Welcome to my Special Project blog! On this site, I provide an overview of the religion, Jainism, and share valuable insights taken from my research.
Jainism is a religion that promotes a path to spiritual purity and enlightenment through a model of life rooted in the tradition of ahimsa, nonviolence to all living creatures. Founded the 7th–5th century BCE, Jainism has evolved into a cultural system, making significant contributions to Indian culture and way of life. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, it is one of the oldest ancient Indian traditions still in existence.
To get started, I recommend you start by watching the “Introduction to Jainism” video, attached below, conducted by Oprah to experience a brief overview of the tradition.
As you explore my blog, I hope you gain a deeper understanding of Jainism’s culture, tradition, and beliefs, as I explore the religion in its entirety. My mission in creating this site was to provide visitors with a glimpse into a religious tradition that they may know nothing about. To get started, click on one of the menu items above.
Jainism is the most ascetic of all Indian religions. Its followers practice self-denial to progress towards enlightenment. The word Jain refers to those who conquer their inner feelings of hate, greed, and selfishness: Overcoming desires is the chief principle of Jainism. Jains believe that all individuals are bound to this world by deeds done in previous lives- karma- and it is only by renouncing materialistic desires that these bonds can be broken and the soul achieve the blissful state of moksha, or liberation from the cycle of rebirth and death. Jainism as we know it was founded by Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha, in the 6th century BCE. However, Jains take a long view of their historical development, as they believe their religions has always existed and always will exist. Within the faith, Mahavira is regarded as the most recent of twenty-four enlightened teachers in the current era. Jains believe each era lasts for millions of years and recurs in an infinite cycle of ages. These teachers are called jinas, or more commonly, Tirthankaras. By following the path of self-denial taught by the Tirthankaras, Jains hope to free their souls from the entanglements of material existence. Without this hope, life is simply a continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation.
Jains do not recognize any deity, placing full responsibility on the actions and conduct of the individual. In order to adhere to a life of self-denial, Jain monks and nuns take what are called the Five Great Vows- non-violence, speaking the truth, celibacy, not taking what is not willingly offered, and detachment from people, places, and things. The most important of these vows is the practice of ahmisa, which extends beyond avoiding violence against humans to encompass all animals, including the smallest organisms found in water or air. The other four Great Vows equip the monk or nun to follow the life of a wandering ascetic, dedicated to preaching, fasting, worship, and study. Lay Jains do not take the Five Great Vows, but they do take lesser vows that are very similar: renouncing violence, vowing not to lie or steal, embracing chaste sexual behavior, and avoiding attachment to material things. All Jains are strictly vegetarian, in line with the vow of non-violence, and must not do work that involves the destruction of life.
Jains worship in temples of domestic shrines at home. Jain temples are seen as replicas of the celestial assembly halls where the liberated Tirthankaras continue their teaching. The adoration of images of these Tirthankaras is thought to bring about inner spiritual transformation. The forms of devotion conducted by Jains coinside with their fundamental belief system: Life is an endless cycle of reincarnation. Only by freeing ourselves from the burden of karma can we achieve enlightenment and be liberated from this cycle. To do this we must follow the example of the great teachers who have achieved liberation, such as Mahavira. The path is set out in the Five Vows of non-violence, truth-telling, chastity, not stealing, and non-attachment. If we follow this path, we too may eventually achieve enlightenment. All Jains live with this process in mind, existing with deep desires to continue their quests for enlightenment.
How does Jainism reveal the primary elements and essential questions of religion in general?
The ultimate purpose of life and activity in Jainism is to realize the free, blissful state of our true being and to achieve moksha, or salvation. We must release ourselves from the bondages of karma, purifying our souls. The central theme of Jainism is ethical practice, as a way to live out faith and achieve the Ultimate Reality. The conduct of the present life should be aimed to attain total freedom, so we do not return to the cycle of samsara- Every soul can attain liberation and perfect spiritual state by realizing its intrinsic purity. Jainism provides a definitive path of practical moral discipline, contemplation of the highest truth, and reorganization of life in light of these for attaining Ultimate Reality or truth. The principle features of faith are: religious tolerance, ethical purity, harmony between self and one’s environment, and spiritual contentment. To follow the path to moksha, we need right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. They must coexist in a person if we are to make any progress on the path of liberation.
Jain literature consists of many sacred texts, such as the Jain Agamas that highlight Lord Mahavira’s teachings to his disciples. Like other religions, Jainism also has an orally-passed collection of short stories, designed to teach lessons to its practitioners. They may be compared to parables or legends, aiming to instruct, guide, and enlighten. Jainism possesses a wide variety of short stories that have been passed down through the centuries, retold by word of mouth and transcribed by Jain disciples, monks, and nuns.
Below, please find my audio commentary on “The Story of Bahubali,” a popular Jain teaching story. I posted my audio clip onto YouTube, as WordPress would not allow me to post audio for free.
Jains believe that the universe, which has no beginning or end, passes through an infinite number of cosmic cycles, each divided into two alternate phases of ascent and descent, during these times there is a rise and fall of human civilization. In each phase, twenty-four Tirthankaras appear, who not only attain liberation for themselves but also teach the path of salvation to others.
The belief in non-violence, ahimsa, is central to the Jain tradition, and Jains try to avoid violence toward humans and toward life in any other form, including animals and plants. Jains believe that all life is closely bound up in a web of interdependence and that all aspects of life belong together and support each other. Jainism does not recognize any deity, placing full responsibility on the actions and conduct of the individual, its believers adhering to lives of self-denial. Aparigraha, non-attachment to things and people, is a central ideal to Jainism. Anekantwad, another central principle, reminds believers to avoid anger and judgementalism, remaining open-minded by remembering that any issue can be seen from many angles. One should cut one’s living requirements to a bare minimum. Jains also believe in karma- the law of karma assumes that every deliberate action has its own consequence, often after death. They believe that life is an endless cycle of reincarnation. Only by freeing oneself of the burden of karma can he or she achieve enlightenment and be liberated from this cycle. To do this, one must follow the example of the great teachers who have achieved liberation, such as Mahavita. The path is set out in the Five Vows of non-violence, truth-telling, chastity, not stealing, and non-attachment. If one follows this path, he or she may eventually achieve enlightenment.
In Jainism, right conduct consists of renouncing all activities that set the cycle of karma in motion, proceed from anger, pride, deceit, and greed, and cause great injury to oneself and others. Jainism does not recognize a deity, placing responsibility on the actions and conduct of the individual. In order to fully commit to a life of self-denial, Jain monks and nuns take what are called the Five Great Vows: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment. The most important of these vows is the practice of ahimsa, or non-violence, which extends beyond avoiding violence against human beings, but also includes animals, even the smallest organisms found in water or air. The vows prepare the monk or nun to follow the life of a wandering ascetic, dedicated to preaching, fasting, worship, and study. Jain monks and nuns are the most strict in their pursuit of ahmisa, or non-violence. They always carry a small brush with which they gently sweep the path when walking, so as to avoid treading on any insect. They strain their drinking water, and some wear a small mask over their faces to stop any insects from accidentally flying into their nostrils and being harmed.
While lay Jains do not take the Five Great Vows, they do take lesser vows that are similar: renouncing violence, vowing not to lie or to steal, embracing chaste sexual behavior, and avoiding attachment to material things. All Jains are strictly vegetarian, in line with the vow of nonviolence, and must not do work that involves the destruction of life. Lay Jains may marry, but they must uphold the highest standards of behavior.
All Jains follow the path of the Three Jewels: right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. Sometimes there is said to be a fourth jewel: right penance, as atonement for sins is important to the tradition. Meditation is important, too, and Jain daily rituals include 48-minute sessions of meditation, in which the aim is to be at one with the universe and to forgive and be forgiven for all wrongdoings. Other Jain virtues include: service to others, attention to religious study, politeness, humility, and disengagement from passion.
Jains may worship in a temple or at a domestic shrine at home. The temples and shrines are dedicated to the twenty-four Tirthankaras, each of which is represented by a statue.The worshipers perform puja (worship) to the image every day, preferably in the early morning, or do the same in a home shrine. The adoration and contemplation of images of these Tirthankaras is thought to bring about inner spiritual transformation. Worship begins with the reciting of this mantra:
I bow to the Jinas!
I bow to the souls that have obtained release!
I bow to the leaders of the Jain orders!
I bow to the preceptors!
I bow to all the Jain monks in the world!
Then the worshippers form a design with grains of rice, and showers the statue with water or offers a symbolic bath. An offering of eight symbolic substances is made, with each representing a particular virtue. Many elaborate ceremonies are held on important occasions, when the statue may be decorated with flowers or other offerings. The bathing of their images, the waving of lamps in front of them to the music of devotional hymns, and the celebration of the five auspicious occasions of their lives (conception, birth, renunciation, enlightenment, and nirvana) are parts of the popular ceremonies for the laity; but in the absence of the statue, there is no real worship in these kinds of acts.
Jains worshipping the statue of a Tirthankara, outstretching their palms in prayer and offering
The simplest form of worship, also found in Hinduism, is called darshan, and involves making eye contact with the image of a tirthankara, often while reciting a sacred mantra. The fundamental prayer of Jainism is the Navkar, or Mamaskar, Mantra. By reciting this mantra, nam0 namahar, the worshipper honors the souls of the liberated and gains inspiration from them in his or her own quest for enlightenment.
The Navkar Mantra
While Jains practice aparigraha, or non-attachment to things and people, they still maintain a shared experience of community. Jains typically belong to one of two factions: Digambara and Shvetambara, the chief difference between them being in the degree of asceticism they thought necessary. The sects practice the same forms and disciplines of worship, dedicated to helping each other along their paths towards enlightenment. The ideal of aparigraha also impacts Jains’ view of the world community as well. Contemporary Jains point out that their principle of limiting consumption offers a way out of the global poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation that results from unequal distribution of resources. Thus, Jains possess a shared attitude towards addressing and meeting the needs of our global community.
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.
There are many Jain holy sites in India connected with the lives of the Tirthankaras. The most important sites are often places where different Tirthankaras achieved enlightenment. One of the most famous sites of pilgrimage for Jains is Shatrunjaya in Gujarat . The sacred hill of Shatrunjaya is an ancient site for Jains and has the largest concentration of Jain temples anywhere in the world- Legend states that the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhadeva, and his chief disciple attained moksha, or salvation, on Shatrunjaya. 863 temples crown the hill, as the site represents a huge engineering feat as the marble used in construction was brought from Rajasthan and then taken block by block uphill
Shatrunjaya hill temple located in Gujarat
The veneration of sacred scriptures are a primary religious focus of the Jains. Significant sermons, texts, commentaries, and stories were transmitted orally long 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. Book covers continued to be made in later centuries.
Jain manuscript cover from the 19th century
While manuscript illustrations are certainly the best-known Jain paintings to audiences outside India, there is also an extensive Jain tradition of larger paintings, from album-size to monumental paintings on cloth. The most spectacular of these are the cosmological paintings depicting the structure of the Jain universe.
Jain cosmological mandala from Gujarat, Western India in the19th century. Made on cloth
Sources of Jain teaching include early scriptures called the Siddhanta and Anuyoga. The core Jain teaching of non-violence has had a powerful effect on Indian culture and was highlighted by the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi. The Jain Agamas is known as the sacred text of Jainism, a compilation of Lord Mahavira’s teachings. The original texts were organized by Gandharas and Srut-kevalis and were written in the Prakrit language.
What is the human condition?
Jains believe that as humans, we live in an endless cycle of reincarnation. Only by freeing ourselves of the burden of karma, can we achieve enlightenment and be liberated from this cycle. To do this we must follow the example of great teachers who have achieved liberation and follow the Five Vows of non-violence, truth-telling, chastity, non stealing, and non attachment. Beliefs in karma, ahimsa, aparigraha, and anekantwad help practicioners follow a life-style of self-denial in order to progress towards moksha, or salvation, and be released from constant rebirth.
What is spiritual fulfillment?
Spiritual fulfillment comes from adhering to one’s religious duties. The gradual process by which the soul learns to extricate itself from the lower self and its attachments to the material world involves purifying one’s ethical life until nothing remains but the purity of the jiva- one’s higher consciousness, or soul. In the soul’s true state, it is omniscient, self-contained, and blissful. To bring forth the highest and best parts of one’s spiritual beings will bring he or she spiritual fulfillment, which comes through adhering to Jain beliefs, teachings, and practices.
What is our destiny?
According to Jainism, we are imperfect beings. However, in the midst of a world of sin, Jains give great room for hope. The jiva- the individual’s higher consciousness, or soul- can save itself by discovering its own perfect, unchanging nature and thus transcend the miseries of earthly life. This process may require many incarnations. Like Hindus, Jains believe that we fulfill our destinies when we finally free ourselves from samsara. Moksha is our destiny.
What is the nature of the world?
Jains believe that the world we perceive truly exists. It contains two classes of thing: jivas – living souls, and ajivas – non-living objects, which include everything else. Nothing in our universe is created or destroyed; it simply changes form. They hold that the universe has always existed; it will never be destroyed, as it is regulated by cosmic laws and is continually renewed in a never-ending cycle. Jains do not believe that the world was created by any kind of god.
What is Ultimate Reality and how is it revealed?
Unlike other traditional systems, Jains do not define reality as eternal or as momentary, but rather, maintain that the nature of reality is complex, defining all that exists as that which is characterized by a permanent operation of origination, destruction, and permanence. A soul, for instance, can change into a new form, while still abandoning its old form, keeping its eternal state, and maintaining consciousness. In other words, the soul is eternal, and for Jains, this pure self is one in all and is identical with the highest reality of the Universe. The soul consists of pure spirituality and experience and as such, the absolute, concrete Truth. We are the Ultimate Reality, and worldly experiences are unimportant to it. For, the whole universe is a great cosmic mechanism that recurs in an infinite cycle of ages. Jains conduct themselves in harmony with this order of the world.
Ambalu, Shulmait, Michael Coogan, Eve Levavi Feinstein, Paul Freedman, Neil
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The Religions Book. N.p.: Dorling Kindersley, 2013.
Babb, Lawrence A.. 1993. “Monks and Miracles: Religious Symbols and Images of Origin Among Osval Jains”. The Journal of Asian Studies 52 (1). [Cambridge University Press, Association for Asian Studies]: 3–21.
Babb, Lawrence A. “Jainism and holy people.” In World Religions: Belief, Culture, and Controversy. ABC-CLIO, 2011-. http://religion.abc-clio.com/.
Cort, John E.. 2002. “Singing the Glory of Asceticism: Devotion of Asceticism in Jainism”. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70 (4). [Oxford University Press, American Academy of Religion]: 719–42. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1466397.
Melton, J. Gordon. “Jainism’s cycle of holidays.” In World Religions: Belief, Culture, and Controversy. ABC-CLIO, 2011-. http://religion.abc-clio.com/.
Parrinder, Geoffrey, ed. World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present.
Paperback ed. New York, NY: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1985.
Shah, N. V. The Teachings of Lord Mahavira. New Delhi, India: Narendrakumar D.
Wadhwani-Shah, Yashodhara. 1996. “SOME KEY CONCEPTS OF JAINISM : DISCUSSED AND CORRELATED”. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 77 (1/4). Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute: 167–78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41702168.
(Proper Chicago formatted citations for all images are included on individual pages)
Jainism contains many mythological narratives and short stories, designed to explain doctrinal teachings and impart valuable life-lessons. For example, the difficulty of freeing oneself from karma is one of the central Jain beliefs, which is explained in many different ways in Jain literature. The following story, called The Human Condition, is one of the intricate analogies that are used to explain the suffering of the soul in the world:
In a dense forest, a man was pursued by an elephant. He turned to flee, but a demon with a sword barred his path. He tried to climb a great tree, but its trunk was too slippery and he fell into a deep well. At the edge of the well was a small clump of roots, which he just managed to grasp to prevent his fall, but looking down he saw snakes, including a great python, ready to devour him. When he raised his head again, to his horror he saw mice nibbling at the roots to which he was clinging. Meanwhile the enraged elephant had dislodged a wild bees’ nest, disturbing the bees which began to sting the man. However, a single drop of honey fell upon his tongue and he immediately forgot his perils and thought only of getting another drop of honey.
The man is the soul and the forest represents samsara, the endless wheel of reincarnation. The elephant is death, while the demon is old age. The well represents human life; the serpents are passion; and the python is hell. The tree represents enlightenment, far too difficult for an ordinary soul to achieve. The bees are disease and pain, while the honey represents the trivial pleasures of life, distracting from the true suffering of existence.
Analogies such as this one are often passed down orally in the Jain tradition.
Besides short stories, Jains also write poetry to depict religious themes of reincarnation and moksha, or liberation. The Banarasivilasa, for example, is a popular anthology of Digambara religious poetry. The original manuscript is kept in India and is especially important, as the work is hardly found anywhere else in the world.
Original Banarasivilasa manuscript
Below, please find other examples of Jain poetry, translated into English.
Jaina Dharma, my divine path to Moksha or salvation to achieve my soul’s ultimate liberation; through self-effort, non-violence, non-absolutism, non-possessiveness, renunciation, retrospection, introspection, serenity, and stillness.
I bow in veneration to those already liberated, traveling on the prescribed paths Lord Jina advocated. My soul deeply yearns to break through enslaving barriers of worldly attachments and material desires.
Seeking freedom from the enduring bondage of Karma, I desire release from the cycle of reincarnation and achieve Nirvana; to transform to a bodiless state of enlightenment attaining perfection, infinite knowledge, bliss, power, and perception.
The Jaina & His Jainism:
O, you tell me about the Jainas and their Jainism, Lord Mahavira and his Jainism, Born to King Sidhartha and Queen Trishala At Kundalagrama (modern Hajipur) , The Licchavi crown prince from Vaishali, Had been virtuous And earthly possessions could not tempt him And he renouncing the life of worldly pleasures and attraction And taking to the recourse of austere sadhna Rarely to be seen in the history of man And attaining his siddhi Under a shal tree The Jina, the victorious one over attachment and aversion, The one telling of Non-violence, truthfulness and self-control in such a way!
The Lord in meditation under a tree, Doing austere sadhna For the attainment of knowledge, Renouncing the world, But none telling about the pains Of Yasoda and Priyadarshana, The internal pains of the wife and the daughter As the father on a greater mission no doubt, But the prince not Into the bonds of maya-moha, Going the way of his own, Consolidating the foundation-stone of The Jains and Jaininsm, As he is the 24th Tirthankara, Carrying the message of the lineage Of the great ascetics.
Lord Mahavira in meditation, Seated under a tree, In a posture of his own With the hands on the knees, Sitting cross-legged And the body straight upwards But the eyes closed And he lost in a sadhna, The posture artistic Which the stone statues trying to capture them, As the relics of artistic excellence.
As I conducted my research, I came across a handful of quotes that I wanted to share, as they perfectly encapsulate the Jain tradition and impart beautiful words of wisdom.
Just as a fire quickly reduces decayed wood to ashes, so does an aspirant who is totally absorbed in the inner self and completely unattached to all external objects shake to the roots, attenuate, and wither away his karma-body.
– Samantabhadra, Aptamimamsa 24-7
Difficult to conquer is oneself; but when that is conquered, everything is conquered.
– Uttaradhyayana Sutra 9.34-36
If we live simply, limit our needs and do not ry to fulfill every desire, collecting more and more, automatically we will protect the environment. Because we will not need so many things, we will not need big industries to produce unnecessary things… If we live simply, automatically the environment will stay clean.
– Acharya Sushil Kumar
A non-violent man is he who does not in the least discriminate between rich and poor or between friend and foe… Non-violence is the best guarantee of humanity’s survival and progress. A truly non-violent man is ever awake and is incapable of harbouring any ill will.
– Acharya Tulsi
I ask pardon of all living creatures. May all of them pardon me. May I have a friendly relationship with all beings.
– Jain prayer
All breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure, unchangeable, eternal law… Correctly understanding the law, one should arrive at indifference for the impressions of the senses, and not act on the motives of the world.
– Akaranga Sutra, IV: Lesson 1
If somebody is a real symbol of non-violence, love, compassion, peace, harmony, oneness, then he is the perfect Jain. We can’t convert any Jains, but you can convert your habits, your mind.
In popular media, Jains are often depicted as peace loving do-gooders with strange customs. Since virtues of ahimsa (non-violence) and self-denial are central to Jainism, they are often over emphasized and dramatized in modern film and literature. Especially in the United States, where most people do not fully understand the religion, Jains are commonly portrayed as extremists, who uphold strict adherence to their tradition. In reality, Lay Jains do not take the Five Great Vows of monks and nuns that are much more strict. They take lesser vows: renouncing violence, vowing not to lie or to steal, embracing chaste sexual behavior, and avoiding attachment to material things. Also, all Jains are strictly vegetarian and must not do work that involves the destruction of life. These are not radical vows, but rather, common standards of living.
Does anyone watch the television series, “Jane the Virgin,” on the CW network? If not, I highly recommend it. “Jane the Virgin” is a satirical telenovela that follows Jane Villanueva, a hard-working Venezuelan woman, who also happens to be a virgin. However, Jane’s life gets turned upside down when she is accidentally artificially inseminated with Rafael Solano’s sperm. The show highlights the difficulties Jane encounters as she navigates these strange circumstances.
In Season 1 of “Jane the Virgin,” Roman Zazo, the cunning, deceiving friend of Rafael Solano is killed. A few episodes later, his twin brother, Aaron Zazo arrives to console Roman’s grieving friends and family. Aaron is introduced as a devout Jain. Throughout the show, he is depicted wearing light pastel colors and loosely-fit clothing. He has a relaxed and friendly demeanor and is extremely respectful to everyone he comes into contact with. In one scene, he protects a tiny spider crawling across the table. This “rescue” is over-dramatized with intense music, poking fun at the Jain ideal of non-violence. Eventually, Aaron turns out to have been Roman impersonating his own brother after having faked his own death by actually murdering his twin brother. But nevertheless, the show provides American television-watchers with a brief insight into the Jain tradition!
Aaron Zazo comforting Petra Solano in the CW’s “Jane the Virgin”
Below, I have attached recent articles of Jain coverage in the press.
“Jane the Virgin” is referenced the article directly below, as the author recounts her experience growing up as a Jain in the United States.
Lastly, this article touches on Oprah’s new “Belief” series that highlights Jainism, Hinduism, and other lesser known religions. I have included Oprah’s video on Jainism in my home page. Click the menu bar above to access this clip.
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.
The Jain calendar is a lunisolar calendar, based on the position of the moon with respect to Earth, and has the following arrangement: A normal year has 12 months and either lasts for 353, 354, 0r 355 days, while a leap year has 13 months and either lasts for 383, 384, or 385 days. A year has its own characteristics, falling into two distinct parts – the rainy season and the rest of the year. The significance of the rainy season lies in the amount of discussion in Jain sacred writings devoted to this four-month period.
The dates of Jain festivals are calculated using the traditional lunar calendar. They are often celebrated through pilgrimage and last for several days. There are many Jain holy sites, often vast complexes of temples and shrines, to which pilgrims travel regularly. The cycle of festivals and pilgrimages is linked to significant events in the lives of the Tirthankaras. Major sites include Sameta Sikhara, Pavapira, and Mount Girnar, at all of which a Tirthankara achieved enlightenment. The birth and enlightenment dates of Mahavira are particularly celebrated. These take place in Caitra (March/April) and Kartik (October/November) respectively.
Other major holidays include: Mahavira Jayanti, Diwali, Akshaya Tritiya, and Samvatsari. Mahavira Jayanti celebrates the birth of Lord Mahavira, as Jains gather in temples to hear the great Tirthankara’s teachings, and later, parade through the streets to celebrate his life and legacy. Diwali is India’s annual festival of lights, celebrated throughout the country. To Jains, the holiday marks the day that Mahavira achieved nirvana, marking the day of the business new year, where old accounts are settled, and new ones are opened. Hymns, fasting, and meditations are common ways to celebrate. Akshaya Tritiya is a day dedicated to fasting and pilgrimage to sacred sites associated with Jain religion. The ritual is meant to honor the first Thirthankara, Rsabhanatha, who broke a fast with sugar cane juice received from Prince Sreyamskumar. Lastly, Samvatsari is the holiest day of the year for Jains, commonly known as the Festival of Forgiveness. It is mostly celebrated by the Digambara sect as the last day of the festival of Paryushan.
Jain pilgrims make their way to temple
Holiday Profile: Paryushanan
The most significant holiday in Jainism is Paryushanan, an eight-day festival of fasts, confession, spiritual awareness, and purification celebrated during the month of Bhadrapad (August/September). During Paryushanan, all Jains fast to at least the final day, but many fast longer- for the entire duration of the festival. Practitioners ask for forgiveness from friends and relatives for their wrongdoings, in order to achieve Samvatsarik Pratikraman, or spiritual atonement. Forgiveness requires humility and suppression of anger; a common aphorism used to ask for forgiveness is:
Khamemi savva jive, Savve jiva khamantu me Mitti me savva bhooesu, Veram majjha na kenai.
I grant forgiveness to all living beings, May all living beings grant me forgiveness; My friendship is with all living beings, My enmity is non-existent. Let there be peace, harmony, and prosperity for all.
The festival also emphasizes ahimsa, reading of the scriptures, an increased focus on salvation, animal life, and symbolic cleansing. During the festival, the Kalpa Sutra, a scripture that recounts Mahavira’s life, from his birth to his liberation, is recited. The text also tells the lives of other Jain Tirthankaras and highlights the rules of Paryushanan. Jains gather in the temple for worship to hear these holy doctrines. They often take time off from daily chores and eat a simpler diet. They add to their normal vegetarian restrictions by avoiding such foods as potatoes, onions, and garlic and to avoid eating anything that kills an entire plant as opposed to just taking its fruit. As previously mentioned, many Jains fast during all of Paryushanan, and some even uptake the practice of monk-hood for a day or more while fasting. A few requirements for the celebration include: control food intake, read spiritual books, observe 1 hour of silence, use kind words, meditate for 20 minute minimum, control anger, and send friendly vibrations to everyone you encounter. By following these guidelines, those who celebrate Paryushanan may achieve deep spiritual awakening by purifying their emotions and consciousness. The holiday is a time to renew and fill the aspects of their lives and qualities of their beings that are lacking. The conclusion of the festival results in a powerful transformation of the heart and mind, leading to fuller union with one’s soul and path to enlightenment.
Jains gather in a temple for worship during Paryushanan festival
Typical array of food served during Paryushanan festival; all foods derived from plants that do not harm them in the process of extraction
I hope you enjoyed exploring my blog! I hope you have grown to understand and appreciate the Jain tradition as much as I have. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in the roots and history of a religion so different from my own.
I leave you with a few reflection questions:
Prior to reading this blog, had you heard of Jainism? If so, how?
What was something that surprised you?
What did you find most interesting about Jainism?
What is your biggest takeaway- something that will aid you in your explorations of other religious traditions?
Finally, thank you for taking the time to read my blog! I hope it was an enlightening experience 🙂