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According to the tradition, the canonical literature originated from the first tirthankara Adinatha. It was forgotten and revived from time to time by tirthankara succeeding adinatha. The last tirthankara Mahavira's teachings was recorded in twelve sections known as anga. The last part contains the teachings of fourteen earlier works called purva. A council was formed c. 300 BCE at Pataliputra for compilation of the scriptures. However the last Anga was unknown to everyone. So jain monks were sent to Bhadrabahu to retrieve it. Bhadrabahu was a shrut-kevali according to Jain tradition. Shrut-kevali are individuals who had memorised all jain scriptures and could recite them out of memory. Of the whole delegation, only Sthulabhadra, a jain monk learnt the purva, while the others found themselves incapable of receiving the knowledge. However, Bhadrabahu did not allow stutabhadra to teach the last four purva to anyone. The knowledge of ten purva were passed on heriditarily up to seven generations of the teachers before it was lost permanently. The Vallabhi council was commissioned in c. 5th century CE to write down the scriptures. The council was headed by Devarddhi. The scriptures compiled by this council forms the canonical texts of the swetambara svetambara sect. The digambara sect of Jainism share the opinion that Bhadrabahu knew the scriptures. However, according to the digambara tradition, the knowledge of the twelve anga were also lost along with the fourteen purva. Svetambara sect thus claim to have the correct but incomplete canonical literature where as texts written in a later period guides the principles of the digambara.
The svetambara canonical literature consists of forty-five texts. These are eleven anga, twelve upanga, ten prakrina, six chedasutra, two sutra and four mulasutra. Further, svetambara also have niyukti and other works which are added to these forty-five texts. The holy texts of svetambara thus comes to around eighty-four. There are also thirty-six nigama which serves as a supplement to agama. There are some branches within svetambara sect which do not regard all these texts as authoritative. For instance, the sthanakavasi sect regards only thirty-two of these as their holy books.
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.
In the absence of authentic scriptures, Digambaras follow two main texts, three commentaries on main texts, and four Anuyogs consisting of more than 20 texts as the basis for their religious philosophy and practices. These scriptures were written by great Acharyas (scholars) from 100 to 1000 AD. They have used the original Agam Sutras as the basis for their work.
Shatkhand‑agam: The Shatkhand‑agam is also known as Maha‑kammapayadi‑pahuda or Maha‑karma‑prabhrut. Two Acharyas; Pushpadant and Bhutabali around 160 AD wrote it. The second Purva‑agam named Agraya‑niya was used as the basis for this text. The text contains six volumes. Acharya Virsen 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.
Kashay‑pahud or Kashay-prabhrut: Acharya Gunadhara wrote the Kasay-pahud. The fifth Purva‑agam named Jnan‑pravad was used as a basis for this scripture. Acharya Virsen and his disciple, Jinsen, wrote a commentary text known as Jaya‑dhaval‑tika around 780 AD
Bhadrabahu (c. 300 BCE) 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. Siddhasena Divakara (c. 650 CE), a contemporary of Vikramaditya, wrote Nyayavatra a work on pure logic. Haribhadra Suri (c. 1088-1072 CE) wrote Yogasastra, a textbook on yoga and Adhatma Upanishad. His minor work Vitragastuti gives outlines of the Jaina doctrine in form of hyms. 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. Dharmasagara (c. 1573) wrote kaupaksakausi-kasahasrakirana (Sun for the owls of the false doctrine). In this work he wrote against the Digambara sect of Jainism. 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. A recent work on Jaina theology is Jainatattvajnana written by Vijay Dharma Suri in 1917 CE. Srivarddhaeva (aka Tumbuluracarya) wrote a Kannada commentary on Tattvarthadigama-sutra. This work has 96000 verses. This work is praised in various inscriptions but it is lost. Jainendra-vyakarana of Pujyapada Devanandi and Sakatayana-vyakarana of Sakatayana are the works on grammar written in c. 9th century CE. Siddha-Hem-Shabdanushasana" by HemachandraAcharya (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). Paumacariya of Vimalasuri (c. 3rd or 4th century CE), Padma-purana of Ravisena (c. 660 CE) and Ramacandra-caritrapurana (also known as Pampa-Ramayana) of Pampa II (c. 1100 CE) have the stories of the legendary figure Rama.
Jain inscription usually starts with the words Om! Svasti! Sri.
- Glasenapp, Helmuth Von (1999), Jainism: An Indian Religion of Salvation (first published in German in 1925), Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-1376-6