The Ajivikas   By Yashwant Malaiya

I have a copy of Basham's book which I had read some time ago.

Much of the history of the Ajivikas is lost. Basham and others before him have attempted to reconstruct their history from Jain and Buddhist texts and Maurya inscriptions. There is some information available from Tamil and SriLankan sources.


1. The Ajivikas were loosely organized groups of monks. They existed before Lord Mahavira and Buddha, just like other
Sramanas. Neither  Lord Mahavira nor Gotam Buddha were founders of the Sramana tradition.

The Ajivikas had once invited Buddha for food. They are frequently mentioned in Buddhist literature. They are sometimes portrayed in Buddhist sculpture. In Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay there are many fragments of Buddhist art from Gandhar depicting life of Buddha. One of them show several naked monks, they are not Jain
but Ajivika.

Buddhist literature sometimes uses Ajivika and Nirgrantha interchangably, suggesting that the term Ajivika was used loosely.

Makkhali Gosala:

2. Makkhali Gosala, a former  disciple and companion of Lord Mahavira, was not the founder of Ajivikas, rather was the leader of a group of them. He is mentioned in both Jain and Buddhist books.

Survival of Ajivikas:

3. Basham argues that Ajivikas existed until AD 1294 in Tamil region. There are several inscriptions in  Tamilnadu that mention an "Ajivika tax" collected from villages. It is however not obvious that they were distinct from the Jain monks, because it seems that the term was somtimes used loosely. Ajivika are mentioned in several Tamil classics specially Silappadhikaram.


The book by Basham is actually based on his  PhD dissertation. Basham, who I think passed away recently, was the teacher of many Indologists, including the famous leftist historian Romila Thaper.