A Jain Temple in India - Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

The economic life of Jains in medieval times can be reconstructed from a host of indigenous and European language sources.

Most of the indigenous language sources lack quantitative data. The contemporary literature in Gujarati, Rajasthani, Hindi and Sanskrit, etc., speak of the ‘affluence’ and ‘prosperity’ of individual Jains and of the community in different places but they seldom give any significant statistical data.

Surendra Gopal

Sabalsingh Mothia was an extremely rich trader. When Banarsidas reached Agra, he was enjoying with his friends a program of music and paid no heed to his pleas for clearing the accounts. This continued for thirty months. Obviously rich traders could afford to ignore their subordinates who had to submit to their whims. Eventually Banarsidas met Sabalsingh’s brother-in-law and requested him to plead on his behalf. He persuaded Sabalsingh to give in writing that Banarsidas owed nothing to him. This long wait must have disenchanted Banarsidas from pursuing a commercial profession.

Banarsidas gave up his trading activities and for the rest of his life devoted himself to literary and religious pursuits.

It is said in the time of Jahangir, Shvetambar Jain families lived in Agraa,

Savaji Kabanji Parekh of Porbandar was another important Jain trader. He complained to Shah Jahan when the local administrator raised tax from 3 p.c. to 6 p.c. on goods sold by him. He succeeded in securing an imperial firman which ordered all the local officials not to exact more than 3 p.c. as tax. He constructed a Jain temple in 1635 A.D. but later on accepted Pushti Marg, as propagated by Vallabhacharya.

A group of fourteen merchants lent to the East India Company in Bengal between 31 March and 25 July 1670 a sum of 5.23 lakhs of rupees. Of these Kalyanchand Jesang and Kapurchand were certainly Jains.

The narrative underlines certain important facts about the economic life of Jains in medieval times. First, trade was their primary economic occupation. In pursuit of trade they had spread all over north India from Multan in the West to Patna, Rajmahal, etc. in the east. They were to be found in major villages, small towns and important commercial centers. Capital could be easily raised for investment on credit. Loans were available as a part of normal business practice.

The affluent merchants had a wide trading network which enabled them to participate in long distance trade and also receive and transfer money from and to different places.

The combination of trade, banking and shroffage brought immense material prosperity to some Jains. On occasions the economic clout was translated into political influence as the history of the House of Jagat Seth amply demonstrates.

Another Jain to make his mark as a distinguished administrator was Muhnot Nainsi, who was at one time the Prime Minister of Jodhpur and who came from a family of distinguished administrators. He was a historian as well. He led the State armed forces on several occasions. His valour on the battle-field made the enemies tremble with tear.

The Mughal capital Agra, the commercial entrepot of the Mughal Empire, was the headquarters of many eminent Jain traders. Besides Sabalsingh, we know of Hiranand Mukim who was so rich that the Mughal Emperor Jahangir visited his house as an invitee in 1610. Jahangir permitted him to lead a congregation of Jains from Allahabad to the Jain holy place Sammed Shikhar in Bihar. Uttamchand Jawahari has been mentioned as another jeweler of Agra.

It is clear that in addition to their participation in banking and shroffage, a major source of Jain affluence was their trade in diamonds, pearls and other precious stones. In the seventeenth century diamond trade in India was booming. Even the Europeans participated in this trade. Fischel notes, “…prominent London Jews, who, attracted by the wealth of the diamond mines at Golconda, seriously considered going to India settling in Madras. Already in 1670 London Jews were interested in the Indian Diamond trade and a certain Rodrigues of Berry Street and a Da Costa are reported to have paid some money into the East India Company Bank”.

Involvement in trade, banking usury exchange of coins required the person concerned to pick up at least rudiments of 3 rupees—reading, writing and arithmetic. Since trade was their primary profession, they were a literate community, Literacy among Jains had deeper roots as they were exposed to the preaching of their wandering monks. Wherever there was a concentration of some Jains, during the rainy season, some monks would stay, deliver lectures on religious scriptures. Hence, as a community the Jains had enough incentive to learn to read and write. They were skilled in accounting. Moving from place to place, they had also developed expertise in local languages and were invariably familiar with two or three languages. The grandfather or Banarsidas had studied both Hindi and Persian. Hence, many Jains were offered jobs in the administration, before and under the imperial Mughals and the local nobility.

Jobs in the administration were the next important source of livelihood for the Jains.

Sangram was appointed a minister by Sher Shah Suri. His son Karmachandra eventually rose to become a trusted minister of Akbar.

Under Akbar the Great, Than Singh was an important minister. He was responsible for Akbar’s invitation to Hiravijaya Suri.

When Man Singh conquered Bengal on behalf of Akbar, he carried with him a number of Jains, who were then entrusted with the task of reorganizing the revenue administration. Diwan Dhanna Srimal has been mentioned as one such official in Bengal. Kharagsen the father of Banarsidas went to Bengal to serve under Dhanna Srimal. He was made a treasurer of Potdar of four parganas and he collected revenue with the help of two karkuns and forwarded the amount so collected to the local governor. He returned to Jaunpur after Dhanna suddenly died.

Nanu Gadha accompanied Akbar’s General Man Singh to Bengal. He became so affluent that he constructed eighty temples in Bengal. He owned seventy-two elephants.

Kharagsen’s father Muldas was also a government official, who served in the jaagir of Narwar, granted to a Mughal official. It is reported that along with the collection of the revenue, he also advanced loans and earned extra money.

Another Jain, Jaita Shah was also a confidante of Akbar.

Among other administrative officials at the local level, mention may be made of Sahaskaran of Viramgaon (near Ahmedabad), who commanded a force of 500 cavalry.

Another Jain to make his mark as a distinguished administrator was Muhnot Nainsi, who was at one time the Prime Minister of Jodhpur and who came from a family of distinguished administrators. He was a historian as well. He led the State armed forces on several occasions. His valour on the battle-field made the enemies tremble with tear. (Concludes) 


Courtesy: Jain World

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