Article: Kunthu

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is the 17th of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time. The word Jina means 'victor' in Sanskrit. A Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma through practising extreme asceticism and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara or 'ford-maker' in Sanskrit – that is, one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience.

Kunthu is not an historical figure. He is not singled out for individual biographies in the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. Treated like most of the other Jinas, he is provided only with basic biographical information. This information is fairly standardised and remains identical throughout later sources except for occasional variations, or confusions, in numbers.

The meaning of his name is not straightforward and has been interpreted differently in traditional sources. The word itself has no clear etymology and may be of non-Sanskrit origin.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Kunthu married princesses and governed the earth as a king before leaving worldly life for monastic initiation. According to the sect of the Digambaras, none of the Jinas assumed the responsibilities of a householder before becoming a monk. However, both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras believe that three of the 24 Jinas were universal emperors – cakravartins – before they left worldly life. Kunthu is the sixth of 12 universal emperors in each half-cycle of time.

Basic information

The main image of Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu in Karandai temple, Tamil Nadu, one of the oldest temples dedicated to him. A Digambara statue, the 17th Jina is nude with downcast eyes and plainly carved. Born in Hastinapur, this Jina was a cakravartin

Statue of Kunthu
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata of all the 24 Jinas is the final section of the fourth Aṅga, the Samavāyānga-sūtra and the Āvaśyaka-niryukti. Among the earliest Digambara sources is a cosmological work, the Tiloya-paṇṇatti.

The standard Digambara biography of Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is found on pages 97 to 120 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 1 to 10 in volume IV of Johnson's English translation of Hemacandra's work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣa-caritra.

The biographical data can be categorised in a standard manner, and includes numbers, which are significant in wider Indian culture.

These standard details can also be used to identify individual Jinas in art, since they are usually depicted as stereotyped figures. Pictures or statues of the Jinas present them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.

Jina and Cakravartin

This manuscript painting in a Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna shows the 14 magical jewels – ratna – of a 'universal ruler' – cakravartin. He uses these to conquer his enemies and become a universal monarch. The first panel depicts the cakravartin and a servant

14 magical jewels
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

According to both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras, there are three Jinas who were universal emperors before they left worldly life to become monks. They are the:

  • 16th Jina, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti
  • 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu
  • 18th Jina Aranātha or Lord Ara.

In their lives as lay men, after these three men succeeded their fathers as kings the disc-shaped jewel – cakra – appeared in front of them. It led them to conquer all regions in turn so that they became Cakravartins – universal emperors. In each half-cycle of time there are 12 Cakrvartins. Ara is the seventh Cakravartin in the present era. The eighth Cakravartin, Subhūma, is regarded as his contemporary.

Then the men renounced worldly glory to be initiated as monks and later became Jinas.

Parents

The important feature of a Jina’s father is that he is a king, from the kṣatriyacaste.

A Jina’s mother has an important role because she gives birth to a future Jina, and in practice a Jina is often called ‘the son of X’. Another reason for her importance is that the names given to the various Jinas are said to originate either in pregnancy-whims or in a dream their mothers had, at least in Śvetāmbara sources. This dream is specific, and adds to the traditional auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a child who will grow up to become a Jina.

In the case of ‘Kunthu’, Śvetāmbara sources say that he was so named because his mother had seen a heap of jewels called ‘kunthu’ in a dream. Even so the meaning of kunthu is far from clear. The commentary on the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, for instance, understands it as meaning ‘staying on the earth’, analysing it as being formed of:

  • ku – earth
  • thu from the Sanskrit root sthā – ‘to stand, to stay, to be’
Parents of Kunthu

Mother

Father

Śrī – Śvetāmbara
Śrīkāntā – Digambara

Śūra – Śvetāmbara
Śūrasena – Digambara

Places

Seeing thousands of pilgrims each year, Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara – in north-eastern India is one of the holiest places for Jains. Auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – connected with many Jinas occurred here, including the liberation of 20 Jinas

Peaks of Mount Sammeta
Image by CaptVijay © public domain

Of the five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – four take place on earth and are associated with a specific village or town in the sources. Archaeological evidence often helps to identify the old names with modern places. Even when it is lacking, there is a tendency to carry out this identification process. Associating auspicious events with certain locations makes these places sacred to Jains, so that they are potential or actual pilgrimage places and temple sites.

Places associated with Kunthu

Last incarnation and birthplace

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Hastināpura

Sahasrāmravana

Mount Sammeta

Hastināpura or Hastinapur is located 37 kilometres from Meerut, in Uttar Pradesh. Today a large village, it is a place of high antiquity, a site of prehistoric culture and the capital town of the Pāṇḍava lineage, famous from the Mahābhārata epics. Its importance as a Jain sacred place comes from its association with several Jinas. It is the birth place of the three Jinas who are also Cakravartins:

  • 16th Jina, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti
  • 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu
  • 18th Jina Aranātha or Lord Ara.

It is also the place where the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, is said to have broken his year-long fast when Prince Śreyāṃsa gave him sugar-cane juice. This first alms-giving event is commemorated during the Akṣaya-tṛtīyā festival.

The sites of the old temple dedicated to Kunthu and the other two Jinas born there are today marked by holy footprints – pādukās – in the remote countryside. Those of Kunthu were restored in 1917.

In today’s Hastinapur, the main Śvetāmbara temple is dedicated to Śānti. The main temple image of Śānti is flanked by Kunthu and Ara on the right and left respectively. Thus the three Jinas traditionally connected with the locality are shown together.

Literary evidence

There is a lot of literary evidence from the 13th century onwards showing that the place was a favourite pilgrimage destination for Jains who wanted to pay homage to Aranātha or Lord Ara and the two other Jinas born there. Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti, Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu and Ara form a group and are often mentioned together.

A record dated 1318 CE (1375 of the Vikrama era) mentions a collective pilgrimage led by the Śvetāmbara mendicant Jinacandra-sūri, of the Kharatara-gaccha. The pilgrims recited hymns for the three Jinas which Jinacandra-sūri had composed specially.

Another one datable to 1333 CE records how the pontiff Jinaprabha-sūri of the Kharatara-gaccha placed newly made images of Śānti, Kunthu and Ara in temples there.

In the same year Jinaprabha-sūri composed a praise of this place after a temple pilgrimage, and devotes two pieces to it in his collection on Jain sacred places, the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa (number 16 and number 50; translated in Balbir 1990: 186–187). He starts with homage to the three Jinas Śānti, Kunthu and Ara. He states that four auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – in their lives took place in this locality, and then lists all the dates connected with the auspicious events of their lives.

In his 1641 autobiography called the Ardha-kathānaka, the Jain merchant poet Banārasīdās narrates how he was in a group of people who undertook a pilgrimage in 1618 to perform worship of Śānti, Kunthu and Ara. On this occasion he produced a poem of praise for the three Jinas, mentioning their names, their parents’ names, their size and their respective emblems:

He composed a poem for the teachers Śānti, Kunthu, Ara. May Banārasī recite it with heart and devotion: ‘Glory to King Viśvasena, to the monarch Śūrasena, to King Sudarśana. Acirā, Śrī, Devī sing the praises of these masters. Their sons have the emblems of the antelope, of the goat, of the nandyāvarta. Their bodies measure 40, 35 and 30 bows. They have a golden complexion[.]

Ardhakathānaka, verses 582 to 583

English translation based on Petit 2011 (page 117)

Dates and numbers

Worship of the 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is shown in this 19th-century painting. Found in a temple in Mysore, Karnataka, the colourful picture includes the Jina's emblem – lāñchana – of the goat, which helps to identify him in art.

Worship of Kunthu
Image by Anishshah19 © public domain

The five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – are traditionally associated with a specific date. This is given according to the system of the Indian calendar:

  • month
  • fortnight
  • day in the fortnight.

Astrological considerations also play a role here and the texts normally mention the constellations when an auspicious event takes place.

The dates associated with these events are potential or actual dates of commemoration. These may be marked in festivals, which determine the Jain religious calendar.

There may be variations in the dates in different sources, Śvetāmbara on one side, Digambara on the other. But there are also cases of differences within the same sectarian tradition.

Dates associated with Kunthu

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

  • 9th day of the dark half of Śrāvaṇa, or bright half – Śvetāmbara
  • 10th day of the dark half of Śrāvaṇa – Digambara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Caitra or Vaiśākha – Śvetāmbara
  • 1st day of the bright half of Vaiśākha – Digambara
  • 5th day of the black half of Vaiśākha – Śvetāmbara
  • 1st day of the bright half of Vaiśākha – Digambara

3rd day of the bright half of Caitra

  • 1st day of the dark half of Caitra – Śvetāmbara
  • 1st day of the bright half of Vaiśākha – Digambara

The dates of all events except emancipation are recorded, for instance, in the above-mentioned composition by the 14th-century Śvetāmbara monk, Jinaprabha-sūri (Balbir 1990: 187).

There are also other numbers connected with the life of this Jina.

Other numbers associated with Kunthu

Height

Total lifespan

35 bows

95,000 years

Monastic and lay communities

A manuscript painting of the universal gathering and fourfold community. The universal gathering is the place and event when a Jina preaches to sentient beings. The fourfold community – saṇgha – is made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women

Universal gathering and fourfold community
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

A Jina is not an enlightened being who exists alone after reaching omniscience. After perfect knowledge comes general preaching – samavasaraṇa. This sermon, which is attended by all, is reported in the scriptures as resulting in large numbers of listeners being inspired. Many turn to religious life, becoming monks or nuns, while many others make the vows that lay peopleśrāvaka and śrāvikā – can follow in their everyday lives. Further, the Jina’s teachings are preserved and passed on by his chief disciples – the gaṇadharas. This is why a Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara, meaning ‘ford-maker’ or ‘founder of a community’.

Each Jina establishes a 'fourfold community', led by the chief disciples. Made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women, the fourfold community follows the principles the Jina has set out in his preaching. How members follow the religious teachings vary according to whether they remain householders or take initiation into mendicancy. Individual figures relating to each Jina are thus important.

Kunthu’s fourfold community

Chief disciples

Monks

Nuns

Lay men

Lay women

35 led by Svayambhū

60,000

60,600 led by Bandhuvatī or Dāminī – Śvetāmbara
60,300 led by Bhāvitā – Digambara

100,920 – Svetāmbara
200,000 – Digambara

381,000 – Śvetāmbara
300,000 – Digambara

Identification

All Jinas have individual emblemslāñchanas – and colours that help to identify them in artwork. They also have attendant deities known as yakṣa and yakṣī, who often appear flanking them in art.

Colour, symbol, yakṣa and yakṣī of Kunthu

Colour

Emblem

Yakṣa

Yakṣī

gold

goat

Gandharva

Balā – Śvetāmbara
Jayā or Vijayā – Digambara

More details

This drawing of a Jina is from the 'Caturviṃśati-stava', a set of hymns to the Jinas. Composed by Yaśovijaya in the 18th century, this text contains a hymn in Gujarati dedicated to each of the 24 Jinas.

Sketch of a Jina
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Besides the basic information, the sources provide more details on various topics. These are almost infinite and vary depending on the sources. Such information differs between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. Here are only a few instances of extra detail.

All of the princes who become Jinas are carried on a palanquin to the park where they perform the ritual gesture of initiation into monastic lifedīkṣā. The palanquin of Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is named Vijayā. On this occasion, he is accompanied by numerous kings.

He performs a two-day fast. The next day he breaks his fast at the house of King Vyāghrasiṃha in the town of Cakrapura.

Kunthu wanders for 16 years as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a tree of the tilaka variety.

Events, stories and hymns

The life of Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is almost eventless. In the ninth-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great MenCauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, the chapter about the 17th Jina is just one page, containing the main outline and basic information.

The same is true for the standard sectarian versions of Kunthu’s life:

  • the 12th-century Śvetāmbara Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra
  • Guṇabhadra’s Uttara-purāṇa, for the Digambaras.

Kunthu is mainly praised alongside other Jinas in hymns dedicated to the 24 Jinas. One instance is the devotional song dedicated to this Jina in the Gujarati set of hymns composed by Yaśo-vijaya in the 17th century. This example can be found among the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia.

Temples and images

A brass figure of the 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu dating from the 17th to 18th century. The plain style, nudity and closed eyes are typical of sculptures of Jinas produced for the Digambara sect.

Figure of Kunthu
Image by Brooklyn Museum Collection © CC BY-NC

Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through at least a few temples dedicated to him or isolated images. He seems to have been more popular in south India, at least in medieval times.

One of the most ancient temples dedicated to this Jina is in Karandai, about 15 kms from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. This place, also known as Munigiri, was an important Jain centre until the 13th century.

One of the main temples to the 17th Jina is the Kunthunatha Jinalaya at Kamalapur, a village south of Hampi, in the Bellary district of Karnatak. This temple complex is also known as the Ganagitti temple. An inscription found on the pillar – māna-stambha – in front of the building records that it was buiIt by Iruguppa Daṇḍanāyaka, the minister of Bukkarāya II, in the reign of the Vijayanagara king Harihara II and that it was dedicated to Kunthunātha (Suresh 2004: 325; 2011: 185–188). However, the cella that originally housed the image is now empty. Jina sculptures are found in other parts of the temple, though. ‘It is one of the earliest Jina temples of the Vijayanagara period, well preserved and in good condition’ (Suresh 2004: 326).

This 19th-century watercolour from the Mackenzie Collection kept in the British Library probably depicts this temple.

Another temple in Karnatak is the Sri Kuntunatha Basadi in the Indira Nagar or Ittegegood area of Mysore. This is a modern temple, which was inaugurated in 1997. The main idol of Kunthu is flanked by images of the:

  • 12th Jina, Vāsupūjyanātha or Lord Vāsupūjya, on the left
  • 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, on the right.

Instances of stone sculptures of Kunthu are:

  • a seated figure with emblem in the caves 8 and 9 of Khandagiri, Orissa
  • a big 12th-century standing image at Bajrangagadha, Guna in Madhya Pradesh (Shah 1987: 157)
  • a 7th- to 8th-century figure with emblem at the Bharata Kala Bhavana in Varanasi (Shah 1987: 157) and other images, mostly of Digambara style, in north Indian museums
  • 12th- and 13th-century images in the Vimala Vasahi on Mount Abu, identified through inscriptions.

Examples of metal images in various collections are:

  • bronze images from the 11th century found in the Aluara hoard, now in the Patna Museum (Shah 1097: 157).
  • a bronze image dated 1470 in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where the Jina is identified in the inscription at the back
  • a bronze figure produced in 1476 in Vasantgarh, Rajasthan, kept in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where an emblem, which should be the goat, is visible
  • a small idol in the Brooklyn Museum, New York
  • a 12th-century image in the Huntington collection, based at Ohio State University.

Images

  • Statue of Kunthu The main image of Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu in one of the oldest temples dedicated to him, at Karandai, Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu. As a statue of the Digambara sect, the 17th Jina is nude with downcast eyes. Though the gold-coloured idol is plainly carved, the shrine behind is ornately decorated. Born in Hastinapur, Kunthu is one of three Jinas who were also universal emperors – cakravartins.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • 14 magical jewels This manuscript painting from a Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna illustrates the 14 magical jewels – ratna – of a 'universal ruler' – cakravartin. He can use these to conquer his enemies and become a universal monarch. The first panel depicts the cakravartin himself, fanned by a servant.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Peaks of Mount Sammeta Seeing thousands of pilgrims each year, Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara – in north-eastern India is one of the holiest places for Jains. Auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – connected with many Jinas occurred here, including the liberation of 20 Jinas. Numerous temples scattered among the various peaks of the mountain attract worshippers of all sects.. Image by CaptVijay © public domain
  • Worship of Kunthu Worship of the 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is shown in this 19th-century painting. Found in a temple in Mysore, Karnataka, the colourful picture includes the Jina's emblem – lāñchana – of the goat, which helps to identify him in art. Around Kunthu are symbols of royalty, such as fly-whisks and a parasol.. Image by Anishshah19 © public domain
  • Universal gathering and fourfold community The universal gathering – samavasaraṇa – and the Jain fourfold community depicted in a manuscript painting. The universal gathering is both a place and an event, when the omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings. The fourfold community – saṇgha – is made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Sketch of a Jina This drawing of a Jina is from the 'Caturviṃśati-stava', a set of hymns to the Jinas. Composed by Yaśovijaya in the 18th century, this text contains a hymn in Gujarati dedicated to each of the 24 Jinas.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Figure of Kunthu A brass figure of the 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu dating from the 17th to 18th century. The plain style, nudity and closed eyes are typical of sculptures of Jinas produced for the Digambara sect. One of the three Jinas who is also a Cakravartin or universal monarch, Kunthu is especially honoured in Hastinapur, Uttar Pradesh, where he was born according to legend.. Image by Brooklyn Museum Collection © CC BY-NC

Further Reading

‘Recent Developments in a Jaina Tīrtha: Hastināpur (U.P.): A preliminary report’
Nalini Balbir
The History of Sacred Places in India as Reflected in Traditional Literature: Papers on Pilgrimage in South Asia
edited by Hans Bakker
Panels of the VIIth World Sanskrit Conference series; volume III
E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1990

Full details

Ardhakathanak: A Half Story
Banārasīdās
translated by Rohini Chowdhury
Penguin Books India; New Delhi, India; 2009

Full details

Jain Shrines in U. P.: Soul Searching Sojourns
Uttar Pradesh Tourism

Full details

Jaina Temple Architecture in India: The Development of a Distinct Language in Space and Ritual
Julia A. B. Hegewald
Monographien zur Indischen Archäologie, Kunst und Philologie series; volume 19
Stiftung Ernst Waldschmidt, G+H Verlag; Berlin, Germany; 2009

Full details

Vividhatīrthakalpa
Jinaprabhasūri
edited by Muni Jinavijaya
Singhi Jain series; volume 10
Shantiniketan; Bombay, India; 1934

Full details

‘A Kunthunatha Jinalaya at Hampi’
K. M. Suresh
Kevala-Bodhi: Buddhist and Jaina History of the Deccan
edited by Aloka Parasher-Sen, B. Subrahmanyam and E. Siva Nagi Reddy
volume II
Bharatiya Kala Prakashan; Delhi, India; 2004

Full details

‘Jaina Monuments in and around Hampi’
K. M. Suresh
The Jaina Heritage: Distinction, Decline and Resilience
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
Heidelberg Series in South Asian and Comparative Studies series; volume 2
Samskriti Publishers; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; New Delhi, India; 1987

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

Ara

The 18th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the fish or flower to Digambaras and the nandyāvarta to Śvetāmbaras.There is no historical evidence of his existence.

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.

Auspicious

Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

Basadi

A term for a Jain temple common in Southern India.

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.

Caste

Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.

Caturvidha-saṅgha

The ‘fourfold society’ of Jain tradition, which is made up of ascetics and the laity, and of males and females.

Clergy

Formally recognised leaders within a religion. The clergy often perform rituals, lead worship and instruct believers in religious principles. Lay men and women usually complete formal study before being initiated into the clergy. Clerics are active among lay believers, often living in society. They may have specific roles or ranks and may progress through a hierarchy to become top leaders of the religious organisation.

Commentary

An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

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.

Cosmology

A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.

Dāna

Giving, specifically alms-giving to mendicants.

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.

Fast

Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Gaṇadhara

'Supporters of the order'. This term is used for the first mendicant disciples of a Jina. They are able to understand his teachings properly and can pass them on. A gaṇadhara leads his own group of ascetics until he becomes enlightened.

Gujarati

The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.

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.

Initiation

Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.

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.

Kalyāṇaka

An auspicious moment in a Jina's life. There are five pañca-kalyāṇakas:

  • garbha – conception
  • janma – birth
  • vairāgya – renunciation
  • kevala-jñāna – enlightenment
  • mokṣa or nirvāna – liberation.

Karnataka

State in south-west India.

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.

Kharatara-gaccha

Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century. 

Kṣatriya

The Indian caste of warriors and kings, with the role of 'protectors'. Jinas are born into this caste.

Kunthu

The 17th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the goat. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

Lāñchana

The distinctive emblem of a given Jina. For example Ṛṣabha has a bull while Mahāvīra has a lion. These are commonly depicted under statues of the Jinas. Since this practice does not seem to have been known early on, perhaps it was influenced by the Hindu environment, where each god has his typical vehicle or emblem.

Nandyāvarta

A kind of diagram shaped like an elaborate svastika. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols or aṣṭa-maṅgala.

Padmāsana

Said to resemble the petals of a lotus, the lotus position involves sitting cross-legged with each foot on the opposite thigh. The soles face upwards while the knees rest on the ground. This posture is associated with meditation. Jinas and other enlightened figures are often depicted in this pose.

Pādukā

The petrified footprint of a dead mendicant or holy figure, which is treated as a commemorative sacred object.

Palanquin

A bed or seat attached to poles, which are carried by bearers on their shoulders. The palanquin is usually a closed box or has curtains sheltering the person within.

Pāṇḍava

The five Pāṇḍava brothers are the heroes of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahābhārata, and its Jain versions. The Jain Mahābhārata is quite different from the Hindu version, demonstrating Jain virtues and religious beliefs.

Pilgrimage

A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.

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.

Rajasthan

The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.

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.

Sāgāra

Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.

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.

Sanctuary

The most sacred area of a temple, church or religious building, often where the image of a deity is housed and worshipped. An outdoor space that is associated with a deity may also be considered a sanctuary.

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.

Śānti

The 16th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the deer. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

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.

Sermon

A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.

Śrāvaka

'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay man, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The feminine form is śrāvikā.

Śrāvikā

'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.

Śreyāṃsa

The 11th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the rhinoceros. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

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.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Vrata

Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā

Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:

  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline

All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders. 

Yakṣa

The male attendant of a Jina, one of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.

Yakṣī

The female attendant of a Jina, also called yakṣinī. One of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.

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Related Manuscripts

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    Text

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IM 7-1931. Unknown author. Circa 1490

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    First page with library stamps

    British Library. Or. 13455. Unknown author. 14th to 15th centuries

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