Acharya Hemachandra (1089–1172) was a Jain scholar, poet, and polymath who wrote on grammar, philosophy, prosody, and contemporary history. Noted as a prodigy by his contemporaries, he gained the title Kalikāl Sarvagya “all-knowing of the Kali Yuga”.
He was born in Dhandhuka, Gujarat(about 100 km south west of Ahmadabad), to Chachadeva and Pahini Devi. They named him Chandradeva. The Jain derasar of Modhera Tirtha is located at his birthplace. As a young man, Chandradeva was initiated as a monk by Devachandra at a derasar and took the name Somachandra. He was trained in religious discourse, philosophy, logic and grammar. In 1110, at the age of 21, he was ordained as an acharya of the Svetambara sect of Jainism and was given the name Somachandra (popularly Hemachandra).
At the time, Gujarat was ruled by the Chaulukya dynasty. Hemachandra rose to prominence under the reign of Siddharaja (fl. 1092–1141) and was an advisor to his successor Kumarpal (1143–1173). During Kumarapala’s reign, Gujarat became a reputed center of culture. Starting in 1121, Hemachandra was involved in the construction of the Jain temple at Taranga. His influence on Kumarapala resulted in the Jain religion becoming the official religion of Gujarat, and animal slaughter was banned.
According to Prabhachandra, there was an incident where Siddharaja wanted to kill his nephew Kumarpala because it was prophecised that the kingdom would meet its demise through Kumarpala hands. Hemachandra hid Kumarpala under a pile of manuscripts in order to save him. However, such motifs are common in Indian folk literature, hence there is no guarantee that this was a historical event. Also, many sources differ on what were the motives of Siddharaja. However, they are unanimous in claiming that Hemachandra was responsible to make Kumarpala the king and helped him run the kingdom according to Jain principles.
Taking an approach of Anekāntavāda, Ācārya Hemacandra is said to have displayed a broad-minded attitude, which pleased Kumarpal. Certain people who were jealous of Hemacandra’s rising popularity with the king complained that Hemacandra was a very arrogant person, that he did not respect the Hindu gods and that he refused to bow down to Śiva.
When called upon to visit the temple of Śiva with the king, Hemacandra readily bowed before the idol of Śiva, but said: I am bowing down only to that god who has destroyed the passions like attachment and hatred which are the cause of worldly life, whether he is Brahmā, Vishnu, or Jina.
He ensured that he remained true to tenets of Jainism, namely, that a Jain should bow down only to a passionless and detached God such as a Jina, and at the same time managed to please the king. Ultimately, the king became a devoted follower of Hemacandra and a champion of Jainism.