It is a fact that chandragupta the mauryan, the most genius military leader recorded by the Indian History, had conquered all of dakShiNApatha including whole of karNATaka, the testimony of which is furnished by the bilingual saMskR^ita-prAkR^ita mauryan inscriptions from the region. This is also of considerable credence that he had, along with a large population from his capital, of which jaina-s were a part, taken a lengthy retreat in this province at some point in time, faced with a prolonged draught in North. It is by this means that the region seems to have come in close contact with jaina-s, if not introduced altogether for the first time to the jinadharma.
By this time, the language of kannaDa, along with its numerous dialects, must have already emerged with a distinct identity, from the household of the draviDan grand-aunt, although we know little of her older forms except for through the much later inscriptions. (Still the data is much clearer in this case than we get to see about the past of the most North Indian vernaculars).
In later centuries, many kannaDa works were produced including its grammar, especially during the ga~NgA period, although except for the names and themes of some of these early works, the manuscripts themselves have not been found.
This is where, to our rescue, enter the jaina-s, and it is interesting to note that the oldest work of kannaDa available so far to us, comes from nobody but a jaina scholar.
Many sources mention the 10th century pampA as the oldest kannaDa poet, the Adikavi, and his translation of the great bhArata, titled samastabhArata, as the oldest kannaDa poetry, besides AdipurANa the kannaDa narrative about the founder of jina-mata. However pampA’s being first in the field of kannaDa will only be accurate so far as we speak of mahAkAvya.
One full century before the times of pampA, was written kavirAjamArga, which in reality is the oldest extant work in kannaDa that is available. kavirAjamArga, a handbook of poetics, was a contribution of another jaina scholar, under patronage of king nR^ipatu~Nga. Impressed by the stalwarts of saMskR^ita poetics, daNDI and bhAmaha, it lays down, using as a template the famed kAvyadarsha of the former, all the fine points about producing poetry in kannaDa vernacular. (Interestingly, while paying tributes to saMskR^ita giants, it forbids the aspiring kannaDa poets from mixing the words of saMskR^ita and kannaDa, warning them that it would be akin to ‘mixing buttermilk with boiling milk’!)
Even before this time, we read that another jaina scholar tumbulUrAchArya wrote in the 7th century, a kannaDa work named chUDAmaNi, while during the same period prAbhR^ita was produced by another jaina scholar by name shyAmakuNDAchArya. Unfortunately neither of these works is available.
Produced a little later but still of quite antiquity is yet another old kannaDa work of jaina origin, vaDDArAdhane, which is a collection of nineteen jaina tales, quite of the nature of what we find produced at the same time in prAkR^ita and apabhaMsha from the jaina pens in the north, like entertaining kuvalayamAlA. ‘vaDDA’ in the title of this work even comes from apabhraMsha, and quite corresponds with its modern daughter, Hindi, in ‘baDA’, meaning ‘big’.
So, jaina contribution to kannaDa is in line with their contribution to many vernacular languages of many parts of India, be it gujerAtI, maharaTTI or maithilI. They were very particular about not only mastering the vernaculars but standardizing their literature, codifying the grammars, producing dictionaries, and preparing the manuals of poetics. Indeed most of the prAkR^ita and apabhraMsha grammars and dictionaries come to us intact, written by jaina AchArya-s and carefully preserved in jaina bhaNDAra-s.
Having acknowledged jaina contribution to Indic languages, we were curious about what could have motivated them to go out of the way and master so many vernaculars beyond prAkR^ita and apabhraMsha, their chosen languages of knowledge.
We got the answer, internally from within the jaina literature, that too, no less than from the celebrated jaina master AchArya kunda kunda the ShreShTha.
In his great treatise of philosophy, samayasAra, which is held in a comparable esteem by jainAvalambins, as the bhagavad-gItA is by the Astika-s, AchArya kunda kunda hands us this lead in chaste prAkR^ita: “jaha Navi sakkamaDajjo aNajjabhAbhAsaM viNA u gAheduM… (samayasAra 1.8)” It’s saMskR^ita rendering would be “yathA na shakyatonAryyo anAryabhAShA vina tu grAhayitum…”, meaning, ‘(like) anArya-s can not be taught unless non-AryabhAShA-s are employed…’.
Which quite explains what might have motivated jaina scholarship in mastering different vernaculars: they were, unlike Astika-s, quite active in propagation of their mata, and mastering the vernaculars was a natural and essential pre-requisite for it.
Just one last comment about valluvar being claimed as jaina. Anyone with familiarity to both kuraL and jaina texts, wouldn’t claim this, besides we have yet to come across any jaina treatise of note that ever remembers valluvar as jaina, and jaina chroniclers are extremely particular about mentioning their masters. When some jaina hagiographies go so far as to claim kuTilya and rAmachandra as jaina-s, why would they leave out valluvar is hard to explain.