India in the sixth century BC saw the emergence of thinkers such as Zoroaster in Persia, Confucius in China and Mahavira and Gautam Buddha in India.
Rise of Jainism and Buddhism
Factors which led to the rise of Jainism and Buddhism:
Reaction against Ritualism
Rituals had become an important part of religious ceremonies and festivals. They had also become very expensive. The priestly class did not realise the sufferings of the common people. As a result, people were attracted to the simple faiths of Buddhism and Jainism.
Corruption in Religion
The priestly class forced the people to perform yajnas, sacrifices and household rituals beyond their means. The Kshatriyas also protested the domination of the priestly class over society. Jainism and Buddhism attracted people because of their simple doctrines and simple religious practices.
Rigid Caste System
The Aryan society was divided into four castes. While Brahmins and Kshatriyas occupied the top position in society, Shudras were considered outcasts. Mobility within the caste system was not allowed. Many people considered the caste system oppressive. They were fascinated by Jainism and Buddhism which totally renounced the caste system and believed in equality for all human beings.
Difficulty in Understanding Sanskrit
Most of the Aryan literature was composed in Sanskrit. Priests chanted mantras in Sanskrit and gave discourses in it which was extremely difficult for the common people to understand. Because Mahavira and Buddha spread their teachings in the local Prakrit language, people were easily able to understand and emulate their teachings.
In the sixth century BC, Magadha emerged as a powerful kingdom, whose rulers Bimbisara and Ajatashatru were tolerant of other religions. They not only condemned social evils which existed in society but also provided patronage to Jainism and Buddhism which later spread far and wide.
Many farmers embraced Buddhism and Jainism as the killing or sacrifice of animals was against the interests of the farming community. Animals were used while ploughing the land. They wanted a religion which could protect animals. Both Buddhism and Jainism preached against violence and animal sacrifice.
Impact of Jainism and Buddhism
Following are the impacts of Jainism and Buddhism –
Impact of Jainism
- Jains did not build any political empire of their own.
- It encouraged equality among the people as the Jains rejected the caste system and rituals.
- Important contributions were made in literature by the Jain monks. Jain literature included 12 upangas, 10 prakiranas, sutras and mulasutras. Purvas contained the teachings of Mahavira. These texts are also important sources of the period from the 6th to 4th century BC.
- Many monasteries and temples were constructed by the Jains. They had constructed many dharamshalas, and homes for orphans and supported charitable organisations. The structures of the Bahubali at Shravanabelagola, Dilwara temples at Mt Abu and Jain Tower at Chittor are some fine specimens of Jain architecture.
Impact of Buddhism
- The doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence impacted the people and society deeply. Stress was given to animal protection.
- Buddhism challenged Hindu practices such as yajnas, sacrifices and rituals. It outrightly rejected these practices and the caste system.
- Buddhists influenced emperors such as Ashoka and Chandragupta who later became non-violent. Thus, it affected Indian politics.
- As Buddhism spread to many parts of the world, such as China, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, close cultural contacts emerged between these countries and India.
- Buddhism contributed immensely to language and literature. Many Buddhist texts were written during the period. Tripitakas-Vinaypitaka, Suttapitakas and Abhidhammapitaka were composed. The Vinaypitaka lays down rules for the Buddhist monks living in the sanghas. Suttapitakas contained various teachings of Lord Buddha and Abhidhammapitaka deals with Buddhist philosophy. The Jataka tales tell us about the life of Buddha.
- Stupas, chaityas, viharas and rock-cut cave temples were constructed by the Buddhists. The stupas were semi-spherical dome-like structures which contained the relics of Buddha. The Stupas at Sanchi, Amravati and Bharhut have survived till today.
Decline of Jainism and Buddhism
Following are the reasons behind the declination of Jainism and Buddhism –
Decline of Jainism
- Some principles of Jainism were extremely difficult to follow. The theory of non-violence extended even to insects and germs which was not possible for every person to follow. Similarly, the theory of ahimsa extended even to the wearing of clothes.
- Jainism did not spread to foreign countries.
- Later, even in India, because of the patronage given to Buddhism by Ashoka, Harsha and Kanishka, the spread of Jainism were restricted.
- The revival of Hinduism in the Gupta Period led to a further decline in Jainism, and it was restricted to only a few parts of the country.
Decline of Buddhism
- One of the reasons for the decline in Buddhism was the spilt of the religion into the two major sects of Mahayana and Hinayana.
- There was a revival of Hinduism during the Gupta Period. Buddhism no longer remained a state religion. The Rajputs of Rajasthan were warlike people and could not follow the policy of ahimsa. Thus, the lack of royal patronage brought an end to Buddhism.
- Gradually, corruption crept into the sanghas. Because Buddhism was patronised by the rulers, there was an influx of money into the sanghas. The monks and the nuns began to live luxurious life which resulted in the decay of spirituality among its members.
- From the 8th century AD onwards, there were Turkish invasions in the country which dealt a great blow to Buddhism. Many monasteries were destroyed and plundered. Buddhist monks were killed in large numbers.
- The invaders also destroyed the universities of Nalanda and Taxila. These universities were razed to the ground, and Buddhist books and documents in their libraries were burnt. Many Buddhist monks flew to neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Tibet.
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