What are the causes for the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in 6th Century BC?

Numerous religious sects arose in the middle Gangatic plains in the second half of the 6th century B.C. Of these sects Jainism and Buddhism were the most important, and they emerged as the most potent religious reform movements.

Causes of Origin

Varna system

  • In post-Vedic times society was clearly divided into four varnas: Brahmanas, Kshatrlyas, vaishyas and Shudras. Each vama was assigned well-defined functions, although it was emphasized that vama was based on birth and the two higher vamas were given some privileges.
  • Varna-divided society seems to have generated tensions. But the Kshatriyas, who functioned as rulers, reacted strongly against the ritualistic domination of the Brahmanas, and seem to have led a kind of protest movement against the importance attached to birth in the Varna system.
  • The Kshatriya reaction against the domination of the priestly class called brahmanas, who claimed various privileges, was one of the causes of the origin of new religions.
  • Vardhamana Mahavira, who founded Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism belonged to the Kshatriya clan and both disputed the authority of the brahmanas.


  • The use of iron tools made possible clearance, agriculture and large settlements. The agricultural economy based on the iron plough-share require, to the use of bullocks, and It could not flourish without animal husbandry. But the Vedic practice of killing cattle indiscriminately in sacrifices stood in the way of the progress of new agriculture.
  • The cattle wealth slowly decimated because the cows and bullocks were killed in numerous Vedic sacrifices. The tribal people living on the southern and eastern fringes of Magadha also killed cattle for food. But if the new agrarian economy had to be stable, this killing had to be stopped.
Also Read:   Sangama Kingdoms- Cholos, Pandyas & Cheras

Rise of Cities

  • The period was the rise of a large number of cities In north-eastern India. Kaushambi near Allahebad, Kushlnagar (In Deorla District of Utter Pradesh), Banaras, Vaishah (in the newly created district of the same name in north Bihar), Chlrand (In Saran district) and Rajgir (situated at a distance of about 100 km south-east of Patna).
  • The earliest coins belong to the fifth century B.C., and they are called punch-marked coins. They circulated for the first time In eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  • The use of coins naturally facilitated trade and commerce, which added to the importance of the Vaishyas.
  • In the Brahmanical society the Vaishyas ranked third, the first two being Brahmanas and Kshatrlyas. Naturally they looked for some religion which would Improve their position.
  • On the other hand, we also notice a strong reaction against various forms of private property. Old fashioned people did not like the use and accumulation of coins made certainly of sliver and topper and possibly of gold.
  • They detested new dwellings and dresses, new systems of transport which amounted to luxury, and they hated war and violence. The new forms of property created social Inequalities, and caused misery and suffering to the masses of the people. So the common people yearned to return to primitive life.
  • They wanted to get back to the ascetic Ideal which dispensed with the new forms of property and the new style of life. Both Jainism and Buddhism preferred simple, puritan acetic living.
  • The Buddhist and Jain monks were asked to forego the good things of life. They were not allowed to touch gold and silver. They were accepted only as much from their patrons as was sufficient to keep body and soul together.
  • They therefore, rebelled against the material advantages stemming from the new life In the Gangetic basin.
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