Article: Jina

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly


This manuscript painting shows Prince Nemi’s renunciation in two parts. First he visits his fiancée Princess Rājīmatī and then he flees the scene, upset by the distress of the animals about to be killed for his wedding feast

Nemi's renunciation
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The main source of information about the lives of the Jinas is the first part of the Kalpa-sūtra, called the 'Lives of the Jinas' – Jina-caritra. This Śvetāmbara text is attributed to Bhadrabāhu although the date of composition is unknown. The 'Lives of the Jinas' consists of biographies of four of the 24 Jinas who are important figures of worship. They are, in order:

The lives of the remaining 20 Jinas are sketched much more briefly and are closer to outlines of key events than to narratives.

Other Śvetāmbara canonical sources for the lives of the Jinas are:

Differences between Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras

The two main Jain sects of the Digambaras and the Śvetāmbaras differ in their beliefs about Jinas. These are relatively minor and partly relate to disagreements over whether women can gain liberation and whether monks should be nude.

When the Jinas are represented in Mūrti-pūjaka art, the differences between the sects become visually clear although the figures always adopt one of two meditation poses. There are also small differences in the emblem of each Jina between the two sects.

Different beliefs about Jinas



The mother of a Jina-to-be has 16 auspicious dreams.

The mother of a Jina-to-be has 14 auspicious dreams.

All the Jinas are conceived and born of kṣatriya women.

The soul of Mahāvīra was conceived in the womb of a brahmin woman, Devānandā, and was then transferred by the gods to a kṣatriya woman, Triśalā, who bore and gave birth to him. This episode of the 'embryo transfer' is unique to Mahāvīra.

Jinas are always male.

The 19th Jina Mallī was female.

Mahāvīra turned to ascetic life without having known family life.

Mahāvīra was married and fathered a daughter before turning to ascetic life.

All Jinas practise nudity after they become ascetics.

Only Mahāvīra and Ṛṣabha went nude after renunciation.

Images of the Jinas

This statue of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, is in the lotus position of meditation. Typically of Digambara idols, he is naked and has closed or downcast eyes, with no headdress or jewels. Mahāvīra is identified from his lion emblem, flanked by svastikas.

Idol of Mahāvīra
Image by Dayodaya © CC BY-SA 3.0

Images of the Jinas produced among the Digambara Mūrti-pūjaks are always naked, very plainly sculpted and have closed eyes. They do not wear any jewellery, although they may have have a kind of tilaka on the forehead and an endless knot on the chest.

This artistic Mūrti-pūjak tradition contrasts with Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak statues of the Jinas, which have open eyes and loincloths, and are often painted and set in ornately sculpted altars and temples. This is because the Jina is thought of as a spiritual king and is frequently depicted with ornaments and pictured seated on a throne. Otherwise he wears only a loincloth or perhaps the simple white robe of a monk.

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