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(Source of information: See post Tamilnadu Chief Minister Dr. M.Karunanidhi on Jainism and Tamil)

The honorable chief minister of Tamilnadu Dr. M. Karunanidhi is known for his mastery over the Tamil language and his deep knowledge of Tamil literature. In his foreward to the book “தமிழகத்தில் ஜைனம்” (Jainism in Tamilnadu) he talks about the contribution of Jainism to the Tamil language:

Dr. M Karunanidhi on Jainism and Tamil(1)

Dr. M Karunanidhi on Jainism and Tamil(2)

Dr. M Karunanidhi on Jainism and Tamil(3)

Dr. M Karunanidhi on Jainism and Tamil (4)

English Translation of the Foreward:

Chief Minister


The Samanam religion is synonymous with love and compassion. Samanam is also known as Jainism.

Jainism an ancient religion came into existence in India hundreds of years even before the birth of Christ. It was flourishing in Tamilnadu well before Tholkappiyar’s period.

The virtuous Jains have adorned our ‘Tamil mother’ with innumerable jewels of literary works. If you remove these works of Samanars, the world of Tamil literature would wear a deserted look; such is the contribution of Jain poets to the Tamil language*. The ancient kings have also encouraged and supported these noble efforts.

A number of poets who embraced Jainism have lived in Tamilnadu. Jainism was very prevalent in Tamilnadu at some point in time in the past. A number of people voluntarily embraced the Jain religion which had the great principle that “the world was not created by anyone”.

After well researching the history of Jainism’s origin in Tamilnadu, the story of its growth and the state of its existence in the Tamil literature, Jeevabanthu T.S. Sripal has given us the book “Jainism in Tamilnadu”. His research was done in the very best way. One should not think that the author has praised Jainism because he is a Jain himself. That, Jainism is worthy of extol has been clearly communicated by a number of scholars both in India and abroad.

It is commendable that the author throughout the book quotes the views on Jainism of well-known scholars like Nobel prize winner and Indian scientist Dr. Jagadeesh Chandra Bose , German Professor Georg Bühler, Czech scholar Kamil Zvelebil , our own Tamilnadu’s Sir. R. K. Shanmugam, Tamil Thendral Thiru. V.Ka and Thiru. H.A. Krishna pillai. Yet there is one unfulfilled desire in my heart – the book is missing the great ‘Arignyar Anna’s’ favorable comments on Jainism. I hope the author Jeevabanthu Sripal  will fulfill this desire in the next edition of this book.

Finally, this book “Jainism in Tamilnadu” is not only an excellent research material, but a rare book worthy of being part of the syllabi of any of Tamilnadu’s fine universities. The authors abilities are worthy of praise and applause.

M. Karunanidhi


Jains believe that every living being has a soul and every soul is potentially divine. They also believe in reincarnation after death. A soul can be reincarnated in any form of life. (A human being can become a worm in the next life for example).   Karma is that every being determines its own fate through its thoughts, actions and deeds. Karma also plays a part in which place and form the soul takes after death. Jains also believe in the principle of ‘Live and let live’ – not just for human beings, they believe in equality of all life. I.e. however small / insignificant a being is, it has the same yearning to live as humans do and part of being a Jain is respecting its right to live peacefully.

The ‘potentially’ divine soul becomes divine when it is freed from this cycle of death and rebirth. Right faith, right knowledge and right conduct are the pathway of salvation. To free the soul from the bondage of life and death, the Jain monk follows asceticism and non-possession to the extent that a sect of Jains monks (Digambars) don’t even wear clothes. Obviously the highest form of life namely humans can practice the above and attain salvation.

There are 24 exemplary souls called as Thirthankars that have guided and revived Jainism through the ages. The most recent (24th) of them,  Mahavira is historically dated to be around the 6th century BC. If you are interested in knowing who the 24 thirthankars are, Wikipedia has a nice table of the 24 Thirthankar.

Click here to know about the Digambar Jain Acharyas.

Click here to know about the Digambar Jain Literature.

Tamil Jains

Not many people (even within Tamilnadu), India know that Jains are indigenous Tamil population. Although there are a number of Jain families who have migrated from the north that live in Tamilnadu  (especially in and around Chennai), the indigenous Tamil Jains have lived here for thousands of years. Jainism is called samanam (சமணம்) in tamil and the practitioners of the religion are called Samanar (சமணர்). The 2001 Tamilnadu census puts the number of jains in tamilnadu to be around 85000.


Some scholars feel that Jain philosophy must have entered south India same time in 3rd centaury. Literary sources and inscription have it the Shruthakevali Bhadrabahu came over to Shravanabelagula with a 12000 strong relinue of Jain sages when north India found it hard to negotiate with the 12 year long famine in the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. Even Chandragupta accompanied this constellation of sages. On reaching Shravanabelagula, Bhadrabahu felt his end approaching he decided stay back along with Chandragupta and he instructed the Jain saints to tour over the Chola and Pandiya domins. This information found in an inscription belonging to 6 Th or 7 Th centuries A.D, at Chandragiri (Shravanbelagula).

Some scholars feel that Jain philosophy must have entered south India same time in 3rd centaury. But according to some other scholars Jainism must have existed in south India well before the visit of Bhadrabhu and Chandragupta. This deduction based on the following particulars:

  • Bharabahu would not have a big retinue if had no idea of Janis living in the southern parts of Karnataka and Tamilnadu.
  • The Buddhist composition ‘Mahavansha’ composed during the reign of Dhanthusena (461-479) describes the period between 5432 and 3012. It gives elaborate description of the capital of Anuradhapura while king Pandugabhaya was on throne. While giving a details list of building in the new capital, it says that a building called ‘Giri’ was constructed soly for Digambar Jain saints and that many Digambar sages lived there.
  • Arahanthar mandir existed on mount Udayagiri eve before Kharvela’s time. Kharavela’s inscription refers to this. Jainism had been the state religion for centuries in Kharavela’s time. Andra was then part of Kalinga. Hence it possible that Jainism entered Andra at the time of Lord Mahaveera. It must have moved over to Tamil Nadu. The Pashanothkeerna inscription and idols in arcot substantiate this. Jainism might have proceeded further to south Tamil Nadu and crossed over to Srilanka between the 5th and 4th century B.C.
  • Ammanan (a naked man) is also another significant term used in Tamil literature for a nikkanta.

So whether samanam spread from further North to Tamilnadu remains unclear.

Jain Temples in Tamilnadu

There are more than two hundred Jain Temples and fifty Jain hills in Tamilnadu:

Madurai, Thanjavur and Kanchipuram which have been the great cities of historical importance in Tamilnadu for more than 2500 years are also cities around which many of these Jain temples flourished.  Here is a list of  places in Tamilnadu that have Jain temples currently:

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