Matang Community: Matangs in Jain Literature and History
Who are Matangs?
Matangs are ancient people of India. Although they are concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka today, they are spread all over India. They existed in Indus valley Civilization, In Ganges Valley, in far eastern regions of India as well as in the southern parts of India. Moreover, they were spread in South Eastern Countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia etc. They existed in Myanmar (Burma) also.
The famous Naga race is one of the offshoots of Matang race. Jain literature suggests that Matangs existed before Nagas. In fact, Nagas originated from Matangs. The Matangs who selected cobra as their totem, became Naga people.
Matangs in Jain Literature and History
Now coming to our main subject of discussion, I would like to tell you that there are a lot of references to Matangs in Jain literature of anceint and medieval times. Matangs have a special relation with Jainism. They have enjoyed prominent posts in Jain fold; including the highest post i.e. Teerthankar (Ford Maker).
In Jain literature, they are known as Matangs as well as Vidyadhars. They are Great Jain Ascetics, Kings, Yakshas and common followers of Jainism. The oldest reference to Matangs in Jainism goes back to the pre-historic age. According to the well preserved tradition of Jainism, Vinami was the Grandson of Rikhab (Rishabh), the first Teerthankar of Jainism. Vinami had a son Matang, and he was the founder of Matang race.
Suparshwanath, the 7th Teerthankar
According to Jain tradition, 24 Teerthankars promoted Jainism in different eras. Rikhab (Rishabh) was the first and Mahaveer was the last one. Modern scholars have traced the existence of Rikhab in Sumerian Civilization. His idols were worshiped by the people of Indus Valley Civilization. As I have written above, Vinami was the Grandson of Rikhab (Rishabh), the first Teerthankar of Jainism. Vinami had a son named as Matang, and he was the founder of Matang race. According to Jain literature, Suparshvanath, the 7th Teerthankar of Jainism was born in this Matang race.
The existence of Suparshwanath has been traced in Indus valley civilization. His emblem (symbol) is serpent, as well as a Swastik. It is interesting to know that both these symbols are very important in Jainism and the Jain community has been using them till today. The idols of Suparshwanath are very rare and have special characteristics in it. The two main characteristics are the symbols I have mentioned above. Further, most of the ancient and medieval idols of Suparshwanath are in light purple color.
Matang Yaksha in a Jain Cave of Ellora, Maharashtra
The Matang Yaksha
In Jainism, Yakshas are attendant God of Teerthankars. Each Teerthankar has one Yaksha and one Yakshini (attendant Goddess), so there are 24 Yakshas and 24 Yakshinis. They are known as guardians and protectors of Teerthankars, and are worshiped by most of the Jains and are known as Jain Gods/ Goddesses of prosperity.
It is interesting to know that 2 of the 24 Yakshas are Matangs. The Yaksha of Teerthankar Suparsvanath (who himself belonged to Matang race) is a Matang and the Yaksh of Teerthankar Mahveer is also a Matang. As the Yaksha and Yakshini are in pairs, the related Yakshinis also belong to Matangs. Yakshini of Teerthankar Suparshwanath is Shanta and the Yakshini of Teerthankar Mahveer is Siddhayika.
You will find idols of Matang Yaksha and Siddhayika yakshini in Jain temples where Lord Mahaveer is the chief deity. This yaksha is shown sitting on elephant.
The most famous idol of Matang Yaksha is at ellora Jain Caves.
Matang Ascetics in Jainism
There are a lot of references to the Matangs who became Jain monks and many of them eventually became Acharyas, the highest position in Jain monkhood. Some of the famous Jain monks belonging to Matangs were Harikeshi, Chitt, Sambhuti, Metarya etc.
Uttaradhyan Sutta is one of the important Jain texts. In one of the chapter or this text, a detailed story of the Jain monks Chitt and Sambhuti appears. These two Matang Munis were brothers, who enlighten many Vedic Bramhins with the teaching of Lord Mahaveer.
Hanuman in Jain Ramayan
Jain Ramayan is one of the most important versions of Ramayans. It is very different from almiki Ramayan. Valmiki Ramayan has presented Vali, Sugreev, Hanuman, Nal, Neel and many others as monkeys or bears. But Jain Ramayan presents all of them as human beings, that too as Vidyadhars, i.e. the human beings having advanced knowledge of various technologes. Further, they are presented as people belonging to Matang race. All they were noble and handsome personalities.
According to Jain Ramayan, Hanuman was a brave General as well as a King. He helped King Ram in his mission, and was a friend of him, not a devotee or Daas. Hanuman had 8 queens. As Hanuman was a human being, his face was not like a monkey, but like a human being, and he had no tail.
It is notable that according to Jainism, only human beings can attain liberation (Moksha), and Hanuman, Sugreev and others attained liberation with King Ram at Mangi-Tungi, a mountain in Northern Maharashtra.
Matang Laymen in Jain Literature
There are many stories about Matang Laymen in Jain literature. One of the famous stories is of Matangpati, who got the highest respect by King Shrenik.
Matangpati knew the art of disappearing. King Shrenik wanted to learn this art from Matangpati, and the latter tried to teach it to the King. But Shrenik was unable to get it. Abhaykumar, the son of King Shrenik realized that his father was not getting Matangpati because Shrenik was sitting on the Royal Seat, while Matangpati was standing before him. It was not a respect for a teacher. So Abhayakumar suggested his father to give proper respect to Matangpati. Accordingly, Matangpati sat on the seat and King Shrenik stood before him like a student. Doing so, King Shrenik easily learnt the art.
Another famous Matang layman was Yamapal Chandal.
Mangai of Shravanabelagola
Mangai, a Matang woman, was a famous disciple of Charukirti Panditacharya of Shravanabelagola, the world famous pilgrimage center of Jains. She was the chieftain of the royal dancing girl. She built a Jain temple at Shravanabelagola in 1325 AD. The temple is known as Mangai Basadi.
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© 2012 Mahaveer Sanglikar