Article: Jain holy places

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Jains and Muslims

The Quwwat al-Islam mosque in Delhi was built in the late 12th century by Qutbuddin Aibak, founder of the Mamluk dynasty, the first of the Delhi Sultanates. Its name means 'Might of Islam', and the mosque is partly built from reused Hindu and Jain temples

Quwwat al-Islam mosque
Image by Nasser Rabbat © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the medieval period, there are numerous accounts of how Jain images, temples and thus sacred places were destroyed by Muslim persecutions. Many Jain images were buried or hidden in the underground chambers of temples to save them from the iconoclasts. The later rediscovery of such images offered chances to take back holy places into Jain control.

The 14th-century author Jinaprabha-sūri narrates how he played a role in returning an image of Mahāvīra to its original setting. Kept in the sultan’s treasury, the idol was moved to Kanyānayā, which then became a sacred place for the Jains once again.

When Jain temples were converted into Muslim buildings the corresponding tīrthas fell into disuse.

Ownership of holy places

One of the most sacred places in Jainism, Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara – is where 20 Jinas are believed to have gained liberation. The site's main temple, on the summit, is dedicated to Pārśvanatha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina. The site is holy to bot

Pilgrims at Mount Sammeta
Image by Deeeep – Deepak Mehta © CC BY-NC 2.0

Some holy places are more or less recognised as predominantly Śvetāmbara, such as Shatrunjaya, while others are accepted as Digambara, such as Shravana Belgola. Other sites are claimed by both sects, but the two groups focus on different parts of the place and on distinct religious manifestations in what can be regarded as productive competition. An example of this is Hastinapur, not far from Delhi. Here, Digambaras concentrate on events centring on the large model of Jambū-dvīpa while Śvetāmbaras focus on the celebration of Akṣya-tṛtīyā and other festivals in their own temples.

However, the ownership of holy places is often a burning issue, where Digambara and Śvetāmbara rivalries burst out. Sometimes this takes on a public dimension that spills over the boundaries of the whole Jain community, as each party calls politicians to its side. This is a source of embarrassment and a topic rather difficult to investigate, but it is echoed in the Jain newspapers.

Well over one hundred sectarian disputes regarding control of religious sites have become public to the wider Indian population. The best-known cases are:

  • Bāhubali Hill, near Kolhapur in south Maharashtra in the 1980s (Carrithers 1988), which the Digambaras claimed
  • the shrine at Śirpur in Maharashtra, in connection with the image known as Antarīkṣa Pārśvanātha – 'Floating Pārśva' – (Dundas 2002: 53–54), which the Śvetāmbaras claimed
  • legal actions over Mount Sammeta.

Management of sacred places

A pilgrim prays at Mount Shatrunjaya, one of the most important Śvetāmbara holy sites. Kneeling on the ground, the white-clad monk holds his mouth-cloth near his face while he prays

Pilgrim prays at Mount Shatrunjaya
Image by Marina & Enrique © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In its smallest form a sacred place comprises a small shrine, a temple or any memorial. But in many cases, Jain holy places are vast complexes of several elements:

  • clusters of temples
  • rest-houses – dharma-śālas – for pilgrims
  • eating hall for pilgrims – bhojana-śālās.

These buildings may be next to each other or may be completely separate. In Shatrunjaya or Shravana Belgola, for instance, the temple-city or the Bāhubali statue that are the main focus of pilgrimage are on top of hills where it is forbidden to stay overnight. The villages at the foot of the hill are therefore the places where pilgrims stay.

Prominent holy places such as these, or even more important ones, demand proper, permanent organisation to accommodate the crowds according to Jain principles and values. This presupposes proper, and sometimes rather strict, management, which is generally achieved by private trusts or foundations of varying sizes. One of the most powerful is the Ānandji Kalyānji nī peḍhī. Established around 1730, it controls several major Śvetāmbara holy places, including Shatrunjaya, Girnar and Hastinapur.

In small and secluded places pilgrims receive accommodation and food free of charge, as was the custom. It is understood that the pilgrims will make some donation in exchange. But the larger the place the more regulated arrangements are. These days regular payments for food and lodging are instituted more frequently. A sign of the development of holy places is the number and wide range of rest-houses available. The luxurious ones expected by many modern Jains used to urban comforts are often found side by side with very simple facilities.

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Related Manuscript Images

  • Worship of Pārśva

    Worship of Pārśva

    British Library. Add. 26519. Unknown authors. Possibly 18th century

  • Mount Meru

    Mount Meru

    With commentary by Pārśva-candra. British Library. Add. 26374. Ratnaśekhara. 1769 - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2021 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at

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