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Jain flag
Jain Prateek Chihna.svg
The symbol of Jainism
Total population
about 5 million
Regions with significant populations
India, Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, United States
Prakrit, Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil, Gujarati, Hindi, Marwari

Jainism (/ˈnɪzəm/[1] or /ˈnɪzəm/[2]), traditionally known as Jain Shasan or Jain dharma (Sanskrit: जैन धर्म),[3] is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of ahimsanonviolence—towards all living beings. Practitioners believe that nonviolence and self-control are the means by which they can obtain liberation. The three main principles of Jainism are Nonviolence (Ahimsa), Non-Absolutism (Anekantavada) and Non-Possessiveness (Aparigraha). Followers of Jainism take 5 major vows: non-violence, non-lying, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment. Asceticism is thus a major focus of the Jain faith.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world.[4] Jains traditionally trace their history through a succession of twenty-four propagators of their faith known as tirthankaras with Rishabh as the first and Mahāvīra as the last of the current era.

Jainism has more than 6 million adherents worldwide with a majority residing in India. There are smaller immigrant communities in the United States, Kenya, the United Kingdom, and Canada.[5]



Main article: Ahimsa in Jainism

The principle of nonviolence (ahimsa) is the most fundamental and well known aspect of Jain religious practice.[6] The everyday implementation of ahimsa is more comprehensive than in other religions and is the hallmark for Jain identity.[7][8] Nonviolence is practiced first and foremost during interactions with other human beings, and Jains believe in avoiding harm to others through actions, speech and thoughts.[9] Intentional harm and the absence of compassion make an action more violent. Mahatma Gandhi notably practiced and preached ahimsa.

In addition to other humans, Jains extend the practice of nonviolence towards all living beings. As this ideal cannot be completely implemented in practice, Jains recognize a hierarchy of life, which gives more protection to humans followed by animals followed by insects followed by plants.

For this reason, vegetarianism is a hallmark of Jain practice with the majority of Jains practicing lacto-vegetarianism. If there is violence against animals during the production of dairy products, veganism is also encouraged. After humans and animals, insects are the next living being offered protection in Jain practice with avoidance of intentional harm to insects emphasized. For example, insects in the home are often escorted out instead of killed.

After nonviolence towards humans, animals and insects, Jains make efforts not to injure plants any more than necessary. Although they admit that plants must be destroyed for the sake of food, they accept such violence only inasmuch as it is indispensable for human survival. Strict Jains, including Jain monks and nuns, do not eat root vegetables such as potatoes, onions and garlic, because tiny organisms are injured when the plant is pulled up, and also because a bulb or tuber's ability to sprout is seen as characteristic of a living being.[10]

Jain monks and nuns also usually keep a cloth for ritual mouth-covering to avoid any insects or micro-organisms that may enter the mouth while talking or otherwise. Jainism has a very elaborate framework on types of life and includes life-forms that may be invisible. Jainism considers air itself as the embodiment of a type of life (vayu kaya) and hence wearing the mouth cloth should be seen beyond just preventing insects from entering the mouth. Per Jainism, injury caused by carelessness is like injury caused by deliberate action.[11]

Violence or war in self-defense can be justified, but this must only be used as a last resort after peaceful measures have been thoroughly exhausted.[12]


Mahāvīra employed anekānta extensively to explain the Jain philosophical concepts (painting from Rajasthan, ca. 1900)
Main article: Anekantavada

The second main principle of Jainism is non-absolutism (anēkāntavāda). For Jains, non-absolutism means maintaining open-mindedness. This includes the recognition of all perspectives and a humble respect for differences in beliefs. Jainism encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. The principle of anekāntavāda influenced Mahatma Gandhi to adopt principles of religious tolerance and ahiṃsā.[13]

Anekāntavāda emphasizes the principles of pluralism (multiplicity of viewpoints) and to the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, no single one of which is complete.[14][15]

Jains illustrate this theory through the parable of the blind men and an elephant. In this story, each blind man feels a different part of an elephant: its trunk, leg, ear, and so on. All of them claim to understand and explain the true appearance of the elephant but, due to their limited perspectives, can only partly succeed.[16] The concept of anēkāntavāda extends to and is further explained by Syādvāda (below).


Main article: Aparigraha

The third main principle in Jainism is non-possessiveness (aparigraha). This is the concept of greedlessness or non-grasping and includes non-materialism. Jainism emphasizes taking no more than is truly necessary. While ownership of objects is allowed, non-attachment to possessions is taught. Followers should minimize the tendency to hoard unnecessary material possessions and limit attachment to current possessions. Further, wealth and possessions should be shared and donated whenever possible. Jainism believes that unchecked attachment to possessions can lead to direct harm to oneself and others.

Five Main Vows[edit]

The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes the Jain Vow of Ahimsa. The word in the middle is "Ahimsa". The wheel represents the dharmacakra which stands for the resolve to halt the cycle of reincarnation through relentless pursuit of truth and non-violence.

Jainism encourages spiritual development through cultivation of personal wisdom and through reliance on self-control through vows.[17] Jains accept different levels of compliance for strict followers and laymen.[17] Followers of this religion undertake five major vows:

  1. Ahimsa: Ahimsa means nonviolence. The first major vow taken by followers is to cause no harm to living beings. It involves minimizing intentional and unintentional harm to other living creatures by actions, speech or thoughts.
  2. Satya: Satya means truth. This vow is to always speak the truth. Given that non-violence has priority, other principles yield to it whenever they conflict: in a situation where speaking truth could lead to violence, silence may be observed.[17]
  3. Asteya: Asteya means not stealing. Jains should not take anything that is not willingly offered.[17] Attempting to extort material wealth from others or to exploit the weak is considered theft. Fair value should be given for all goods and services purchased.
  4. Brahmacharya: Brahmacharya means chastity for laymen and celibacy for Jain monks and nuns. This requires the exercise of control over the senses to control indulgence in sexual activity.[18]
  5. Aparigraha: Aparigraha means non-possessiveness. This includes non-materialism and non-attachment to objects, places and people.[17] Jain monks and nuns completely renounce property and social relations.

Monks and nuns are obligated to practice the five cardinal principles of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-possessiveness very strictly, while laymen are encouraged to observe them within their current practical limitations.[17]

Additionally, Jainism identifies four passions of the mind: Anger, Pride (Ego), Deceitfulness and Greed. Jainism recommends conquering anger by forgiveness, pride (ego) by humility, deceitfulness by straight-forwardness and greed by contentment.


Main article: Jain metaphysics

Soul and karma[edit]

According to Jains, souls are intrinsically pure and possess the qualities of infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite bliss and infinite energy.[19] In contemporary experience, however, these qualities are found to be defiled and obstructed, on account of the soul's association with a substance called karma over an eternity of beginningless time.[20] This bondage of the soul is explained in the Jain texts by analogy with gold, which is always found mixed with impurities in its natural state. Similarly, the ideally pure state of the soul has always been overlaid with the impurities of karma. This analogy with gold further implies that the purification of the soul can be achieved if the proper methods of refining are applied.[20] Over the centuries, Jain monks have developed a large and sophisticated corpus of literature describing the nature of the soul, various aspects of the working of karma, and the means of attaining liberation.[20]


Jain metaphysics is based on seven or nine fundamentals which are known as tattva, constituting an attempt to explain the nature of the human predicament and to provide solutions to it:[21]

  1. Jīva: The essence of living entities is called jiva, a substance which is different from the body that houses it. Consciousness, knowledge and perception are its fundamental attributes.
  2. Ajīva: Non-living entities that consist of matter, space and time fall into the category of ajiva.
  3. Asrava: The interaction between jīva and ajīva causes the influx of a karma (a particular form of ajiva) into the soul, to which it then adheres.
  4. Bandha: The karma masks the jiva and restricts it from having its true potential of perfect knowledge and perception.
  5. Saṃvara: Through right conduct, it is possible to stop the influx of additional karma.
  6. Nirjarā: By performing asceticism, it is possible to shred or burn up the existing karma.
  7. Mokṣa: The jiva which has removed its karma is said to be liberated and to have its pure, intrinsic quality of perfect knowledge in its true form.

Some authors add two additional categories: the meritorious and demeritorious acts related to karma. These are called puńya and pāpa respectively. These fundamentals acts as the basis for the Jain metaphysics.


Syādvāda is the doctrine extending from non-absolutism (anēkāntavāda), which recommends the expression of anekānta by prefixing the epithet Syād to every phrase or expression.[22] Syādvāda is not only an extension of anekānta into ontology, but a separate system of logic capable of standing on its own. The Sanskrit etymological root of the term syād is "perhaps" or "maybe", but in the context of syādvāda it means "in some ways" or "from some perspective". As reality is complex, no single proposition can express its nature fully. The term syāt- should therefore be prefixed to each proposition, giving it a conditional point of view and thus removing dogmatism from the statement.[23] Since it comprises seven different conditional and relative viewpoints or propositions, syādvāda is known as saptibhaṅgīnāya or the theory of seven conditioned predications. These seven propositions, also known as saptibhaṅgī, are:[24]

  1. syād-asti—in some ways, it is;
  2. syād-nāsti—in some ways, it is not;
  3. syād-asti-nāsti—in some ways, it is, and it is not;
  4. syād-asti-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is, and it is indescribable;
  5. syād-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is not, and it is indescribable;
  6. syād-asti-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is, it is not, and it is indescribable;
  7. syād-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is indescribable.

Each of these seven propositions examines the complex and multifaceted nature of reality from a relative point of view of time, space, substance and mode.[24] To ignore the complexity of reality is to commit the fallacy of dogmatism.[15]

Nayavāda is the theory of partial standpoints or viewpoints.[25] Nayavāda is a compound of two Sanskrit words: naya ("partial viewpoint") and vada ("school of thought or debate"). It is used to arrive at a certain inference from a point of view. Every object has infinite aspects, but when we describe one in practice, we speak only of relevant aspects and ignore the irrelevant.[25] This does not deny the other attributes, qualities, modes and other aspects; they are just irrelevant from a particular perspective. As a type of critical philosophy, nayavāda holds that philosophical disputes arise out of confusion of standpoints, and the standpoints we adopt are "the outcome of purposes that we may pursue"—although we may not realise it. While operating within the limits of language and perceiving the complex nature of reality, Māhavīra used the language of nayas. Naya, being a partial expression of truth, enables us to comprehend reality part by part.[26]

Non-absolutism (anēkāntavāda) is more formally stated by observing that objects are infinite in their qualities and modes of existence, so they cannot be completely grasped in all aspects and manifestations by finite human perception. Only Kevalins—omniscient beings—can comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; others are only capable of partial knowledge.[27] Accordingly, no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth.[14]


Shape of Universe as per Jain cosmology in form of a cosmic man. Picture taken from 15-17th century Jain art.
Main article: Jain cosmology

Jain beliefs postulate that the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. It is independent and self-sufficient, and does not require any superior power to govern it. Elaborate description of the shape and function of the physical and metaphysical universe, and its constituents, is provided in the canonical Jain texts, in commentaries and in the writings of the Jain philosopher-monks. The early Jains contemplated the nature of the earth and universe and developed detailed hypotheses concerning various aspects of astronomy and cosmology.[28]

According to the Jain texts, the universe is divided into three parts, the upper, middle, and lower worlds, called respectively urdhva loka, madhya loka, and adho loka.[29] It is made up of six constituents:[30] Jīva, the living entity; Pudgala, matter; Dharma tattva, the substance responsible for motion; Adharma tattva, the substance responsible for rest; Akāśa, space; and Kāla, time.[30]

Time is beginningless and eternal; the cosmic wheel of time, called kālachakra, rotates ceaselessly. It is divided into halves, called utsarpiṇī and avasarpiṇī.[31] Utsarpiṇī is a period of progressive prosperity, where happiness increases, while avasarpiṇī is a period of increasing sorrow and immorality.[32]

Jainism views animals and life itself in an utterly different light, reflecting an indigenous Asian understanding that yields a different definition of the soul, the human person, the structure of the cosmos, and ethics.[33]

Universal history[edit]

According to Jain legends, sixty-three illustrious beings called Salakapurusas have appeared on earth.[34] The Jain universal history is a compilation of the deeds of these illustrious persons.[35] They comprise twenty-four tīrthaṅkaras, twelve cakravartins, nine baladevas, nine vāsudevas and nine prativāsudevas.[34]

Tīrthaṅkaras are the human beings who help others to achieve liberation. They propagate and revitalise Jain faith and become role-models for those seeking spiritual guidance. They reorganise the fourfold order that consists of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.[36] Jain tradition identifies Rishabha (also known as Adinath) as the first tirthankara. The last two tirthankara, Pārśva and Mahāvīra, are historical figures whose existence is recorded.[37]

A chakravarti is an emperor of the world and lord of the material realm.[34] Though he possesses worldly power, he often finds his ambitions dwarfed by the vastness of the cosmos. Jain puranas give a list of twelve chakravartins. They are golden in complexion.[38] One of the greatest chakravartin mentioned in Jain scriptures is Bharata. Traditions say that India came to be known as Bharatavarsha in his memory.[39]

There are nine sets of baladeva, vāsudeva and prativāsudeva. Certain Digambara texts refer to them as balabhadra, narayana and pratinarayana, respectively. The origin of this list of brothers can be traced to the Jinacaritra by Bhadrabahu (c. 3rd–4th century BCE).[40] Baladeva are non-violent heroes, vasudeva are violent heroes and prativāsudeva can be described as villains. According to the legends, the vasudeva ultimately kill the prativasudeva. Of the nine baladeva, eight attain liberation and the last goes to heaven. The vasudeva go to hell on account of their violent exploits, even if these were intended to uphold righteousness.[41]


Statue of Rishabha, the first tīrthaṅkara and the traditional founder of Jainism
Main article: Timeline of Jainism

The origins of Jainism are obscure.[4][42] During the 5th or 6th century BC, Vardhamana Mahāvīra became one of the most influential teachers of Jainism. Mahāvīra, however, was most probably not the founder of Jainism, which reveres him as the last of the great tīrthaṅkaras of this age and not the founder of the religion. He appears in the tradition as one who, from the beginning, had followed a religion established long ago.[43]

Pārśva, the traditional predecessor of Mahāvīra, is the first Jain figure for whom there is reasonable historical evidence.[44] He might have lived somewhere in the 9th–7th century BC.[45][46][47] Followers of Pārśva are mentioned in the canonical books; and a legend in the Uttarādhyayana sūtra relates a meeting between a disciple of Pārśva and a disciple of Mahāvīra which brought about the union of the old branch of the Jain ideology and the new one.[43]

The word Jainism is derived from the Sanskrit verb root jin ("to conquer"). It refers to a battle with the passions and bodily pleasures that the Jain ascetics undertake. Those who win this battle are termed as Jina (conqueror). The term Jaina is therefore used to refer to laymen and ascetics of this tradition alike.


Main article: Jain literature
A Jain manuscript giving instructions on how best to live a proper Jain life
Kalpasutra folio on Mahavira Nirvana. Note the crescent shaped Siddhashila, a place where all siddhas reside after Nirvana.

The tradition talks about a body of scriptures preached by all the tirthankaras of Jainism. These scriptures were contained in fourteen parts and were known as the purvas. These were memorised and passed on through the ages, but were vulnerable and were lost because of famine that caused the death of several saints within a thousand years of Mahāvīra's death.[48]

The Jain Agamas are canonical texts of Jainism based on Mahāvīra's teachings. These comprise forty-six works: twelve angās, twelve upanga āgamas, six chedasūtras, four mūlasūtras, ten prakīrnaka sūtras and two cūlikasūtras.[49]

There are two major denominations of Jain monks and nuns, the Śvētāmbara ("white-clad", who wear white garments) and Digambara, or "Sky Clad", who, as a further austerity, eschew clothing altogether. The Digambara sect of Jainism maintains that these agamas were also lost during the same famine. In the absence of authentic scriptures, Digambaras use about twenty-five scriptures written for their religious practice by great Acharyas. These include two main texts, four Pratham-Anuyog, three charn-anuyoga, four karan-anuyoga and twelve dravya-anuyoga.[50]

Jains flourished in Tamil Nadu at least as early as the Sangam period. Tamil Jain tradition places their origins are much earlier. The Ramayana mentions that Rama paid homage to Jaina monks living in South India on his way to Sri Lanka.[51] Some scholars believe that the author of the oldest extant work of literature in Tamil (3rd century BCE), Tolkāppiyam, was a Jain.[52]

Tirukkural by Thiruvalluvar is considered by many to be the work of a Jain by scholars like V. Kalyanasundarnar, Vaiyapuri Pillai,[53] Swaminatha Iyer,[54] P.S. Sundaram.[55] It emphatically supports vegetarianism (Chapter 26) and states that giving up animal sacrifice is worth more than thousand offerings in fire( verse (259).

Nālaṭiyār[56] was composed by Jain monks from South India during 100-500 CE. It is divided into three sections, the first section focusing on the importance of virtuous life, second section on the governance and management of wealth, and the third smaller section on the pleasures.

Silappatikaram, the earliest surviving epic in Tamil literature, was written by a Jain (Samaṇa), Ilango Adigal. This epic is a major work in Tamil literature, describing the historical events of its time and also of then-prevailing religions, Jainism, Buddhism and Shaivism. The main characters of this work, Kannagi and Kovalan, who have a divine status among Tamils, were Jains.

According to George L. Hart, who holds the endowed Chair in Tamil Studies by University of California, Berkeley, has written that the legend of the Tamil Sangams or "literary assemblies: was based on the Jain sangham at Madurai:

There was a permanent Jaina assembly called a Sangha established about 604 A.D. in Madurai. It seems likely that this assembly was the model upon which tradition fabricated the Sangam legend.[57]

Jains developed a system of philosophy and ethics that had a great impact on Indian culture. They have contributed to the culture and language of the Indian states Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Jain scholars and poets authored Tamil classics of the Sangam period, such as the Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi and Nālaṭiyār.[56] In the beginning of the mediaeval period, between the 9th and 13th centuries, Kannada language authors were predominantly of the Jain and Lingayati faiths. Jains were the earliest known cultivators of Kannada literature, which they dominated until the 12th century. Jains wrote about the tirthankara and other aspects of the faith. Adikavi Pampa is one of the greatest Kannada poets. Court poet to the Chalukya king Arikesari, a Rashtrakuta feudatory, he is best known for his Vikramarjuna Vijaya.[58]

Jains encourage their monastics to do research and obtain higher education. Monks and nuns, particularly in Rajasthan, have published numerous research monographs. The 2001 census states that Jains are India's most literate community.[59] Jain libraries, including those at Patan and Jaisalmer, have a large number of well preserved manuscripts.[60][61]


Main article: History of Jainism

Royal patronage[edit]

Chandragupta Maurya (c. 322–298 BCE), became a Jain in the later part of his life.

The ancient city Pithunda, capital of Kalinga (modern Odisha), is described in the Jain text Uttaradhyana Sutra as an important centre at the time of Mahāvīra, and was frequented by merchants from Champa.[62] Rishabha, the first tirthankara, was revered and worshiped in Pithunda and is known as the Kalinga Jina. Mahapadma Nanda (c. 450–362 BCE) conquered Kalinga and took a statue of Rishabha from Pithunda to his capital in Magadha. Jainism is said to have flourished under the Nanda Empire.[63]

The Maurya Empire came to power after the downfall of the Nanda. The first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta Maurya (c. 322–298 BCE), became a Jain in the latter part of his life. He was a disciple of Bhadrabahu, a Jain acharya who was responsible for propagation of Jainism in South India.[64] The Mauryan king Ashoka was converted to Buddhism and his pro-Buddhist policy subjugated the Jains of Kalinga. Ashoka's grandson Samprati (c. 224–215 BCE) is said to have converted to Jainism by a Jain monk named Suhasti. He is known to have erected many Jain temples. He ruled a place called Ujjain.[65]

In the 1st century BCE, Emperor Kharavela of the Mahameghavahana dynasty of Kalinga conquered Magadha. He retrieved Rishabha's statue and installed it in Udaygiri, near his capital Shishupalgadh. Kharavela[66] was responsible for the propagation of Jainism across the Indian subcontinent.

Xuanzang (629–645 CE), a Chinese traveller, notes that there were numerous Jains present in Kalinga during his time.[67] The Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves near Bhubaneswar,Odisha are the only surviving stone Jain monuments in Orissa.[68]

King Vanaraja (c. 720–780 CE) of the Chawda dynasty in northern Gujarat was raised by a Jain monk Silunga Suri. He supported Jainism during his rule. The king of kannauj Ama (c. 8th century CE) was converted to Jainism by Bappabhatti, a disciple of famous Jain monk Siddhasena Divakara.[69] Bappabhatti also converted Vakpati, the friend of Ama who authored a famous prakrit epic named Gaudavaho.[70]


The Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara propagated Hinduism at the expense of Jainism.

Once a major religion, Jainism declined due to a number of factors, including proselytising by other religious groups, persecution, withdrawal of royal patronage, sectarian fragmentation and the absence of central leadership.[71] Since the time of Mahavira, Jainism faced rivalry with Buddhism and the various Hindu sects.[72] The Jains suffered isolated violent persecutions by these groups, but the main factor responsible for the decline of their religion was the success of Hindu reformist movements.[73] Around the 7th century, Shaivism saw considerable growth at the expense of Jainism due to the efforts of the Shaivite poets like Sambandar and Appar. Around the 8th century CE, the Hindu philosophers Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Adi Shankara tried to restore the orthodox Vedic religion.

Royal patronage has been a key factor in the growth as well as decline of Jainism.[71] The Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600–630 CE) converted from Jainism to Shaivism under the influence of Appar.[74] His work Mattavilasa Prahasana ridicules certain Shaiva sects and the Buddhists and also expresses contempt towards Jain ascetics.[75] Sambandar converted the contemporary Pandya king back to Shaivism. During the 11th century Brahmana Basava, a minister to the Jain king Bijjala, succeeded in converting numerous Jains to the Lingayat Shaivite sect. The Lingayats destroyed various temples belonging to Jains and adapted them to their use.[76] The Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana (c. 1108–1152 CE) became a follower of the Vaishnava sect under the influence of Ramanuja, after which Vaishnavism grew rapidly in the present-day Karnataka.[77] As the Hindu sects grew, the Jains compromised by following Hindu rituals and customs and invoking Hindu deities in Jain literature.[76]

There are several legends about the mass massacre of Jains in the ancient times. The Buddhist king Ashoka (304-232 BCE) is said to have ordered killings of 18,000 Jains or Ajivikas after someone drew a picture of Buddha bowing at the feet of Mahavira.[78][79] The Shaivite king Koon Pandiyan, who briefly converted to Jainism, is said to have ordered a massacre of 8,000 Jains after his re-conversion to Shaivism. However, these legends are not found in the Jain texts, and appear to be fabricated propaganda by Buddhists and Shaivites.[80][81] Such stories of destruction of one sect by another sect were common at the time, and were used as a way to prove the superiority of one sect over the other. There are stories about a Jain king of Kanchi persecuting the Buddhists in a similar way.[82] Another such legend about Vishnuvardhana ordering the Jains to be crushed in an oil mill doesn't appear to be historically true.[83]

The decline of Jainism continued after the Muslim conquests on the Indian subcontinent. The Muslims rulers, such as Mahmud Ghazni (1001), Mohammad Ghori (1175) and Ala-ud-din Muhammed Shah Khilji (1298) further oppressed the Jain community.[84] They vandalised idols and destroyed temples or converted them into mosques. They also burned the Jain books and killed Jains. Some conversions were peaceful, however; Pir Mahabir Khamdayat (c. 13th century CE) is well known for his peaceful propagation of Islam.[84][85] The Jains also enjoyed amicable relations with the rulers of the tributary Hindu kingdoms during this period; however, their number and influence had diminished significantly due to their rivalry with the Shaivite and the Vaisnavite sects.[76]

Present times[edit]

Samovsaran Mandir in Palitana, Gujarat

With 6 million followers,[59] Jainism is the smallest among the major world religions. Jains live throughout India, with the largest populations concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also have relatively large Jain populations.[86] Outside India, large Jain communities can be found in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Kenya. Jainism is a fairly strong faith in the United States, with several dozen Jain temples having been built there, primarily by the Gujarati community. American Jainism accommodates all the sects. Small Jain communities also exist in Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Fiji, and Suriname. In Belgium, the very successful Indian diamond community in Antwerp, almost all of whom are Jain, opened the largest Jain temple outside India in 2010, to strengthen Jain values in and across Western Europe.[87]

For long periods of time, Jainism was widely adopted in the Indian subcontinent. The religion has been in decline since the 8th century AD due to the growth of, and oppression by other religions.[72]

Jains, according to the 2001 census, have the highest degree of literacy of any religious community in India (94.1 per cent),[59] and their manuscript libraries are the oldest in the country.[60]

Schools and branches[edit]

The Jain community is divided into two major denominations, Digambara and Śvētāmbara. Digambara monks do not wear clothes because they believe these, like other possessions, increase dependency and desire for material things—and desire for anything ultimately leads to sorrow. This practice restricts full monastic life (and therefore mokṣa) to males, as Digambaras do not permit women to be nude; female renunciates wear white and are referred to as Aryikas. Śvētāmbara monastics, on the other hand, wear white seamless clothes for practical reasons, and believe there is nothing in the scriptures that condemns the wearing of clothes. Women are accorded full status as renunciates and are often called sadhvi, the feminine of sadhu, a term often used for male monastics. Śvētāmbara believe women may attain liberation and that the tirthankara Māllīnātha was female.[88]

Even though the Śvētāmbara allowed women the status of renunciate the nuns were still under the control of the monks. In general women in Indic society were governed by a triad of guardian males: father, husband, and son. The honor of the family and even the entire community seemed to rest on their women and whether or not they conformed to societal expectations placed on them. Jain nuns also had a triad to govern them: the male teacher (āyariya), the male preceptor (uvajjhāya) or head of the monastic group (gani), and the female supervisor (pavatinnî ganinî). The trio of guardians for the nuns were needed since women were thought to be most vulnerable to attack or seduction and could easily be swayed to corruptibility. The integrity of the monastic community rested on the nuns behaving accordingly and the responsibility for this belonged to the monks.[89]

The earliest record of Digambara beliefs is contained in the Prakrit Suttapahuda of the Digambara mendicant Kundakunda (c. 2nd century CE).[90] Digambaras believe that Mahāvīra remained unmarried, whereas Śvētāmbara believe Mahāvīra married a woman who bore him a daughter. The two sects also differ on the origin of Mata Trishala, Mahāvīra's mother.[91]

Excavations at Mathura revealed Jain statues from the time of the Kushan Empire (c. 1st century CE). Tirthankara, represented without clothes, and monks with cloth wrapped around the left arm are identified as the Ardhaphalaka ("half-clothed") mentioned in texts. The Yapaniyas, believed to have originated from the Ardhaphalaka, followed Digambara nudity along with several Śvētāmbara beliefs.[92]

Śvētāmbara sub-sects include Sthanakavasi, Terapanthi, and Murtipujaka. The Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi are aniconic. Śvētāmbara follow the twelve Jain Agamas. Digambara sub-sects include Bisapanthi, Kanjipanthi, Taranapanthi and Terapanthi.[93] In 1974 a committee with representatives from every sect compiled a new text called the Saman Suttam.[94]

Timeline of various denominations in Jainism

Art and architecture[edit]

Main article: Jain art
Bahubali monolith of Shravanabelagola
Ranakpur Temple Rajasthan

Jainism has contributed significantly to Indian art and architecture. Jains mainly depict tirthankara or other important people in a seated or standing meditative posture. Yakshas and yakshinis, attendant spirits who guard the tirthankara, are usually shown with them.[95] Figures on various seals from the Indus Valley Civilisation bear similarity to Jain images, nude and in a meditative posture.[95] The earliest known Jain image is in the Patna museum. It is approximately dated to the 3rd century BCE.[95] Bronze images of Pārśva, can be seen in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, and in the Patna museum; these are dated to the 2nd century BCE. A sandalwood sculpture of Mahāvīra was carved during his lifetime, according to tradition. Later the practice of making images of wood was abandoned, other materials being substituted.[96]

Remnants of ancient Jain temples and cave temples can be found all around India. Notable among these are the Jain caves at Udaigiri Hills near Bhelsa(Vidisha) in Madhya Pradesh and Ellora in Maharashtra, and the Jain temples at Dilwara near Mount Abu, Rajasthan. The Jain tower in Chittor, Rajasthan is a good example of Jain architecture.[97] Decorated manuscripts are preserved in Jain libraries, containing diagrams from Jain cosmology.[98] Most of the paintings and illustrations depict historical events, known as Panch Kalyanaka, from the life of the tirthankara. Rishabha, the first tirthankara, is usually depicted in either the lotus position or kayotsarga, the standing position. He is distinguished from other tirthankara by the long locks of hair falling to his shoulders. Bull images also appear in his sculptures.[99] In paintings, incidents of his life, like his marriage and Indra's marking his forehead, are depicted. Other paintings show him presenting a pottery bowl to his followers; he is also seen painting a house, weaving, and being visited by his mother Marudevi.[100] Each of the twenty-four tirthankara is associated with distinctive emblems, which are listed in such texts as Tiloyapannati, Kahavaali and Pravacanasaarodhara.[101]

There are 26 caves, 200 stone beds, 60 inscriptions and over 100 sculptures in and around Madurai. It was in Madurai that Acharya Bhutapali wrote the Shatkhandagama. This is also the site where Jain ascetics of yesteryear wrote great epics and books on grammar in Tamil.[102]

Paintings at the Sittanavasal Cave,7th century, Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, India

The Sittanavasal cave temple is regarded as one of the finest examples of Jain art. It is the oldest and most famous Jain centre in the region. It possesses both an early Jain cave shelter, and a medieval rock-cut temple with excellent fresco paintings of par excellence comparable to Ajantha paintings; the steep hill contains an isolated but spacious cavern. Locally, this cavern is known as Eladipattam, a name that is derived from the seven holes cut into the rock that serve as steps leading to the shelter. Within the cave there are seventeen stone beds aligned into rows, and each of these has a raised portion that could have served as a pillow-loft. The largest stone bed has a distinct Tamil- Bramhi inscription assignable to the 2nd centuryB.C., and some inscriptions belonging to 8th centuryB.C. are also found on the nearby beds. The Sittannavasal cavern continued to be the "Holy Sramana Abode" until the seventh and eighth centuries. Inscriptions over the remaining stone beds name mendicants such as Tol kunrattu Kadavulan, Tirunilan, Tiruppuranan, Tittaicharanan, Sri Purrnacandran, Thiruchatthan, Ilangowthaman, sri Ulagathithan and Nityakaran Pattakali as monks.[103]

The 8th century Kazhugumalai temple marks the revival of Jainism in South India.[104]

A monolithic, 18 m statue of Bahubali referred to as "Gommateshvara", built by the Ganga minister and commander Chavundaraya, is situated on a hilltop in Shravanabelagola in the Hassan district of Karnataka state. This statue was voted by Indians the first of the Times of India's list of seven wonders of India.[105]

A large number of ayagapata, votive tablets for offerings and the worship of tirthankara, were found at Mathura.[106]

Customs and practices[edit]

Jains praying at the feet of a statue of Lord Bahubali.
Sadhvis meditating


The Ṇamōkāra mantra is the fundamental prayer of Jainism. In this prayer there is no mention of names, including that of the tirthankara. Jains do not ask for favours or material benefits from the tirthankara or from monks. This mantra simply serves as a gesture of deep respect towards beings they believe are more spiritually advanced and to remind followers of Jainism of their ultimate goal, moksha.[107]

In Jainism, the purpose of worship or prayer is to break the barriers of worldly attachments and desires, so as to assist in the liberation of the soul. Jains follow six obligatory duties known as avashyakas: samyika (practising serenity), chaturvimshati (praising the tirthankara), vandan (respecting teachers and monks), pratikramana (introspection), kayotsarga (stillness), and pratyakhyana (renunciation).[108] Related to the five auspicious life events of tirthankara called the Panch Kalyanaka are such rituals as the panch kalyanaka pratishtha, panch kalyanaka puja, and snatra puja.[109][110]


Paryushana is one of the most important festivals for Jains. Śvētāmbara Jains normally refer to it as Paryushana, with the literal meaning of "abiding" or "coming together", while Digambara Jains call it Das Lakshana. It is a time when the laity take on vows of study and fasting with a spiritual intensity similar to temporary monasticism. Paryushana lasts eight days for Śvētāmbara Jains and ten days for Digambara Jains.[111]

Mahāvīra Jayanti, the birthday of Mahāvīra, the last tirthankara, is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the fortnight of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra, which date falls in late March or early April of the Gregorian calendar.[112]

Diwali is a festival that takes place during the month of Kartik in the Indian lunisolar calendar, around the new-moon day (amavasya). This usually falls in October or November. Mahāvīra attained his nirvana at the dawn of the amavasya (new moon).[113] According to the Kalpa Sūtra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, 3rd century BCE, numerous deva were present there, illuminating the darkness.[114] On 21 October 1974 the 2500th Nirvana Mahotsava was celebrated by Jains throughout India.[115]


Most Jains fast at special times, particularly during festivals. A Jain, however, may fast whenever it seems appropriate. A unique ritual in this religion involves a holy fast to death, called sallekhana. Through this one achieves a death with dignity and dispassion as well as a great reduction of negative karma.[116] When a person is aware of approaching death, and feels that all his or her duties have been fulfilled, he or she may decide to gradually cease eating and drinking. This form of dying is also called santhara. It can take as long as twelve years of gradual reduction in food intake. Considered extremely spiritual and creditable, with awareness of the transitory nature of human experience, santhara has recently been the centre of a controversy in which a lawyer petitioned the High Court of Rajasthan to declare it illegal. Jains see santhara as spiritual detachment requiring a great deal of spiritual accomplishment and maturity, a declaration that a person has finished with this world and chooses to leave.[117]


Main article: Jain meditation

Jains have developed a type of meditation called samayika, a term derived from the word samaya. The goal of Samayika is to achieve a feeling of perfect calmness and to understand the unchanging truth of the self. Such meditation is based on contemplation of the universe and the reincarnation of self.[118] Samayika is particularly important during the religious festival Paryushana. It is believed that meditation assists in managing and balancing one's passions. Great emphasis is placed on the internal control of thoughts, as they influence behaviour, actions and goals.[119]


In Jainism, monasticism is encouraged and respected. The austerities ascetic disciplines practised by Jain monastics are severe; some will wear face masks at all times to avoid inadvertently harming organisms of air; most will carry a Rayoharan (broomlike object), made from dense thick thread strands, to sweep the ground ahead of them, or before sitting down, to avoid inadvertently crushing small insects; likewise, monks and nuns will carefully inspect food for even the smallest amount of meat, or insects, to maintain their vows to avoid harming any living creatures. Jain ascetics have neither a permanent home nor possessions, wandering from place to place except during the months of Chaturmas. The life they lead is difficult because of the constraints placed on them: they do not use vehicles and always travel barefoot from one place to another, irrespective of the distance. They do not use such basic services as telephones or electricity. They do not prepare food and live only on what people offer them.[120]

There are no priests in Jainism. The monks of Jainism, whose presence is not significant to most Jain rituals, should not be confused with priests. However, sects of Jainism that practise idol-worship often employ a servant, known as a pujari, who need not be a Jain, to perform special daily rituals and other priestly duties.[121]

Positive and negative criticism[edit]

Main article: Criticism of Jainism

Like all religions, Jainism is also criticized both positively and critically commented for some of its practises and beliefs. The Catholic Encyclopedia criticized the religion for what it perceived to be the absurdity of maintaining veterinary hospitals for rats, for tolerating suicide, and for prioritizing the life of animals above that of human beings.[122] Others[who?] have criticized the religion for its attitude towards women, in particular, the view of the Digambara, or "Sky Clad" monks, that women must be reincarnated as men before obtaining liberation.

Swami Vivekananda appreciated the role of Jainism in the development of Indian religious philosophy. In his own words and style, he ponders: "What could have saved Indian society from the ponderous burden of omnifarious ritualistic ceremonialism, with its animal and other sacrifices, which all but crushed the very life of it, except the Jain revolution which took its strong stand exclusively on chaste morals and philosophical truths?" [123]

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