History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas: A Vanished Indian Religion

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History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas: A Vanished Indian Religion
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The book presents the history and the doctrines of the Ajivikas who formed a third heretical sect besides the sect of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism and that of Mahavira Vardhamana, the twenty-B fourth Tirthankara of the Jainas. The three heterodox sects react against the ritualistic creed of the Vedists.

The cult of Ajivikas was founded by Makkhali Gosal, the contemporary of Mahavira Vardhamana, on the basis of strict determinism with a belief in the all-embracing rule of Niyati (principle of order). According to Gosal, it was Niyati which ultimately governed our action, controlled phenomena and left no room for human volition.

It will throw new light on any interesting and significant aspect of India’s past, and will encourage further research.

This book is divided into fifteen chapters discussing elaborately different aspects of the subject matter. The comprehensive Bibliography and index are the added features for the researchers for comparative as well as further study of yet unexplored areas.

About the Author

Prof. A.L. Basham, a versatile genius, was a legendary figure in the field of Indology. He was a great teacher and produced as many as hundred Ph. D. students.

He has number of books to his credit - The Wonder That Was India, The Indian Sub-Continent in Historical Perspective, Studies in Indian History and Culture, Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture. His edited volumes are - Papers on the date of Kaniskha, The Civilization of Monsoon Asia, A Cultural History of India. He also published number of research papers I different reputed journals and volumes of the world.


It is gratifying to write a Foreword to History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas written by A.L. Basham. The book exhibits quite clearly the origin and development of the Ajivikas sect in ancient India. In the sixth century B.E. in Magadha, three unorthodox sects developed almost in the same region. All these three sects were seeking satisfying explanations of the sacrifice and the Upanisadic gnosis. The doctrines of these three sects were propagated by Mahavira, Buddha and Gosala. In course of time the doctrines of Mahavira and Buddha became famous and the doctrines of Gosala past into the land of oblivion. Basham has restored this sect in his The Ajivikas. At the time of Mahavira, the Ajivikas were powerful and Mahavira had to encounter with the views of the Ajivikas.

It is a fact worthnoting that the Ajivika sect was very much alive till the Mauryan period and it was due to the patronage of Asoka, it reached its zenith. After that the Ajivikas community dwindled rapidly in Northern India and soon became long-extinct. In South India, it, however, survived for a long period, perhaps, untill the 14th century A.D.

Though A.W.F. Hoernley wrote an article on the Ajivikas in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. I) edited by Hastings, and Rockhill in the Life of Buddha, Appendix II, R.G. Bhandarkar and K.P. Pathak in the Indian Antiquary, Vol. XL, 1912, Basham’s contribution to the subject is the best till now.

Basham in his book The Ajivikas has nicely delineated the history and the doctrines of the Ajivikas and has restored quite authentically one of the vanished Indian religion. Every statement of Professor Basham is authenticated with lots of supporting documents culled from different fields of studies: literary, inscriptional, and even from the art pictures. A book like this has a perennial source of information.

It is quite in the fitness of things that this book is being reprinted again for the benefit of the scholars, so that this lost religion is kept alive from generation to generation.

2nd Foreword

Both in religious and in social life movements of extreme intensity are apt to engender opposite forces. This rule of human nature is strikingly exemplified by the development of religion in Ancient India. Here history began with the dominance of Vedism, a group of polytheistic cults autocratically engineered the Brahmans, who vigorously claimed that the welfare and indeed the very existence of the world, including even the gods, depended upon the maintenance of their systems of sacrifice, which grew to immense size and complexity. Dissent from this crude creed first appeared in the Upanisads, in which a few liberal-minded Brahmans, perhaps supported by some of the military aristocracy, put forward speculations of an elementary monistic idealism, while leaving the edifice of Vedism intact for the use of the unenlightened. But a far greater peril to Brahmanic ritualism arose about this time, and spread far and wide, affecting some few of the Brahmans themselves; for now the very foundations of Brahmanic orthodoxy were uncompromisingly denied, and preachers of what they claimed to be new and true doctrine arose on many sides. This radical movement assumed many phases. In some circles, Brahmanic and non- Brahmanic, it appeared in the form of a coarse atheistic materialism associated with the name of Carvaka. Elsewhere it took a less crude shape. Among the aristocratic clans of the North two noblemen came under its influence, and created churches: they were Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and Mahavira Vardhamana, whom the Jains revere as their twenty-fourth Tirthankara. But besides these and some other less successful leaders of gentle birth there was a multitude of men of humble origin noisily preaching their heresies in various wise; and among these the Ajivikas played a part of some importance, if not of great glory.

The history of this queer sect is reconstructed by Dr. Basham in the following pages with much skill and scholarly thoroughness. As he shows, their reputation has been somewhat unfairly blackened by the odium theologicum of their rivals, the Buddhists and the Jains; and they deserve some credit for the obstinate consistency and intellectual honesty with which they clung to their doctrine of predestination, to the exclusion of all other principles. Logically, of course, one may ask how believers in that dismal creed can submit themselves voluntarily to self- torture and even to death in pursuance of it; But man is not a logical creature: he does not abstain from effort although he may believe the issue to be predetermined, as the example of Calvin and his Church shows.

For a long period, extending from early classical times to the middle of the Medieval period, our knowledge of Ajivika history is a blank, for no records or those years have survived. Then the curtain rises again, and we find abundant documents in inscriptions of the Tamil and Kanarese areas and in a few works of southern literature. These show that in the intervening centuries the Ajivikas had undergone changes such as are usual in the development of Indian religious bodies: the little congregation had hardened into a caste—community of considerable size, and the figure of its founder had assumed features of divinity. The story that is here narrated is indeed a highly interesting and instructive chapter in, the vast record of Indian thought.




  Foreword by Prof. Satya Ranjan Banerjee xi
  Foreword By Dr. L.D. Barnett xiii
  Preface to The Second Edition xv
  Abbreviations xxi
I Introduction 3
  The Historical Background to the Rise of Ajivikism.  
II The Six Heretics  
  The Record of the Samanna-phala Sutta… 11
  Other Buddhist References to the Doctrines of the Heretics 18
III. Makkhali Gosala and His Predecessors  
  Ajivika Leads before Makkhali Gosala 27
  Nanda Vaccha and Kisa Sankicca 27
  The Immediate Predecessors of Makkhali Gosala 30
  Makkhali Gosala 34
  Birth of Makkhali Gosala 35
  The Meeting of Gosala with Mahavira 39
  The Peregrinations of the Two Ascetics 41
  Gosala and the Sesamum Plant 47
  Gosala and Vesiyayana 49
  Gosala Attains Magical Power and becomes the Leader of the Ajivikas 50
IV. The Last Days of Makkhali Gosala  
  The Six Disacaras 56
  Gosala is Exposed by Mahavira 58
  Gosala Visits Mahavira 60
  Gosala’s Delirium 61
  Ayampula Visits Gosala 62
  Gosala’s Repentance and Death 64
  The Date of Gosala’s Death 66
  The Name and Titles of Makkhali Gosala 78
V. Purana and Pakudha  
  Purana Kassapa 80
  The Death of Purana 84
  Pakudha Kaccayana 90
VI. The Early Ajivika Community (I)  
  The Wandering Philosophers 94
  Etymology of the Term Ajivika 101
  The Ajivika Initiation 104
  Ajivika Nudity 107
  The Ajivika Sabha 115
  Song and Dance 116
VII. The Early Ajivika Community (II)  
  Begging and Dietary Practices 118
  Accusations of Worldliness and Immorality 123
  The Final Penance 127
  Ajivika Laymen 131
  Relations between Ajivikas and Buddhists 134
  Relations between Ajivikas and Jainas 138
VIII. Ajivikas in the Nanda and Maurya Periods  
  Mahapadma 142
  Ajivikism in Maurya Times 145
  The Barabar and Nagarjuni Caves 150
IX. Ajivikas In Later Times  
  References in Sanskrit Literature 161
  Varahamihira and Utpala 168
  Silanka and the Trairasikas 174
  Nemicandra on the Ajivikas 181
  Lexicographical References 182
  The Last References to Ajivikas 184
X. The Southern Ajivikas  
  The Inscriptions 186
  Ajivikas in Tamil Literature 196
  Appendix To Part I-The Iconoclast Ascetics of Kashmir 205
Part II. Doctrines of the Ajivikas
XI. Ajivika Scriptures  
  The Mahanimittas, the Maggas, and the Onpatu-katir 213
  Pali and Prakrit Quotations 216
  Quotations by the Commentators 220
XII. Niyati 224
  Niyativada Dialectic 228
  The Development of the Niyati Doctrine 235
XIII. Ajivika Cosmology  
  The Categories of the Samann-phala Sutta 240
  The Eight Last Things 254
  The Six Inevitables 255
  Other Ajivika Categories 256
  Mandala-moksa 257
XIV. Other Doctrines of the Ajivikas  
  The Elements 263
  Ajivika Atomism in Relation to other Indian Atomic Doctrines 267
  The Soul 270
  The Gods 272
  Ajivika Logic 274
  The Status of Makkhali Gosala 275
XV. Conclusion  
  Summary 278
  Dr. Barua’s Three Questions 279
  The Influence of the Ajivikas 279
  The Place of the Ajivikas in Indian History 283
  Bibliography 289
  Index 301


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