Article: Vāsupūjya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Vāsupūjyanātha, Vāsupūjya-svāmin or Lord Vāsupūjya is the 12th 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.

Vāsupūjya 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 literal meaning of his name is he ‘who deserves to be worshipped by Vāsava’ – that is, the lord of gods, Indra, or ‘by the Vāsavas’. These are a category of Jain gods who intervene in the Jinas’ lives. Hence it has positive connotations referring to spiritual power, and also to brightness as vasu is a word for ‘sun’. The 12th Jina has the same name as his father – Vasupūjya.

The main difference between the accounts and descriptions of the Jinas’ lives among the two main Jain sects relates to whether they married or not. The general trend is that, according to Digambara biographies, the Jinas do not assume the responsibilities of a householder or king before becoming monks. The situation offered by Śvetāmbara sources is different, as the case of the 12th Jina demonstrates.

Vāsupūjya is one of the Jinas whose life is contemporary with a triad of great figures:

  • the Baladeva Vijaya in Śvetāmbara sources, Acala in Digambara sources
  • the Vāsudeva Dvipṛṣṭha
  • the Prativāsudeva Tāraka.

Basic information

This detail from a manuscript painting is of a buffalo, an important animal in Jain myth, It is the emblem – lāñchana – of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjyanatha or Lord Vāsupūjya. The buffalo is also the symbol of the Īśāna heaven, the second paradise of 12.

Buffalo
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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 Vāsupūjya is found on pages 87 to 96 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa, composed in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 64 to 91 in volume III 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

This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbaras, she has 14 dreams while the Digambaras say 16. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, minus the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun.

Dreams of an expectant mother
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

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 Vāsupūjya, Hemacandra does not give any explanation for his name, which is derived from that of his father, Vasupūjya. The Āvaśyaka-niryukti, a Prakrit work from the first centuries of the Common Era, which gives an explanation for the names of the 24 Jinas, provides a literal analysis of the word. It is clearly a compound noun, meaning ‘the one who deserves to be worshipped by V.’ (verse 1085). Understanding of whom is designated as ‘V.’ differs because it can mean all of the following:

  • the Vasus as a class of gods who intervene in the Jinas’ lives
  • an equivalent of Vāsava, which in turn may refer to the lord of gods, Indra
  • the god of riches, Kubera, since the word vasu means ‘riches’ or ‘treasures’.

These deities are then seen in relation to their behaviour when the Jina-to-be is in the womb of his mother, namely:

  • Kubera demonstrated his devotion to the embryo by repeatedly filling the royal treasury with various gems
  • Indra showed his devotion in his own way, which is not described further.

The Digambara author Guṇabhadra favours the understanding of ‘V.’ as referring to Indra.

Parents of Vāsupūjya

Mother

Father

Jayā – Śvetāmbara
Jayāvatī or Vijayā – Digambara

Vasupūjya

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 Vāsupūjya

Last incarnation and birthplace

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Campā

Campā

Campā

All the major events of Vāsupūjya’s life thus took place in Campā or Campāpurī. Its connection with the 12th Jina is recorded in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri.

Campā is modern Champapur, located 6 kilometres from the station of Bhagalpur, in Bihar, eastern India, near the Ganges river.

It is undoubtedly an old Jain site, since it is mentioned very often in the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures as having been visited by various Jinas. Thus Vāsupūjya is one of those who are clearly rooted in the area that is the birthplace of Jainism. Champapur has a temple dedicated to him, with images. None of them, however, seems to be especially old.

About 40 kilometres to the south of Champapur lies the hill of Mandar-giri, where Vāsupūjya is said to have practised austerities, reached enlightenment and attained final liberation (Titze 1998: 202). This particular pilgrimage site is frequented more by Digambaras than members of the other main Jain sect.

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 Vāsupūjya

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

ninth day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha – Śvetāmbara
sixth day of the dark half of Āṣāḍha – Digambara

14th day of the dark half of Phālguna

new moon of Phālguna

second day of the bright half of Māgha

14th day of the bright half of Āṣāḍha – Śvetāmbara
14th day of the bright half of Bhādrapada – 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.

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

Other numbers associated with Vāsupūjya

Height

Total lifespan

70 bows

7,200,000 years

Question of marriage

The main difference between the accounts and descriptions of the Jinas’ lives among the two main Jain sects relates to whether they married or not. According to the Digambaras, the Jinas did not assume the responsibilities of a householder or king before becoming monks. According to the Śvetāmbaras, some assume these responsibilities, while others did not. The life of Vāsupūjya shows diverging attitudes among Śvetāmbara sources.

The ninth-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great MenCauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, has a short biography of Vāsupūjya. Its account of his life is rather mechanically told and follows a repetitive pattern. The half-sentence devoted to his life as a young man says that he lived the life of a householder and of a king for some time.

In the 12th-century Śvetāmbara text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra in Sanskrit, marriage is an issue. When he comes of age, Vāsupūjya’s parents request their son to marry, although they know he is reluctant to do so. Among the arguments his father puts forward is that of custom, followed by his predecessors:

The blessed Ṛṣabha [= first Jina], the first of the Ikṣvāku-family, married Sumangalā and Sunandā on his father’s advice. Just because of his father’s command, he took the kingdom and governed it, and adopted mendicancy at the right time, after enjoying pleasures [of the householder life]. The Lord attained emancipation afterwards by taking initiation. […] Others, from Ajita to Śreyāṃsa [= Jinas number two to 11], married, and supported the earth at their father’s advice and then attained emancipation. Do you do this. Follow your predecessors by accomplishing marriage, sovereignty, initiation, and nirvāṇa

Johnson’s translation, 1949, page 71

Vāsupūjya answers by referring to the theory of karmas, concluding that ‘there is no one path for the Arhats because of the difference in their karma’ (Johnson, page 71). His parents are unable to counter this point. Thus he is initiated without marrying.

In his argument, Vāsupūjya explains that Jinas who have karmas with pleasure as its fruit surviving in them must destroy these karmas by pleasure. Therefore they should marry. This, he says, applied to Jinas numbers two to 11, and will apply also to Jina number 24, Mahāvīra. He argues that, on the contrary:

Malli [= Jina number 19], Nemi [= Jina number 22] and Pārśva [= Jina number 23], three future Jinas, will become mendicants for the sake of emancipation, without marrying or ruling

Johnson, page 71

Monastic and lay communities

This painting from a Kalpa-sūtra manuscript illustrates the 'fourfold community' – saṅgha. The followers of the Jinas are made up of lay men, lay women, monks and nuns. All elements of the community are vital

Fourfold community
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

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.

Vāsupūjya’s fourfold community

Chief disciples

Monks

Nuns

Lay men

Lay women

66, led by Sūkṣma – Śvetāmbara
led by Dharma – Digambara

72,000

100,000 led by Dharaṇīdharā – Śvetāmbara

106,000 led by Senā – Digambara

215,000 – Śvetāmbara
200,000 – Digambara

436,000 – Śvetāmbara
400,000 – Digambara

Identification

This detail from a manuscript painting depicts a buffalo. An important symbol in Jain myth, the buffalo is the emblem – lāñchana – of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjyanatha or Lord Vāsupūjya. The buffalo is also the symbol of the Īśāna heaven, the second paradise.

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

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

Colour, symbol, yakṣa and yakṣī of Vāsupūjya

Colour

Emblem

Yakṣa

Yakṣī

red

buffalo

Kumāra

Candrā – Śvetāmbara
Gandhārī – Digambara

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. The palanquin of Vāsupūjya is named Pṛthivī. 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 Sunanda in the town of Mahāpura.

Vāsupūjya wanders for one month as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience. According to the Śvetāmbaras, he is meditating under a pāṭalā tree when this occurs while the Digambaras say it is a kadamba tree.

Events, stories and hymns

Śvetāmbara miniature painting of Vāsupūjya, 12th Jina. This 19th-century painting from Rajasthan shows the Jina sitting in meditation under a royal canopy and decked in rich jewellery. Vāsupūjya has bright red skin and his buffalo emblem is below.

Vāsupūjya
Image by Anishshah19 © public domain

The life of Vāsupūjya 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 12th Jina is hardly a single page.

The 12th-century Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra, has become the standard Śvetāmbara version of the Jinas' lives and is somewhat longer. The 13th-century biography entitled Vāsupūjya-caritra is expanded with supplementary material.

Hemacandra's text gives Vāsupūjya's life more substance because the story of the triad of Vijaya, Dvipṛṣṭha and Tāraka is inserted within the general frame of the story and told at length. As usual with such triads, it is a tale of war and fighting. The two main enemies are the Vāsudeva Dvipṛṣṭha and the Prativāsudeva Tāraka, whose hatred continues from their previous births. In Śīlānka’s work, mentioned above, the story of the triad is an independent chapter located after the one devoted to the telling of Vāsupūjya’s life.

In the Digambara version by Guṇabhadra, the story of the triad also follows the narration of Vāsupūjya’s career. Here they are the:

  • Baladeva Acala
  • Vāsudeva Dvipṛṣṭha
  • Prativāsudeva Tāraka.

Vāsupūjya-caritra

There are not so many sizeable biographies focusing on the 12th Jina. The most famous Śvetāmbara example is the Sanskrit Vāsupūjya-caritra. It was written in 1242 CE (1299 of the Vikrama era) by Vardhamāna, pupil of Vijayasiṃha-sūri, from the Nāgendra-gaccha. Containing more than five thousand verses in four chapters, it supplements the main career of Vāsupūjya with:

The telling of the last life of Vāsupūjya starts as late as the third chapter.

A story relating the wrong behaviour of a nun called Meghamālā in the Mahā-niśītha-sūtra presents this nun as a contemporary of Vāsupūjya. This text is a scripture written in Prakrit that comes under or is associated with the class of the Cheda-sūtras. It does not provide further elaboration regarding Vāsupūjya (chapter 6, section 3h: Hamm and Schubring 1951: 10 and 23).

Hymns

Vāsupūjya 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

Carving of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjya, with his buffalo emblem on the pedestal of a māna-stambha at Vilukkam in Tamil Nadu. This Digambara Jina is plainly sculpted though he meditates under an ornately carved arch. Recent offerings of flowers are below.

Sculpture of Vāsupūjya
Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

Vāsupūjya-svāmin or Lord Vāsupūjya is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through a number of stone sculptures (Shah 1987: 148–149), such as:

Among metal images showing Vāsupūjya, the big brass image worshipped in the temple of Marfatia Mehta, in Patan, north Gujarat, is noteworthy. It was installed in 1525, according to the inscription.

Images

  • Buffalo This detail from a manuscript painting is of a buffalo, an important animal in Jain myth, It is the emblem – lāñchana – of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjyanatha or Lord Vāsupūjya. The buffalo is also the symbol of the Īśāna heaven, the second paradise of 12 in the Jain triple world. Note that the buffalo has the hump characteristic of Asian cattle.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Dreams of an expectant mother This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams, which differ slightly from the Digambaras' 16 dreams. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, with the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun – on another page. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Fourfold community This painting from a manuscript of the Kalpa-sūtra illustrates the idea of the 'fourfold community' – saṅgha. The followers of the Jinas are made up of lay men, lay women, monks and nuns. All elements of the community are vital. Lay men at the top, monks and nuns in the middle and lay women at the bottom all take attitudes of respect and prayer.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London
  • Buffalo This detail from a manuscript painting depicts a buffalo, an important symbol in Jain myth. The buffalo is the emblem – lāñchana – of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjyanatha or Lord Vāsupūjya. The buffalo is also the symbol of the Īśāna heaven, the second paradise of 12 in the three worlds of Jain cosmology. Note that it has the hump characteristic of Asian cattle.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Vāsupūjya Śvetāmbara miniature painting of Vāsupūjya, the 12th Jina. This 19th-century painting from Rajasthan shows the Jina sitting in meditation under a royal canopy and decked in rich jewellery. Vāsupūjya is depicted with bright red skin, which is the colour associated with him, and his emblem of a buffalo is clearly seen below his throne.. Image by Anishshah19 © public domain
  • Sculpture of Vāsupūjya Stone carving of the 12th Jina, Vāsupūjya, with his emblem, the buffalo, on the pedestal of a māna-stambha at Vilukkam in Tamil Nadu. This Digambara Jina is plainly sculpted though he meditates under an ornately carved arch. Recent offerings of flowers are visible on the lotus pedestal.. Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

Further Reading

Studien zum Mahānisīha
Frank-Richard Hamm
and Walther Schubring
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 6
Seminar für Kultur und Geschichte Indiens an der Universität Hamburg; Hamburg, Germany; 1951

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

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 3
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1949

Full details

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

Full details

Jainism: A Pictorial Guide to the Religion of Non-Violence
Kurt Titze
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1998

Full details

Vāsupūjya-caritra
Vardhamāna-sūri
edited by A. Ballini
volume 18
Jaina Dharma Prasāraka Sabhā; Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India; 1909

Full details

Glossary

Ajita

Second Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the elephant. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

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.

Auspicious

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

Baladeva

One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal History, Baladevas are the older half-brothers of the Vāsudevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Baladevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Baladevas are devout Jains who, after renouncing the world to become monks, are usually liberated but may be reborn as gods in one of the heavens. Baladevas are also known as Balabhadras.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Malli

The 19th Jina of the present age. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

Śvetāmbara Jains believe Mallī was a woman – the only female Jina – and often spell her name with ī, indicating feminine gender. However, Digambaras hold that Malli was a man, like all the other Jinas.

For Śvetāmbaras, her symbolic colour is dark blue whereas for Digambara Jains it is golden. Both sects believe Mallinatha's emblem is the water pot – kalaśa.

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.

Nemi

The 22nd Jina of the present age, also called Ariṣṭanemi. His symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem the conch. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

The Jains hold that Nemi is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣna. The tale of his renunciation and jilting of his fiancée Princess Rājīmati are famous among the Jains.

Nirvāṇa

Release from the bondage of neverending rebirths, in which an enlightened human being undergoes his or her final death, followed immediately by salvation instead of rebirth. Note that this differs from the Buddhist concept of the same name.

Nun

A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns 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.

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.

Patan

A small town in Gujarat that was a capital city in medieval times, a Jain centre of learning and art with beautiful temples. Some of these and remains of other structures can be seen today. Old name: Aṇahilla Paṭṭaṇa.

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.

Prati-vāsudeva

One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal History. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Prati-vāsudevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Each one personifies the forces of evil and battles his mortal enemy, one of the Vāsudevas. After the Vāsudevas kill them, the Prati-vāsudevas are reborn in hell. Prati-vāsudevas are also known as Prati-nārāyaṇa and Prati-śatru.

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.

Puṇya

Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.

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.

Ṛṣabha

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

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.

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.

Tapas

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

Temple

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

Vāsudeva

One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal HistoryVāsudevas are the younger half-brothers of the Baladevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Vāsudevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Each one battles his mortal enemy, one of the Prati-vāsudevas. For breaking the principle of non-violence, the Vāsudevas are reborn as hell-beings – nārakis. Some may then become Jinas in their next lives. Vāsudevas are also known as Nārāyaṇa.

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. 

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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