From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Nishidhi stone with 14th century Old Kannada inscription from Tavanandi forest
Nishidhi, a memorial stone depicting the observance of the vow of sallekhana, Old Kannada inscription, 14th century, Tavanandi forest

Sallekhana (also sallekhanā, Santhara, Samadhi-marana, Sanyasana-marana) is the last vow prescribed by the Jain ethical code of conduct.[note 1] The vow of sallekhana is observed by the Jain ascetics and lay votaries at the end of their life by gradually reducing the intake of food and liquids.[1][2][3] Sallekhana is allowed when normal life according to religion is not possible due to old age, incurable disease or when a person is nearing his end.[3][4] It is a highly respected practice among the members of the Jain community.[5] According to Jain texts, sallekhana leads to ahimsā (non-violence or non-injury), as a person observing sallekhana subjugates the passions, which are the root cause of hiṃsā (injury or violence).[6] In 2015, the Rajasthan High Court banned the practice, calling it suicide. On 31 August 2015, the Supreme Court of India stayed the decision of the Rajasthan High Court and lifted the ban on sallekhana.[7]


Sallekhana is made up from two words sal (meaning 'properly') and lekhana, which means to thin out. Properly thinning out of the passions and the body is sallekhana.[8] Sallekhana is prescribed both for householders (śrāvakas) and ascetics.[9] In Jainism, both ascetics and householders have to follow five fundamental vows (vratas). Ascetics must observe complete abstinence and their vows are thus called mahavratas (major vows); the vows of the laity (who observe partial abstinence) are called anuvratas (minor vows).[10] Jain ethical code also prescribes seven supplementary vows, which include three guņa vratas and four śikşā vratas.[11]

Head Vow Meaning
Five vows
1. Ahiṃsā Not to hurt any living being by actions and thoughts
2. Satya Not to lie or speak what is not commendable.[12]
3. Asteya Not to take anything if not given.[13]
4. Brahmacharya Chastity / Celibacy in action, words & thoughts
5. Aparigraha (Non-possession) Detachment from material property.
Guņa vratas[14]
Merit vows
6. Digvrata Restriction on movement with regard to directions.
7. Bhogopabhogaparimana Vow of limiting consumable and non-consumable things
8. Anartha-dandaviramana Refraining from harmful occupations and activities (purposeless sins).
Śikşā vratas[15][14]
Disciplinary vows
9. Samayika Vow to meditate and concentrate periodically.
10.Desavrata Limiting movement to certain places for a fixed period of time.[16]
11.Prosadhopavāsa Fasting at regular intervals.
12.Atihti samvibhag Vow of offering food to the ascetic and needy people.

An ascetic or householder who has observed all the vows prescribed to shed the karmas, takes the vow of sallekhana at the end of his life.[15] According to the Jain text, Purushartha Siddhyupaya, "sallekhana enable a householder to carry with him his wealth of piety".[17] sallekhana is treated as a supplementary to the twelve vows taken by Jains. However, some Jain Acharyas such as Kundakunda, Devasena, Padmanandin and Vasunandin have included it under the last vow, śikşā-vrata.[18]

The vow of sallekhana is often explained with a famous analogy:[19]

sallekhana is divided into two:[21]

  • Kashaya sallekhana (slenderising of passions) or abhayantra (internal)
  • Kaya sallekhana (slenderising the body) or bāhya (external)

Conditions and procedure[edit]

Sallekhana as expounded in the famous Jain text, Ratna Karanda Sravakachara
sallekhana as expounded in the famous Jain text, Ratna Karanda Sravakachara


According to Tattvartha Sutra (a compendium of Jain principles): "A householder willingly or voluntary adopts sallekhana when death is very near."[22] According to famous Jain text, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra, the sallekhana can be observed only "on the arrival of unavoidable calamity, distress, senescence and disease."[23]


The duration of the practice could be up to twelve years or more.[24] Sixth part of the Jain text, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra is on sallekhana and its procedure.[23] The procedure expounded is as follows—

Giving up solid food by degrees, one should take to milk and whey, then giving them up, to hot or spiced water. [Subsequently] giving up hot water also, and observing fasting with full determination, he should give up his body, trying in every possible way to keep in mind the pancha-namaskara mantra (Namokar Mantra).

— Ratna Karanda Sravakachara (127–128)[23]

Jain texts mention five transgressions of the vow of sallekhana:[22][25]-

  • desire to live
  • desire to die
  • recollection of affection for friends
  • recollection of the pleasures enjoyed
  • longing for the enjoyment of pleasures in future

Due to the prolonged nature of sallekhana, the individual is given ample time to reflect on his or her life. The purpose is to purge old karmas and prevent the creation of new ones.[26] The vow of Sallekhana can not be taken by a lay person on his own without being permitted by a monk.[27]

In practice[edit]

Sallekhana place for the monks at Udayagiri hills
Sallekhana place for the monks at Udayagiri hills
Doddahundi Nishidhi (memorial stone) with old Kannada inscription (869 C.E.)
Doddahundi nishidhi inscription was raised in honor of Western Ganga Dynasty King Nitimarga I in 869 C.E. The king was a devout Jain who observed the vow of sallekhana. These memorial stones (nishidhi) were raised in medieval India to honor noted Jains who took sallekhana.
Sallekhana inscription at Shravanbelgola in characters of the 7th century
A sallekhana inscription at Shravanbelgola. Inscription (130) is in characters of the 7th century.

In around 300 BC, Chandragupta Maurya (founder of the Maurya Empire) undertook sallekhana atop Chandragiri Hill, Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa, Karnataka.[28][29][30] Chandragupta basadi at Shravanabelagola (a chief seat of the Jains) marks the place where the saint Chandragupta died.[31] The Doddahundi nishidhi inscription, a hero stone from Doddahundi, 18 km from Tirumakudalu Narasipura in the Mysore district, Karnataka state, India. It has an undated old Kannada language inscription which historians J. F. Fleet, I. K. Sarma and E.P. Rice have dated by context to 840 or 869 C.E.[32] The hero stone has a unique depiction in frieze of the ritual death (sallekhana and samadhi) of the Western Ganga Dynasty king Ereganga Nitimarga I (r. 853-869). The memorial was raised by the king's son Satyavakya. Such nishidhi's (memorial spot) were raised in medieval India in honor of important Jain personalities who ended their life voluntarily after following severe ritual vow.[33][34]

Acharya Shantisagar, a highly revered Digambara monk of the modern India took Sallekana on 18 August 1955 because of inability to walk without help and weak eye-sight.[35][36] He died on 18 September 1955.[37]

According to a survey conducted in 2006, on an average 200 Jains practice sallekhana until death each year in India.[38] Statistically, sallekhana is undertaken both by men and women of all economic classes and among the educationally forward Jains. Statistically it is done by more women than men. It has been argued that Sallekhana serves as a means of coercing widows and elderly relatives into taking their own lives,[39] but that is a rare case. In both the writings of Jain scriptures and the general views of many followers of Jainism, due to the degree of self-actualisation and spiritual strength required by those who undertake the ritual, Sallekhana is considered to be a display of utmost piety, purification and expiation.[40] In 1999, Acharya Vidyanand, a prominent Digambara monk took a twelve year long vow of sallekhana.[41]

Comparison with suicide[edit]

Jain texts make a clear distinction between the sallekhana vow and suicide.[42] According to Jain text, Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya:

"When death is imminent, the vow of sallekhana is observed by progressively slenderizing the body and the passions. Since the person observing sallekhana is devoid of all passions like attachment, it is not suicide.

In the practice of sallekhana, it is viewed that death is "welcomed" through a peaceful, tranquil process that provides peace of mind and sufficient closure for the adherent, their family and/or community.[44]

In both the writings of Jain Agamas and the general views of many followers of Jainism, due to the degree of self-actualisation and spiritual strength required by those who undertake the ritual, sallekhana is considered to be a display of utmost piety, purification and expiation.[40]

In his book, sallekhana is Not Suicide, Justice T. K. Tukol wrote:[45]

My studies of Jurisprudence, the Indian Penal Code and of criminal cases decided by me had convinced that the vow of sallekhana as propounded in the Jaina scriptures is not suicide.

According to Champat Rai Jain, "Soul is a simple substance and as such immortal. Death is for compunds whose dissolution is termed disintegration and death when it has reference to a living orgainism, that is a compound of spirit and matter. By dying in the proper way will is developed, and it is a great asset for the future life of the soul, which, as a simple substance, will survive the bodily dissolution and death. The true idea of sallekhana is only this that when death does appear at last one should know how to die, that is one should die like a man, not like a beast, bellowing and panting and making vain efforts to avoid the unavoidable!".[46][47]

According to advocate, Suhrith parthasarathy, "sallekhana is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death, but is rather a practice intrinsic to a person's ethical choice to live with dignity until death".[48]


In India, suicide remains a crime under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.[49] The police are allowed to arrest people attempting a hunger strike where there is danger, and to force-feed the person and charge them.[49]

In 2006, human rights activist Nikhil Soni and his lawyer Madhav Mishra filed a Public Interest Litigation with the Rajasthan High Court. The PIL claimed that sallekhana should be considered to be suicide under the Indian legal statute. They argued that Article 21 of the Indian constitution only guarantees the right to life, but not to death.[49] The petition extends to those who facilitate individuals taking the vow of with aiding and abetting an act of suicide. In response, the Jain community argued that it is a violation of the Indian Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom.[50] It was argued that sallekhana serves as a means of coercing widows and elderly relatives into taking their own lives.[51]

This landmark case sparked debate in India, where national bioethical guidelines have been in place since 1980.[52]

In August 2015, the Rajasthan High Court stated that the practice is not an essential tenet of Jainism and banned the practice making it punishable under section 306 (Abetment of suicide) and 309 (Attempt to commit suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.[53]

On 24 August 2015, members of the Jain community held a peaceful nationwide protest against the ban on Santhara.[54] Protests were held in various states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi etc.[55] Silent march were carried out in various cities.[56]

On 31 August 2015, Supreme Court of India stayed the decision of Rajasthan High Court and lifted the ban on santhara.[7] The Special Leave Petition brought before the Supreme Court of India was filed by Akhil Bharat Varshiya Digambar Jain Parishad.[57][58] Supreme court considered Santhara as a component of non-violence ('ahimsa').[59]

Other religions[edit]

There are similar practices in other religions like Prayopavesa in Hinduism,[60] and Sokushinbutsu in Buddhism.[61]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jain ethical code prescribes five main vows, seven supplementary vows and last sallekhana vow


  1. ^ Wiley 2009, p. 181.
  2. ^ Battin 2015, p. 47.
  3. ^ a b Tukol 1976, p. 7.
  4. ^ Jaini 2000, p. 16.
  5. ^ Kakar 2014, p. 173.
  6. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 116.
  7. ^ a b Ghatwai, Milind (2 September 2015), "The Jain religion and the right to die by Santhara", The Indian Express 
  8. ^ Kakar 2014, p. 174.
  9. ^ Tukol 1976, p. 8.
  10. ^ Tukol 1976, p. 4.
  11. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 87.
  12. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 61.
  13. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 68.
  14. ^ a b Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 88.
  15. ^ a b Tukol 1976, p. 5.
  16. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 90.
  17. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 114.
  18. ^ Williams 1991, p. 166.
  19. ^ S.A. Jain 1992, p. 242–243.
  20. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 117.
  21. ^ Settar 1989, p. 113.
  22. ^ a b Tukol 1976, p. 10.
  23. ^ a b c Champat Rai Jain 1917, pp. 58–64.
  24. ^ Mascarenhas, Anuradha (25 August 2015), "Doc firm on Santhara despite HC ban: I too want a beautiful death", The Indian Express 
  25. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 111.
  26. ^ "sallekhana", 
  27. ^ Jaini 1998, p. 231.
  28. ^ Tukol 1976, p. 19–20.
  29. ^ Sebastian, Pradeep (15 September 2010) [1 November 2009], "The nun's tale", The Hindu 
  30. ^ Mallick, Anuradha; Ganapathy, Priya (29 March 2015), "On a spiritual quest", Deccan Herald 
  31. ^ Rice 1889, p. 17–18.
  32. ^ Rice 1982, p. 13.
  33. ^ Sarma 1992, p. 17.
  34. ^ Sarma 1992, p. 204.
  35. ^ Tukol 1976, p. 98.
  36. ^ Tukol 1976, p. 100.
  37. ^ Tukol 1976, p. 104.
  38. ^ "'Over 200 Jains embrace death every year'", Express India, 30 September 2006 
  39. ^ Braun, W (2008). "Sallekhana: The ethicality and legality of religious suicide by starvation in the Jain religious community". Medicine and law. 27 (4): 913–24. PMID 19202863. 
  40. ^ a b Pawar, Yogesh (12 July 2015), "Is the Jain practice of Santhara about Right to Life or Death?", Daily News and Analysis, Mumbai 
  41. ^ Flügel 2006, p. 353.
  42. ^ Christopher Chapple (1993-01-01), Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions, p. 102, ISBN 0-7914-9877-8 
  43. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 115.
  44. ^ "sallekhana versus Suicide". Omni Journal of Spiritual and Religious Care. Archived from the original on 7 May 2012. Retrieved 2007-02-18. 
  45. ^ Tukol 1976, p. Preface.
  46. ^ Champat Rai Jain 1934, p. 179.
  47. ^ Tukol 1976, p. 90.
  48. ^ Parthasarathy, Suhrith (24 August 2015), "The flawed reasoning in the Santhara ban", The Hindu 
  49. ^ a b c "Religions: Jainism: Fasting". BBC. 2009-09-10. 
  50. ^ See Nikhil Soni v. Union of India and Ors. AIR (2006) Raj 7414.
  51. ^ Braun, W (2008). "sallekhana: The ethicality and legality of religious suicide by starvation in the Jain religious community". Medicine and law. 27 (4): 913–24. PMID 19202863. 
  52. ^ Kumar, Nandini K. (2006). "Bioethics activities in India". Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. 12 (Suppl 1): S56–65. PMID 17037690. 
  53. ^ Vashishtha, Swati (10 August 2015), "Rajasthan HC bans starvation ritual 'Santhara', says fasting unto death not essential tenet of Jainism", News 18 
  54. ^ "Jain community protests ban on religious fast to death", Yahoo News, Indo Asian News Service, 24 August 2015 
  55. ^ Ghatwai, Milind; Singh, Mahim Pratap (25 August 2015), "Jains protest against Santhara order", The Indian Express 
  56. ^ "Silent march by Jains against Rajasthan High Court order on 'Santhara'", The Economic Times, Press Trust of India, 24 August 2015 
  57. ^ Anand, Utkarsh (1 September 2015), "Supreme Court stays Rajasthan High Court order declaring 'Santhara' illegal", The Indian Express 
  58. ^ "SC allows Jains to fast unto death", Deccan Herald, Press Trust of India, 31 August 2015 
  59. ^ Rajagopal, Krishnadas (28 March 2016) [1 September 2015], "Supreme Court lifts stay on Santhara ritual of Jains", The Hindu 
  60. ^ Timms 2016, p. 167.
  61. ^ Hayes 2016, p. 16.


External links[edit]