Article: Malli

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Mallinātha or Lord Malli is the 19th 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.

Like most of the Jinas, Malli is not an historical figure. Yet among all the 24 Jinas, Mallinātha or Lord Malli stands apart. The treatment of the 19th Jina in myth mirrors theological debates on women and emancipation, as the gender issue is central.

The sect of the Digambaras holds that Malli was a boy in the last incarnation, like all other Jinas.

The Śvetāmbaras state that in the last incarnation Malli was born a girl. They devote a specific chapter of one of their canonical scriptures to the full biography of this Jina. To Śvetāmbara Jains, Malli is valued as a Jina but she is not considered a role model because of her former condition as a woman. This is because being born a woman is the consequence of partly negative behaviour in her previous birth.

Śvetāmbara Jains often write her name as Mallī, with long final i, to indicate this feminine gender. On the other hand, the form Malli, with short i, rather points to a masculine gender and is used by the Digambaras. It is also used in Mallinātha, the name that can be translated as Lord Malli, where gender is not an issue.

The main characteristics of Malli as a Jina, however, are identical in both sects. This point suggests that this information belongs to a time which predates the separation of the Jains into two traditions.

Basic information

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. Further, Mallinātha’s story is narrated at length in sources from both sects.

The main variation in sectarian accounts is the colour of Mallinātha’s body. According to the Śvetāmbaras it is dark blue, but it is golden for the Digambaras.

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 Jinaspresent them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.

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. This dream is specific, and adds to the traditional auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a child who will become a Jina.

In the case of ‘Malli’ – ‘Jasmine’ – Śvetāmbara sources report that the mother wanted a bed covered with excellent and sweet-smelling jasmine flowers during her pregnancy.

Parents of Mallinātha

Mother

Father

Prabhāvatī

Kumbha

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 Mallinātha

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Mithilā

Sahasrāmravana, outside Mithilā

Mount Sammeta

The 14th-century Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri devotes one section of his work on Jain sacred places – the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – to Mithilā. The fact that four of the auspicious events in Mallinātha’s life took place there is among the elements that make it sacred. This location is identified with modern Janakpur, in today’s Nepal.

Dates and numbers

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.

Dates associated with Mallinātha

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

4th day of the bright half of Phālguna

11th day of the bright half of Mārgaśīrṣa

  • 11th day of the bright half of Pauṣa – Aṅga Number 6
  • 11th day of the bright half of Mārga – Hemacandra and Digambara sources
  • 11th day of the bright half of Pauṣa – Aṅga Number 6
  • 11th day of the bright half of Mārga – Hemacandra and Digambara sources
  • 4th day of the bright half of Caitra – Aṅga Number 6
  • 10th day of the bright half of Phālguna – Hemacandra
  • 5th day of the bright half of Phālguna – Digambara

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.

Mallinātha’s birth, initiation and omniscience all fall on an 11th day and are among the events commemorated in the festival known as Maunaikādaśī.

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

Other numbers associated with Mallinātha

Height

Total lifespan

25 bows

55,000 years

Monastic and lay communities

A 12th-century Digambara statue from Madhya Pradesh of the 19th Jina, Mallinātha or Lord Malli. The endless knot – śrīvatsa – on the idol's chest, which Jinas often have in art, is very prominent thanks to the sculpture's very simple style.

Statue of Malli
Image by Hiart; Honolulu Academy of Arts © 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.

Mallinātha's fourfold community

Chief disciples

Monks

Nuns

Lay men

Lay women

28, led by Bhiṣaj

40,000

50,000

183,000

370,000

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 Mallinātha

Colour

Emblem

Yakṣa

Yakṣī

golden – Digambara
dark blue – Śvetāmbara

water pot

Kubera

Vairoṭyā

More details

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. Mallinātha’s palanquin is named Jayantī. On this occasion, he is accompanied by one thousand kings.

Mallinātha performs a two-day fast. The next day he breaks his fast at the house of King Viśvasena.

Mallinātha reaches omniscience under a tree of the aśoka variety.

Śvetāmbara life of Malli

The earliest Śvetāmbara biography of Mallinātha or Lord Malli is narrated in their canonical scriptures. It forms the eighth chapter of the sixth Aṅga, called Nāyā-dhamma-kahāo in Prakrit or Jñāta-dharma-kathānga in Sanskrit. The inclusion of Malli’s story in a canonical scripture is probably a way to stress its importance and authoritativeness. Even so, this biography is not found in a work which focuses on the Jinas’ lives, such as the Kalpa-sūtra.

The account in the Jñāta-dharma-kathānga has become the standard Śvetāmbara biography. It is retold by later authors, whether in comprehensive biographies of all the Jinas or in individual works focusing on this particular Jina. Hemacandra's 12th-century Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra is an example of the first kind. Mallinatha's biography is found on pages 52 to 71 in volume IV of Johnson's translation of Hemacandra’s work. Vinayacandra’s verse work Mallinātha-caritra is a representative of the second one.

Previous birth – ascetic but deceitful

This manuscript painting shows two monks fasting to death – sallekhanā – under the supervision of a monastic teacher. The teacher or mentor is present throughout the ritual, overseeing the stages of penance and renunciation that end in the 'sage's death'.

Fasting unto death
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

After listening to a Jain ascetic called Dharmaghoṣa, King Bala of Vītaśoka in Mahā-videha renounces worldly life, becomes a monk and reaches emancipation. His son, Mahā-bala, succeeds him on the throne.

Mahā-bala has six childhood friends:

  • Acala
  • Dharaṇa
  • Pūraṇa
  • Vasu
  • Vaiśravaṇa
  • Abhicandra.

All seven men were born on the same day and have grown up together. They are so close that they have decided that they will do everything with mutual consent.

After hearing an ascetic who had come to preach, Mahā-bala resolves to become a Jain monk. When he tells his friends they all decide to do the same.

The men are exemplary ascetics. Once they agree that whatever fast one practises, whether short or long, the others will do the same.

The monk Mahā-bala acquires a karma that determines his future birth as a woman – itthi-ṇāma-goyaṃ kammaṃ. This is the result of his behaviour, because he wants to outdo his friends secretly. If his six friends observe a one-day fast, he fasts for two days. If they keep a two-day fast, he fasts for three days and so on.

With the permission of their religious teacher, the seven monks perform various types of increasingly difficult fasts. When their bodies have become emaciated, they ask his permission to fast unto death. After this they are reborn as gods in the ‘Unsurpassable’ heavenAnuttara – called Jayanta.

Later on, the six friends are born as princes and become kings, each ruling a region of India.

Next lives of Mallinatha's six friends

Name

Name as king

Kingdom

Acala

Pratibuddhi

Ikṣvāku

Dharaṇa

Candracchāya

Anga

Vasu

Śankha

Kāśi, modern-day Varanasi

Pūraṇa

Rukmin

Kuṇāla

Vaiśravaṇa

Adīnaśatru

Kuru

Abhicandra

Jitaśatru

Pañcāla

Mahā-bala, however, is reborn as a girl.

The account of the sixth Aṅga does not comment or analyse this any further. But in later sources, the mistake of Mahā-bala is named as deceit or treachery – māyā – which is one of the four main ‘passions’ – kaṣāya – in the Jain system. This is considered characteristic of women in general.

In Hemacandra's work Mahā-bala's ambiguous destiny is twice described as having been caused by his deceit. Hemacandra writes:

Because of penance mixed with deceit, he acquired woman-inclination-karma strī-veda and also the body-making-karma of a Tīrthakṛt because of the [guru-]sthānas, devotion to the Arhats, et cetera

Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra volume IV, page 53

He then describes it thus:

[Her mother] bore a daughter because of the female-birth karma produced by deceit in a former birth

page 54

Birth as a Jina

In Indian culture, the lotus flower symbolises spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. It features in many stories, including a famous parable Mahāvīra tells about following the right path to truth.

White lotus
Image by Haha169 © public domain

The future destiny of Mahā-bala’s soul as a Jina is announced to the mother when she experiences the 14 auspicious dreams. These are dreamed by all women who bear the Jinas.

During her pregnancy, the mother develops a fancy for flowers of all sorts. She gets her wish and in due course gives birth to the ‘19th Tīrthaṃkara’. The baby is named Mallī – ‘Jasmine’ – in reference to the pregnancy whim.

Mallī turns into an extremely beautiful young lady. Through her clairvoyanceavadhi-jñāna – she recognises that her six friends who shared their previous lives as devout monks are in love with her. She uses a device to teach them right behaviour.

Princess Mallī orders a pavilion to be made, constructed with a central room surrounded by six connected rooms. She commissions a life-size statue of herself to be installed on a pedestal in the central room. The statue is hollow, with a hole at the top. The hole is covered with a lotus. Through this hole, Mallī drops food every day, then covers the hole with the lotus again. After a few days, the rotting food starts to stink.

The six kings come to Mallī's father asking to marry her. This part of the story has distinct incidents for each of the kings, with new characters coming into the tale.

Rebuffed by Mallī’s father and feeling humiliated, they all decide to attack and besiege Mithilā, his capital city.

Mallī advises her father to tell each of the kings that she will marry him, and that he should come at night to the pavilion. Messages are sent separately to each of them. Each of the kings arrives and is directed to a different room in the pavilion. When the king arrives he is overwhelmed by the beauty of Mallī but he sees the statue instead of the living woman. When Mallī herself enters, she removes the lotus cover. The princes are disgusted by the stench that billows from the lovely statue. Mallī explains that in the same way the body is bound to deteriorate and therefore one should not feel love or attachment to it. She recalls facts of their common previous births, which they remember fully when she talks of it.

Mallī decides to renounce worldly life. Designated so far in the story as ‘Princess Mallī’ or ‘this Mallī' with feminine gender, she is now called:

  • 'Mallī the Arhat
  • 'Mallī the Jina
  • Mallinātha or Lord Malli.

The six kings put their sons in charge of their kingdoms and follow the same path.

The further stages of Mallī's career are the usual ones for a Jina's life.

Two unusual details are noteworthy, however. These relate to the periods of time that a Jina usually spends in certain activities. The Jina Malli:

  • spends only a very small part of her life as a princess, namely 100 years out of a total of 55,000
  • takes initiation and reaches omniscience on the same day so there is no period as a wandering mendicant between the two events, and also no period of testing, which involves possible challenges to asceticism.

Digambara life of Malli

The earliest and standard Digambara biography of the 19th Jina is found on pages 305 to 312 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra’s comprehensive 9th-century work Uttarapurāṇa. Another very similar version is that of Puṣpadanta’s Mahā-purāṇa, written in the 10th century in Apabhraṃśa Prakrit (Roth 1983: 51–57).

As an individual biography, Sakalakīrti’s Mallinātha-purāṇa can be mentioned. Written in Sanskrit in the 15th century, it is basically the same, but has an interesting passage. This describes how deluding karmasmohanīya-karmas – can be beaten by worshipping the ‘three jewels’ with the help of a diagram – yantra.

In all the Digambara biographies, the masculine gender is always used for the name Malli and the epithets that go with it.

Previous birth – an exemplary ascetic

This manuscript painting depicts the gods' lives of enjoyment in the heavens. The costly furnishings, jewels and rich clothing of the beautiful gods underline the pleasures of the topmost of the three worlds of Jain cosmology.

Heavenly pleasures
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

King Vaiśravaṇa of Vītaśoka goes to a forest, where he sees a magnificent tree and thinks it is a good comparison for him. When he comes back later, the tree has been struck by lightning and is now totally destroyed.

He realises that change and impermanence characterise all things and make them lose their power and beauty. The king puts his son on the throne, goes to a monk and takes initiation.

The former king is a perfect ascetic and forms for himself the karma that leads to future rebirth as a Jina. However, before this he is reborn among ‘Unsurpassable gods’Pañca Anuttara – in the heaven called Aparājita.

Birth as a Jina

A highly polished stone image of the 19th Jina Mallinātha or Lord Malli in a temple in Tamil Nadu. The 12th-century statue's nudity and closed eyes indicate that is from the Digambara tradition. Worshippers have arranged offerings of flowers on the base

Idol of Malli
Image by ArugaNathan © CC BY-SA 3.0

The destiny of this king’s soul as a Jina is foretold to his mother when she experiences the auspicious dreams. Women who bear the Jinas have 16 dreams in the Digambara tradition.

The baby is born to King Kumbha and Queen Prabhāvatī. His mother chooses the name Malli because she liked to lie on a bed draped with flower garlands while pregnant. However, according to Puṣpadanta, Indra gives him this name.

After living one hundred years, Malli sees great preparations in the city for his marriage. Recalling his former life as a god, the prince contrasts the joy of detachment with this spectacle of worldliness. Malli finds what he sees is no more than a fake and duly renounces worldly life to become a monk.

The rest of his career follows the usual pattern for a Jina.

Iconographical evidence

Represented in art as highly stereotyped figures, Jinas take either the lotus pose or the standing kāyotsarga position. By default, features of masculine gender are conspicuous in standing Jina images. There is little definitive evidence of Śvetāmbara artists presenting Mallinātha or Lord Malli as female.

The question of the femininity of this Jina is addressed for the first time by Bhāvasena, a 14th-century Digambara writer. He cites his observations of artistic representations of Malli to support his position that this Jina could not have been female:

For example, no one in the world has ever perceived the [alleged] femininity of the images of the Lord Malli; on the contrary, those images are always depicted in masculine gender… The Lord under debate must be a man, because he is never portrayed as female in his images. This is like the images of Vardhamāna Mahāvīra, which are well known to be male in the tradition of both parties

Muktivicāra, stanza 20

translation by Jaini 1986: 217

In reply to this, it could be argued that Jina images are meant as material aids for meditation and thus show emancipated souls, not their physical features. One author who discusses the Digambara position regarding the impossibility of female emancipation remarks: ‘The Siddhas are neither male nor female’ (Strīnirvāṇa-prakaraṇa verse 26 in Jaini 1991: 70). This is echoed in modern perception. For example, Kelting (2001: 43) reports that when she asked one of her female informants why Mallinātha’s image looks like a man, she “almost dismissively said: ‘A Jina is not really a man or a woman, a Jina is beyond the specifics of its birth’.”

Physical evidence in art is not conclusive. There is only one instance of a sculpture that could represent Malli as female. It is a black stone statue from the 10th to 11th centuries kept at the Lucknow State Museum. It represents a ‘meditating female’ in the lotus meditation pose (Peaceful Liberators number 26, page 139). The head is missing but femininity is clearly shown by the breasts, the morphology of the body and the long plait falling to the bottom of the back. The lady is sitting cross-legged, with the palms of her hands on top of each other and a lotus flower atop them.

The only sign that suggests that this lady could be Malli is the water pot in a square on the pedestal. The water pot is the emblem of the 19th Jina and the symbol is in the usual place where Jinas’ emblems are found on statues.

Moreover, ‘it is a rare instance of an Indian sculpture of a nude female seated in meditation’ (Peaceful Liberators page 139).

Other sculptures of Mallinātha are ordinary depictions of a Jina standing or seated in meditation with occasional representation of this Jina’s emblem (Shah 1987: 160). They are available from all regions in India among Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras alike.

The same holds for the temples specifically dedicated to Mallinātha. Examples are:

  • one of the Digambara temples at Melsittamur in Tamil Nadu
  • the image in the Kere-Basti at Mudbidri in Karnataka
  • the Mallinātha temple on Mount Girnar in Gujarat (Hegewald 2009: 242, illustration number 482).

Hymns

Single devotional songs dedicated to Mallinātha or Lord Malli seem to be rather rare. But the 19th Jina is included in all the hymns praising 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. This is a general praise of the Jina and does not refer to individual biographical features.

Images

  • 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
  • Statue of Malli A 12th-century Digambara statue from Madhya Pradesh of the 19th Jina, Mallinātha or Lord Malli. The endless knot – śrīvatsa – on the idol's chest, which Jinas often have in art, is very prominent thanks to the sculpture's very simple style. Digambara Jains do not agree with the belief of the other main sect, the Śvetāmbaras, that Mallī is the only female Jina.. Image by Hiart; Honolulu Academy of Arts © public domain
  • Fasting unto death This manuscript painting shows two monks fasting to death – sallekhanā – under the supervision of a monastic teacher. The teacher or mentor is present throughout the ritual, overseeing the stages of penance and renunciation that culminate in the 'sage's death' – paṇḍita-maraṇa. The spiritual dimension is key, with the faster dying in a state of mental and spiritual purity.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • White lotus In Indian culture, the lotus flower symbolises spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. It features in many stories, including a famous parable Mahāvīra tells about following the right path to truth.. Image by Haha169 © public domain
  • Heavenly pleasures This manuscript painting depicts the gods' lives of enjoyment in the heavens. The costly furnishings, jewels and rich clothing of the beautiful gods underline the pleasures of the topmost of the three worlds of Jain cosmology. Though the souls born as gods in the upper world have lives of ease and enjoyment, they are still bound in the cycle of rebirth. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Idol of Malli A highly polished stone image of the 19th Jina Mallinātha or Lord Malli in a temple in Tamil Nadu. The 12th-century statue's nudity and closed eyes indicate that is from the Digambara tradition. Worshippers have arranged offerings of flowers on the statue's pedestal.. Image by ArugaNathan © CC BY-SA 3.0

Further Reading

‘Women and Jainism in India’
Nalini Balbir
Women in Indian Religions
edited by Arvind Sharma
Oxford University Press; Delhi, India; 2002

Full details

Uttarapurāṇa
Guṇabhadra
edited by Pannalala Jain
Jñānapītha Mūrtidevī Jaina series; volume 14
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭha Prakāśana; Delhi and Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India ; 1968

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

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 4
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1954

Full details

‘Muktivicāra of Bhāvasena’
Padmanabh S. Jaini
Indologica Taurinensia
volume 13
International Association of Sanskrit Studies; 1983

Full details

Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California, USA; 1991

Full details

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

Full details

Singing to the Jinas: Jain Laywomen, Maṇḍaḷ Singing and the Negotiations of Jain Devotion
M. Whitney Kelting
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

Full details

The Peaceful Liberators
Pratapaditya Pal
Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Thames and Hudson; Los Angeles, California, New York USA and London, UK; 1994

Full details

Mallī-Jñāta: Das achte Kapitel des Nāyādhammakahāo im sechsten Aṅga des Śvetāmbara Jainakanons
translated and edited by Gustav Roth
Monographien zur indischen Archäologie, Kunst und Philologie series; volume 4
Franz Steiner Verlag; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1983

Full details

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

Full details

Mallināthacaritra
Vinayacandra-sūri
Jina Shasana Aradhana Trust; Bombay, Maharashtra, 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

Aṅga

Literally 'limb' in Sanskrit, Aṅga is a term for the first category of 11 texts that form the Śvetāmbara scriptures. There were originally 12 but the last has been lost for centuries.

Apabhraṃśa

Apabhraṃśa is an umbrella term for the dialects that were the forerunners of modern Indian languages. Taken from the Sanskrit term apabhraṃśa, which literally means 'corrupt' or 'non-grammatical language', Apabhraṃśa was used to write a large number of Jain texts. Though Apabhraṃśa developed over the 6th to 13th centuries, literary works date back to the 8th century.

Arhat

Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of 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.

Asceticism

The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.

Auspicious

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

Avadhi-jñāna

Extra-sensory knowledge, clairvoyance. One of the five traditional types of knowledge, it is inborn in heavenly and hellish beings. Humans can attain it only through special yogic practices and it is linked to a high level of spirituality.

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.

Deity

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

Detachment

Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.

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.

Festival

A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 

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.

Gujarāt

The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.

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.

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.

Indra

Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.

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.

Jinaprabha

(1261–1333) Kharatara-gaccha monk famous for writing Vividha-tīrtha-kalpaGuidebook to Various Pilgrimage Places. He also visited the court of the Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

Jīva

Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.

Kalpa-sūtra

The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:

  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.

A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.

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.

Karma

Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:

  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.

Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.

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.

Kṣatriya

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

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.

Lotus

A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.

Mahā-videha

In Jain cosmology, one of the Lands of Action or karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the middle world of humans. Mahā-videha consists of 32 provinces between the Niṣadha and the Nīla mountain ranges. Thanks to the repetitive nature of Jain cosmology, there are also two Mahā-videhas on each of the continents of Dhātakīkhaṇḍa and Puṣkara-dvīpa.

Mahāvīra

The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.

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.

Monk

A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

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.

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.

Penance

A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.

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.

Ratna-traya

The ‘three jewels’ that form the fundamentals of Jainism, without which spiritual progress is impossible. They are:

  • right faith – samyak-darśana
  • right knowledge – samyak-jñāna
  • right conduct – samyak-cāritra.

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.

Sallekhanā

The progressive eradication of passions and other negative features in order to reach total spiritual purity. In practice, it is the ritual of fasting unto death.

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.

Saṃsāra

Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:

  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.

Samyak-cāritra

'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.

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.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

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.

Siddha

An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.

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.

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.

Vāhana

The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:

  • be the deity's emblem
  • symbolise positive attributes associated with the deity
  • represent evil powers over which the god has triumphed
  • help the divinity to perform duties.

The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.

Vihāra

A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.

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.

Yantra

Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.

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Related Manuscripts

  • Paper cover

    Paper cover

    British Library. Or. 13959. Unknown author. 1639

  • Text

    Text

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IS. 83-1963. Unknown author. 15th century

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