Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma / Shraman Dharma (जैन धर्म) is an ancient religion of India.

Jains are a small but influential religious minority with at least 10 million followers in modern India, and successful growing immigrant communities in the United States, Western Europe, the Far East, Australia and elsewhere. Though the Jains form only 0.42% of the population of India, their contribution to the exchequer by way of income tax is an astounding 24% of the total tax collected. Jains sustain the ancient Shraman (श्रमण) or ascetic religion and have significantly influenced other religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India.

Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy in India. Jain libraries are India's oldest.

Principles & Beliefs

"Samyakdarshangyancharitrani Mokshmargasya" is the fundamental principal of Jainism. It means: "True Perception, True/Right Knowledge and True/Right Conduct" is the path to attain Moksha. Moksha is attained by getting liberated from all Karma. Those who have attained Moksha are called Sidhdhatma (Omniscient Soul) and those who are attached to the world & other souls through Karma are called Sansari (living beings). Every soul has to follow the path of Moksh as described.

The universe has two components "Jīva" and "Ajīva". There are Anant (Infinite) Jiva which are caterorised as Sidhdha and Sansari. The Sansari (worldly) Soul takes various form of life using Ajiva and all worldly relations are formed based on Karma. Humanbeing, Animal, Deity / Angel, Hell-being are four forms of these souls known as the Paryaaya or Gati.

The Jainism beleifs & practices are purely derived from the structure defined as above. e.g. Non-violence can simply relate to minimizing new Karmas to get attached to the soul, every soul is considered worthy of respect as it has potential to become Sidhdha (Param-atma - pure soul), materialistic things are consumed as little as possible, meditation is practiced to free yourself from your thoughts - both Shubh (good) or Ashubh (bad) etc..

The belief that all living beings possess a soul, requires a great care and awareness in going about one's business in the world. Jainism is a religion in which all life is considered worthy of respect and it emphasizes this equality of all life, advocating the protection of even the smallest creatures. This goes as far as the life of microscopic organisms. A major characteristic of Jain belief is the emphasis on the consequences of not only physical but also mental behaviors.

A Jain is a follower of Jinas ("conquerors"), specially gifted human beings who have rediscovered the dharma, became fully liberated and taught the spiritual path for the benefit of all living beings. Jains follow the teachings of 24 special Jinas who are known as Tirthankaras ('ford-makers', those who have discovered and shown the way to salvation). The 24th and most recent Tirthankar is Shri Mahavir, who lived from 599 to 527 BCE according to traditional history. The 23rd Tirthankar, Shri Parsvanatha, is now recognised as a historical person, who lived during 872 to 772 BC.

Jainism encourages spiritual development through reliance on and cultivating one's own personal wisdom and self-control (व्रत, vratae). The goal is realization of the soul's true nature.

Jaina tradition is unanimous in naming Rishabha (also known as Adhinath) as the First Tirthankar of this descending (avasarpini) kalachakra (time cycle). The first Tirthankar, Rishabhdev/ Adhinath appeared prior to the Indus Valley Civilization. The Jain Swastika symbol and naked statues resembling the Jain monks amongst the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization, do substantiate claims.

Jainism believes that the Universe and Dharma have no beginning and no ending. However it goes through a process of cyclical change. Jains believe it is approx. 8.4 million years old in its current cyclic period. Therefore there is no concept of a creator of the universe within Jainism.

Jainism differs from other religions in its concept of God. According to its belief, there is no overarching supreme divine creator, owner, preserver or destroyer. Every living soul is potentially divine and the Sidhhas who have completely eliminated their karmic bonding, thereby ending their cycle of birth and death, have attained God-consciousness.

The main Jain prayer (Namokar Mantra) therefore salutes the five special categories of souls that have attained God-consciousness or are on their way to achieving it, so as to emulate and follow their path to salvation.

Main points

  • Every living being has a soul
  • Every soul is potentially divine with innate infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite power, and infinite bliss.
  • Therefore, regard every living being as yourself and harm no one. In other words, have benevolence for all living beings.
  • Every soul is born as a celestial, human, sub-human or hellish being according to its own karmas.
  • Every soul is the architect of its own life, here or hereafter.
  • When a soul is freed from karmas, it becomes god-consciousness (infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite power, and infinite bliss) and liberated.
  • Right View, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct (triple gems of Jainism) provide the way to this realisation.
  • Non-violence (Ahimsa) is the basis of right View, the condition of right Knowledge and the kernel of right Conduct.
  • Control your senses.
  • Limit your possessions and lead a pure life that is useful to yourself and others. Owning an object by itself is not possessiveness; however attachment to it is possessiveness.
  • Enjoy the company of the holy and better qualified, be merciful to those afflicted and tolerate the perversely inclined.
  • Four things are difficult to attain by a soul: human birth, knowledge of the law, faith in it and the pursuit of the right path.
  • It is important not to waste human life in evil ways. Instead, strive to rise on the ladder of spiritual evolution.


Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar, is the earliest Jain leader who can be reliably dated. According to scholars, he probably lived in the 9th Century BCE.

Kalinga (modern Orissa and Osiaji) was home to many Jains in the past. Rishabh, the first Tirthankar, was revered and worshipped in the ancient city Pithunda. This was destroyed by Mahapadma Nanda when he conquered Kalinga and brought the statue of Rishabhanatha to his capital in Magadh. Rishabhanatha is revered as the Kalinga Jina. Ashoka's invasion and his Buddhist policy also subjugated Jains greatly in Kalinga. However, in the 1st century BCE Emperor Kharvela conquered Magadha and brought Rishabhnath's statue back and installed it in Udaygiri, near his capital, Shishupalgadh. The Khandagiri and Udaygiri caves near Bhubaneswar are the only surviving stone Jain monuments in Orissa. Earlier buildings were made of wood and were destroyed.

Deciphering of the Brahmi script, India's oldest script, believed to have been created by the first Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha, by James Prinsep in 1788 enabled the reading of ancient inscriptions in India and established the antiquity of Jainism. Discovering Jain manuscripts, continues and has added significantly to retracing Jain history. Jain archaeological findings are often from Maurya, Sunga, Kishan, Gupta, Kalachuries, Rashtrakut, Chalukya, Chandel and Rajput and later periods. Several western and Indian scholars have contributed to the reconstruction of Jain history. Western historians like Bühler, Jacobi, and Indian scholars like Iravatham Mahadevan, worked on Tamil Brahmi inscriptions.

Geographical spread and influence

Jainism has been a major cultural, philosophical, social and political force since the dawn of civilization in Asia, and its ancient influence has been noted in other religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism.

This pervasive influence of Jain culture and philosophy in ancient Bihar possibly gave rise to Buddhism. The Buddhists have always maintained that during the time of Buddha and Mahavira (who, according to the Pali canon were contemporaries), Jainism was already an ancient, deeply entrenched faith and culture there. (For connections between Buddhism and Jainism see Buddhism and Jainism). Over several thousand years, Jain influence on Hindu philosophy and religion has been considerable, while Hindu influence on Jain rituals may be observed in certain Jain sects. Certain Vedic Hindu Holy books beautifully narrates about various figures whom are were adopted by Jains as Tirthankars (e.g., Lord Rishabdev).

For instance, the concept of puja is Jain. The Vedic Religion prescribed yajnas and havanas for pleasing god. Puja is a specifically Jain concept, arising from the Kannada words, "pu" (flower) and "ja" (offering).

With 10 to 12 million followers, Jainism is among the smallest of the major world religions, but in India its influence is much more than these numbers would suggest. Jains live throughout India; Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat have the largest Jain population among Indian states. Karnataka, Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh have relatively large Jain populations. There is a large following in Punjab, especially in Ludhiana and Patiala, and there used to be many Jains in Lahore (Punjab's historic capital) and other cities before the Partition of 1947, after which many fled to India. There are many Jain communities in different parts of India and around the world. They may speak local languages or follow different rituals but essentially follow the same principles.

Outside India, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) have large Jain communities. Jainism is presently a strong faith in the United States and several Jain temples have been built there. American Jainism accommodates all the sects. Smaller Jain communities exist in Nepal, South Africa, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Fiji, and Suriname. In Belgium the very successful Indian diamond community, almost all of whom are Jain, are also establishing a temple to strengthen Jain values in and across Western Europe.

Digambara and Svetambara traditions

It is generally believed that the Jain sangha divided into two major sects, Digambar and Svetambar, about 200 years after Mahāvīra's nirvana. Some historians believe there was no clear division until the 5th century. The best available information indicates that the chief Jain monk, Acharya Bhadrabahu, foresaw famine and led about 12,000 Digambar followers to southern India. Twelve years later they returned to find the Svetambar sect, and in 453 the Valabhi council edited and compiled the traditional Svetambar scriptures.

The differences between the two sects are minor and relatively obscure. Digambar Jain monks do not wear clothes because they believe clothes, like other possessions, increase dependency and desire for material things, and desire for anything ultimately leads to sorrow. Svetambar Jain monks, on the other hand, wear white, seamless clothes for practical reasons, and believe there is nothing in Jain scripture that condemns wearing clothes. Sadhvis (nuns) of both sects wear white. In Sanskrit, ambar refers to a covering generally, or a garment in particular. Dig, an older form of disha, refers to the cardinal directions. Digambar therefore means "covered by the four directions", or "sky-clad". Svet means white and Svetambars wear white garments.

Digambars believe that women cannot attain moksha in the same birth, while Svetambars believe that women may attain liberation and that Mallinath, a Tirthankar, was a woman. The difference is because Digambar asceticism requires nudity. As nudity is impractical for women, it follows that without it they cannot attain moksha. This is based on the belief that women cannot reach perfect purity (yathakhyata), "Their lack of clothes can, therefore, be a hindrance to their leading a holy life". The earliest record of this belief is contained in the Prakrit Suttapahuda of the Digambara mendicant Kundakunda (c. second century A.D. ).

Digambars believe that Mahavir was not married, whereas Svetambars believe Mahavir was married and had a daughter. The two sects also differ on the origin of Mata Trishala, Mahavira's mother.

Sthanakavasis and Digambars believe that only the first five lines are formally part of the Namokara Mantra (the main Jain prayer), whereas Svetambaras believe all nine form the mantra. Other differences are minor and not based on major points of doctrine.

Excavations at Mathura revealed many Jain statues from the Kushana period. Tirthankaras, represented without clothes, and monks with cloth wrapped around the left arm are identified as Ardhaphalaka and mentioned in some texts. The Yapaniya sect, believed to have originated from the Ardhaphalaka, follows Digambara nudity, along with several Svetambara beliefs.

Svetambaras are further divided into sub-sects, such as Sthanakavasi, Terapanthi and Deravasi. Some are murtipujak (revering statues) while non-Murtipujak Jains refuse statues or images. Svetambar follow the 12 agam literature (voice of omniscient).

Most simply call themselves Jains and follow general traditions rather than specific sectarian practices. In 1974 a committee with representatives from every sect compiled a new text called the Samana Suttam.



Like other Indian religions, knowledge of the truth (dharma) is considered to have declined and then revived cyclically over the course of history. Those who rediscover dharma are called Tirthankara. The literal meaning of Tirthankar is 'ford-builder'. Jains, like Buddhists, compare the process of becoming a pure human being to crossing a swift river - an endeavour requiring patience and care. A ford-builder is someone who has themselves already crossed the river and can therefore guide others. S/he is called a 'victor' (Skt: Jina) because she or he has achieved liberation by their own efforts. Like Buddhism, the purpose of Jain dharma is mental and physical purification to undo the negative effects of karma. The goal of this process is liberation accompanied by a great natural inner peace.

Having purified their souls of karmic impurities, a tirthankar is considered omniscient, a role model. They are referred to as god, such as through the use of the word bhagavan, lord (e.g., Bhagavan Rishabha, Bhagavan Parshva, etc.). They are not regarded as gods in the pantheistic or polytheistic sense, but rather as examples of the spiritual qualities to which Jains are to strive. There have been 24 Tirthankaras in what the Jains call the 'present age'. History records the last two Tirthankaras: Parshvanath and Mahavira (the 23rd and 24th).

Mahavira established the four-fold community (chaturvidhi sangha) of monks, nuns, and male and female laypersons.

The 24 tirthankaras, in chronological order, are Adinath (or Rishabhnath), Ajitanath, Sambhavanath, Abhinandananath, Sumatinath, Padmaprabh, Suparshvanath, Chandraprabhu, Pushpadantanath (or Suvidhinath), Sheetalanath, Shreyansanath, Vasupujya, Vimalanath, Anantanath, Dharmanath, Shantinath, Kunthunath, Aranath, Mallinath, Munisuvratanath, Naminath, Neminath, Parshvanath and Mahavir (or Vardhamana,Vir,Ativeer,Sanmati).


Jains believe that every human is responsible for his/her actions and all living beings have an eternal soul, jīva. Jains believe all souls are equal because they all possess the potential of being liberated and attaining moksha. Tirthankaras are role models only because they have attained moksha. Jains insist that we live, think and act respectfully and honor the spiritual nature of all life. Jains view God as the unchanging traits of the pure soul of each living being, described as Infinite Knowledge, Perception, Consciousness, and Happiness (Ananta Jnāna, Ananta Darshana, Ananta Cāritra and Ananta Sukha). Jains do not believe in an omnipotent supreme being, creator or manager (kartā), but rather in an eternal universe governed by natural laws.

Jains hold that this temporal world holds much misery and sorrow and hence to attain lasting bliss one must transcend the cycle of transmigration. Otherwise, one will remain eternally caught up in the never-ending cycle of transmigration. The only way to break out of this cycle is to practice detachment through rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct.

Jain scriptures were written over a long period of time, but the most cited is the Tattvartha Sutra, or Book of Reality written by the monk-scholar, Umasvati (aka Umāsvāmi) almost 1800 years ago. The primary figures are Tirthankaras. The two main sects called Digambar and Svetambar, both believe in ahimsa (or ahinsā), asceticism, karma, sanskār, and jiva.

Differences between the two main sects are mainly conduct related. Doctrinally, Jainism is uniform with great emphasis placed on rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct. {"", Tattvārthasūtra, 1.1}

Compassion for all life, human and non-human, is central to Jainism. Human life is valued as a unique, rare opportunity to reach enlightenment. To kill any person, no matter their crime, is considered unimaginably abhorrent. It is the only religion that requires monks and laity, from all its sects and traditions, to be vegetarian.

History suggests that various strains of Hinduism became vegetarian due to strong Jain influences. Jains run animal shelters all over India. For example, Delhi has a bird hospital run by Jains. Every city and town in Bundelkhand has animal shelters run by Jains where all manner of animals are sheltered, even though the shelter is generally known as a Gaushala ("sacred cow").

Jainism's stance on nonviolence goes far beyond vegetarianism. Jains refuse food obtained with unnecessary cruelty. Many practice a lifestyle similar to veganism, due to the violence of modern dairy farms, and others exclude root vegetables from their diets to preserve the lives of these plants. Potatoes, garlic and onions in particular are avoided by Jains. Devout Jains do not eat, drink, or travel after sunset, and prefer to drink water that is boiled and then cooled to room temperature. Many Jains abstain from eating green vegetables and root vegetables one day each week. The particular day, determined by the lunar calendar is Ashtami (eighth day of the lunar month), New Moon, the second Ashtami and the Full Moon night.

Anekantavada, a foundation of Jain philosophy, literally means "The Multiplicity of Reality", or equivalently, "Non-one-endedness". Anekantavada has tools for overcoming inherent biases in any one perspective on any topic or in reality in general. Another tool is The Doctrine of Postulation, Syādvāda. Anekantavada is defined as a multiplicity of viewpoints, for it stresses looking at things from others' perspectives.

Jains are usually very welcoming and friendly toward other faiths and often help with interfaith functions. Several non-Jain temples in India are administered by Jains. A palpable presence in Indian culture, Jains have contributed to Indian philosophy, art, architecture, science, and to Mohandas Gandhi's politics, which led to the mainly non-violent movement for Indian independence.. Note that Mohandas Gandhi's Mother was a devout Jain and Jain Monks visited his home regularly. He spent considerable time under the tutelage of Jain Monks learning the philosophies of non-violence and doing good always.

Creation and cosmology

According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. Therefore, it is shaswat (infinite). It has no beginning or end, but time is cyclical with progressive and regressive spirituality phases.

Jains divide time into Utsarpinis (Progressive Time Cycle) and Avsarpinis (Regressive Time Cycle). An Utsarpini and an Avsarpini constitute one Time Cycle (Kalchakra). Every Utsarpini and Avsarpini is divided into six unequal periods known as Aras. During the Utsarpini half cycle, humanity develops from its worst to its best: ethics, progress, happiness, strength, health, and religion each start the cycle at their worst, before eventually completing the cycle at their best and starting the process again. During the Avsarpini half-cycle, these notions deteriorate from the best to the worst. Jains believe we are currently in the fifth Ara of the Avsarpini phase, with approximately 19,000 years until the next Ara. After this Avsarpini phase, the Utsarpini phase will begin, continuing the infinite repetition of the Kalchakra.

Jains believe that at the upswing of each time cycle, people will lose religion again. All wishes will be granted by wish-granting trees (Kalpavrksa), and people will be born in sets of twins (Yugalika) with one boy and one girl who stay together all their lives: a symbol of an integrated human with male and female characteristics balanced.

Jain philosophy is based upon eternal, universal truths. During the first and last two Aras, these truths lapse among humanity and then reappear through the teachings of enlightened humans, those who have reached moksa or total knowledge (Kevala Jnana), during the third and fourth Aras. Traditionally, in our universe and in our time, Lord Rishabha (ऋषभ) is regarded as the first to realize the truth. Lord Vardhamana (Mahavira) was the last Tirthankara to attain enlightenment (599-527 BCE). He was preceded by twenty-three others, making a total of twenty-four Tirthankaras.

It is important to note that the above description stands true "in our universe and in our time" for Jains believe there have been infinite sets of 24 Tirthankaras, one for each half of the time cycle, and this will continue in the future. Hence, Jainism does not trace its origins to Rishabh Deva, the first, or finish with Mahavira, the twenty-fourth, Tirthankara.

According to Jainism, the Universe consists of infinite amount of Jiva (life force or souls), and the design resembles a man standing with his arms bent while resting his hands on his waist. The narrow waist part comprises various Kshetras, for vicharan (roaming) for humans, animals and plants. Currently we are in the Bharat Kshetra of Jambu Dweep (dweep means island).

The Deva Loka (Heavens) are at the symbolic 'chest' of Creation, where all Devas (demi gods) reside. Similarly beneath the 'waist' are the Narka Loka (Hell). There are seven Narka Lokas, each for a varying degree suffering a jiva has to go through to face the consequences of its paap karma (sins). From the first to the seventh Narka, the degree of suffering increases and light reaching it decreases (with no light in the seventh Narka).

The sidhha kshetra or moksha is situated at the symbolic forehead of the creation, where all the jivas having attained nirvana reside in a state of complete peace and eternal happiness. Outside the symbolic figure of this creation nothing but aloka or akaasha (sky) exists.

Jain philosophy

Jain philosophy (Sanskrit: Jain darsana; जैन दर्शन) deals extensively with the problems of metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and divinity. Jainism is essentially a transtheistic religion of ancient India. It is a continuation of the ancient tradition which co-existed with the Vedic tradition since ancient times. The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief in independent existence of soul and matter, neither denial nor acceptance of a creative and omnipotent God, an eternal (and hence uncreated) universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, on relativity and multiple facets of truth, and morality and ethics based on liberation of souls. Jain philosophy explains the rationale of being and existence, the nature of the Universe and its constituents, the nature of bondage and the means to achieve liberation. It is described as ascetic because of its strong emphasis on self-control, austerities and renunciation and called a model of philosophical liberalism for its insistence that truth is relative and multifaceted and for its willingness to accommodate all possible view-points of rival philosophies. It has been compared to Western concepts of subjectivism and moral relativism. Jainism strongly upholds the individual nature of soul and personal responsibility for one's decisions; and that self-reliance and individual efforts alone are responsible for one's liberation. In this matter, it is similar to individualism and Objectivism.

In Jainism, truth or reality is perceived differently depending on different points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth. Jain doctrine states that an object has infinite modes of existence and qualities and, as such, cannot be completely perceived in all its aspects and manifestations, due to inherent human limitations. Only Kevalins - the omniscient beings - can totally comprehend objects and that others can knowing only a part. Consequently, no one view can represent the absolute truth. In the process, the Jains have their doctrines of relativity used for logic and reasoning –

  • Anekāntavāda - literally, "Non-one-endedness", "Nonsingular Conclusivity", the idea that no one perspective holds the complete truth;
  • Syādvāda – the theory of conditioned predication and;
  • Nayavāda – The theory of partial standpoints.

These philosophical concepts contributed immensely to Indian philosophy, especially in skepticism and relativity.

Karma theory

Karma in Jainism conveys a totally different meaning than commonly understood in the Hindu philosophy and western civilization. It is not the so called inaccessible force that controls the fate of living beings in inexplicable ways. It does not mean "deed", "work", nor invisible, mystical force (adrsta), but a complex of very fine matter, imperceptible to the senses, which interacts with the soul, causing great changes. Karma, then, is something material (karmapaudgalam), which produces certain conditions, like a medical pill has many effects. According to Robert Zydendos, karma in Jainism is a system of laws, but natural rather than moral laws. In Jainism, actions that carry moral significance are considered to cause consequences in just the same way as physical actions that do not carry any moral significance. When one holds an apple in one's hand and then let go of the apple, the apple will fall: this is only natural. There is no judge, and no moral judgment involved, since this is a mechanical consequence of the physical action.

Customs and practices

Jain monks and nuns practice strict asceticism and strive to make their current birth their last, thus ending their cycle of transmigration. The laity, who pursue less rigorous practices, strive to attain rational perception and to do as much good as possible and get closer to the goal of attaining freedom from the cycle of transmigration. Following strict ethics, the laity usually choose professions that revere and protect life and totally avoid violent livelihoods.

Jains practice Samayika, which is a Sanskrit word meaning equanimity and derived from samaya (the soul). The goal of samayika is to attain equanimity. Samayika is begun by achieving a balance in time. If this current moment is defined as a moving line between the past and the future, samayika happens by being fully aware, alert and conscious in that moving time line when one experiences atma, one's true nature, common to all life forms. Samayika is especially significant during Paryushana, a special period during the monsoon, and is practiced during the Samvatsari Pratikramana ritual.

Jains believe that Devas (demi-gods or celestial beings) cannot help jiva to obtain liberation, which must be achieved by individuals through their own efforts. In fact, Devas themselves cannot achieve liberation until they reincarnate as humans and undertake the difficult act of removing karma. Their efforts to attain the exalted state of Siddha, the permanent liberation of jiva from all involvement in worldly existence, must be their own.

The strict Jain ethical code for both laity and monks/nuns is:

  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence)
  2. Satya (truth)
  3. Achaurya or Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (Celibacy)
  5. Aparigraha (Non-attachment to temporal possessions)

Nonviolence includes vegetarianism. Jains are expected to be non-violent in thought, word, and deed, both toward humans and toward all other living beings, including their own selves. Jain monks and nuns walk barefoot and sweep the ground in front of them to avoid killing insects or other tiny beings. Even though all life is considered sacred by the Jains, human life is deemed the highest form of life. For this reason, it is considered vital never to harm or upset any person.

For laypersons, brahmacharya means either confining sex to marriage or complete celibacy. For monks and nuns, it means complete celibacy.

While performing holy deeds, Svetambara Jains wear cloths, muhapatti, over their mouths and noses to avoid saliva falling on texts or revered images. It is incorrect to say that this is to avoid accidentally inhaling insects. Many healthy concepts are entwined. For example, Jains drink only boiled water. In ancient times, a person might get ill by drinking unboiled water, which could prevent equanimity, and illness may engender intolerance.

True spirituality, according to enlightened Jains, starts when one attains Samyak darshana, or true perception. Such souls are on the path to moksha, striving to remain in the nature of the soul. This is characterized by knowing and observing only all worldly affairs, without raag (attachment) and dwesh (repulsion), a state of pure knowledge and bliss. Attachment to worldly life collects new karmas, and traps one in birth, death, and suffering. Worldly life has a dual nature (for example, love and hate, suffering and pleasure, etc.), for the perception of one state cannot exist without the contrasting perception of the other.

Jain Dharma shares some beliefs with Hinduism. Both believe in karma and reincarnation. However, the Jain version of the Ramayana and Mahabharata is different from Hindu beliefs, for example. Generally, Hindus believe that Rama was a reincarnation of God, whereas Jains believe he attained moksha (liberation) because they are free from any belief in a creator god.

Along with the Five Vows, Jains avoid harboring ill will and practice forgiveness. They believe that atma (soul) can lead one to becoming parmatma (liberated soul) and this must come from one's inner self. Jains refrain from all violence (Ahimsa) and recommend that sinful activities be avoided.

Mahatma Gandhi was deeply influenced (particularly through the guidance of Shrimad Rajchandra) by Jain tenets such as peaceful, protective living and honesty, and made them an integral part of his own philosophy. Jainism has a distinct idea underlying Tirthankar worship. The physical form is not worshiped, but their Gunas (virtues, qualities) are praised. Tirthankaras remain role-models, and sects such as the Sthanakavasi stringently reject statue worship.

Jain fasting

Fasting is a tool for doing Tapa and to attach to your inner-being. It is a part of Jain festivals. It is three types based on the level of austerity; Uttam, Madhyam and Jaghanya; first being the most stringent:

1. Uttam: Renounce all worldly things including food & water on the day of fasting and eat only once on the eve & next day of fasting.

2. Madhyam: Food & water is not taken on the day of fast.

3. Jaghanya: Eat only once on the day.

During fasting a person imbibe himself in religious activities (worshiping, serving the saints & be in their proximity, reading scriptures, Tapa, and donate to the right candidates - Supatra).

Most Jains fast at special times, during festivals (known as Parva. Paryushana and Ashthanhika are the main Parvas which occurs 3 times in a year), and on holy days (eighth & fourteen days of the moon cycle).Paryushana is the most prominent festival, lasting eight days for Svetambara Jains and ten days for Digambars, during the monsoon. The monsoon is considered the best time of fasting due to lenient weather. However, a Jain may fast at any time, especially if s/he feels some error has been committed. Variations in fasts encourage Jains to do whatever they can to maintain self control.

Some Jains revere a special practice. When a person is aware of approaching death, and feels that s/he has completed all duties, s/he willingly ceases to eat or drink gradually. This form of dying is called Santhara / Samaadhi. It can be as long as 12 years with gradual reduction in food intake. Considered extremely spiritual and creditable, with all awareness of the transitory nature of human experience, it has recently led to a controversy. In Rajasthan, a lawyer petitioned the High Court of Rajasthan to declare santhara illegal. Jains see santhara as spiritual detachment, a declaration that a person has finished with this world and now chooses to leave.

Jain worship and rituals

Every day most Jains bow and say their universal prayer, the "Namokara Mantra", aka the Navkar Mantra, Parmesthi Mantra, Panch Namaskar Mantra, Anadhi Nidhan Mantra. Jains have built temples, or Basadi or Derasar, where images of tirthankaras are revered. Rituals may be elaborate because symbolic objects are offered and Tirthankaras praised in song. But some sects refuse to enter temples or revere images. All Jains accept that images of Tirthankaras are merely symbolic reminders of their paths to attain moksha. Jains are clear that the Jinas reside in moksha and are completely detached from the world.

Jain rituals include:

Jain symbolism

The holiest symbol is a simple swastika. Another important symbol incorporates a wheel on the palm of a hand, symbolizing Ahimsa.

Other major Jain symbols include:

  • 24 Lanchhanas (symbols) of the Tirthankaras
  • Triratna and Shrivatsa symbols
  • A Tirthankar's or Chakravarti's mother dreams
  • Dharmacakra and Siddha-chakra
  • Eight auspicious symbols (The Asta Mangalas). Their names are (in series of pictures)
  • Svastika -Signifies peace and well-being
  • Shrivatsa -A mark manifested on the centre of the Jina's chest, signifying a pure soul.
  • Nandyavartya -Large svastika with nine corners
  • Vardha­manaka -A shallow earthen dish used for lamps, suggests an increase in wealth, fame and merit due to a Jina's grace.
  • Bhadrasana -Throne, considered auspicious because it is sanctified by the blessed Jina's feet.
  • Kalasha -Pot filled with pure water signifying wisdom and completeness
  • Minayugala -A fish couple. It signifies Cupid's banners coming to worship the Jina after defeating the God of Love
  • Darpana -The mirror reflects one's true self because of its clarity

Jain contributions to Indian culture

While Jains represent less than 1% of the Indian population, their contributions to culture and society in India are considerable. Jainism had a major influence in developing a system of philosophy and ethics that had a major impact on all aspects of Indian culture in all ages; from Upanishads to Mahatma Gandhi. Scholarly research and evidences have shown that philosophical concepts considered typically Indian – Karma, Ahimsa, Moksa, reincarnation and like - either originate in the sramana school of thought or were propagated and developed by Jaina teachers.

Jains have also wielded great influence on the culture and language of Karnatak, Southern India and Gujarat most significantly. The earliest known Gujarati text, Bharat-Bahubali Ras, was written by a Jain monk. Some important people in Gujarat's Jain history were Acharya Hemacandra Suri and his pupil, the Calukya ruler Kumarapala.

Jains are among the wealthiest Indians. They run numerous schools, colleges and hospitals and are important patrons of the Somapuras, the traditional temple architects in Gujarat. Jains have greatly influenced Gujarati cuisine. Gujarat is predominantly vegetarian (see Jain vegetarianism), and its food is mild as onions and garlic are omitted.

Jains encourage their monks to do research and obtain higher education. Jain monks and nuns, particularly in Rajasthan, have published numerous research monographs. This is unique among Indian religious groups and parallels Christian clergy. The 2001 census states that Jains are India's most literate community and that India's oldest libraries at Patan and Jaisalmer are preserved by Jain institutions.

Jain literature

Jains have contributed to India's classical and popular literature. For example, almost all early Kannada literature and Tamil literature was written by Jains.

  • Some of the oldest known books in Hindi and Gujarati were written by Jain scholars. The first autobiography in Hindi, [Ardha-Kathanaka] was written by a Jain, Banarasidasa, an ardent follower of Acarya Kundakunda who lived in Agra.
  • Several Tamil classics are written by Jains or with Jain beliefs and values as the core subject.
  • Practically all the known texts in the Apabhramsha language are Jain works.

The oldest Jain literature is in Shauraseni and Ardha-Magadhi Prakrit (Agamas, Agama-Tulya, Siddhanta texts, etc). Many classical texts are in Sanskrit (Tatvartha Sutra, Puranas, Kosh, Sravakacara, mathematics, Nighantus etc). "Abhidhana Rajendra Kosha" written by Acharya Rajendrasuri, is only one available Jain encyclopedia or Jain dictionary to understand the Jain Prakrit, Sanskrit, and Ardha-Magadhi and other Jain languages, words, their use and references with in oldest Jain literature. Later Jain literature was written in Apabhramsha (Kahas, rasas, and grammars), Hindi (Chhahadhala, Mokshamarga Prakashaka, and others), Tamil (Jivakacintamani, Kural, and others), and Kannada (Vaddaradhane and various other texts). Jain versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata are found in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsha and Kannada.

Jain monks and nuns (Sadhu or Muni Maharaj)

In India there are thousands of Jain Monks, in categories like Acharya, Upadhyaya and Muni. Trainee ascetics are known as Ailaka and Ksullaka in the Digambar tradition.

There are two categories of ascetics, Sadhu (monk) and Sadhvi (nun). They practice the five Mahavratas, three Guptis and five Samitis:

Five Mahavratas

  • अहिंसा Ahimsa: Non-violence in thought, word and deed
  • सत्य Satya: Truth which is (hita) beneficial, (mita) succinct and (priya) pleasing
  • अचौर्य Acaurya: Not accepting anything that has not been given to them by the owner
  • ब्रह्मचर्य Brahmacarya: Absolute purity of mind and body
  • अपरिग्रह Aparigraha: Non-attachment to non-self objects

Three Guptis

  • मनगुप्ती Managupti: Control of the mind
  • वचनगुप्ती Vacanagupti: Control of speech
  • कायगुप्ती Kayagupti: Control of body

Five Samitis

  • ईर्या समिति Irya Samiti: Carefulness while walking
  • भाषा समिति Bhasha Samiti: Carefulness while communicating
  • एषणा समिति Eshana Samiti: Carefulness while eating
  • आदान निक्षेपण समिति Adana Nikshepana Samiti: Carefulness while handling their fly-whisks, water gourds, etc.
  • प्रतिष्ठापना समिति Pratishthapana Samiti: Carefulness while disposing of bodily waste matter

Male Digambara monks do not wear any clothes and are nude. They practise non-attachment to the body and hence, wear no clothes. Shvetambara monks and nuns wear white clothes. Shvetambaras believe that monks and nuns may wear simple un-stitched white clothes as long as they are not attached to them. Jain monks and nuns travel on foot. They do not use mechanical transport.

Digambar monks & followers takes upto eleven Pratimaye (oath). Monks takes all eleven oaths. They eat only once a day. The Male Digambar monk (Maharajji) eat standing at one place in their palms without using any utensil.

Find Details of Chaturmas or VarshaYog Information for 2008


  • Paryushan Parva, 10/8 (Digambar/SVetambar) day fasts, and for observe, 10/8 important principles.
  • Mahavir Janma Kalyanak, Lord Mahavir's birth, it is popularly known as Mahavir Jayanti but the term 'jayanti' is inappropriate for a Tirthankar, as this term is used for mortals.
  • Kshamavaani, The day for asking everyone's forgiveness.
  • Diwali, the nirvana day of Lord Mahavira

Jainism and other religions

Jains are not a part of the Vedic Religion (Hinduism). Ancient India had two philosophical streams of thought: The Shramana philosophical schools, represented by Jainism , and the Brahmana/Vedic/Puranic schools represented by Vedanta, Vaishnava and other movements. Both streams are subsets of the Dharmic family of faith and have existed side by side for many thousands of years, influencing each other.

The Hindu scholar, Lokmanya Tilak credited Jainism with influencing Hinduism and thus leading to the cessation of animal sacrifice in Vedic rituals. Bal Gangadhar Tilak has described Jainism as the originator of Ahimsa and wrote in a letter printed in Bombay Samachar, Mumbai:10 Dec, 1904: "In ancient times, innumerable animals were butchered in sacrifices. Evidence in support of this is found in various poetic compositions such as the Meghaduta. Swami Vivekananda also credited Jainism as influencing force behind the Indian culture.

"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?..

Jains were the first great ascetics. "Don't injure any, do good to all that you can and that is all the morality and ethics, and that is all the work there is, and the rest is all nonsense... Throw it away." And then they went to work and elaborated this one principle, and it is a most wonderful ideal: how all that we call ethics they simply bring out from one great principle of non-injury and doing good."

  • Relationship between Jainism and Hinduism - According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Article on Hinduism,"...With Jainism which always remained an Indian religion, Hinduism has so much in common, especially in social institutions and ritual life, that nowadays Hindus tend to consider it a Hindu sect. Many Jains also are inclined to fraternization...
  • Independent Religion - From the Encyclopædia Britannica Article on Jainism: "...Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, it is one of the three most ancient Indian religious traditions still in existence. ...While often employing concepts shared with Hinduism and Buddhism, the result of a common cultural and linguistic background, the Jain tradition must be regarded as an independent phenomenon. It is an integral part of South Asian religious belief and practice, but it is not a Hindu sect or Buddhist heresy, as earlier scholars believed. The author Koenraad Elst in his book, Who is a Hindu?, summarises on the similaries between Jains and the mainstream Hindu society.

Languages used in Jain literature

Jain literature exists in Prakrit, Sanskrit, Tamil, Apabhramsha, Rajasthani, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kutchi, Kannada, Tulu, Telugu, Dhundhari (Old Marwari), English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.

Constitutional status of Jainism in India

In 2005 the Supreme Court of India in a judgment stated that Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are sub-sects or 'special faiths' of Hinduism, and are governed under the ambit of Hindu laws. In the same year however, it declined to issue a writ of Mandamus towards granting Jains the status of a religious minority throughout India. The Court noted that Jains have been declared a minority in 5 states already, and left it to the rest of the States to decide on the minority status of Jain religion.

In 2006 the Supreme Court in a judgment pertaining to a state, opined that "Jain Religion is indisputably not a part of the Hindu Religion". (para 25, Committee of Management Kanya Junior High School Bal Vidya Mandir, Etah, U.P. v. Sachiv, U.P. Basic Shiksha Parishad, Allahabad, U.P. and Ors., Per Dalveer Bhandari J., Civil Appeal No. 9595 of 2003, decided On: 21.08.2006, Supreme Court of India) [2]

See also


External links

Further reading

  • Alsdorf, Ludwig. Jaina Studies: Their Present State and Future Tasks. Eng. tr. Bal Patil. Edited by Willem Bollée. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 1. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2006.
  • Amiel,Pierre. " Les Jaïns aujourd'hui dans le monde" Ed. L'Harmattan, Paris, 2003.
  • Balbir, Nalini (Ed.) Catalogue of the Jain Manuscripts of the British Library. Set of 3 books. London: Institute of Jainology, 2006.
  • Bollée, Willem. The Story of Paesi Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 2. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2005.
  • Bollée, Willem. Vyavahara Bhasya Pithika. Prakrit text with English translation, annotations and exhaustive Index by Willem Bollée. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 4. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2006.
  • Caillat, Colette "La cosmologie jaïna" Ed. du Chêne, Paris 1981.
  • Chand, Bool. "Mahavira-Le Grand héros des Jaïns" Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris 1998.
  • Hynson, Colin. Discover Jainism. Ed. Mehool Sanghrajka. London: Institute of Jainology, 2007.
  • Jain, DuliChand. English version of "Baghawan Mahavir ki Vani" - Thus Spake Lord Mahavir. Chennai, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1998.
  • Jain, Duli Chandra (Ed.) Studies in Jainism. Set of 3 books. New York: Jain Stucy Circle, 2004.
  • Jalaj, Jaykumar. The Basic Thought of Bhagavan Mahavir. Ed. Elinor Velázquez. (5th edition) Jaipur: Prakrit Bharati Academy, 2007.
  • Joindu. Paramatmaprakasha. Apabhramsha text with Hindi tr. by Jaykumar Jalaj. Ed. Manish Modi. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 9. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2007.
  • Joindu. Yogasara. Apabhramsha text with Hindi tr. by Jaykumar Jalaj. Ed. Satyanarayana Hegde. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 10. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2008.
  • Kapashi, Vinod. Nava Smarana: Nine Sacred Recitations of Jainism. Ed. Signe Kirde. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2007.
  • Kundakunda. Atthapahuda Prakrit text with Hindi tr. by Jaykumar Jalaj. Ed. Manish Modi. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 6. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2006.
  • Mardia, K.V. The Scientific Foundations of Jainism. Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi, latest edition 2007. ISBN 81-208-0659-x (Jain Dharma ki Vigyanik Adharshila. Parsvanath Vidhyapitha, Varanasi. 2004. ISBN 81-86715-71-1).
  • Mehta, T.U. Path of Arhat - A Religious Democracy, Volume 63, Faridabad: Pujya Sohanalala Smaraka Parsvanatha Sodhapitha, 1993.
  • Patil, Bal. Jaya Gommatesha. Foreword by Colette Caillat. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2006.
  • Prabhacandra. Tattvarthasutra. Sanskrit text with Hindi tr. by Jaykumar Jalaj. Preface by Nalini Balbir. Ed. Manish Modi. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 7. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2008.
  • Pujyapada. Samadhitantra. Sanskrit text with Hindi tr. by Jaykumar Jalaj. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 5. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2006.
  • Pujyapada. Istopadesha. Sanskrit text with Hindi tr. by Jaykumar Jalaj. Ed. Manish Modi. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 14. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2007.
  • Rankin, Aidan. 'The Jain Path: Ancient Wisdom for the West.' Winchester/Washington DC: O Books, 2006.
  • Reymond Jean-Pierre "L'Inde des Jaïns" Ed. Atlas 1991.
  • Roy, Ashim Kumar. A history of the Jains, New Delhi: Gitanjali Publishing House, 1984.
  • Samantabhadra. Ratnakaranda Sravakacara. Sanskrit text with Hindi tr. by Jaykumar Jalaj. Preface by Paul Dundas. Pandit Nathuram Premi Research Series Volume 3. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay, 2006.
  • Sangave Vilas. 'Le Jaïnisme-Philosophie et Religion de l'Inde" Editions Trédaniel Paris 1999.
  • Todarmal. Moksamarga Prakashaka. Jaipur: Todarmal Smarak Trust, 1992.
  • Vijayashri. Sachitra Pacchis Bol. Agra: Mahasati Kaushalya Devi Prakashan Trust, 2005.

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