Jain temples are seen as replicas of assembly halls where the liberated Tirthankaras continue their teachings. They are dedicated to the twenty-four Tirthankaras, each of which is represented by a statue. The statues are identical, to indicate spiritual perfection, but each Tirthankara has a particular symbol- the one for Mahavira, for example, is a lion. The seated image of a particular Tirthankara almost always dominates a Jain temple. The adoration and contemplation of images of these Tirthankaras is thought to bring about inner spiritual transformation. Jain temples range from large, elaborate structures to plain worship rooms. The Digambar and Svetanbar sects decorate their temples in different ways. Digambara Jain temples have Tirthankara statues that are undecorated and unpainted, while Svetambara Jain temples have highly decorated architectures, with ornaments of jewels or metal and blots of colored paint.

Below, please find my audio commentary on Jain Temples.



Statue of Lord Mahavira

Daily Jain religious observance consists of the veneration of images of the Tirthankaras. This ancient practice equates the acquisition of superior knowledge (“spiritual wisdom”) with advanced forms of meditation, austerities, and withdrawal from the material comforts of the practitioners’ lives. The statues of Tirthankaras are kept in temples and domestic shrines, usually elevated on a stepped cushioned throne, supported by lions and elephants, symbols of bravery and strength. The Tirthankara shown above embodies the Jain virtue of spiritual wisdom. Statues such as these are worshipped in order to bring about inner spiritual transformation. Darshan, the simplest form of worship, also involves making eye contact with the statue of a Tirthankara, often while reciting a sacred mantra.


The  veneration of sacred scriptures is a primary focus of the Jains. Significant sermons, texts, commentaries, and stories were transmitted orally before being converted to writing. The oldest surviving examples date from the 10th-11th century, but many say they were copied from earlier texts that were decaying. The earliest Jain illuminated manuscripts are inscribed and painted on prepared palm-leaves and bound with cords passing through holes in the folios. The folios are encased in wooden covers that are often decorated with religious or historical themes. These manuscripts are art forms, that often present important spiritual messages or depictions.


The Birth of Mahavira, from a Kalpasutra manuscript (late 15th- early 16th century)


Page from a Samgrahanisutra manuscript (1630)

While manuscript illustrations may be the best-known Jain paintings to audiences outside of India, there is also a large Jain tradition of larger paintings, from album-size to monumental paintings on cloth. Some of these paintings often depict the structure of the universe, as imagined by Jains. The Jain universe is divided into three realms: the upper or celestial world, the middle or mortal world, and the lower or infernal world. The three realms are portrayed either collectively or independently in both abstract and personified representations. The abstract representations include maps of the middle world – from where liberation from the cycle of rebirth is possible. Other Jain paintings feature deities or symbols and invocations that help the practitioner in meditation or in prayer, used as a method of pursuing enlightenment. Another genre of art comprises monumental paintings of Jain pilgrimage sites. Apart from murals and temple banners, the works are some of the largest examples of art ever created in India. These pilgrimage paintings are displayed within Jain temple complexes during a special festival at the end of the rainy season. Devotees who are unable to make the pilgrimages can receive the religious merit of visiting the sites simply by viewing their representations. In addition, pictorial narrations of the lives of the Jains are used to instruct the faithful through the portrayal of selfless acts.


Pilgrimage picture of Satrunjaya, Gujarat (1800)


Panel depicting the pilgrimage sites of Sammeda-sikhara, Bihar, Jaipur, Rajasthan, Western India (19th century). Made of marble


Jainism also contains different types of music and video. Below, please find an example of a mantra. Popular mantras are often converted into songs and sung during celebrations or festivals.


Below, please find the popular Jain song “Mangal divo.”


Note: Poetry is included in the menu item, “Secondary Texts.” Click on this icon to access Jain poems.

Photo Citation:

Jain Statue. Photograph.

Birth of Mahavira Manuscript. Photograph.

Jain Manuscript. Photograph.

Pilgrimage picture of Satrunjaya. Photograph.

Panel depicting the pilgrimage sites of Sammeda-sikhara. Photograph.


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