, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 599-646

The Ins and Outs of the Jains in Tamil Literary Histories

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Abstract

The Jains and their texts play a key role in the literary histories of the Tamil-speaking region. However, in their modern form, dating from 1856 to the present, these histories have been written almost exclusively by non-Jains. Driving their efforts have been agendas such as cultural evolutionism, Dravidian nationalism or Śaiva devotionalism. This essay builds on ideas articulated by the contemporary Tamil theorist K. Civatampi, examining how various models of periodization have frozen the Jains in the ancient past. Further, it will explore how this unfolding historical drama, which gloriously climaxes in Tamil literature, has attributed the Jains, as dramatis personae, merely a role in early Jain texts; their role as communities transmitting these texts has been ignored. In contrast to this typical pattern, this article will also introduce a literary history written in 1941 by the Jain A. Cakravarti Nāyaṉār (1880–1960). It will explore whether or not his voice, which emerged from within the same academic community contributing to the strange absence of Jains in the contemporary awareness of Tamil literary, was successful in finding another way for Jains of being heard, and for non-Jains, of listening.