It preached a simple religion through the language of the common people. Buddha invited people of all class, irrespective of caste distinction, to its fold. Buddhism also preached the idea of Ahimsa as one of its principles.
- Secondly, the Buddhist monks preached the religions in local language so that people could understand. In composing literature, they used Pali language.
- Thirdly, the rise of Buddhism and Jainism challenged the very basis of Hinduism. The Shudras were not considered to be a part of the society. Now they become conscious about themselves and their position in the society.
- Fourthly, The Buddhist monasteries became important as center of learning. Buddhist scholars from all over the world came here to study Buddhist philosophy. Nalanda andVikramashila in Bihar and Valabhi in Gujarat were famous for study of scriptures, philosophy, logic, and astronomy.
- Finally, acceptance of woman in the Buddhist order was a new feature. This had tremendous impact in the society. The equal status of the women with man was thus recognized in the society.
Buddhist and Jaina Cava Temples
One important architectural development was the construction of Chaityas and Stupas. The Chaityas were usually built on the ashes of revered monks. These were usually built on the outskirts of village surrounded by groves of trees. The Stupas was built on the portion of ashes or relics of Lord Buddha. In the subsequent years, Stupas were also constructed on the remains of the locally respected and revered monks of Buddhism. Gradually a large number of cave temples were constructed as residence of the Buddhist monks. A large number of Buddhist cave temples were built in different parts of India. The important cave temples are at Karle, Ajanta, Ellora, Udaygiri, Aurangabad and Nasik.
- Udaygiri Caves: King Kharvela built this caves. Some of these caves are two-storied and have a row of cells for the monks to stay. There are four caves, namely, Rani Gumpha, Hathi Gumpha, Ganesh Gumpha and Manchapuri Gumpha.
- Sanchi Stupa: This is near Bhopal is one of the finest stupas. There are three Stupas and the big one is known as Sanchi Stupa. The relics of Buddha were kept here. Apart fromSanchi, Bharhut Stupa was built during the Sunga period. The Maurya kings, especially Asoka had erected stupas and pillars. These pillars were found throughout Ashoka’s empire at places like delhi, Meerut, Prayag, Nandangarh, Sarnath, Sanchi and Allahabad. The Sarnath pillar is famous because its capital has been accepted as our national emblem. The figures of four lions standing back-to-back and smaller figures of animals symbolize spread of Dhamma in all four directions. The solarwheel signifies the true law spreading to all corners of the world. The Stupa at Sanchi and the pillar at Saranath is best specimen of Buddhist architecture.
- Karle Chaitya Hall and Ajanta and Ellora Caves: This cave temple was built during Satavahana period. It has a big Chaitya hall for using as meeting or service purposes. At the end of the Chaitya hall, there is a Stupa decorated with an umbrella at the top. The Ajanta and Ellora caves are the best example of Rock-cut-architecture, sculpture and paintings. There are thirty caves at Ajanta and thirty-four caves at Ellora.