Samanars

SamanarCave-00About a year ago, while we were walking back to our car my dad casually pointed me in the direction of a rocky path where he said that there is supposedly a bat cave somewhere beyond that. Never passing up an opportunity to visit caves and ancient relics I took up a little trek through an abandoned looking trail. I came across a desolate almost surreal looking opening between two boulders with ancient steps leading up a hill to the mouth of a small cave. I ended up stumbling upon Samanar Site 3 of 6. In Tamil Nadu, Samanars were among the many precursors to what later became mainstream Jainism (even though the many samanar traditions evolved independently throughout India, they were all collectively gathered up and dubbed under one roof called “Jainism”). From that point, it became a hobby for me and dad (both of us being more attracted towards such ancient sites and temples over today’s places of prayer or worship, as they represent very genuine original seeking of Truth/God) to look for similar sites in and around Madurai. See list of other Samanar sites below.

A few months later, a close friend called me for a walkabout tour of the area (being organized by the Archaeological Society of India, and guided by one retired professor of Arts & Humanities of Madurai Kamaraj University, Prof. Venkatraman). Little did I know that there were so many gems like this all around the locality where I live. Searching the internet for more details came up with nothing. Prof. Venkatraman, even though he had so much knowledge on Samanars, had not a single publication he could refer me to. Like many teachers of previous generations, they transmitted knowledge in the oral tradition (I guess universities back then were free from the pressures of “publish or perish”). The great oral tradition of transmission of knowledge might be gone, but I hope to share these in the new tradition of internet/blogging!

FYI, Jainism (and Buddhism) flourished in Tamil Nadu and contributed greatly to its classical prose literature, but by around 7 CE Jainism (and the Samanar tradition) lost its following when it started becoming fundamentalist, including the emergence of puritanical beliefs, such as for example even untouchability (against non-Jains). For example, even the sound of a Shaivite chanting his mantras entering the ears of a Jain would be considered as “pollution” and the Jain would undergo severe purgation rituals. As a result Jains created many Jain-only areas. As with any faith, when the faith becomes less tolerant, i.e. more fundamentalist, it loses its appeal (at least among intelligent sensible people/cultures). In fact Jainism started becoming so puritanical, that it resulted in severe conflicts with other faiths (particularly the other dominant faith at that time – that of Shaivism), that it even resulted in Jains being faced with persecution.

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