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Jain flag
Abbreviation Jain
Scripture Jain Agamas
Other name(s) Jain dharma

Jainism (/ˈnɪzəm/[1] or /ˈnɪzəm/[2]), traditionally known as Jain Dharma,[3] is an ancient Indian religion belonging to the Śramaṇa tradition. The central tenet is non-violence and respect towards all living beings. The three main principles of Jainism are ahimsa ("non-violence"), anekantavada ("non-absolutism"), and aparigraha ("non-possessiveness"). Followers of Jainism take five main vows: ahimsa ("non-violence"), satya ("not lying"), asteya ("not stealing"), brahmacharya ("chastity"), and aparigraha ("non-attachment"). Jain monks and nuns observe these vows absolutely whereas householders (śrāvakas) observe them within their practical limitations. Self-discipline and asceticism are thus major focuses of Jainism. The diet includes strict vegetarian practices.

The word "Jain" derives from the Sanskrit word jina (conqueror). A human being who has conquered all inner passions such as attachment, desire, anger, pride, and greed is called Jina. Followers of the path practised and preached by the jinas are known as Jains. Jains trace their history through a succession of twenty-four teachers and revivers of the Jain path known as Tirthankaras. In the current era, this started with Rishabhanatha and concluded with Mahavira. Jains believe that Jainism is eternal and while it may be forgotten, it will be revived from time to time. Parasparopagraho Jivanam ("the function of souls is to help one another") is the motto of Jainism. Namokar Mantra is the most common and basic prayer in Jainism.[4]

Jainism has between four and five million followers with most Jains residing in India.[5] Outside India, some of the largest Jain communities are present in Canada, Europe, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Suriname, Fiji, and the United States. The two major sects of contemporary Jainism are Digambara and Śvētāmbara. Major Jain festivals include Paryushana and Daslakshana, Mahavir Jayanti, and Diwali.

Main principles

Ahimsa (Non-violence)

Painting with the message: "Ahiṃsā Paramo Dharma" (non-violence is the highest virtue or religion)
The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes Ahimsa in Jainism. The word in the middle is "ahimsa". The wheel represents the dharmachakra, which stands for the resolve to halt the saṃsāra (transmigration) through relentless pursuit of truth and non-violence.

The principle of ahimsa (non-violence or non-injury) is a fundamental tenet of Jainism.[6] It believes that one must abandon all violent activity, and without such a commitment to non-violence all religious behavior is worthless.[6] In Jain theology, it does not matter how correct or defensible the violence may be, one must not kill any being, and "non-violence is one's highest religious duty".[6][7]

Jain texts such as Acaranga Sutra and Tattvarthasutra state that one must renounce all killing of living beings, whether tiny or large, movable or immovable.[8][9] Its theology teaches that one must neither kill another living being, nor cause another to kill, nor consent to any killing directly or indirectly.[8][7] Further Jainism emphasizes non-violence against all beings not only in action, but also in speech and in thought.[8][9] It states that instead of hate or violence against anyone, "all living creatures must help each other".[9][note 1] Violence negatively affects and destroys one soul, particularly when the violence is done with intent, hate or carelessness, or when one indirectly causes or consents to the killing of a human or non-human living being.[9]

The idea of reverence for non-violence (ahimsa) is founded in Hindu and Buddhist canonical texts, and it may have origins in more ancient Brahmanical Vedic thoughts.[6][11][12] However, no other Indian religion has developed the non-violence doctrine and its implications on everyday life as has Jainism.[13][14][15] The practice of non-violence towards all living beings has led to Jain culture being vegetarian, with most Jains practicing lacto vegetarianism (no eggs). If there is violence against animals during the production of dairy products, veganism is encouraged.[16] 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 because a bulb or tuber's ability to sprout is seen as characteristic of a living being.[17][note 2]

The theological basis of non-violence as the highest religious duty has been interpreted by some Jain scholars to "not be driven by merit from giving or compassion to other creatures, nor a duty to rescue all creatures", but resulting from "continual self discipline", a cleansing of the soul that leads to one's own spiritual development which ultimately effects one's salvation and release from rebirths.[19] Causing injury to any being in any form creates bad karma which affects one's rebirth, future well being and suffering.[18][20]

Late medieval Jain scholars re-examined the Ahimsa doctrine when one is faced with external threat or violence. For example, they justified violence by monks to protect nuns.[21][22] According to Dundas, the Jain scholar Jinadatta Suri wrote during a time of Muslim destruction of temples and persecution, that "anybody engaged in a religious activity who was forced to fight and kill somebody would not lose any spiritual merit but instead attain deliverance".[23] However, such examples in Jain texts that condone fighting and killing under certain circumstances, are relatively rare.[21][note 3]

Many-sided reality (Anekāntavāda)

The second main principle of Jainism is Anekantavada or Anekantatva.[25][26] This doctrine states that truth and reality is complex and always has multiple aspects. Reality can be experienced, but it is not possible to totally express it with language. Human attempts to communicate is Naya, or "partial expression of the truth".[25] Language is not Truth, but a means and attempt to express Truth. From Truth, according to Mahavira, language returns and not the other way around.[25][27] One can experience the truth of a taste, but cannot fully express that taste through language. Any attempts to express the experience is syāt, or valid "in some respect" but it still remains a "perhaps, just one perspective, incomplete".[27] In the same way, spiritual truths are complex, they have multiple aspects, language cannot express their plurality, yet through effort and appropriate karma they can be experienced.[25]

The Anekantavada premises of the Jains is ancient, as evidenced by its mention in Buddhist texts such as the Samaññaphala Sutta. The Jain Agamas suggest that Mahavira's approach to answering all metaphysical philosophical questions was a "qualified yes" (syāt).[28][29] These texts identify Anekantavada doctrine to be one of the key differences between the teachings of the Mahavira and those of the Buddha. The Buddha taught the Middle Way, rejecting extremes of the answer "it is" or "it is not" to metaphysical questions. The Mahavira, in contrast, taught his followers to accept both "it is" and "it is not", with "perhaps" qualification and with reconciliation to understand the Absolute Reality.[30] Syādvāda (predication logic) and Nayavāda (perspective epistemology) of Jainism expand on the concept of anekāntavāda. Syādvāda recommends the expression of anekānta by prefixing the epithet syād to every phrase or expression describing the "permanent being".[31][32] There is no creator God in Jainism, the existence has neither beginning nor end, and the permanent being is conceptualized as jiva (soul) and ajiva (matter) within a dualistic anekantavada framework.[33]

In contemporary times, according to Paul Dundas, the Anekantavada doctrine has been interpreted by many Jains as intending to "promote a universal religious tolerance", and a teaching of "plurality" and "benign attitude to other [ethical, religious] positions". This is problematic and a misreading of Jain historical texts and Mahavira's teachings, states Dundas.[34] The "many pointedness, multiple perspective" teachings of the Mahavira is a doctrine about the nature of Absolute Reality and human existence, and it is sometimes called "non-absolutism" doctrine.[35] However, it is not a doctrine about tolerating or condoning activities such as sacrificing or killing animals for food, violence against disbelievers or any other living being as "perhaps right".[34] The Five vows for Jain monks and nuns, for example, are strict requirements and there is no "perhaps, just one perspective".[36] Similarly, since ancient times, Jainism co-existed with Buddhism and Hinduism, according to Dundas, but Jainism was highly critical of the knowledge systems and ideologies of its rivals, and vice versa.[37]

Non-attachment (Aparigraha)

The third main principle in Jainism is aparigraha which means non-attachment to worldly possessions.[38] For ascetics, Jainism requires a vow of complete non-possession of any property. For Jain laypersons, it recommends limited possession of property that has been honestly earned, and the giving away excess property to charity.[38] According to Natubhai Shah, aparigraha applies to both material and psychic. Material possessions refer to various forms of property. Psychic possessions refer to emotions, likes and dislikes, attachments of any form. Unchecked attachment to possessions is said to result in direct harm to one's personality.[39]

Attachments to the material or emotional possessions are viewed in Jainism as what leads to passions, which in turn leads to violence.[6] Per the aparigraha principle, a Jain monk or nun is expected to be homeless and family-less with no emotional longings or attachments.[40] The ascetic is a wandering mendicant in the Digambara tradition, or a resident mendicant in the Svetambara tradition.[40]

In addition, Jain texts mention that "attachment to possessions" (parigraha) is of two kinds: attachment to internal possessions (ābhyantara parigraha), and attachment to external possessions (bāhya parigraha).[41] For internal possessions, Jainism identifies four key passions of the mind (kashaya): anger, pride (ego), deceitfulness, and greed. Jainism recommends conquering anger by forgiveness, pride by humility, deceitfulness by straightforwardness, and greed by contentment. In addition to the four passions of the mind, the remaining ten internal passions are: wrong belief, the three sex-passions (male sex-passion, female sex-passion, neuter sex-passion), and the six defects (laughter, like, dislike, sorrow, fear, disgust).[42][43]


Of all the major Indian religions, Jainism has had the strongest austerities-driven ascetic tradition, and it is an essential part of a mendicant's spiritual pursuits.[44][45] Ascetic life may include nakedness symbolizing non-possession of even clothes, fasting, body mortification, penance and other austerities, in order to burn away past karma and stop producing new karma, both of which are believed in Jainism to be essential for reaching siddha and moksha (liberation from rebirths, salvation).[46][47]

The list of internal and external austerities in Jainism vary with the text and tradition.[48][49] Asceticism is viewed as a means to control desires, and a means to purify the jiva (soul).[45] The Tirthankaras of Jainism, such as the Mahavira set an example of leading an ascetic life by performing austeries for twelve years.[50][51]

Jain ethics and Five Main Vows

File:Five Vows.jpg
Jain emblem and the "Five Vows"
File:Nishidhi stone with 14th century Old Kannada inscription from Tavanandi forest.JPG
Nishidhi stone, depicting the observance of the vow of sallekhana, Old Kannada inscription, 14th century

Jainism encourages spiritual development through cultivation of personal wisdom and self-control through five main vows:[52]

  1. Ahimsa: Ahimsa means "non-violence " or "noninjury". The first major vow taken by Jains is to love and cause no harm to other living beings. It involves minimising intentional and unintentional harm to other living creatures by actions, speech or thoughts. The vow of ahiṃsā is considered the foremost among the five vows of Jainism.[53]
  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.[52]
  3. Asteya or Achaurya: Asteya means "not stealing". Jains should not take anything that is not willingly offered.[52] The five transgressions of this vow as mentioned in the Tattvārthsūtra are: "Prompting another to steal, receiving stolen goods, underbuying in a disordered state, using false weights and measures, and deceiving others with artificial or imitation goods."[54]
  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.[55]
  5. Aparigraha: Aparigraha means "non-possessiveness". This includes non-materialism and nonattachment to objects, places and people.[52] Jain monks and nuns completely renounce property and social relations.[38]

Monks and nuns are obligated to practice the five cardinal principles of non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, celibacy, and non-possessiveness very strictly, while laymen are encouraged to observe them within their current practical limitations.[52]

Supplementary vows and Sallekhana

Jainism also prescribes seven supplementary vows and a last sallekhana vow, which is practised mostly by monks and nuns. The supplementary vows include three guņa vratas ("merit vows") and four śikşā vratas.[56][57]

The Sallekhana (or Santhara) vow is observed at the end of life most commonly by Jain monks and nuns. In this vow, there is voluntary and gradual reduction of food and liquid intake under some conditions.[58] These conditions include severe famine, incurable disease, great disability, old age, or when a person is nearing his end.[59] Sallekhana is seen as spiritual detachment requiring a great deal of spiritual accomplishment and maturity, and a declaration that a person is finished with this world and has chosen to leave.[60] Jains believe this allows one to die with dignity and dispassion along with a great reduction of negative karma.[61]



Vegetarianism is a hallmark of Jainism, in accordance with the principle of non-violence towards all beings. Strict followers will also limit dairy products, avoid root vegetables, and avoid eating after sunset.[62]


Jains fast throughout the year, particularly during festivals.[63] This takes on various forms and may be practised based on one's ability.[64][according to whom?] Some examples are: eating only one or two meals per day, drinking only water all day, not eating after sunset, not eating processed foods, and eating food without sugar, oil, or salt.[65]


In Jainism, the purpose of prayer is to break the barriers of worldly attachments and desires and to assist in the liberation of the soul. Jains do not pray for any favours, material goods or rewards.[66]

The Navkar mantra is the fundamental prayer of Jainism and may be recited at any time.[4] In this mantra, Jains worship the gunas ("qualities") of the spiritually supreme, including those who have already attained salvation, in order to adopt similar behavior.[67]

Uvasagharam Stotra, Bhaktamara Stotra, Santikaram Stotra, Tijayapahutta Stotra, Namiuna Stotra, Kalyana Mandira Stotra, Ajita-Shanti Stavana, and Brihad Shanti Stotra are also sacred in Jainism.[68]


Jain nuns meditating
Gommateshwara statue at Shravanabelagola depicting the meditation in standing Kayotsarga posture by Bahubali, 981 A.D.

Jains have developed a type of meditation called Sāmāyika, a term derived from the word Samaya. The goal of Sāmāyika is to achieve a feeling of perfect calmness and to understand the unchanging truth of the self. The preposition sam means one's state of being. To become one is samaya. [69][70] Sāmāyika is aimed at developing equanimity and to refrain from injury. Sāmāyika is particularly important during the Paryushana religious festival. It is believed that meditation will assist in managing and balancing one's passions. Great emphasis is placed on the internal control of thoughts, as they influence behavior, actions and goals. Through Sāmāyika, Jains try to achieve control over Mana (mind), Vachana (speech) and Kaya (actions).[71]

Jain texts prescribe meditation on twelve forms of contemplation (bhāvanā) for those who wish to stop the influx of karmas that extend transmigration.[72] These twelve reflections as mentioned in ancient Jain texts, like Tattvārthsūtra, Sarvārthasiddhi, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya are:

  1. anitya bhāvanā – the transitoriness of the world;
  2. aśaraņa bhāvanā – the helplessness of the soul;
  3. saṃsāra – the pain and suffering implied in transmigration;
  4. aikatva bhāvanā – the inability of another to share one's suffering and sorrow;
  5. anyatva bhāvanā – the distinctiveness between the body and the soul;
  6. aśuci bhāvanā – the filthiness of the body;
  7. āsrava bhāvanā – influx of karmic matter;
  8. saṃvara bhāvanā – stoppage of karmic matter;
  9. nirjarā bhāvanā – gradual shedding of karmic matter;
  10. loka bhāvanā – the form and divisions of the universe, and the nature of the conditions prevailing in the different regions – heavens, hells, and the like;
  11. bodhidurlabha bhāvanā – the extreme difficulty in obtaining human birth and, subsequently, in attaining true faith
  12. dharma bhāvanā – the truth promulgated by Tirthankaras.[73]


Celebrating Das Lakshana (Paryusana), Jain Center of America, New York City
Om Hrim Siddhi Chakra used by Jains in dravya puja

Paryushana or Daslakshana is the most important annual event for Jains, and is usually celebrated in August or September.[74] It lasts eight to ten days and is a time when lay people increase their level of spiritual intensity often using fasting and prayer/meditation to help. The five main vows are emphasized during this time.[75] There are no set rules, and followers are encouraged to practise according to their ability and desires. The last day involves a focused prayer/meditation session known as Samvatsari Pratikramana. At the conclusion of the festival, followers ask for forgiveness from others for any offenses committed during the last year. Forgiveness is asked by saying Micchami Dukkadam or Khamat Khamna to others, which means, "If I have offended you in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or action, then I seek your forgiveness." The literal meaning of Paryushana is "abiding" or "coming together".[76]

Mahavir Jayanti, the birth of Mahāvīra, the last tirthankara of this era, is usually celebrated in late March or early April based on the lunar calendar.[74][77] Diwali is a festival that marks the anniversary of Mahāvīra's attainment of moksha.[78] The Hindu festival of Diwali is also celebrated on the same date (Kartika Amavasya). Diwali is celebrated in an atmosphere of: austerity, simplicity, serenity, equity, calmness, charity, philanthropy, and environmental consciousness. Jain temples, homes, offices, and shops are decorated with lights and diyas ("small oil lamps"). The lights are symbolic of knowledge or removal of ignorance. Sweets are often distributed. On Diwali morning, Nirvan Ladoo is offered after praying to Mahāvīra in all Jain temples across the world. The Jain new year starts right after Diwali.[78] Some other festivals celebrated by Jains are Akshaya Tritiya and Raksha Bandhan.[79][74]


Praying at the feet of a statue of Bahubali

There are many rituals in Jainism's various sects. The basic worship ritual practised by Jains is darsana ("seeing") of pure self in Jina idols.[80] One example related to the five life events of the Tirthankaras called the Panch Kalyanaka are rituals such as the Panch Kalyanaka Pratishtha Mahotsava, Panch Kalyanaka Puja, and Snatrapuja.[81][82] Jain practices include performing abhisheka ("ceremonial bath") of the images.[83]

Jains follow six obligatory duties known as Avashyakas: Sāmāyika ("practising serenity"), Chaturvimshati ("praising the Tirthankara"), vandan ("respecting teachers and monks"), Pratikramana ("introspection"), kayotsarga ("stillness"), and Pratyakhyana ("renunciation").[84]


File:Sikharji jalmandir.jpg
Jal Mandir at Shikharji, is said to be the place where 20 tirthankars achieved Nirvana.

Jain Tirtha ("pilgrim") sites are divided into the following categories:[85]


Acharya Gyansagar, a prominent Digambara Acharya (the head of a monastic order)

In Jainism, monasticism is encouraged and respected. Monks and nuns live extremely austere and ascetic lifestyles. They follow the five main vows strictly, and observe complete abstinence.[86] Jain monks and nuns have neither a permanent home nor any possessions. They do not use vehicles and always travel barefoot from one place to another, irrespective of the distance. They wander from place to place except during the months of Chaturmas, and do not prepare food living only on what people offer them. Digambara monks and nuns carry a broom-like object, called a picchi (made from fallen peacock feathers) to sweep the ground ahead of them or before sitting down to avoid inadvertently crushing small insects.[87][88][89] Svetambara monks carry a rajoharan (a broom-like object made from dense, thick thread strands). Jain monks have to follow six duties known as avashyakas.[84]

Jain monks, whose presence is not needed for most Jain rituals, should not be confused with priests. Some Jain sects often employ a pujari, who need not be a Jain, to perform special daily rituals and other priestly duties at the temple.[90]


Part of a series on
Jain philosophy

Jain Prateek Chihna.svg

Anekāntavāda · Syādvāda · Nayavāda · Jain Cosmology  · Ahimsa · Karma · Dharma · Nirvana  · Kevala Jñāna  · Mokṣa  · Dravya (Six substances)  · Navatattva (Nine or seven categories)


Kundakunda · Samantabhadra Umāsvāti or Umāsvāmi · Siddhasena Divākara ·
Aklanka  · Haribhadra · Hemacandra · Mānikyanandi  · Vidyānandi  · Prabhācandra · Yaśovijaya ·
Kanji Swami  · Pt. Sukhlāl  · Dr. Mahendrakumār Nyāyācārya

Dravya ("Substance")

Chart showing the classification of dravya and astikaya

According to Jainism, there are six simple substances in existence: Soul, Matter, Time, Space, Dharma and Adharma.[91] Jain philosophers distinguish a substance from a body (or thing) by declaring the former to be a simple element or reality and the latter a compound of one or more substances or atoms. They claim that there can be a partial or total destruction of a body or thing, but no substance can ever be destroyed.[92] According to Champat Rai Jain:

Substance is the sub-strate of qualities which cannot exist apart from it, for instance, the quality of fluidity, moisture, and the like only exist in water and cannot be conceived separately from it. It is neither possible to create nor to destroy a substance, which means that there never was a time when the existing substances were not, nor shall they ever cease to be.[93]

Jīva ("Soul")

Jain philosophy is the oldest Indian philosophy that completely separates body (matter) from the soul (consciousness).[94] Jains maintain that all living beings are really soul, intrinsically perfect and immortal. Souls in saṃsāra (that is, liability to repeated births and deaths) are said to be imprisoned in the body.[95]

The soul-substance, called Jīva in Jainism, is distinguished from the remaining five substances (Matter, Time, Space, Dharma and Adharma), collectively called ajīva, by the intelligence with which the soul-substance is endowed, and which is not found in the other substances.[92] The nature of the soul-substance is said to be freedom. In its modifications, it is said to be the subject of knowledge and enjoyment, or suffering, in varying degrees, according to its circumstances.[96] Jain texts expound that all living beings are really soul, intrinsically perfect and immortal. Souls in transmigration are said to be embodied in the body as if in a prison.[97]

Ajīva ("Non-Soul")

  • Matter (Pudgala) is considered a non-intelligent substance consisting of an infinity of particles or atoms which are eternal. These atoms are said to possess sensible qualities, namely, taste, smell, color and, in certain forms, touch and sound.[98][96]
  • Time is said to be the cause of continuity and succession. It is of two kinds: nishchaya and vyavhāra.[99]
  • Space (akāśa)- Space is divided by the Jainas into two parts, namely, the lokākāśa, that is the space occupied by the universe, and the alokākāśa, the portion beyond the universe. The lokākāśa is the portion in which are to be found the remaining five substances, i.e., Souls, Matter, Time, Dharma and Adharma; the alokākāśa is the region of pure space containing no other substance and lying stretched on all sides beyond bounds of the three worlds (the entire universe).[100]
  • Dharma and Adharma are substances said to be helpful in the motion and stationary states of things, respectively – the former enabling them to move from place to place and the latter to come to rest from the condition of motion.[99]

Tattva ("Reality")

The 7 Tattvas of Jain philosophy

Jain philosophy is based on seven fundamentals which are known as tattva, which attempt to explain the nature of karmas and provide solutions for the ultimate goal of liberation of the soul (moksha):[101] These are:[102]

  1. Jīva – the soul, which is characterized by consciousness
  2. Ajīva – non-living entities that consist of matter, space and time
  3. Āsrava ("influx") – the inflow of auspicious and evil karmic matter into the soul
  4. Bandha ("bondage") – mutual intermingling of the soul and karmas. The karma masks the jiva and restricts it from reaching its true potential of perfect knowledge and perception.
  5. Saṃvara ("stoppage") – obstruction of the inflow of karmic matter into the soul
  6. Nirjarā ("gradual dissociation") – the separation or falling off of part of karmic matter from the soul
  7. Moksha ("liberation") – complete annihilation of all karmic matter (bound with any particular soul)

Soul and Karma

According to Jain belief, souls, intrinsically pure, possess the qualities of infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite bliss, and infinite energy in their ideal state.[103] In reality, however, these qualities are found to be obstructed due to the soul's association with karmic matter.[104] The ultimate goal in Jainism is the realisation of reality.[105]

The relationship between the soul and karma is explained by the analogy of gold. Gold is always found mixed with impurities in its natural state. Similarly, the ideal pure state of the soul is always mixed with the impurities of karma. Just like gold, purification of the soul may be achieved if the proper methods of refining are applied.[104] The Jain karmic theory is used to attach responsibility to individual action and is cited to explain inequalities, suffering, and pain. Tirthankara-nama-karma is a special type of karma, bondage of which raises a soul to the supreme status of a tirthankara.[106]


Classification of Saṃsāri Jīvas (Transmigrating Souls) in Jainism

Jain texts state that there are ten vitalities or life-principles: the five senses, energy, respiration, life-duration, the organ of speech, and the mind.[107] The table below summarizes the vitalities that living beings possess in accordance with their senses.[108]

Senses Number of vitalities Vitalities
One-sensed beings Four Sense organ of touch, strength of body or energy, respiration, and life-duration.
Two-sensed beings Six The sense of taste and the organ of speech in addition to the former four.
Three-sensed beings Seven The sense of smell in addition to the former six.
Four-sensed beings Eight The sense of sight in addition to the former seven.
Nine The sense of hearing in addition to the former eight.
Ten Mind in addition to the above-mentioned nine vitalities.


File:Jain universe.JPG
Shape of the universe as told by Kevalins

Jain texts propound 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 descriptions of the shape and function of the physical and metaphysical universe, and its constituents, are provided in the canonical Jain texts, in commentaries, and in the writings of the Jain philosopher-monks.[109][110]

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.[111] It is made up of six constituents: 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").[112]

Division of time as envisaged by Jains

Kāla ("time") is without beginning and eternal;[91] the cosmic wheel of time, called kālachakra, rotates ceaselessly. According to Jain texts, in this part of the universe, there is rise and fall during the six periods of the two aeons of regeneration and degeneration.[113] Thus, the worldly cycle of time is divided into two parts or half-cycles, ascending utsarpiṇī ("ascending") and avasarpiṇī ("descending").[91] Utsarpiṇī is a period of progressive prosperity, where happiness increases, while avasarpiṇī is a period of increasing sorrow and immorality.[114][115] According to Jain cosmology, it is currently the 5th ara of avasarpiṇī (half time cycle of degeneration). As of 2016, exactly 2,538 years have elapsed, and 18,460 years are still left.[116] The present age is one of sorrow and misery. In this ara, though religion is practised in lax and diluted form, no liberation is possible. At the end of this ara, even the Jain religion will disappear,[116] only to appear again with the advent of the first Tīrthankara after the 42,000 years of next utsarpiṇī are over.[117]

The following table depicts the six aras of avasarpiṇī

Name of the Ara[118] Degree of happiness[118] Duration of Ara[118] Average height of people[citation needed] Average lifespan of people[citation needed]
Sukhama-sukhamā Utmost happiness and no sorrow 400 trillion sāgaropamas Six miles tall Three palyopama years
Sukhamā Moderate happiness and no sorrow 300 trillion sāgaropamas Four miles tall Two palyopama Years
Sukhama-dukhamā Happiness with very little sorrow 200 trillion sāgaropamas Two miles tall One palyopama years
Dukhama-sukhamā Happiness with little sorrow 100 trillion sāgaropamas 1500 meters 705.6 quintillion years
Dukhamā Sorrow with very little Happiness 21,000 years[119] 6 feet 130 years maximum
Dukhama- dukhamā Extreme sorrow and misery 21,000 years 2 feet 16–20 years

This trend will start reversing at the onset of utsarpinī kāl with the Dukhama-dukhamā ara being the first ara of utsarpinī (half-time cycle of regeneration).[118]

According to Jain texts, sixty-three illustrious beings, called śalākāpuruṣas, are born on this earth in every Dukhama-sukhamā ara.[120] The Jain universal history is a compilation of the deeds of these illustrious persons.[121] They comprise twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras, twelve chakravartins, nine balabhadra, nine narayana, and nine pratinarayana.[122][120]

A chakravartī is an emperor of the world and lord of the material realm.[120] 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 ("universal monarchs"). They are golden in complexion.[123] One of the greatest chakravartins mentioned in Jain scriptures is Bharata Chakravartin. Jain texts like Harivamsa Purana and Hindu Texts like Vishnu Purana mention that India came to be known as Bharatavarsha in his memory.[124][125]

There are nine sets of balabhadra, narayana, and pratinarayana. The balabhadra and narayana are brothers.[126] Balabhadra are nonviolent heroes, narayana are violent heroes, and pratinarayana can be described as villains. According to the legends, the narayana ultimately kill the pratinarayana. Of the nine balabhadra, eight attain liberation and the last goes to heaven. On death, the narayana go to hell because of their violent exploits, even if these were intended to uphold righteousness.[127]


In Jainism, jnāna ("knowledge") is said to be of five kinds—Kevala Jnana ("Omniscience"), Śrutu Jñāna ("Scriptural Knowledge"), Mati Jñāna ("Sensory Knowledge"), Avadhi Jñāna ("Clairvoyance"), and Manah prayāya Jñāna ("Telepathy").[128] According to the Jain text Tattvartha sutra, the first two are indirect knowledge and the remaining three are direct knowledge.[129] Jains maintain that knowledge is the nature of the soul. According to Champat Rai Jain, "Knowledge is the nature of the soul. If it were not the nature of the soul, it would be either the nature of the not-soul, or of nothing whatsoever. But in the former case, the unconscious would become the conscious, and the soul would be unable to know itself or any one else, for it would then be devoid of consciousness; and, in the latter, there would be no knowledge, nor conscious beings in existence, which, happily, is not the case."[130]

Liberation and Godhood

The Path to Liberation

The three shikhar (top) of a Jain temple represents Ratnatraya (three jewels)

According to Jainism, the following three jewels constitute the path to liberation:[129][131]

  1. Samyak darśana ("Correct View")– Belief in substances like soul (Jīva) and non-soul without delusions.[132]
  2. Samyak jnana ("Correct Knowledge" – Knowledge of the substances (tattvas) without any doubt or misapprehension.[133]
  3. Samyak charitra (Correct Conduct) – Being free from attachment, a right believer does not commit hiṃsā (injury).[134]

Jain texts often add samyak tap (Correct Asceticism) as the fourth jewel, thereby emphasizing their belief in ascetic practices as the means to liberation (moksha).[135] The four jewels of orthodox Jain ideology are called moksha marg.[131]

According to the Jain text, Sarvārthasiddhi, (translated by S. A. Jain):

Perfect release from all karmas is liberation. The path to liberation is the method by which it can be attained. The singular 'path' is used in order to indicate that all the three together constitute the path to liberation. This controverts the views that each of these singly constitutes a path. Hence it must be understood that these three‍—‌right faith, right knowledge and right conduct‍—‌together constitute the direct path to liberation.[136]

Stages on the Path

In Jain philosophy, the fourteen stages through which a soul must pass in order to attain liberation (moksha) are called Gunasthāna.[137][138][139] These are:[140]

Gunasthāna Explanation
1. Mithyātva Gross ignorance. The stage of wrong believer
2. Sasādana Vanishing faith, i.e., the condition of the mind while actually falling down from the fourth stage to the first stage.[141]
3. Mishradrshti Mixed faith and false belief.[141]
4. Avirata samyagdrshti Right Faith unaccompanied by Right Conduct.[142]
5. Deśavirata The stage of partial self-control (Śrāvaka)[142]
6. Pramatta Sanyati First step of life as a Jain muni (monk).[142] The stage of complete self-discipline, although sometimes brought into wavering through negligence.
7. Apramatta Sanyati Complete observance of Mahavratas (Major Vows)
8. Apūrvakaraņa New channels of thought.
9. Anivāttibādara-sāmparāya Advanced thought-activity
10. Sukshma sāmparāya Slight greed left to be controlled or destroyed.
11. Upaśānta-kasāya The passions are still associated with the soul, but they are temporarily out of effect on the soul.
12. Ksīna kasāya Desirelessness, i.e., complete eradication of greed
13. Sayoga kevali (Arihant) Omniscience with vibrations. Sa means "with" and yoga refers to the three channels of activity, i.e., mind, speech and body.[143]
14. Ayoga kevali The stage of omniscience without any activity. This stage is followed by the soul's destruction of the aghātiā karmas.

At the second-to-last stage, a soul destroys all inimical karmas, including the knowledge-obscuring karma which results in the manifestation of infinite knowledge (Kevala Jnana), which is said to be the true nature of every soul.[144]

Those who pass the last stage are called Siddha and become fully established in Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct.[145] According to Jain texts, after the total destruction of karmas the released pure soul (Siddha) goes up to the summit of universe (Siddhashila) and dwells there in eternal bliss.[146]

The soul removes its ignorance (mithyatva) at the 4th stage, vowlessness (avirati) at the 6th stage, passions (kashaya) at the 12th stage, and yoga (activities of body, mind and speech) at the 14th stage, and thus attains liberation.[147]


Four and Twenty Tirthankaras

Jain texts reject the idea of a creator or destroyer God and postulate an eternal universe. Jain cosmology divides the worldly cycle of time into two parts (avasarpiṇī and utsarpiṇī). According to Jain belief, in every half-cycle of time, twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras grace this part of the Universe to teach the unchanging doctrine of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.[148][149][150] The word tīrthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha, which means a fordable passage across a sea. The Tīrthaṅkaras show the 'fordable path' across the sea of interminable births and deaths.[151] Rishabhanatha is said to be the first Tīrthankara of the present half-cycle (avasarpiṇī). Mahāvīra (6th century BC) is revered as the last tīrthankara of avasarpiṇī.[152][153] Though Jain texts explain that Jainism has always existed and will always exist,[121] modern historians place the earliest evidence of Jainism in the 9th century BC.[154][not in citation given]

In Jainism, perfect souls with the body are called arihant ("victors") and perfect souls without the body are called Siddhas ("liberated souls"). Tirthankara is an arihant who helps others to achieve liberation. Tirthankaras become role models for those seeking liberation. They are also called human spiritual guides.[155] They reorganise the four-fold order that consists of muni ("male ascetics'), aryika ("female ascetics"), śrāvaka ("laymen"), and śrāvikā ("laywoman").[156][157] Jainism has been described as a transtheistic religion,[158] as it does not teach dependency on any supreme being for enlightenment. The tirthankara is a guide and teacher who points the way to enlightenment, but the struggle for enlightenment is one's own. The following two verses of the Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra expound the definition of God according to Jainism:[159]

In the nature of things the true God should be free from the faults and weaknesses of the lower nature; [he should be] the knower of all things and the revealer of dharma; in no other way can divinity be constituted. (1–5)

He alone who is free from hunger, thirst, senility, disease, birth, death, fear, pride, attachment, aversion, infatuation, worry, conceit, hatred, uneasiness, sweat, sleep and surprise is called a God. (1–6)


Ancient sculpture depicting Parshvanatha at Thirakoil, Tamil Nadu


The origins of Jainism are obscure.[160][161] Jainism is a philosophy of eternity, and Jains believe their religion to be eternal.[162][163][121] Ṛṣabhanātha is said to be the founder of Jainism in the present half cycle.[164] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the first Vice President of India wrote:

There is evidence to show that so far back as the first century B.C. there were people who were worshipping Ṛṣabhadeva, the first tīrthaṅkara. There is no doubt that Jainism prevailed even before Vardhamāna or Pārśvanātha. The Yajurveda mentions the name of three Tīrthaṅkaras-Ṛishabhadeva, Ajitnātha and Ariṣṭanemi. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa endorses the view that Ṛṣabha was the founder of Jainism.[165]

Jains revere Vardhamana Mahāvīra (6th century BC) as the twenty-fourth tirthankara of this era. He appears in the tradition as one who, from the beginning, had followed a religion established long ago.[166]

Parshvanatha, predecessor of Mahāvīra and the twenty-third tirthankara was a historical figure.[153][167] He lived in the 9th century BC.[168][169][170]

Heinrich Zimmer, an Indologist and historian, was of the view that:

There is truth in the Jaina idea that their religion goes back to a remote antiquity, the antiquity in question being that of the pre-Aryan so called Dravidian period, which has recently been dramatically illuminated by the discovery of a series of great Late stone Age cities in the Indus Valley, dating from the third and perhaps even fourth millennium B.C.[171]

Jainism is considered by some to be distinct from Vedic religion and from a pre-Aryan tradition viz. Sramana or Aarahata tradition. In the period of Vedas and Aaranyakas, it was called the Vraatya-Parampraa.[172] There is inscriptional evidence for the presence of Jain monks in south India by the second or first centuries BC, and archaeological evidence of Jain monks in Saurashtra in Gujarat by the second century AD.[173] Statues of Jain Tirthankara have been found dating back to second century BC.[174]


Inscription of the incoming of Shrutkevali Bhadrabahu swami and Samrat Chandragupt at Shravanbelgola. Chandragupta Maurya, a Jaina Shravaka, became a Jain monk in the latter 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.[175] Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara, was revered and worshiped in Pithunda and was known as the Kalinga Jina. Mahapadma Nanda (c. 450 – 362 BC) 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.[176]

The Maurya Empire came to power after the downfall of the Nanda. According to tradition, the first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta Maurya (c. 322–298 BC), became a Jain in the latter part of his life. He was a disciple of Bhadrabahu, the last srut-kevali (knower of all "Jain Agamas"), who migrated to South India.[177] Samprati (c. 224–215 BC) grandson of the Maurya emperor Ashoka, is said to have been converted to Jainism by a Jain monk named Suhastin.[178] After his conversion, he was credited with actively spreading Jainism to many parts of India and beyond, both by making it possible for monks to travel to barbarian lands, and by building and renovating thousands of temples and establishing millions of icons.[179] He ruled a place called Ujjain.[180]

In the 1st century BC, Emperor Kharavela, of the Mahameghavahana dynasty of Kalinga, invaded Magadha. He retrieved Rishabha's statue and installed it in Udaygiri, near his capital Shishupalgadh.[174][181] According to Michael Tobias, he was a Jain ruler, who was also a military victor.[182] However, according to Helmuth von Glasenapp, this cannot be said with certainty: Kharavela was probably a free-thinker who patronized all his subjects, including Jains.[183]

Xuanzang (629 – 645 AD), a Chinese traveller, notes that there were numerous Jains present in Kalinga during his time.[183] The Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves near Bhubaneswar, Odisha, are the only surviving stone Jain monuments in Orissa.[184] The earlier rock-cut Jain structure of beads with inscriptions and drip-ledges is the earliest Jain monument in the southernmost part of India which was from the first century BC to the sixth century AD. The Jain caves at Chitharal near Kanyakumari is one such monument.[185]

King Vanaraja (c. 720 – 780 AD) of the Chawda dynasty in northern Gujarat, raised by a Jain monk named Silunga Suri, supported Jainism during his rule. The king of Kannauj Āma (c. 8th century AD) was converted to Jainism by Bappabhatti, a disciple of the famous Jain monk Siddhasena Divakara.[186] Most of the rulers of the Chaulukya dynasty of Gujarat were Shaivaite, although they also patronized Jainism. The dynasty's founder Mularaja is said to have built Mulavasatika temple for Digambara and the Mulanatha-Jinadeva temple for the Svetambara Jains.[187] The earliest of the Dilwara Temples were constructed during the reign of Bhima I. Kumarapala started patronizing Jainism at some point in his life, and the subsequent Jain accounts portray him as the last great royal patron of Jainism.[188] Bappabhatti also converted Vakpati, the friend of Āma who authored a famous Prakrit epic titled Gaudavaho.[189]


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.[190] Since the time of Mahāvīra, Jainism faced rivalry with Buddhism and the various Hindu sects.[191] The Jains suffered isolated violent persecutions by these groups, but the main reason for the decline of their religion was the success of Hindu reformist movements.[192] Around the 7th century, Shaivism saw considerable growth at the expense of Jainism due to the efforts of the Shaivite saints like Sambandar and Appar.[193]

Royal patronage has been a key factor in the growth as well as decline of Jainism.[190] The Pallava king Mahendravarman I (600–630 AD) converted from Jainism to Shaivism under the influence of Appar.[194] His work Mattavilasa Prahasana ridicules certain Shaiva sects and the Buddhists and also expresses contempt towards Jain ascetics.[195] Sambandar converted the contemporary Pandya king to Shaivism. During the 11th century, 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.[196] The Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana (c. 1108–1152 AD) became a follower of the Vaishnava sect under the influence of Ramanuja, after which Vaishnavism grew rapidly in what is now Karnataka.[197]

There are several legends about alleged massacre of Jains in ancient times. The Buddhist king Ashoka (304–232 BC) is said to have ordered killings of 18,000 Jains or Ajivikas after someone drew a picture of Buddha bowing at the feet of Mahāvīra.[198][199][200] 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.[201][202] Another such legend about Vishnuvardhana ordering the Jains to be crushed in an oil mill does not seem to be historically true.[203]

The Karunjhar hills in Nagarparkar, Pakistan
The Karunjhar hills in Nagarparkar, Pakistan were a place of pilgrimage called Sardhara.[204]

Jainism faced persecution during and after the Muslim conquests on the Indian subcontinent.[205] Muslims rulers, such as Mahmud Ghazni (1001), Mohammad Ghori (1175) and Ala-ud-din Muhammed Shah Khilji (1298) further oppressed the Jain community.[206] They vandalised idols and destroyed temples or converted them into mosques. They also burned Jain books and killed Jains. There were significant exceptions, such as Emperor Akbar (1542–1605) whose legendary religious tolerance, out of respect for Jains, ordered release of caged birds and banned killing of animals on the Jain festival of Paryusan.[207] After Akbar, Jains faced an intense period of Muslim persecution in the 17th-century.[208]

The Jain community were the traditional bankers and financiers, and this significantly impacted the Muslim rulers. However, they rarely were a part of the political power during the Islamic rule period of the Indian subcontinent.[209]


Followers of the path practised by the Jinas are known as Jains.[3][114][210][211] The majority of Jains currently reside in India. With four to five million followers worldwide,[5] Jainism is relatively small compared to major world religions. Jains form 0.37% of India's population. Most of them are concentrated in the states of Maharashtra (31.46% of Indian Jains), Rajasthan (13.97%), Gujarat (13.02%) and Madhya Pradesh (12.74%). Karnataka (9.89%), Uttar Pradesh (4.79%), Delhi (3.73%) and Tamil Nadu (2.01%) also have significant Jain populations.[212] Outside India, large Jain communities can be found in Europe and the United States. Smaller Jain communities also exist in Canada[213] and Kenya.[214]

Jains developed a system of philosophy and ethics that had a great impact on Indian culture. They have contributed to the culture and language in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra.[215]

Jains encourage their monastics to do research and obtain higher education. Monks and nuns, particularly in Rajasthan, have published numerous research monographs. According to the 2001 Indian census (the last time this information was gathered), Jains have the highest degree of literacy of any religious community in India (94.1 percent), above the national average of 64.8 percent. The gap between male and female literacy is the lowest among Jains at 6.8% compared to the national average of 21% and work participation among men is also the highest at 55.2%.[216][217]

Major Jain Communities :

Soniji Ki Nasiyan has several gold-plated wooden figures depicting life events of Rishabhanatha
Jain Temple complex, Deogarh

Schools and branches

Idol depiction in Digambar
Idol depiction in Svetambara

The Jain community is divided into two major denominations, Digambara and Śvētāmbara. Monks of the Digambara ("sky-clad") tradition do not wear clothes. Female monastics of the Digambara sect wear unstitched plain white sarees and are referred to as Aryikas. Śvētāmbara ("white-clad") monastics on the other hand, wear white seamless clothes.[225]

During Chandragupta Maurya's reign, Acharya Bhadrabahu, the last śruta-kevali (all knowing by hearsay, i.e. indirectly) predicted a twelve-year-long famine and moved to Karnataka with his disciples. Sthulabhadra, a pupil of Acharya Bhadrabahu, stayed in Magadha.[226] After the famine, when followers of Acharya Bhadrabahu returned, they found that those who had stayed at Magadha had started wearing white clothes, which was unacceptable to the others who remained naked.[227] This is how the Digambara and Śvētāmbara schism began, with the former being naked while the latter wore white clothes.[228] Digambara saw this as being opposed to the Jain tenets which, according to them, required complete nudity. Evidence of gymnosophists ("naked philosophers") in Greek records as early as the fourth century BC supports the claim of the Digambaras that they have preserved the ancient Śramaṇa practice.[229]

The earliest record of Digambara beliefs is contained in the Prakrit Suttapahuda of the Digambara Acharya, Kundakunda (c. 2nd century AD).[230] Digambaras believe that Mahavira remained unmarried, whereas Śvētāmbara believe that Mahavira married a woman who bore him a daughter.[231] The two sects also differ on the origin of Trishala, Mahavira's mother.[231] The Śvētāmbaras believe women may attain liberation and that the Tirthankara Māllīnātha was female.[232]

Excavations at Mathura revealed Jain statues from the time of the Kushan Empire (c. 1st century AD). 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.[233]

Digambar tradition is divided into two main monastic orders Mula Sangh and the Kashtha Sangh, both led by Bhattarakas. In opposition to Bhattarakas and some rituals, Digambara Terapanth emerged in the 17th century.[234]

Svetambara tradition is divided into Murtipujaka and Sthanakvasi. Sthanakvasi opposes idol worship. The sect emerged in the 17th century and was led by Lonka Shaha. Murtipujaka builds temples and worships idols.[235] The Svetambara Terapanth emerged from Sthanakvasi as a reformist movement led by Acharya Bhikshu in 1760. This sect is also non-idolatrous.[236][237][238][239]

In 20th century, new religious movements around the teachings of Kanji Swami and Shrimad Rajchandra emerged.[240][241]

Jain literature

Stella depicting Śhrut Jnāna, or complete scriptural knowledge

After the attainment of omniscience, the tirthankara discourses in a divine preaching hall called samavasarana. The discourse delivered is called Śhrut Jnāna and comprises eleven angas and fourteen purvas.[242] The discourse is recorded by Ganadharas (chief disciples), and is composed of twelve angas ("departments"). It is generally represented by a tree with twelve branches.[243]

Historically, the Jain Agamas were based on the teachings of Mahāvīra, the last Tīrthankara of the present half cycle. The Agamas were memorised and passed on through the ages. They were lost because of famine that caused the death of several saints within a thousand years of Mahāvīra's death.[244] These comprise thirty-two works: eleven angās, twelve upanga āgamas, four chedasūtras, four mūlasūtras, and the last, a pratikraman, or Avashyak sūtra.[245]

The Digambara sect of Jainism maintains that the Agamas were lost during the same famine in which the purvas were lost. According to the Digambaras, Āchārya Bhutabali was the last ascetic who had partial knowledge of the original canon. Later on, some learned Āchāryas started to restore, compile, and put into written words the teachings of Mahāvīra, that were the subject matter of Aagamas.[246] In the first century AD, Āchārya Dharasen guided two Āchāryas, Āchārya Pushpadant and Āchārya Bhutabali, to put these teachings in written form. The two Āchāryas wrote Ṣaṭkhaṅḍāgama, among the oldest-known Digambara Jain texts, on palm leaves. Digambara texts are classified under four headings, namely: Pratham-anuyoga,[247] Charn-anuyoga,[248] Karan-anuyoga and Dravya-anuyoga (texts expounding reality, i.e. tattva).[249][250][251]

Some of the most famous Jain texts include Samayasara, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra, and Niyamasara.[252]

Some scholars believe that the author of the oldest extant work of literature in Tamil (3rd century BC), the Tolkāppiyam, was a Jain.[253] The Tirukkuṛaḷ by Thiruvalluvar is considered to be the work of a Jain by scholars such as Ka. Naa. Subramanyam,[254] V. Kalyanasundarnar, Vaiyapuri Pillai,[255] and P. S. Sundaram.[256] It emphatically supports vegetarianism in chapter 26 and states that giving up animal sacrifice is worth more than a thousand offerings in fire in verse 259.[257]

The Nālaṭiyār (a famous Tamil poetic work)[258] was composed by Jain monks from South India in 100–500.[259]

The Silappatikaram, the earliest surviving epic in Tamil literature, was written by a Jain, Ilango Adigal.[260] This epic is a major work in Tamil literature, describing the historical events of its time and of the then-prevailing religions, Jainism, Buddhism, and Shaivism.[260]

According to George L. Hart, who holds the endowed Chair in Tamil Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, 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."[261]

Jain scholars and poets authored Tamil classics of the Sangam period, such as the Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi[262] and Nālaṭiyār.[258] In the beginning of the mediaeval period, between the 9th and 13th centuries, Kannada authors were predominantly Jains and Lingayatis. Jains were the earliest known cultivators of Kannada literature, which they dominated until the 12th century.[263] Jains wrote about the Tīrthaṅkaras and other aspects of the faith. Adikavi Pampa is one of the greatest Kannada poets.[citation needed] Court poet to the Chalukya king Arikesari, a Rashtrakuta feudatory, he is best known for his Vikramarjuna Vijaya.[264]

Jain manuscript libraries are the oldest in the country.[265] Jain libraries, including those at Patan and Jaisalmer, have a large number of well-preserved manuscripts.[265][266]

Art and architecture

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.[267] Figures on various seals from the Indus Valley Civilisation bear similarity to Jain images, nude and in a meditative posture.[267] The earliest known Jain image is in the Patna museum. It is dated approximately to the 3rd century BC.[267] 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 BC.[268]

Ayagapata is a type of votive slab associated with worship in Jainism. Numerous such stone tablets discovered during excavations at ancient Jain sites like Kankali Tila near Mathura in India. Some of them date back to 1st century C.E. These slabs are decorated with objects and designs central to Jain worship such as the stupa, dharmacakra and triratna.[269] A large number of ayagapata (tablet of homage), votive tablets for offerings and the worship of tirthankara, were found at Mathura.[270]

Samavasarana is an important theme of Jain art.[271]

The Jain tower in Chittor, Rajasthan, is a good example of Jain architecture.[272] Decorated manuscripts are preserved in Jain libraries, containing diagrams from Jain cosmology.[273] 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.[274] In paintings, incidents from 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.[275] Each of the twenty-four tirthankara is associated with distinctive emblems, which are listed in such texts as Tiloyapannati, Kahavaali and Pravacanasaarodhara.[276]

There are 26 caves, 200 stone beds, 60 inscriptions, and over 100 sculptures in and around Madurai. This is also the site where Jain ascetics wrote great epics and books on grammar in Tamil.[277]


A Jain temple, Derasar or Basadi is a place of worship for Jains.[278] Jain temples are built with various architectural designs,[279][page needed] but there are mainly two type of Jain temples: Shikar-bandhi Jain temple (one with a dome), and Ghar Jain temple (Jain house temple – one without a dome).

There is always a main deity also known as moolnayak in every Jain temple placed inside a sanctum called "Gambhara" (Garbha Graha). A manastambha (column of honor) is a pillar that is often constructed in front of Jain temples.

Remnants of ancient Jain temples and cave temples can be found around India and Pakistan.[204][280][281] Notable among these are the Jain caves at the Udaigiri Hills near Bhelsa (Vidisha) in Madhya Pradesh, the Ellora in Maharashtra, the Palitana temples in Gujarat, and the Jain temples at Dilwara Temples near Mount Abu, Rajasthan.[282] Chaumukha temple in Ranakpur is considered one of the most beautiful Jain temple and famous for detailed carvings.[283][284] Shikharji is believed to be the place where twenty of the twenty-four Jain Tīrthaṅkaras along with many other monks attained moksha, according to Nirvana Kanda and other texts.[285] The Palitana temples are the holiest shrine for the Svetambara Murtipujaka sect.[286] Along with Shikharji the two sites are considered the holiest of all pilgrimage sites by the Jain community.[287]

The Jain complex, Khajuraho and Jain Narayana temple are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[288][289] Shravanabelagola, Saavira Kambada Basadi or 1000 pillars and Brahma Jinalaya are important Jain centers in Karnataka.[290][291][292][293]

The Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves dating back to the 2nd–1st century BC are dedicated to Jainism. They are rich with carvings of Jain tirthanakars and deities with inscriptions including the Hathigumpha inscription ("Elephant Cave" inscription).[294][295] Jain cave temples at Badami, Mangi-Tungi and the Ellora Caves are considered important.[296]

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 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 in rows; each of these has a raised portion that could have served as a pillow-loft. The largest stone bed has a distinct Tamil-Brahmi inscription assignable to the 2nd century BC, and some inscriptions belonging to the 8th century BC are also found on the nearby beds. The Sittannavasal cavern continued to be the "Holy Sramana Abode" until the 7th and 8th 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.[297]

The 8th century Kazhugumalai temple marks the revival of Jainism in South India.[298]

In Pakistan, the Cultural Landscape of Nagarparkar,[299] located at the southern limit of the vast Thar desert was an important centre of Jain religion and culture for centuries. The Karunjhar hills were a place of pilgrimage called Sardhara where there is a Jain temple of Mahadeve and a ritual pool.[204] The towns of Nagarparker, Gori, Viravah, Bodhesar, contain remains of numerous Jain temples dating from the 12th to 15th centuries which appear to be the high point of Jain culture. The Temple at Gori is an excellent example of classical Jain style, with one main temple surrounded by 52 smaller shrines, each housing one or more images of Jain tirthankar.[page needed] Other significant Jain temples and remains of religious institutional buildings and water tanks are found in the villages of Nagarparkar, including the outstanding “bazaar” temple, Bodhesar, Viaravah, Kasbo and Gori.

Statues and sculptures

Jain sculptures are mainly images depicting Tīrthaṅkaras. A sculpture could depict any of the twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras images depicting Parshvanatha, Rishabhanatha or Mahāvīra being more popular. These Tīrthaṅkaras usually depicted in the in the lotus position or kayotsarga.[300] Sculptures of chaumukha ("quadruple") images are also popular Jainism. Sculptures of Arihant, Bahubali, and protector deities like Ambika are also found. Tirthanakar idols look similar and are differentiated on the basis of the symbol belonging to each tirthanakar except Parshvanatha. Statues of Parshvanath have a snake crown on head. There are a few differences between the Digambara and the Svetambara depictions of idols.[301] Digambara images are naked without any beautification, whereas Svetambara depictions are clothed and decorated with temporary ornaments.[301]

A monolithic, 18-metre (59-foot) statue of Bahubali, referred to as Gommateshvara, built in 981 AD 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 as the first in the SMS poll Seven Wonders of India conducted by The Times of India.[302] The Statue of Ahimsa (depicting Rishabhanatha) was erected in the Nashik district in 2015 which is 33 m (108 ft) tall.[303] Idols made from Ashtadhatu (literally "eight metals"), Akota Bronze, brass, gold, silver, stone monoliths, rock cut, and precious stones are popular in Jainism.[304][305]

A large number of ayagapata, votive tablets for offerings and the worship of tīrthankara, were excavated from Kankali Tila, Mathura. These sculptures date from the 2nd century BC to the 12th century AD.[306]



The Jain emblem

The swastika is an important Jain symbol. Its four arms symbolise the four states of existence according to Jainism:[307][308]

  1. Heavenly being (devas)
  2. Human being
  3. Hellish being
  4. Triyancha (subhuman like flora or fauna)

Symbol of Ahimsa
The hand with a wheel on the palm symbolizes ahismā in Jainism with ahiṃsā written in the middle. The wheel represents the dharmachakra, which stands for the resolve to halt the saṃsāra through the relentless pursuit of ahimsā.[309]

Jain emblem
In 1974, on the 2500th anniversary of the nirvana of Mahavira, the Jain community chose one image as an emblem to be the main identifying symbol for Jainism. It consists of three Loks (realms) of Jain cosmology i.e., heaven, material world and hell. The semi-circular topmost portion symbolizes Siddhashila, which is a zone beyond the three realms. The three dots on the top under the semi-circle symbolize the ratnatraya – right belief, right knowledge, and right conduct. The swastika is present in the top portion and the symbol of Ahimsa in the lower portion.[310] The meaning of the mantra at the bottom, Parasparopagraho Jivanam, is "All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence."[311]

Jain flag

Jain Flag

The five colours of the Jain flag represent the Pañca-Parameṣṭhi and the five vows, small as well as great:[312]

  • White – represents the arihants, souls who have conquered all passions (anger, attachments, aversion) and have attained omniscience and eternal bliss through self-realization. It also denotes peace or ahimsa ("non-violence ").
  • Red – represents the Siddha, souls that have attained salvation and truth. It also denotes satya ("truthfulness")
  • Yellow – represents the acharya the Masters of Adepts. The colour also stands for achaurva ("non-stealing").
  • Green – represents the upadhyaya ("adepts"), those who teach scriptures to monks. It also signifies brahmacharya ("chastity").
  • Black – represents the Jain ascetics. It also signifies aparigraha ("non-possession").


Om in Jainism

In Jainism, Om is considered a condensed form of reference to the Pañca-Parameṣṭhi, by their initials A+A+A+U+M (o3m). According to Dravyasamgraha by Acharya Nemicandra, AAAUM (or just Om) is one syllable short form of the initials of the five parameshthis: "Arihant, Ashiri, Acharya, Upajjhaya, Muni".[313][314] The Om symbol is also used in ancient Jain scriptures to represent the five lines of the Namokar Mantra.[315]


Adinath with Ashtamangala according to Digambara tradition
File:A Jain Manuscript Cover LACMA M.72.53.22 (2 of 2).jpg
Ashtamangala, according to Svetambara tradition, Jain manuscript, 16th century LACMA

The Ashtamangala are a set of eight auspicious symbols, which are different in the Digambara and Śvētāmbara traditions.[316]

In the Digambara tradition, the eight symbols are:

  1. Parasol
  2. Dhvaja
  3. Kalasha
  4. Fly-whisk
  5. Mirror
  6. Chair
  7. Hand fan
  8. Vessel

In the Śvētāmbara tradition, the eight symbols are:

  1. Swastika
  2. Srivatsa
  3. Nandavarta
  4. Vardhmanaka ("food vessel")
  5. Bhadrasana ("seat")
  6. Kalasha ("pot")
  7. Darpan ("mirror")
  8. Pair of fish


Jainism is both criticised and praised for some of its practices and beliefs.

The Jain theory of Karma has been challenged from an early time by the Vedanta and Sāṃkhya branches of Hindu philosophy. In particular, Vedanta Hindus consider the Jain position on the supremacy and potency of karma, specifically its insistence on non-intervention by any Supreme Being in regard to the fate of souls, as nāstika or atheistic.[317]

Mahatma Gandhi was greatly influenced by Jainism, and he adopted the Jain principles of asceticism, compassion for all forms of life, the importance of vows for self-discipline, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance among people of different creeds.[318] He said:

No religion in the World has explained the principle of Ahimsa so deeply and systematically as is discussed with its applicability in every human life in Jainism. As and when the benevolent principle of Ahimsa or non-violence will be ascribed for practice by the people of the world to achieve their end of life in this world and beyond. Jainism is sure to have the uppermost status and Mahāvīra is sure to be respected as the greatest authority on Ahimsa.[319]

Swami Vivekananda appreciated the role of Jainism in the development of Indian religious philosophy. In his words, he asks:

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?[320]

See also



  1. This view, however, is not shared by all Jain sub-traditions. The Terapanthi Jain tradition, with about 250,000 followers, for example considers both good karma such as compassionate helping / charity, and bad karma such as sin, as binding one's soul to worldly morality. It states that either karma leads to a negation of "absolute non-violence" principle, given man's limited perspective. It recommends that the monk or nun seeking salvation must avoid hurting or helping any being in any form.[10]
  2. In Jainism, the ahimsa precept implies that a monk should avoid touching or disturbing any living being including plants, never swim in water, nor light up fire or extinguish it, nor thrash arms in the air as such actions can torment or hurt other beings that live in those states of matter.[18]
  3. Jain literature, just like Buddhist and Hindu literature, has also debated the aspects of violence and non-violence in food creation.[24]


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