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In 1974, on the auspicious 2500th (Nirvana) anniversary of the last Jain Tirthankara Mahavira, the Jain community at large collectively chose one image as an emblem to be the main identifying symbol for Jainism. Since then, this emblem is used in almost all of the Jain magazines, on wedding cards, on Jain festival cards (for Kshamavani, Diwali, etc.), and in magazines with links to events related to Jain society. Use of this emblem helps to create a culture showing dedication and trust for the religion and the values that are represented by their emblem.
The Jain emblem is composed of many fundamental concepts and symbols. The outline of the image represents the universe as described in Jain scriptures. It consists of three Loks (realms). The upper portion indicates Urdhava Lok (heaven), the middle portion indicates Madhya Lok (material world) and the lower portion indicates Adho Lok (hell).
The semi-circular topmost portion symbolizes Siddhashila, which is a zone beyond the three realms. All of the Siddhas (liberated bodiless souls) reside on this forever, liberated from the cycle of life and death. The three dots on the top under the semi-circle symbolize Triratna (Ratnatraya) – Samyak darshan (right belief), Samyak Gyan (right knowledge), and Samyak Charitra (right conduct). Every creature in this world can become free from the cycle of life and death. This gives the message that it is necessary to have Triratna in order to attain Moksha.
In the top portion, four arms of the Swastika symbolize the four Gati (destiny): Narak (demon), Triyanch (animal), Manushya (human) and Dev (angel). It represents the perpetual nature of the universe in the Madhya Lok (material world), where a creature is destined to one of those states based on their Karma (deeds). It also represents the four columns of the Jain Sangh: Sadhus, Sadhvis, Shravaks and Shravikas - monks, nuns, female and male laymen. It also represents the four characteristics of the soul: infinite knowledge (Anant Jnan), infinite perception (Anant Darshan), infinite happiness (Anant Sukh), and infinite energy (Anant Virya).
The symbol of hand in the lower portion shows fearlessness and symbolizes the feeling of Ahimsa(non-violence) towards all the creatures in this world. The circle in the middle of the hand symbolizes Samasara (reincarnation cycle) and the 24 spokes represent the preachings from the 24 Tirthankars, which can be used to liberate a soul from the cycle of reincarnation.
In short, the Jain emblem represents many important concepts to show the path to enlightenment by following the basic principles of Ahimsa (non-violence), Triratna (right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct) and Parasparopagraho Jivanam (helping others).
It is important that an emblem or symbol is used consistently in the same format to preserve its value and the meaning. There are many variations of the symbol that is in use currently, however they do not show all the fundamental concepts embedded in the current emblem. For example, the Federation of Jain Associations in North America uses a modified version of the standard Jain symbol. It replaces the Swastika with the Om, because the Swastika is not considered a pious symbol in the western world.
The flag of Jainism was first mentioned in a holy text dating back to the 5th century BC. It has five colours: White, Red, Orange, Green and Dark Blue or Black.
Other Jain symbols
The Om symbol is used in ancient Jain scriptures to represent the five lines of the Navakar mantra, which is the most important part of the daily prayer in the Jain religion. The Navakar mantra honors the five Panch Parmeshtis (great virtuous entities). The five parmeshtis are:
- Arihantas: enlightened beings (Tirthankars or Jinas)
- Siddhas: liberated souls
- Acharyas: spiritual leaders
- Upadhyays: spiritual teachers
- Sadhus and Sadhvis: spiritual practitioners
Symbol usage at the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, Orissa, India
Symbol usage on one of the many entrance gates at Mahavirji, Rajasthan, India