Article: Bāhubali

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Though not a Jina, Bāhubali is worshipped as a great saint, especially among Digambaras. He has been considered on a par with the Jinas from at least the seventh to eighth centuries, underlined by his representation in art. He transcends all categories.

The story of Bāhubali emphasises the lifelong battle between worldly affairs and passions, and the spiritual values that need to be mastered to reach liberation. A familiar tale to Jains, key episodes have often been illustrated, especially Bāhubali’s year-long meditation.

His fame increased from the tenth century onwards, once a colossal statue was erected on one of the two sacred hills of Shravana Belgola in Karnataka. This distinctive freestanding figure led to many imitations at other shrines, all which attract pilgrims and sightseers. Worship of Bāhubali tends to focus on the spectacular head-anointing rites of these statues but his inspirational life story holds meaning for many contemporary Jains.

Different names

Since the tenth century, the huge statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola has attracted countless pilgrims. Nearly 18 metres in height, Bāhubali, also known as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, takes the kāyotsarga meditation posture

Colossus of Bāhubali
Image by Ashok 666 – Ashok Prabhakaran © CC BY-SA 2.0

Meaning ‘strong with his arms’ in Sanskrit, the name Bāhubali underlines the heroic nature of the character, referring to one episode in his life. Two other names – Dorbali and Bhujabali – have the same meaning.

The names Manmatha or Kāma-deva are also sometimes given to Bāhubali. Normally referring to the god of love, they are meant to emphasise his beauty.

In Karnataka, a popular designation used from the 12th century onwards is Gommaṭa and its variant forms. The meaning and origins of this name have been much debated but no agreement has been reached. The name Gommaṭeśvara – 'Lord of Gommaṭa' – is given to the colossal statue standing on the top of Vindhya-giri at Shravana Belgola. It is said to refer to Cāmuṇḍarāya, the general-minister who caused the statue to be erected, who was also known as Gommaṭa.

Origins

Bāhubali is a legendary saint of the Jains. He cannot be placed in any category of Jain Universal History because he is neither a Jina nor a universal monarch and nor does he belong to any other group.

However, he is associated with two prominent figures in these first two types because he is:

  • one of the hundred sons of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina of this era
  • the younger half-brother of Bharata, the first universal monarch of this era of time.

Ṛṣabha had two wives, Sumangalā and Sunandā. Sumangalā had Bharata while Sunandā gave birth to Bāhubali. The dispute between half-brothers over who inherits their father’s throne is a motif behind many conflicts described in Indian epics. The story of Bharata and Bāhubali is a Jain expression of this clash.

Literary sources

The life of Bāhubali is told in numerous literary works written in all the languages Jains have used, including Prakrit, Sanskrit, Kannada and Hindi. Whether epics or devotional poems dedicated to him alone, or as part of the tales of his father or half-brother, these stories glorify him and contribute to the growth of his legend. In particular, Bāhubali can be considered a hero of Karnatakan literature, whose life became a subject for prominent writers in the Kannada language (see Settar 1981).

The earliest elaborate account of Bāhubali’s life is found in Jinasena’s Ādi-purāṇa, written in Sanskrit in the ninth century in South India (see pages 208 to 244 of Strohl's 1990 English translation). This is a seminal work, which subsequent writers from Karnataka used as the main source for their Jain epics.

Karnatakan epics describing the life of Bāhubali

Title

Author

Date

ĀdipurāṇaLegend of the first Jina

Pampa

tenth century

Triṣaṣṭi-lakṣaṇa-mahā-purāṇaGreat Epic of the 63 Illustrious Men

Cāvuṇḍarāya

tenth century

Pūrva-purāṇaEpic of the Early Times

Hastimalla

13th century

Bharateśa-vibhavaPower of Lord Bharata

Ratnakaravarṇi

16th century

Hymns and poems on the life of Bāhubali are too numerous to list. The most remarkable ones are:

  • Gommaṭa-stutiHymn to Gommaṭa – by Boppaṇa-Paṇḍita in 1180
  • Bāhubali-cariteStory of Bāhubali – by Doḍḍayya in 1550.

A third category of works dealing with Bāhubali are those linked with sacred places or specific images that are erected. These arise from the tenth century onwards.

Although Bāhubali is of outstanding importance for Digambaras, he should not be seen as sectarian property. He belongs to the common heritage of the Jains. Śvetāmbara sources also narrate his life, especially those detailing Jain Universal History. A representative of this trend is Hemacandra’s epic, the Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritraLives of the 63 Illustrious Men – where Bāhubali’s career is depicted in the section on his father, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha.

Key episodes in Bāhubali's life

Bāhubali’s life is closely connected with those of his father and his half-brother Bharata. Tales of their lives therefore contain information about him.

Bharata and Bāhubali

The small golden idol of Bāhubali or Gommaṭeśvara – ‘Lord of Gommaṭa’ – is found at the bottom of the 18-metre-tall original at Shravana Belgola. The details of the anthills and creepers that have grown up round the meditating monk are clear

Small idol of Bāhubali
Image by Ashok 666 – Ashok Prabhakaran © CC BY-SA 2.0

When King Ṛṣabha renounced worldly life he appointed his eldest son Bharata as his successor, and shared the kingdom among all his other sons. Each of the men thus had his own realm.

Bharata received the special weapon of a universal emperor – cakravartin. To be true to his name, a universal emperor has to conquer all the parts of the entire world. He does this systematically in a progressive process known as dig-vijaya – 'conquest of the cardinal points'. This entails making war on and overcoming various kingdoms in turn. In Bharata’s case, this meant conquering the kingdoms where his brothers reigned.

One by one, the sons of Ṛṣabha renounced the world and thus ceded their territories to Bharata. But Bāhubali was different from the others and very powerful. After Bharata had gained all the other territories and was recognised as the universal emperor, Bāhubali refused to submit to his authority because Bharata had not conquered him.

There are two main scenarios outlined in different versions of the story.

First scenario

All negotiations failed so preparations for war began. Both kings and armies marched towards each other to wage war, which is described at length in many versions. Before fighting, each of them is said to have paid homage to Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, their father.

The next step is the duel between Bharata and Bāhubali. There are different versions of this episode.

In the first, before striking the fatal blow, Bāhubali realised that wealth and kingship were meaningless if his brother were no more. He stayed the hand holding his weapon.

In the second version Bāhubali and his half-brother fought on. Bāhubali struck Bharata but, seeing that this blow could be fatal, he helped him regain consciousness. The fight, however, continued with more intensity, as Bharata struck again. But Bāhubali suddenly froze as his hand was raised to strike again, when he realised that a fight against one’s brother for a mere kingdom is pointless.

Now the embodiment of tranquility, Bāhubali decides to become a wandering mendicant. Bharata is so awed by this behaviour that he also decides to renounce worldly life.

This scenario is the one described in Johnson’s translation of Hemacandra's epic.

Second scenario

After listening to advice persuading them not to cause large-scale bloodshed, the two kings engage in a duel. This takes place in three stages:

  • 'encounter of sight' – dṛṣṭi-yuddha
  • 'encounter in water' – jala-yuddha
  • 'wrestlers’ encounter' – malla-yuddha.

In the first duel Bāhubali’s face remains motionless and undisturbed, whereas Bharata is disturbed for a moment. Bāhubali is declared victorious.

In the second part, Bāhubali moves at ease in the pond where the fight takes place while Bharata cannot face water splashes and has to turn his face aside.

In the final stage, the brothers have a classical wrestling match, which Bāhubali wins easily.

As universal emperor, Bharata has the special weapon of the disc – cakra. When he launches this at Bāhubali the disc neither reaches nor strikes him.

After his victory, Bāhubali announces his decision to give up worldly life.

This scenario is the one followed by, for instance, Settar 1981 (page 49) and Strohl 1990 (234).

Rejection of worldly life and the body

Having thus renounced battle and worldly life, Bāhubali stands in kāyotsarga, the ascetic posture of meditation meaning ‘rejection of the body’, with arms hanging down.

Devoted to meditation[,] his eyes fixed on the end of his nose, motionless, the muni appeared like a sign-post. Like a forest-tree his body endured the wind in the hot season spreading hot grains of sand like grains of fire. Plunged in the nectar of good meditation, he was unconscious of the sun in the middle of the hot season, like a fire-pit, over his head. Covered from head to foot with mud made from dust and perspiration caused by the heat, he looked like a boar that had come out of mud. In the rainy-season he was no more disturbed by streams of water than a mountain by trees shaken by wind and rain. He was not shaken from kāyotsarga nor from meditation by the flashes of lightning nor by the mountain-peaks shaken by thunder-storms. Both of his feet were covered with moss caused by dripping water, like the steps of a deserted village-tank [= reservoir]. In the winter season in which elephant-deep streams were frozen, he remained comfortable from the fire of meditation active in burning the fuel of karma. On winter nights when trees were frozen by cold, Bāhubali’s pious meditation bloomed especially, like jasmines. Forest-buffaloes scratched themselves on him just as [though he were] the trunk of a huge tree. […] He was surrounded completely by creepers with a hundred branches shooting up, like a drum by leather thongs. Dense clusters of reeds grew up and around him […]. Abundant darbha-grass filled with moving centipedes grew up around his feet[,] buried in the mud of the rainy season. Hawks, sparrows, etc. […] made nests on his body [which was] covered with creepers. Thousands of serpents hid in the thickets of [the] creepers, terrified by the call of forest peacocks. Bāhubali looked as if he had a thousand arms [created] from [the many] hanging serpents fastened to his body. His feet were surrounded by serpents, like anklets, that had left the ant-hill near his feet.

Johnson’s translation of Hemacandra’s account
pages 324 to 325

This is just one instance of the graphic depiction of the posture that has become associated for ever with Bāhubali.

Omniscience, Brāhmī and Sundarī

Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali

Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali
Image by  © Heidelberg University Library

Bāhubali’s meditation lasted one year. It resulted in the destruction of many karmas. The next stage to reaching liberation was to overcome his passions, especially pride. Bāhubali’s main characteristic, his pride prevented him from reaching omniscience.

His half-sister Brāhmī and Sundarī, his full sister, had become disciples of their father Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. They were sent to Bāhubali to give him a helpful hint: "Kevala[-jñāna] cannot arise in those seated on an elephant’s shoulder."

After some time Bāhubali understood this statement, enigmatic though it was. He was proud because he did not show respect to his younger brothers, even though they had become mendicants earlier than he and were therefore worthy of his homage. Realising this, he made a spiritual step and reached omniscience.

Two goddesses

Carrying royal regalia, a statue of a goddess stands by the colossus of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola. The nearly 18-metre-high statue of Bāhubali or Gommaṭeśvara – 'Lord of Gommaṭa' – has twin figures of goddesses either side

Goddess with Bāhubali
Image by ~rajooda – Rajeev Vuttharahalli © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

In the Digambara tradition, Brāhmī and Sundarī are not credited with any role in Bāhubali’s enlightenment.

Yet two female characters play a part. They are goddesses or, according to some sources, vidyā-dharīs – goddesses who believe Jain teaching and thus have various magical powers. They intervene to remove the creepers that climb all over Bāhubali’s body.

Final liberation

According to Digambaras, Bāhubali was the first person to attain final liberation in our era.

However, the Śvetāmbaras say that Marudevī, mother of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, and thus Bāhubali's grandmother, was the first to be liberated. She achieved this while riding an elephant to hear Ṛṣabha preach to the universal gathering.

Images of Bāhubali

Soaring over 17 metres, the Bāhubali image at Shravana Belgola is the tallest freestanding statue in the world. Also known as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, the statue shows a man who has meditated so long that plants have grown up his body.

Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola
Image by Takeo Kamiya © Takeo Kamiya

The strong presence in art of Bāhubali can be detected as early as the sixth century. Stone sculptures of him are found all over south India and Deccan, in the modern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra. Examples include:

  • Cave IV at Bādāmi
  • the Meena Basti at Aihole
  • ninth-century images at the Ellora caves.

As might be expected, Bāhubali is always shown in art in the characteristic posture of kāyotsarga. Usually naked, he is depicted either alone or flanked by two female characters. Depending on whether the monument is Śvetāmbara or Digambara, these women are identified as either his two sisters or two goddesses.

Many Bāhubali idols are carved from stone but metal images are frequently seen. Created in varying sizes, they are often found in Digambara temples, along with brass images of Jinas and Jain deities.

The battle between Bāhubali and Bharata is the subject of many paintings, such as those in illustrated manuscripts of the Digambara epics, Ādi-purāṇa and Mahāpurāṇa (Doshi 1981, 1985). Less frequently, the battle scene is found in Śvetāmbara Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts.

A unique depiction of Bāhubali is a painted wooden manuscript cover featuring the battle between the half-brothers, as well as Bāhubali’s austerities (see Jain in Doshi 1981: colour plate 1).

Bāhubali’s near-equivalent status to the Jinas is occasionally illustrated by the following signs in art, when the image:

  • is underneath the triple parasol, which is a royal insignia
  • has god-like figures on each side, similar to the yakṣa and yakṣī flanking the Jinas
  • sometimes appears in triple images known as tri-tīrthika, where he is shown along with two Jinas – for example, in Ellora Bāhubali stands near Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina.

Colossal statues

Milk is poured over the Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola in 2006 during the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka. During the rite, over a thousand pots of different consecrated substances are tipped over the idol's head.

Milk poured over the Bāhubali statue
Image by Dhiraj Chawda © Dhiraj Chawda

The most significant and unique kind of representation that underlines the importance of Bāhubali as a figure at the centre of Jain worship is the freestanding colossal image. Such statues are found in Karnataka, their homeland, but have also started to flourish in the adjacent state of Maharashtra in modern times. In recent years, this practice has extended to northern India, with similar statues erected at Ferozabad in Uttar Pradesh and at Hastinapur.

The earliest, highest and most famous one is the figure erected in 981 CE on Vindhya-giri at Shravana Belgola, in Karnataka. Carved out of a single stone, it is 57 feet or over 17 metres tall. Known as 'the sentinel of Shravana Belgola', this colossus has spawned numerous imitations.

Major examples of Bāhubali colossi

Venue

Date of completion

Approximate height

Other information

Kārkala in Karnataka

1432

41 feet / 12.5 metres

 

Venur, Karnataka

1604

35 feet / 10.7 metres

Bāhubali hill, Kolhapur District, Maharashtra

consecrated on 8 October 1963

28 feet / 8.5 metres

It is made of white marble and not of granite like other similar statues.

Dharmasthala

Consecrated 3 February 1982

39 feet / 12 metres

210 tons in weight

Gommaṭagiri, 25 kms north-west of Mysore

14th century

18 feet / 5.5 metres

Newspapers have reported in recent years that the site is neglected and under threat due to quarrying in the neighbourhood

Tippūr, Chennapatna Taluk

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 

Battihaḷḷi, near Kannambāḍi

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 Annual great head-anointing ceremony

Kaḷasāpura

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 Annual great head-anointing ceremony

Mulgunda, Karnataka

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 Annual great head-anointing ceremony

Worship of Bāhubali

A temple attendant performs the daily ritual bath – mastakābhiṣeka – on the small metal idol at the bottom of the statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola. The five substances used in the ceremony are trickled on to the feet of the stone colossus

Ritual bath of Bāhubali idol
Image by procsilas – Procsilas Moscas © CC BY 2.0

Artistic depiction indicates presence in worship aswell. A particularly spectacular worship ceremony has developed around the colossal images of Bāhubali.

The biggest and best known is the one at Shravana Belgola, in which the huge statue has its head ritually anointedmahā-mastakābhiṣeka – every 12 years. Other colossi are also the centrepiece of similar anointing rites, which draw religious visitors and sightseers. The other colossi in Kārkala and Venur also attract pilgrims for worship.

Bāhubali and Jain values

Bāhubali was a king and warrior proud of his power and strength. When they do battle, Bharata and Bāhubali represent the tussle of oversized egos. Yet Bāhubali’s life story illustrates the triumph of spiritual values and moral virtues over worldly values and violence.

Hence Jains today often see him as an inspiration and a defender of peace, and interpret his story as a message relevant in the modern world.

Images

  • Colossus of Bāhubali Since it was carved from a single stone in the tenth century, the huge statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola has attracted countless pilgrims. Nearly 18 metres in height, the idol shows Bāhubali, also known as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, in the kāyotsarga position. He is so deep in meditation that anthills and plants have grown over him. The statue is the focus of the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka – that takes place every 12 years.. Image by Ashok 666 – Ashok Prabhakaran © CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Small idol of Bāhubali The small golden idol of Bāhubali or Gommaṭeśvara – ‘Lord of Gommaṭa’ – is found at the bottom of the 18-metre-tall original at Shravana Belgola. The details of the anthills and creepers that have grown up round the meditating monk are clear. Every day a temple attendant carries out the daily ritual bath – mastakābhiṣeka – on the smaller idol. The five substances used in the ceremony are trickled on to the feet of the stone colossus because they are believed to have special properties after being used in the rite. . Image by Ashok 666 – Ashok Prabhakaran © CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali When Scots-born Francis Buchanan surveyed the newly conquered kingdom of Mysore in 1800, he drew various monuments he encountered on his travels. This sketch of the huge statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola in Karnataka captures the detailed carving of the figure's hair and the leaves that twine up its arms and legs.. Image by © Heidelberg University Library
  • Goddess with Bāhubali Carrying royal regalia, a statue of a goddess stands by the colossus of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola. The nearly 18-metre-high statue of Bāhubali or Gommaṭeśvara – 'Lord of Gommaṭa' – has twin figures of goddesses either side. He is frequently depicted with these guardian deities, just as a Jina has his pair of yakṣiṇī.. Image by ~rajooda – Rajeev Vuttharahalli © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola Soaring over 17 metres, the Bāhubali image at Shravana Belgola is the tallest freestanding statue in the world. Also known as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, the statue shows a man who has taken the kāyotsarga meditation posture for so long that plants have grown up his body.. Image by Takeo Kamiya © Takeo Kamiya
  • Milk poured over the Bāhubali statue Milk is poured over the Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola in 2006 during the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka. During the rite, over a thousand pots of different consecrated substances are tipped over the idol's head, creating spectacular waves of colour and drenching the pilgrims standing at the statue's feet.. Image by Dhiraj Chawda © Dhiraj Chawda
  • Ritual bath of Bāhubali idol A temple attendant performs the daily ritual bath – mastakābhiṣeka – on the small metal idol at the bottom of the statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola. The five substances used in the ceremony are trickled on to the feet of the stone colossus because they are believed to have special properties after being used in the rite. A spectacular version – mahāmastakābhiṣeka or ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – takes place every 12 years, drawing thousands of pilgrims and sightseers to the festival.. Image by procsilas – Procsilas Moscas © CC BY 2.0

Further Reading

Homage to Shravana Belgola
edited by Saryu Doshi
Marg Publications; Bombay, Maharashtra, India

Full details

Masterpieces of Jain Painting
Saryu Doshi
Marg Publications; Mumbai, India; 1985

Full details

‘The Legend of Bahubali’
L. C. Jain
Homage to Shravana Belgola
edited by Saryu Doshi
Marg Publications; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1981

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 1
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1931

Full details

Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa: an illustrated study
Shadakshari Settar
Rūvāri; Dharwad, Karnataka, India; 1981

Full details

The Image of the Hero in Jainism: Rsabha, Bharata and Bahubali in the Adipurana of Jinasena
George Ralph Strohl
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Chicago in 1984

Full details

‘The story of Bhārata and Bāhubali: from the Ādipurāṇa’
George Ralph Strohl
The Clever Adulteress and Other Stories: A Treasury of Jain Literature
edited by Phyllis Granoff
Mosaic Press; Oakville, Ontario, Canada; New York, USA; London, UK; 1990

Full details

An Anthology of Kannada Poems on Gommateshwara
translated by Venugopala Soraba
edited by T. V. Venkatachala Shastry
Gommateshwar Bhagavan Bahubali Mahamastkabhisheka Samiti; Shravanabelagola, Karnataka, India; 1983

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

Glossary

Abhiṣeka

Anointing ceremony for a king, a Jina, a Jina image or any other holy image, with water or milk. Part of daily or special worship.

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Bharata

One of the Lands of Action or Karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the Middle World where humans live. Bharata is also the name of the eldest son of the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, who succeeded his father as king.

Cakravartin

Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

Dhyāna

Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Disciple

An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.

Hindi

The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.

Hymn

The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:

  • solo or in groups
  • as a form of meditation
  • as a rite offered as part of worship.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Karnataka

State in south-west India.

Kaṣāya

'Passion' that causes activity, which results in new karma binding to the soul. It must be eliminated by restraints or austerities so the soul can be liberated. Passion may be attraction – rāga – or aversion – dveṣa – and has degrees of intensity. There are traditionally four passions:

  • anger – krodha
  • pride – māna
  • deceit – māyā
  • greed – lobha.

Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.

Kāyotsarga

'Absence of concern for the body'. This commonly refers to a standing or sitting posture of deep meditation. In the standing position the eyes are concentrated on the tip of the nose and the arms hang loosely by the body. The individual remains unaffected by whatever happens around him.

Kevala-jñāna

Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

Māhārāṣṭra

Bordering on the Arabian Sea, Māhārāṣṭra in central India is the third-largest and the richest state in India. Its capital is Mumbai and the official language is Marathi.

Mokṣa

The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.

Muni

Sage. A common term for a Jain monk.

Nudity

The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.

Prākrit

A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.

Preach

To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:

  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.

Pūjā

Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

Rainy season

The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.

Renunciation

Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.

Rite

A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.

Ṛṣabha

First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.

Saint

Someone who is declared by a religious organisation or by popular acclaim to be of outstanding goodness and spiritual purity, usually some time after his or her death. The person's holiness is often believed to have been demonstrated in the performance of miracles. Saints are frequently held up as examples for followers of a religious faith.

Samavasaraṇa

Literally, Sanskrit for 'universal gathering'. A holy assembly led by a Jina where he preaches to all – human beings, animals and deities alike – after he has become omniscient. In this universal gathering, natural enemies are at peace.

Sanskrit

A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Śvetāmbara

'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Tapas

Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.

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