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Response To Western Education: Reform And Revival Among The Jains In Modern India

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Introduction of the Western education was an important phenomenon in the history of modern India. This generated variety of responses. The paper probes into these responses ranging from the individual level to the community level with special focus on the Jain community. It also brings out the parallels running through the Hindu and Jain responses and reform movements. Of the varied Jain responses the reformist and revivalist ones have been explored in the paper. The paper more focuses on the interplay of people and the issues. This paper explores how the transformation occurred, detailing its content, motivation, and means. Through a critical examination of the sources, it reconstructs the Jain perspective and their attitude towards the reform.


Education is the foundation on which all improvements in the conditions of the people depend. It is an instrument for transformation of society. It is one of the chief factors conditioning peoples’ outlooks and aspirations. It is the best tool to bring a positive change in society. It transforms the attitudes of the recipients.

Western education in India

The impact of British colonialism was clearly felt in almost all arenas of Indian life. The elites of India in the nineteenth century were deeply influenced by the European ideas of history. British rule had the effect of opening up India to the Western world and opening up the Western world to India. Education was the chief channel through which Western influences flow into Indian life. The wave of enthusiasm for English education spread over Calcutta and other Indian cities in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Western cultural modernity influenced all of urban India. The urban centres developed as social enclaves, alienated from the colonial countryside. [1: Shaik Basha, “Craving for companionate Wives Male Reformers, Women’s Journals and Domestic Ideology in Andhra 1883-1950,” in Histories, Regions, Nodes Essays for Rattan Lal Hangloo ed. by Salma Farooqui. Delhi, 2017, p.239. ] [2: Torkel Brekke, Makers of Modern Indian Religion in the Late Nineteenth Century, Oxford, 2007, pp.132-133.] [3: L.S.S.O’Malley(ed) Modern India and West, London, 1941,] [4: H.V.Hampton, Biographical Studies in Modern Indian Education, Oxford, 1946, p.38. ] [5: Sharada Dwivedi & Rahul Mehrotra, Bombay Deco, Mumbai, 2008, p.7. ]

Jain response to the modern education

The process of Westernisation was experienced by people in varying degrees, according to the socio-economic class to which they belonged. The newly introduced education system created an awakening among the people. The stream of new thought and practice flowed into the sea of Jain tradition. Jains received the Western education in much more acceptable manner. Of course, the responses and acceptance were far from uniform. The ways in which tradition and modernity conflict, relate or seem not to relate in varied sectors of social life in modern India have formed topics of many contemporary studies. This paper particularly focuses on the Jain community.

Like most Indian communities, the Jains were slow to accept the newly introduced Western education.Some of the Jains began to challenge the traditional authorities. Modern education brought in a body of thought which questioned many of the fundamental assumptions upon which the fabric of traditional values rested. Many English-educated or Western influenced Indian men increasingly saw the reform as the key to both India’s progress and their own. [6: Knut Aukland, “The Scientization and Academization of Jainism,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, February 2016, p.193.] [7: Sulochana Krishnamoorthi, Modern Education and its impact on Society in Bombay (1854-1905), Mumbai, 1999, p.90.] [8: Shaik Basha, op.cit., p.239. ]

In the official censuses the Jains appeared as distinct category from the Hindus. The idea of religious identity conveyed in the census had an important effect on the self-perception of the Jains. This was continuously reinforced in the concerns expressed over the declining Jain population. Contact with the West brought about significant changes in religious manifestations, the most significant of which was the development of the concept of a unified religious identity of the Jains. [9: A.P.Joshi, M.D.Srinivas & J.K.Bajaj, Religious Demography of India, Chennai, 2003, p.16.] [10: Torkel Brekke, op.cit., p.132.] [11: Charlotte Krause, ‘The Social Atmosphere of Present Jainism’, Calcutta Review, June 1930, 275-86.]

Jain studies and Western scholars

Western researches on Jainism began by the nineteenth century. With patience and preservance, Western scholars and Indologists learnt Sanskrit and allied Indian languages before penning their works. Hermann Jacobi (1850-1927) gave the authoritative proofs of the independent nature of Jainism. He was well-reputed Sanskrit scholar of Germany. A landmark was the publication in 1884 of the first two volumes of Jain Sutras, translated into English by Hermann Jacobi. By the last part of the nineteenth and the earliest parts of the twentieth century, Western scholars had already been taking an interest in the history of Jainism. Germans have been most active in the field of the Jain studies. Western observers of religion of India were instrumental in producing a reformulation of religious ideas and practices, which embraced in part the Western scientific perspective. [12: Gauranga Sengupta, Indology and it eminent Savants Collection of Biographies of Western Indologist, Calcutta, 1996, p.XXVII. ] [13: Leah Renold, A Hindu Education Early years of the Banaras Hindu University, New Delhi, 2005, p.2.]

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Western education and Jain response

The English education created the worldview in which the religion was singled out as a separate constituent of human society. The Jain leaders of the nineteenth century shared in this world view. To them the Jain religion became an object in the history. The emergence of the notion that India’s cultural genius and identity had spiritual roots had the effect of focusing attention on the inner truths of the religions. The Jain reformers did not cut themselves off from the general community. The trend can be seen as Jain modernism. The similar trend is noticed in case of the Hindu reformers of Maharashtra in contrast to the social rebels of Bengal. [14: Jain Hitaishi, Vol.14, Issue 7-8, April-May 1920, pp.224-229. ] [15: Tine Vekemans, “India’s Last Minority Campaigning for Jain Minority Status, “ International Journal of Jain Studies, 2014, p.6. ] [16: Sulochana Krishnamoorthi, op.cit., p.91.]


Many of them took to the editing and printing of ancient Jain texts. The publications made possible the transmission of knowledge which could no longer be privilege of few. A number of books and publications emerged which reflected the quest for religion. Students and studies of Jainism were encouraged and supported. Discoveries of archaeological evidences pertaining to Jainism were published in the journals and periodicals. Journal like Jain Sahitya Sanshodhan came into existence. These publications became vehicle of debate, discussions between the orthodox and reformist sections. Another learned layman was Champat Ray Jain, a barrister by profession. Fluent in Hindi, Urdu and English, he studied the Christian and Muslim religions and claimed that their message was essentially the same as that of Jainism. He published a dozen books in the 1920s and ’30s, including The Key of Knowledge, Jain Law, and what is Jainism? In his writings and lectures he explained religion in twentieth century terms, using the concepts of modern psychology and science. [17: Ibid., p.XIX.] [18: Jain Hitaishi, Vol.14, Issue 7-8, April-May 1920, pp.224-229. ] [19: Ibid., p.230. ] [20: Ibid., pp.245-246. ]

Jain monks assisted the scholars in their research into the Jain texts. Vijay Dharma Suri (1868- 1922) who wrote many books on Jain philosophy and ethics in Sanskrit, Gujarati and Hindi, edited texts and inscriptions, started an important series of published texts, the Yashovijaya Jaina Granthmala named after the seventeenth- century scholar Yashovijaya , and corresponded with many Indian and European scholars. Ratnachandraji Maharaj completed in 1932 the publication of a four-volume dictionary of Ardhamagadhi, the language of the ancient Jain scriptures, with explanations in Sanskrit, Gujarati, Hindi and English. [21: Torkel Brekke, op.cit., p.133.]

Reinforcing tradition

Sacred texts became important discourse with the expansion of the modern Western education among the Jains. There emerged major interpretations of the Jain intellectual tradition from within inside particularly from the Jain monks. The Śvetāmbara monk Muni Punyavijaya (1895–1971) was a scholar with mastery of a wide range of learning. He took cataloguing and editing of manuscripts and extensive publications in Hindi and Gujarati. The first printed editions of the Śvetāmbara canon were by Ray Dhanpatisiha Bahadur in 1874-1900 in the Prakrit original and by Acharya Amolakacui in 1916-1919 with Hindi translation. The Sacred Books of the Jains series, started by Kumar Devendra Prasad Jain, published from 1917 various Digambara texts with English translations and commentary. Here it needs to be pointed out that primary access to the sacred texts was unattainable for Jain śrāvakas and śrāvikās. [22: Jain Hitaishi, Vol.14, Issue 7-8, April-May 1920, pp.230-231; Paul Dundas, The Jains, London, 2002, p.11.]

Jain organisations

A number of the Jain organisations were established in the late nineteenth century and in the twentieth century. This trend and response was seen in Hindu as well as other religious traditions in India. The All- India Digambara Jain Conference first met in 1893. Many of the Jain organisations established Jain libraries. Renovation of the Jain temples was undertaken. [23: Hemali Sanghavi, Contribution of the Jains to the Economic and Socio-cultural Development of the city of Bombay (1860-1960), University of Mumbai, 2013, p.286.]


The contact with the West effectively changed the attitudes of the elite of the country. Foreign education, affiliation with the colonial administration, and, in some cases, knowledge of the English language, created a situation in which one’s own community and religion acquired a new mode of being. Jain scholarship, education and writing have broadened out at all levels. One can see the emergence of the Jain identity among the Jains in modern India. In fact, the perception and response of the Jain community towards modern education mark their journey towards their community identity. Education definitely turned out catalyst affecting the quality of life of the community.

It is clear that the Jains were active participants in the process of the reception of the Western education. The impetus towards regeneration and the reactivation of scholarly tradition came very much from within the Jain community itself. The reform movements prompted changes within the community. Female education was favoured and advocated by the reformist section. It was argued that girls should be given religious as well as secular education. The reform movements attempted to retrieve an original and authentic religious essence. In fact to some extent the western education strengthened and transformed their religious bonding. The encounters with the Western education prompted religious revival in the community. [24: Jain Hitaishi, Vol.14, Issue 7-8, April-May 1920, pp.224-229; Paul Dundas, op.cit., p.11.] [25: Peter Flügel,“The invention of Jainism a short history of Jaina Studies,” International Journal of Jain Studies, Vol.1, No. 1, 2005, p.1.] [26: Jain Hitaishi, Vol.14, Issue 7-8, April-May 1920, p.243. ]

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