Retracing the ups and downs of Jainism

This 30-yr-old moonlights as an amateur archaeologist to showcase the forgotten past of Jain temples in TS

HYDERABAD: The Kakatiyas, who were originally Jains, ruled the South with all their might for almost two centuries. But, halfway through their reign, the shift to Hinduism in the royal bloodline led to Jain temples in their kingdom being converted into Hindu temples. This led to a downfall in the once flourishing religion in the Indian subcontinent.

Uncovering this part of the mostly undocumented history for well over a decade is 30-year-old Sunil Samudrala, a university assistant from Yousufguda. Sunil’s journey began when he started to read articles in newspapers and on the Internet, which made him realise how the history of Jainism in Telangana has mostly been documented based on written texts, but not through archaeological sources, such as inscriptions and iconography.

“The archaeological means are much more reliable as we can scientifically date them back to when they were inscribed. They are usually free of interpolation, compared to the literary texts which can often be subjective or biased,” he says. Sunil suggests that the Kakatiya kings might have transitioned into Hinduism because of some rigid customs in Jainism, and as a result, people also followed suit.

They started converting Jain temples into Shiva temples, as it was much more economical to do so than building a new temple altogether. Fearing communalism, the Jains buried their idols and sculptures and ran for their lives. Evidence suggests that Indian Vedic scholar and teacher Adi Shankara, upon his journey to the South, had transformed several deserted Jain temples into Hindu ones, he says.

Sunil has visited over 350 former Jain temple sites in and around Telangana -- one among his key findings include the identification of 8th century AD sculptures of the seventh Jain Thirtankar Suparshanath. “Suparshanath was considered to be one among the least worshipped of the 24 Tirthankars, but my findings have proved otherwise,” he says.

Sunil Samudrala
Sunil Samudrala

The 30-year-old has also found archaeological evidence in the form of an inscription from 10th century AD on how Jainism is linked with Hinduism. “It reads Jainabrahma-Jogi, indicating the relationship between Lord Brahma and Jainism,” he says, adding that the Chaturvedas have several topics on Jainism and the 23rd Tirthankar, Parshvanath, is the cousin of Lord Krishna.

The Jains, who happen to be one of the world’s oldest communities, now form a mere 0.4 per cent of India’s population. Sunil says that despite such a dismal figure, the Jains contribute almost 30 per cent of the income tax, mainly due to their flourishing businesses in the diamond market, something that has been documented since 6th century BC.

“I do not support any religion. I just want to portray how a religion has witnessed ups and downs over the course of time,” says Sunil, who has come a long way from being falsely labelled as a ‘treasure hunter’ in the past to holding guest lectures in several universities today. He had also hosted a photo exhibition recently, Jain: Culture and History in Telangana, on his findings with the help of the State government.

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The New Indian Express