The canonical texts of Jainism are called Agamas. These are said to be based on the discourse of the tirthankara, delivered in a samavasarana (divine preaching hall). These discourses are termed as Śrutu Jnāna (Jinvani) and comprises eleven angas and fourteen purvas. According to the Jains, the canonical literature originated from the first tirthankara Rishabhanatha. The Digambara sect believes that there were 26 Agam‑sutras (12 Ang‑agams + 14 Ang‑bahya‑agams). However, they were gradually lost starting from one hundred fifty years after Lord Mahavir’s nirvana. Hence, they do not recognize the existing Agam-sutras (which are recognized by the Svetambara sects) as their authentic scriptures.
Āchārya Bhutabali was the last ascetic who had partial knowledge of the original canon. Later on, some learned Āchāryas started to restore, compile and put into written words the teachings of Lord Mahavira, that were the subject matter of Agamas. Āchārya Dharasen, from 3rd to 7th century CE, guided two Āchāryas, Āchārya Pushpadant and Āchārya Bhutabali, to put these teachings in the written form. The two Āchāryas wrote, on palm leaves, Ṣaṭkhaṅḍāgama– among the oldest known Digambara Jaina texts. Around the same time, Āchārya Gunadhar wrote Kaşāyapāhuda.
The Shatkhandagama is also known as Maha‑kammapayadi‑pahuda or Maha‑karma‑prabhrut. Two Acharyas; Pushpadanta and Bhutabali wrote it around 6th century CE. The second Purva‑agama named Agraya‑niya was used as the basis for this text. The text contains six volumes. Acharya Virasena wrote two commentary texts, known as Dhaval‑tika on the first five volumes and Maha‑dhaval‑tika on the sixth volume of this scripture, around 780 AD.
Kashaya‑pahuda or Kashaya-prabhrta
Acharya Gunadhara wrote the Kasay-pahud on the basis of the fifth Purva‑agama named Jnana‑pravada. Acharya Virasena and his disciple, Jinasena, wrote a commentary text known as Jaya‑dhavala‑tika around 780 AD.
Jain text are believed to be composed by Acharya Kundakunda around 4th century CE. are:
- Samayasāra (The Nature of the Self)
- Niyamasara (The Perfect Law)
Gommatsāra is one of the most important Jain texts authored by Acharya Nemichandra Siddhanta Chakravarti. It is based on the major Jain text, Dhavala written by the Acharya Bhutabali and Acharya Pushpadanta. It is also called Pancha Sangraha, a collection of five topics:
- That which is bound, i.e., the Soul (Bandhaka);
- That which is bound to the soul;
- That which binds;
- The varieties of bondage;
- The cause of bondage.
Bhadrabahu (c. 300 CE) is considered by the jains as last sutra-kevali (one who has memorized all the scriptures). He wrote various books known as niyukti, which are commentaries on those scriptures. He also wrote Samhita, a book dealing with legal cases. Umaswati (c. 1st century CE) wrote Tattvarthadhigama-sutra which briefly describes all the basic tennets of Jainism. Haribhadra (c 8th century) wrote the Yogadṛṣṭisamuccaya, a key Jain text on Yoga which compares the Yoga systems of Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. Siddhasena Divakara (c. 650 CE), a contemporary of Vikramaditya, wrote Nyayavatra a work on pure logic.
Hemachandra (c. 1088-1172 CE) wrote the Yogaśāstra, a textbook on yoga and Adhatma Upanishad. His minor work Vitragastuti gives outlines of the Jaina doctrine in form of hymns. This was later detailed by Mallisena (c. 1292 CE) in his work Syadavadamanjari. Devendrasuri wrote Karmagrantha which discuss the theory of Karma in Jainism. Gunaratna (c. 1400 CE) gave a commentary on Haribhadra’s work. Lokaprakasa of Vinayavijaya and pratimasataka of Yasovijaya were written in c. 17th century CE. Lokaprakasa deals with all aspects of Jainism. Pratimasataka deals with metaphysics and logic. Yasovijaya defends idol-worshiping in this work. Srivarddhaeva (aka Tumbuluracarya) wrote a Kannada commentary on Tattvarthadigama-sutra. This work has 96000 verses. Jainendra-vyakarana of Acharya Pujyapada and Sakatayana-vyakarana of Sakatayana are the works on grammar written in c. 9th century CE. Siddha-Hem-Shabdanushasana” by Acharya Hemachandra (c. 12th century CE) is considered by F. Kielhorn as the best grammar work of the Indian middle age. Hemacandra’s book Kumarapalacaritra is also noteworthy.
Narrative literature and poetry
Jaina narrative literature mainly contains stories about sixty-three prominent figures known as Salakapurusa, and people who were related to them. Some of the important works are Harivamshapurana of Jinasena (c. 8th century CE), Vikramarjuna-Vijaya (also known as Pampa-Bharata) of Kannada poet named Adi Pampa (c. 10th century CE), Pandavapurana of Shubhachandra (c. 16th century CE).
Jain literature covered multiple topics of mathematics around 150 AD including the theory of numbers, arithmetical operations, geometry, operations with fractions, simple equations, cubic equations, bi-quadric equations, permutations, combinations and logarithms.
Jains literature exists mainly in Jain Prakrit, Sanskrit, Marathi, Tamil, Rajasthani, Dhundari, Marwari, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu and more recently in English.
Jains have contributed to India’s classical and popular literature. For example, almost all early Kannada literature and many Tamil works were written by Jains. Some of the oldest known books in Hindi and Gujarati were written by Jain scholars.
The first autobiography in the ancestor of Hindi, Braj Bhasha, is called Ardhakathānaka and was written by a Jain, Banarasidasa, an ardent follower of Acarya Kundakunda who lived in Agra. Many Tamil classics are written by Jains or with Jain beliefs and values as the core subject. Practically all the known texts in the Apabhramsha language are Jain works.
The oldest Jain literature is in Shauraseni and the Jain Prakrit (the Jain Agamas, Agama-Tulya, the Siddhanta texts, etc.). Many classical texts are in Sanskrit (Tattvartha Sutra, Puranas, Kosh, Sravakacara, mathematics, Nighantus etc.). “Abhidhana Rajendra Kosha” written by Acharya Rajendrasuri, is only one available Jain encyclopedia or Jain dictionary to understand the Jain Prakrit, Ardha-Magadhi and other languages, words, their use and references within oldest Jain literature.
Jain literature was written in Apabhraṃśa (Kahas, rasas, and grammars), Standard Hindi (Chhahadhala, Moksh Marg Prakashak, and others), Tamil (Nālaṭiyār, Civaka Cintamani, Valayapathi, and others), and Kannada (Vaddaradhane and various other texts). Jain versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are found in Sanskrit, the Prakrits, Apabhraṃśa and Kannada.
Jain Prakrit is a term loosely used for the language of the Jain Agamas (canonical texts). The books of Jainism were written in the popular vernacular dialects (as opposed to Sanskrit which was the classical standard of Brahmanism), and therefore encompass a number of related dialects. Chief among these is Ardha Magadhi, which due to its extensive use has also come to be identified as the definitive form of Prakrit. Other dialects include versions of Maharashtri and Sauraseni.