Article: Supārśva

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is the seventh 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.

Supārśva 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 literally ‘having beautiful flanks’, which has positive connotations because it refers to the physical perfection of a Jina. The name Supārśva is connected with that of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. Indeed, these two Jinas have a number of features in common, specifically their:

  • name
  • place of birth
  • association with snakes.

Thus Supārśva appears as ‘a double of Pārśva’ (Bruhn 1969: 220).

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Supārśva 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 or king before becoming monks.

Basic information

This manuscript painting depicts a Jina meditating. Though hard to identify, he is probably Supārśvanatha or Lord Supārśva, the seventh Jina. The statue's jewellery, ornate headdress and open eyes indicate it is Śvetāmbara.

A Jina meditating, probably Supārśva
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

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

The standard Digambara biography of Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is found on pages 39 to 44 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 303 to 313 in volume II 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 Jinas present 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, 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 become a Jina.

In the case of Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva, Śvetāmbara sources state that this name was given to him for a reason connected with the time of his mother’s pregnancy. Hemacandra relates that his father gave the baby this name because his mother was ‘beautiful-sided’ – su-pārśvā – while he was in her womb (Johnson’s translation of Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-carita, volume II, page 307). In doing this, he follows the traditional explanation provided earlier in the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, a Prakrit scripture which gives explanations for each of the 24 Jinas’ names.

Parents of Supārśva

Mother

Father

Pṛthvī – Śvetāmbara
Pṛthivīṣeṇā – Digambara

Pratiṣṭha or Supratiṣṭha

Places

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 Supārśva

Last incarnation and birthplace

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Vārāṇasī

Vārāṇasī, Sahasrāmravana

Mount Sammeta

The traditional association of Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva with Vārāṇasī – modern Banaras – in Uttar Pradesh, is recorded, for instance, in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri. It is also the birthplace of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

The exact place where Supārśva was born is supposed to be ‘Bhadaini Muhallah’, a part of Banaras situated near the bank of the Ganges and known as the ‘Jain ghat’. It is located at about 1.5 kilometres from Bhelupura.

Today, the site is a place of worship for both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras, who have each installed a different image of the seventh Jina in their respective temples. The Śvetāmbaras' idol is white and is 68 centimetres tall while that of the Digambaras is black and 46 centimetres tall.

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 Supārśva

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

eighth day of the dark half of Bhādrapada – Śvetāmbara
sixth day of the bright half of Bhādrapada – Digambara

12th day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha

13th day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha – Śvetāmbara
12th day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha – Digambara

sixth day of the dark half of Phālguna

seventh day of the dark half of Phālguna

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.

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

Other numbers associated with Supārśva

Height

Total lifespan

200 bows

2,000,000 pūrvas

Monastic and lay communities

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. Furthermore, 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 become initiated into mendicancy. Individual figures relating to each Jina are thus important.

Supārśva's fourfold community

Chief disciples

Monks

Nuns

Lay men

Lay women

95, led by Vidarbha – Śvetāmbara
95, led by Bala – Digambara

300,000

430,000 led by Somā or Sumanā – Śvetāmbara
330,000 led by Mīnā – Digambara

257,000

493,000

Identification and association with snakes

A temple image in Tamil Nadu of the 24 Jinas featuring larger figures of Pārśva and Supārśva in the centre. The seventh Jina Supārśva and the 23rd Jina Pārśva are often depicted similarly in art, with both having snakeheads sheltering their heads.

Pārśva and Supārśva and the other Jinas
Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

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 Supārśva

Colour

Emblem

Yakṣa

Yakṣī

gold – Śvetāmbara
greenish – Digambara

svastika

Mātanga – Śvetāmbara
Varanandin – Digambara

Śāntadevī – Śvetāmbara
Kālī – Digambara

Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is also one of the few Jinas whose iconography is distinctive, as he is often – but not always – shown with snakehoods above his head. This association with snakes is stated, for instance, in the standard biography of this Jina as narrated by Hemacandra in the Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra. It is said to go back to the time when the Jina-to-be was an embryo:

The Queen [dreamed she] saw herself asleep on a couch of serpents which had one hood, five hoods, and nine hoods

Johnson’s translation, volume II, page 308

In the account of this Jina’s general preaching following his attainment of omniscience – the samavasaraṇa – the god Śakra creates snakes over Supārśva's head that are reminiscent of those his mother saw in her dream. This is narrated as something which then became characteristic of all samavasaraṇas.

The antiquity of this association, however, is unknown. No reference to it is found either in early sources or in another Śvetāmbara biography of this Jina, the Cauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya, written in the ninth century by Śīlānka. Nor is there a mention in the Digambara version in Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa. It is likely that this association, which is so important in the case of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, was carried over to Supārśva because of the similarity of their names.

In theory, the snakes are shown above the head for Supārśva, and behind the body for Pārśva, but this distinction is far from being observed everywhere. In many cases it is thus difficult to distinguish between depictions of the two Jinas when there are no personal emblems or inscriptions.

The number of snakehoods is theoretically different for both, namely:

  • Supārśva – one, five or nine
  • Pārśva – three or seven.

But, again, this principle is not followed strictly in available images. For instance there are Pārśva images with five snakehoods and Supārśva images with no snakehood at all.

More details

Image of the seventh Jina Supārśva in the Shantinatha temple of Somasipadi, Tamil Nadu. This Digambara figure has no ornamentation and is green, the colour the sect gives to him. His emblem of the svastika is clear.

Figure of Supārśva
Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

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 Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is named Manoharā. 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 Mahendra in the town of Pāṭalīkhaṇḍa.

Supārśva wanders for nine months as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a śirīṣa tree.

Events, stories and hymns

The life of Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is not rich in events. 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 seventh Jina has a little more than one page.

The 12th-century Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra, is also short.

Even so, there are several sizeable biographies focusing on the seventh Jina. Among them the most famous and most important is the Prakrit Supāsa-nāha-cariya.

Supāsa-nāha-cariya

This colourful manuscript painting of a meditating Jina may be of the seventh Jina Supārśvanatha or Lord Supārśva. In theory he is always depicted with one, five or nine snakehoods. The image's jewellery and open eyes indicate it is of the Śvetāmbara sect

Painting of Supārśva
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

With about 8,700 stanzas in Sanskrit, the Supāsa-nāha-cariya was written in 1142 CE (1199 of the Vikrama era) by the monk Lakṣmaṇa-gaṇi, pupil of Hemacandra-sūri of the Harṣapurīya-gaccha monastic order. The text is divided into three chapters (Chaudhari 1973: 81–82).

The first one narrates at length the previous births of the future seventh Jina as a human being or god. It explains how he gained the category of karma that implies he would become a TīrthaṃkaraTīrthaṃkara-nāma-karman.

The second chapter narrates Supārśva’s birth, marriage and initiation into monastic life.

The third one presents the Jina's attainment of omniscience and is also an extensive exposition of various ascetic practices and postures. It is supplemented with a number of sermons and intervening stories which cover:

  • true doctrine
  • the 12 vows of the lay man and their transgressions
  • all sorts of other subjects.

An illustrated manuscript of this work, covering 443 folios and written in 1422 CE (1479 of the Vikrama era) in Delavada in Mewar, Rajasthan, has 37 lively and colourful paintings (list in Punyavijaya 1956). Some of them are reproduced in Muni Punyavijaya’s article and a few also in the book New Documents of Jaina Painting (Moti Chandra and U. P. Shah 1975).

Hymns

Supārśva 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

The seventh Jina Supārśvanātha with his emblem, the svastika. In this open space in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, images of the four Jinas associated with Sarnath and the neighbouring town of Varanasi have been carved: Śreyāṃsa, Candraprabha and Pārśva.

Supārśva
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is quite popular. As mentioned above, there is some amount of confusion between Supārśva and the 23rd Jina Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. Thus there may be many more images available of the former than thought at first sight.

Supārśva is known through a number of stone sculptures (Shah 1987: 139–142), such as:

  • those in cave 8 and 9 at Khanda-giri, in Orissa
  • the standing marble image in the Jain temple at Pālaḍī, a few miles from Sirohi in Rajasthan, which shows him with five snakehoods, identified from the inscription dated 1291 CE
  • the mutilated standing image with five snakehoods and the svastika in the Neminātha temple at Kumbharia, north Gujarat
  • the standing images in temples number 5 and 28 at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, which have five snakehoods, with the latter figure also showing the emblem of this Jina, the svastika.

Metal images showing Supārśva alone or with other Jinas are also available in temples and museums.

Images

  • A Jina meditating, probably Supārśva This manuscript painting depicts a Jina meditating in the lotus posture. Although it is hard to identify him, it is probably Supārśvanatha or Lord Supārśva, the seventh Jina. The curved pattern above hints that it is an idol in a temple. The statue's jewellery, ornate headdress and open eyes indicate that it belongs to the Śvetāmbara sect.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Pārśva and Supārśva and the other Jinas A temple image in Tamil Nadu of the 24 Jinas featuring larger figures of Pārśva and Supārśva in the centre. The seventh Jina Supārśva and the 23rd Jina Pārśva are often depicted similarly in art, with both having snakeheads sheltering their heads.. Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry
  • Figure of Supārśva Image of Supārśva in the Shantinatha temple of Somasipadi in Tamil Nadu. This figure is in the Digambara style, without any ornamentation, and shows Supārśva as green, the colour the Digambara sect gives to him. The emblem of the seventh Jina, the svastika, is prominent.. Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry
  • Painting of Supārśva This colourful manuscript painting of a meditating Jina may be of the seventh Jina Supārśvanatha or Lord Supārśva. In theory he is depicted with one, five or nine snakehoods while the 23rd Jina Pārśva is shown with three or seven hoods, but in practice both Jinas are often found with varying numbers of hoods. The image's jewellery and open eyes show it was painted for the Śvetāmbara sect.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Supārśva The seventh Jina Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva with his emblem, the svastika. In this open space in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, images of the four Jinas associated with Sarnath and the neighbouring town of Varanasi have been carved. As well as Supārśva, the largest, central figure is that of the 11th Jina Śreyāṃsa. On the right side are smaller images of Candraprabha, the eighth Jina, and Pārśva the 23rd.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Further Reading

The Jina Images of Deogarh
Klaus Bruhn
E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1969

Full details

Jaina Sāhitya kā Bṛhad Itihāsa
Gulabccandra Chaudhari
Kāvya-sāhitya series; volume 6
Parshvanath Vidyashram Shodh Samsthan; Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1973

Full details

New Documents of Jaina Painting
Moti Chandra
and Umakant P. Shah
Shri Mahavira Jaina Vidyalaya Publication; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1975

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

‘Supāsanāhacariyaṃ nī hastalikhita pothī māṃ nā raṃgīna citro’
Muni Puṇyavijaya
Śrī Vijaya Vallabha-Sūri Smāraka Grantha
Mahāvīra Jaina Vidyālaya; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1956

Full details

Supāsaṇāhacariaṃ
Lakṣmaṇa-gaṇi
Jinaśāsana Ārādhanā Trust; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1989

Full details

The Jain Saga: 63 Illustrious Persons of the Jain World, Brief History of Jainism
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
edited by Muni Samvegayashvijayji Maharaj
Acharya Shrimad Vijay Ramchandra Suriswarji Jain Pathshala; Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2009

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 2
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1937

Full details

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

Full details

Glossary

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Doctrine

A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.

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.

Folio

A single sheet of paper or parchment with a front and a back side. Manuscripts and books are written or printed on both sides of sheets of paper. A manuscript page is one side of a sheet of paper, parchment or other material. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.

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.

Iconography

Conventions or rules governing how images, symbols and the placement of elements and figures are used in art to represent ideas and convey meaning. Also the term for the academic study of such artistic conventions.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pārśva

The 23rd Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is green and his emblem the snake. Historical evidence points to his living around 950 to 850 BC.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Vikrama-saṃvat

Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.

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. 

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