Article: Jain holy places

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

In principle Jain holy places are sacred for all the Jains. In practice, some places are definitely of more importance to Śvetāmbaras than to Digambaras and vice versa, and these are managed by institutions affiliated to one sect or the other. History and contemporary information provide evidence of competition and quarrels between the sects over the management of individual sites. This is because a sacred place is an expression of a community’s presence and therefore a political issue.

A sacred place is known as a tīrtha. This Sanskrit word, used in modern languages as well, originally meant a ford across a river or a flight of steps used to descend into water. It then came to mean a holy place because of the purifying character of water. In Hinduism many sacred places are connected with water and rivers. Jains, however, reject any definition of purity as an external thing, linked to water or bathing. So they have redefined the concept of a holy place, as they have done with many other Indian notions. Instead, Jains highlight the spiritual meaning of the word – a tīrtha is any place that has become holy because of its association with Jinas or Jain values. The tops of hills or mountains are often holy places to Jains and therefore frequently pilgrimage destinations. The main attraction of these places is sometimes a unique statue, more often a temple or, in many cases, clusters of temples. Several prominent Jain tīrthas, such as Mount Śatruñjaya – more commonly known as Shatrunjaya or Mount Shatrunjaya – have so many temples they are effectively temple-cities.

A Jain mendicant is often said to be a 'moving tirth' – jangama-tīrtha. This is the only type of tīrtha that has real value for those Jains who are against the worship of images, such as the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin.

The importance of individual holy places has varied over history. Some ancient sacred places are still popular today and have usually been renovated and developed. Others were once vibrant with religious activity but are now protected archaeological sites, visited by followers and tourists alike. Though they are still sacred in the minds of Jains, this sanctity is now separate from active worship. In medieval times totally new tīrthas emerged in the religious landscape. Today others are becoming prominent and completely new ones are being created, especially outside India in countries where the Jain diaspora has settled.

Why is a place holy?

Here swathed in the mist of early morning, Mount Girnar is one of the most celebrated temple-cities of the Jains. Sacred to both Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains, Girnar is a major pilgrimage site, attracting thousands to the temples on its peaks.

Mount Girnar in the mist
Image by Dhwani Bhatt © CC BY-SA 3.0

Jains often distinguish between two kinds of sacred places:

  • where someone reached final liberationsiddha-kṣetra
  • where any remarkable event took place – atiśaya-kṣetra.

The concept of siddha-kṣetra is crucial in Jain thought in defining a holy place. However, material items such as relics or remains of any kind are not important in thinking of a place as holy in Jain belief and practice. This attitude is in tune with the definition of liberated beings – siddhas – as pure souls.

A remarkable event – atiśaya-kṣetra – that causes Jains to hold a place sacred could be a miracle or the presence of any guardian deity or powerful image.

Holy places vary in size from small isolated spots to the large temple-cities built on mountains. Probably the best-known Jain temple-cities are those of Shatrunjaya and Girnar.

Sacred places are infused with multiple meanings and memories of mythical events. The sanctity is translated into various forms, including footprints, temples and images. But it also resides in elements of the landscape, with specific ponds, stones and trees often seen as holy. They are connected to certain episodes that are transmitted in oral and written form. In this way, some holy places such as Shatrunjaya are ascribed almost supernatural powers, including the power to cure illness. A pilgrimage is complete when it involves a tour of all the sacred spots found in a holy place.

The Jinas

This manuscript painting is of the 20 Jinas between Ṛṣabha, the first one, and Nemi, the 22nd. Omniscient and in the lotus meditation pose, they have bumps on their heads, signifying wisdom. Their jewellery and open eyes are typical of Śvetāmbara images.

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

Considering the central importance of the Jinas in Jainism – as the ultimate source of knowledge, teachings and behaviour – it is not surprising that most holy places are closely associated with them. Most are locations where events in the Jinas' lives occurred. The traditional dates of these events given in scriptures form the basis of the religious calendar and festivals. Even today Jains are well aware of such links with the past.

Before reaching omniscience, the Jinas were part of the cycle of rebirths. All of their lives show a similar pattern. In the standard account of their lives, of which Hemacandra's 12th-century work can be considered representative, there is a set of five events. These 'auspicious events' – pañca-kalyāṇakas – are at the centre of worship:

  • conception – cyavana
  • birth – janma
  • initiation into monastic lifedīkṣā
  • enlightenment – kevala-jñāna
  • final liberation – nirvāṇa or mokṣa.

Any place connected with any of these events is potentially holy. The foremost sites, however, are those where the Jinas were born and those where they reached liberation. Sites where more than one such event took place are traditionally called kalyāṇa-kṣetras – 'places of auspicious events'.

Sacred places and events in the lives of the 24 Jinas

Holy place

Jina

Auspicious event

Aṣṭāpada, legendary mountain

Ṛṣabha

liberation

Ayodhyā

Ajita and Ananta

birth

Banaras

Supārśva and Pārśva

birth

Bhadrilapura

Śītala

birth

Candrānana

Candraprabha

birth

Campā = modern Bhagalpur, Bihar

Vāsupūjya

birth and liberation

Girnār, Gujarat

Nemi

renunciation, omniscience and liberation

Hastināpura or Hastinapur, Uttar Pradesh

Śānti, Kunthu and Ara

birth

Kākandī

Suvidhi

birth

Kāmpilya

Vimala

birth

Kauśalya

Sumati

birth

Kauśambī

Padmaprabha

birth

Kuṇḍapura (see Brekke 2003)

Mahāvīra

birth

Mithilā

Malli and Nami

birth

Pāvāpurī, Bihar

Mahāvīra

liberation

Rājagṛha = modern Rajgir, Bihar

Munisuvrata

birth

Ratnapura

Dharma

birth

Sammet Shikhar, Jharkhand

20 Jinas

liberation

Siṃhapura

Śreyāṃsa

birth

Soriyanagara

Nemi

birth

Śrāvasti

Sambhava

birth

Vinītā

Abhinandana

birth

Several names in this list are also where one Jina or another received proper alms for the first time after a long fast – Ayodhyā, Śrāvastī, Hastināpura, Mithilā and Rājagṛha. More generally, they owe their sanctity to their association with several events, all recorded in specialised works.

Other mythical figures

Places where holy figures of the Jain tradition have attained final liberation are also potential sacred sites.

Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat is also called Puṇḍarīka Mountain because it is said that Puṇḍarīka, the first chief disciple of the first Jina Ṛṣabha, attained liberation there.

This is also where Rāma, Sītā, the Pāṇḍava brothers and their mother Kuntī were emancipated from the cycle of rebirth.

Religious teachers

Sacred footprints in Bhadrabāhu’s Cave on Candra-giri at the pilgrimage site of Shravana Belgola, Karnataka. These footprints – caraṇa – are considered to be those of the 3rd-century sage Bhadrabāhu, who fasted to death at Shravana Belgola

Bhadrabāhu’s sacred footprints
Image by Ilya Mauter © CC BY-SA 2.5

A place that is traditionally associated with the birth or liberation of a religious teacher is also considered holy and often develops into a pilgrimage site. There are examples of this phenomenon for both teachers in the distant past and more recent ones. Their presence takes material form in items such as footprints – pādukāshrines or memorials of any kind.

Ponnur Hill, in Tamil Nadu, is the place where the early Digambara teacher and author Kundakunda is said to have reached liberation. Footprints have been carved in the rock and are worshipped.

Several Jain temples are found in Ladnun in Rajasthan. It has become a specially sacred place for Terāpanthin Jains in the 20th century because it is the birthplace of Ācārya Tulsī, eighth leader of the sect, who was chief monk for over 60 years.

About 20 kilometres from Delhi is the 'Vallabh Smarak' or Memorial to Ācārya Vijayavallabha-sūri. It has become a sacred place, and a temple enclosure has been built there.

Jina images

Several holy places are associated with the local image of a Jina. This link is often clear in their names, such as Sankheshwar-Parshvanath, Phalodi-Parshvanath and Jiravala-Parshvanath, which are all connected to the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

Such images are considered holy because of their miraculous powers and the often extraordinary circumstances in which they were discovered or, rather, rediscovered. The stories of rediscovery underline that the statues had been there for a long time but were buried in the ground, at the foot of a tree and so on. The idol's presence was revealed through the dream of a follower, the spontaneous lactation of a cow or other such phenomenon. When the image was found, it was ritually installed and became the focus of a holy place where the whole community came to worship. This type of account is found especially among the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak Jains. An example is Jinaprabha-sūri's collection, Vividhatīrtha-kalpa, which dates back to the 14th century. These tales may refer indirectly to historical events or, at least, the adventures of old Jina statues that survived the Muslim destruction of religious images during the medieval period.

Local gods

Replica image of Nākoḍā Bhairava in Prakrit Bharati Academy in Jaipur, Rajasthan. This figure is decorated with flower offerings. Nākoḍā Bhairava is a very popular protective god in the Śvetāmbara Pārśvanātha temple in Nākoḍā, Rajasthan.

Nākoḍā Bhairava
Image by Knut Aukland © Knut Aukland

Some of the Jain holy places are considered sacred because of their association with figures that are neither Jinas nor religious teachers. Strictly speaking, Jains do not worship deities. Jinas are neither gods nor able to interfere in worldly affairs because they have attained liberation – believers honour their examples in worship. However, offerings are frequently made to the Jinas' spiritual attendants, the yakṣa and yakṣī, who can play a part in human lives. Many Jains also make offerings to Hindu gods such as Gaṇeśa or Śrī. The increasingly popularity of Jain pilgrimages to places that are not associated with Jain religious tradition is awakening the interest of anthropologists as it shows original combinations of mainstream Jainism and other trends.

There are two good examples of this phenomenon. For centuries Nākoḍā in Rajasthan has been associated with a black idol of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, which was rediscovered and established in the temple in the 15th century. Over time the popularity of this site faded until it was revived through the efforts of a Jain nun at the beginning of the 20th century. It has now regained some of its former eminence thanks to its focus on the cult of the Nākoḍā Bhairava. This is a local image of Bhairava, who is a manifestation of Śiva. Recent ethnography shows that pilgrimage to Nākoḍā tends to be concentrated on this deity rather than on the Jina directly.

Similarly, Mahuḍī in Gujarat is a Jain tīrtha entirely dedicated to a god of a peculiar kind. Ghaṇṭākarṇ Mahāvīr is a 'muscular, moustachioed male deity worshiped by Jains as a fellow Jain who can assist them within the worldly realm of wellbeing' (Cort 2001: 165).

Visitors to such holy places form less homogeneous groups than pilgrims to traditional Jain tīrthas. The visitors may not be religious or even Jain at all. This is probably because these cults are essentially about worldly values. Jain pilgrimage sites of long standing usually focus on spiritual improvement.

Mythical sacred places

Kailāśā Parvata or Mount Kailash is a mountain in the Himalayas often thought to be the earthly version of Mount Aṣṭāpada. Aṣṭāpada is the mythical place where the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, reached liberation. It is extremely holy

Mount Kailash
Image by reurinkjan © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two places are considered holy by the Jains but are not part of ordinary geography.

  • Aṣṭāpada
  • Nandīśvara-dvīpa.

The former is the legendary mountain where the first Jina Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha reached liberation. It is often identified with Mount Kailāsa in the Himālayas.

The second cannot be located on maps of India either, since it belongs in the category of cosmography. According to traditional cosmological theories, it is a continent in the human world but inaccessible to humans. Considered a holy place because it is a centre of worship, Nandīśvara-dvīpa has 52 temples in which the gods worship the Jinas.

Since these two holy places are vital parts of Jain sacred geography, they are treated on a par with other sacred places in literary descriptions. From the 12th century onwards, they appear in the visual arts as three-dimensional models or sculpted on temple walls.

Holy places in writing and song

One of the holiest of Śvetāmbara pilgrimage sites, Mount Shatrunjaya has nearly a thousand temples. This temple-city outside the town of Palitana in Gujarat has a special connection with Ṛṣabha. The first Jina is worshipped in the main Adishvar Temple.

Temples at Mount Shatrunjaya
Image by JAINA © public domain

Like Jinas and religious teachers, a Jain sacred place draws homage, devotion and praise from believers. Writings about holy places are seldom neutral and purely descriptive, as guidebooks usually are. Even the numerous booklets about individual sacred places published today do not just describe the physical place. Descriptions usually narrate all the legendary events or signs that create the meaning and sanctity of a holy place.

Texts about holy places can be grouped in three main ways:

  • lists in verses
  • kalpas and māhātmyas
  • hymns of praise to sacred places or to a particular Jina image associated with a holy place.

Lists of holy places in longer poems are known as tīrtha-mālās – 'garland of sacred places'. They show the expansion of Jain sacred geography in the accumulation of names. Some refer to well-known places while others are no more than names, often difficult to identify and locate.

The second group of texts – kalpas and māhātmyas – may be in either prose or verse and is a skilful cross of descriptions and legends. The most famous kalpa is the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa or Pieces on Various Sacred Places, written in the 14th century by Jinaprabha-sūri, a Śvetāmbara monk belonging to the Kharatara-gaccha. The holy places Jinaprabha treats are primarily in western and northern India, though there are also a few in south India. The text includes sometimes detailed topographical descriptions, legends of the origin of the holy places and lists of the mythical events that took place there. It also notes disturbances that affected sacred places and religious images in the author’s time. The ruler of India at the time of writing was the Muslim Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq, whose 26-year reign was tumultuous and unsettled.

Māhātmyas celebrate the greatness of a holy place through associated legends, its various names and so on. Many of the māhātmyas are dedicated to Shatrunjaya, assuredly the paramount holy place for Śvetāmbaras.

The devotional songs referring to holy places either extol a place itself or the particular Jina image associated with it. The hymns are chanted on pilgrimages to these places or when models and paintings of the places are seen on daily visits to the temple.

Sacred places in visual art

This paṭa or cloth wall-hanging shows eight major pilgrimage centres and their associated events. In the centre is the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, in Pāvāpurī, where he was liberated. The other major Jinas are also represented, as are the pilgrims who visit.

Worlds of gods and saviours
Image by San Diego Museum of Art © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Edwin Binney 3rd Collection

Holy places are thought of the proper destination of Jain pilgrimages. The most famous, especially those favoured by the Śvetāmbara sect, are a commonplace sight in many temples. They usually take the form of:

  • bas-reliefs or sculptures on temple walls
  • metal plaques or panels
  • cloth-hangings on temple walls called paṭas
  • mural paintings from all periods, including contemporary, in Śvetāmbara or Digambara temples.

Girnar, Shatrunjaya and Sammet Shikar are among those most frequently represented. But there are also paṭas featuring all sorts of holy places (Treasures of Jaina Bhaṇḍāras: 42).

The murals and cloth-hangings in particular are often detailed topographical maps showing all the sacred spots of a site, complete with captions. Still being created today by local artists, these pieces of art became more frequently made from the 17th century onwards.

One instance of relief carving is in a temple at Ranakpur, showing a combined representation of the temple-cities of Shatrunjaya and Girnar. It has stylised carvings of temples, standing Jinas, chariots and ponds. The peaceful atmosphere is symbolised by a snake and a peacock, which are normally natural enemies (Jain and Fischer 1978: plate XXXIb).

Depicting pilgrimage destinations is a way of guaranteeing the presence of these holy sites at all times and for all followers. On their regular visits to the local temple, worshippers perform a circumambulation. During this ritual walk around the sacred ground of the temple, they look at all the religious objects illustrated there. Mentally, they are transported to these sacred places by the sight of paintings or hangings of them (Jain and Fischer 1978: plate XXXIIa).

Importantly, the artworks are also surrogates for the physical journey of pilgrimage. All prescriptive texts consider this possibility for people who are ill, old or do not have the chance of taking a trip to distant places. In addition, pilgrimages are forbidden – or at least not encouraged – during the rainy season, for practical as well as religious reasons.

These paintings and hangings are also used during rituals or religious commemorations connected with these sacred places. Lay people sit in the temple hall and listen to the sermon of a mendicant, who shows the various holy spots linked to a given legend (Granoff, Victorious Ones: 276–281; Van Alphen: 128, figure 54 and pages 128 to 131; Hawon Ku 2007).

Geographical distribution of sacred places

Kailāśā Parvata or Mount Kailash is a Himalayan mountain often believed to be equivalent to the mythical peak of Aṣṭāpada. A very holy place for Jains, Mount Aṣṭāpada is where Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, gained salvation

Location of Mount Kailash
Image by University of Texas © CC-PD-Mark

There are Jain sacred places all over India and it is impossible to list all of them here. Several illustrated books published in India by various Jain organisations or managing trusts describe them by state. Titles such as Jain Sacred Places of India generally provide basic geographical and practical information, with a few photographs of the temples and their main images. A look at such publications shows how extensive the lists of holy places can be.

The distribution of religiously significant places on Indian territory is linked with historical factors and Jains' periodic migrations or establishment of settlements.

The map of Jain sacred geography is continually changing, with hierarchies of temples and religious sites evolving over time. There are some places that boast local fame while others enjoy a supra-regional status and contribute to defining community identity.

Śvetāmbaras consider a group of five holy places – pañca tīrthas – to be the most prominent:

In the medieval period, strategies developed to expand the circuit of pilgrimage sites and to promote new places, as older ones became inaccessible, or to call attention to fresh places and new celebrations.

Eastern India

As the place where the last Jina, Mahāvīra, reached liberation, Pāvāpurī in the modern state of Bihar is an extremely sacred site. The Jal Mandir is a temple built in the middle of a lotus-filled lake, on the spot where Mahāvīra died

Path to Jal mandir at Pāvāpurī
Image by Panchawatkar © CC BY-SA 3.0

The eastern part of India, especially that area corresponding to the modern states of Bihar and Jharkhand, was where Mahāvīra was born, lived and taught. Some important holy places are connected with events in his life and in the lives of other Jinas.

For example, Pāvāpurī is the small place where Mahāvīra died. Every year it becomes a vibrant pilgrimage site at the time of the Dīvālī festival, which commemorates Mahāvīra's liberation. Sammet Shikhar – also known as Sammeta Śikhara – is the mountain where 20 out of the 24 Jinas attained nirvāṇa or mokṣa.

Western India

Temples on Mount Girnār overlook the city of Junagadh, Gujarat. One of the most famous Jain temple-cities, Girnār has temples built by both of the main Jain sects. It is sacred because the 22nd Jina, Lord Nemi, attained final liberation there.

Temples on Mount Girnār
Image by peteranddorota © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Several places holy to the Jains, some of them globally famous, are found in western India, an area where Jainism has always flourished. The Śvetāmbaras are dominant here and many sites are associated with this sect.

The best known sacred places are:

  • Mount Girnar
  • Mount Shatrunjaya
  • Mount Abu.

In eastern Gujarat, Mount Girnar is associated with Neminātha or Lord Nemi and is significant for both Śvetāmbara and Digambara sects.

Mount Shatrunjaya, near the village of Palitana in Gujarat, is considered the 'king of sacred places' – tīrthādhirāja – by the Śvetāmbaras. It is undoubtedly their most prestigious and famous tīrtha.

Found near the village of Delvara in southern Rajasthan, Mount Abu is famous for the marble temples erected there between the 11th and 13th centuries. This temple-city is an architectural jewel as much as a site of pilgrimage.

But there are many more holy sites in this part of India, such as Kumbharia, Taranga Hill, Sankheswhar, Kesariyaji, and Idar.

Delhi area

Hastinapur is a prehistoric site Jains consider holy because it is associated with events in the lives of four of the Jinas:

  • Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu
  • Aranātha or Lord Ara
  • Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti
  • Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha.

Over the last 40 to 50 years Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras have developed it in different directions and now it occupies a prominent spot on the map of Jain religious geography. In recent decades it has become particularly well known as a Śvetāmbara destination for the Akṣaya-tṛtīyā celebration. Commemorating the fast-breaking of the first Jina Ṛṣabha, the festival draws thousands of pilgrims to witness the completing of the varṣītap fast.

Central India

Huge statues at Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh of the 24 Jinas, whose teachings show the path to liberation from the cycle of birth. Cut into the rock face, the figures were carved in the 15th century and may have been designed to survive the end of the world

Jinas at Gwalior
Image by Werner Van Der Cruyssen © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

In Madhya Pradesh Digambara Jains are more prominent. They have left their imprint in several sacred sites of historical importance, as monuments and archaeological remains show.

Khajuraho and Deogarh have a special significance with regard to the history of art and architecture from the ninth century onwards.

Gwalior is known for its gigantic statues of Jinas carved in the stone of the fort. In particular, it demonstrates a glamorous Jain presence in the 15th century, thanks to the combined impact of Jain mendicant communities, literary figures such as Raïdhū and royal patronage.

Mahavirji, Sonagiri and Shivpuri are examples of three smaller sites that have gained wider exposure in recent times.

Maharashtra

The temple-city of Mukta-giri is, unusually, set in a valley in a mountain range instead of on a hilltop. Set around a waterfall, the 52 temples are Digambara, some of them dating back to the 15th century

Mukta-giri temple-city
Image by mAhEsH bAseDiA – Mahesh Basedia © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In this central Indian state the main Jain sacred places are chiefly Digambara. Among the many sites of religious importance in Maharashtra are Ellora, Karanja and Muktagiri.

The site of Ellora with its ancient Jain caves is an old site with important archaeological remains. The cave temples and their surrounds demonstrate rock-carvings and elaborate architecture.

In contrast, places such as Karanja and Muktagiri are living holy places with famous temples.

South India

The Saavira Kambada Basadi in Mudrabidri is known by several names, including the Thousand Pillar Temple. Dedicated to Candraprabha-svāmi, the eighth Jina, the temple was completed in 1430. The village in Karnataka is a popular pilgrimage site.

Thousand Pillar Temple
Image by rjstyles – Riju K © CC BY 2.0

According to the Jain tradition, a 12-year-long famine led to the migration of part of the community to southern India in the third century BCE. It is said to have been led by Bhadrabāhu, the religious teacher, and the Maurya emperor, Candragupta. Reaching the area corresponding to modern Karnataka, they are believed to have ended their lives by performing the ritual of fasting unto death on the Candra-giri at Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa.

In Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and, to a lesser extent, in Kerala, there are long-settled Digambara communities. The numerous holy places in these regions signal their presence as far back as the first centuries BCE.

The main holy sites that are still thriving and attracting pilgrims, in particular on the occasion of festivals, are:

  • Shravana Belgola in Karnataka
  • Mudabidri in Karnataka
  • Humcha in Karnataka
  • Gommatagiri in Karnataka
  • Melsittamur in Tamil Nadu
  • Ponnur in Tamil Nadu.

Numerous other sites that have now fallen out of use were prestigious at one time, as various remains show. Examples include Sirudkadumbur and Valathy in Tamil Nadu, which feature rock-beds with inscriptions where Jain ascetics ended their lives by fasting to death. The rocks are often engraved with inscriptions and Jina images. There is a plethora of caves where ascetics stayed in retreat, which are also sculpted with Jina images. Aihole and Badami in Karnataka are famous examples of such sites. Finally, there are abundant temples in south Indian style to be found in the area. Famous ones include the Karnataka sites of Pattadakal, Hampi, Humcha and Moodbidri while Melsittamur is the best known in Tamil Nadu.

Age and identification of holy places

Being rooted in the past is a determining factor in the definition of Jain sacred places. A recurring concern in Jain guidebooks, whether older or modern, is to establish the connection between the traditional name of a holy site and its actual location. This is not an easy task because names may have changed in the course of time.

From the late 19th century onwards the age of holy sites became an issue in India, parallel to progress in excavations and archaeology. For contemporary Jains it has become politically and culturally important to stress that their tradition is both old and distinct and that they form a separate community within Indian society. The dominance of various religious groups in India in different periods means that Jains have always had to struggle to be heard. Archaeological remains are proof of the antiquity of the distinct Jain identity.

Jains and Hindus

Mount Girnār has been a famed holy site for both Jains and Hindus for centuries. The highest point in Gujarat, the mountain has hundreds of Jain and Hindu temples on the steep slopes of its five peaks and even at their summits.

Peaks of Mount Girnār
Image by Le Batteur De Lune © CC BY-NC 2.0

It is interesting to note that several Jain holy places of antiquity are also names of well known early historical and religious centres, quite apart from their association with Jainism. Some of them, like Banaras and Ayodhyā, have been known as Hindu holy spots from the earliest times. It is likely that the Jains were keen on establishing a connection with them to claim their place as 'an ancient component of the north Indian religious environment' (Dundas 2002: 220).

Archaeological findings and historical sources show how several sites have not been associated with one religious community for eternity. They may have changed hands or were used simultaneously by different faiths.

One example is Mount Abu in southern Rajasthan, a Jain holy place from the 11th century onwards. These Jain associations were preceded by a Hindu presence. In fact Mount Abu was known as a place where a ceremony for the Hindu Rajput class was held. The story in the chronicles of the Kharatara-gaccha, a Śvetāmbara monastic order present in western India from the 12th century onwards, points to competition between religions. A Jain religious teacher found an image of the Jina Ṛṣabhanatha or Lord Ṛṣabha by the temple dedicated to the local Hindu goddess Arbudā. This was the justification for a Jain temple but the local Hindus allowed this only after the Jains paid them for land on which to build the temple (Dundas 2002: 221). Such stories show how both Hindus and Jains had claims to the place and how such potential conflicts could be resolved.

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.

New holy places

The Jain temple in Phoenix, Arizona in the USA, is called the Jain Center of Greater Phoenix. It was completed in December 2008 to a contemporary design.

Jain Center of Greater Phoenix
Image by Vijay J Sheth © CC BY-SA 3.0

Jains consider the creation of new sacred places as a manifestation of their presence and dynamism in India. In areas where they are numerous, they invest a lot of money in the erection of new temples, which become the focus of new holy places. This may be observed not just in India but in places around the world where the Jain diaspora has settled in some numbers.

Where the site owes its sanctity to the birth or death of a religious teacher, the connection with the past that is so essential in making a place holy clearly exists. Examples are Ladnun in Rajasthan and the Vallabh Smarak near Delhi.

Even so, there are holy places that are totally new. Mostly, their construction is motivated by a Jain mendicant, who asks his followers to invest in it and thus marks his presence. A recent example is that of Ayodhyapuram in Vallabhipur, in Gujarat, on the road from Ahmedabad to Bhavanagar. The temple here has a distinctly new shape. The main novelty is a gigantic seated statue of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, measuring seven metres tall and weighing 350 tonnes. Even in this case, a link with the past is claimed – the idea is to present the first Jina with the physical measurements given in the scriptures.

This is just one instance of the unfolding map of Jain geography. Increasing numbers of holy places in the 20th and 21st centuries show the unlimited creativity of Jains in finding new means to assert their presence in the Indian environment and beyond. Jains living outside India must reconcile the old with the new. Creating brand-new religious spaces requires strategies that do not necessarily connect a tīrtha with a Jina's life, but find other ways of making a place holy.

Images

  • Mount Girnar in the mist Here swathed in the mist of early morning, Mount Girnar is one of the most celebrated temple-cities of the Jains. Sacred to both Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains, Girnar is a major pilgrimage site, attracting thousands to the temples on its peaks.. Image by Dhwani Bhatt © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Twenty Jinas This manuscript painting is of 20 Jinas. These are very probably the Jinas between Ṛṣabha, the first one, and Nemi, the 22nd. Omniscient and seated in the lotus pose of meditation, they have bumps on the crowns of their heads, which signifies great wisdom. As spiritual kings, they wear jewels although their elongated earlobes are reminders that they gave up earthly riches to become mendicants. Their jewellery and open eyes are characteristic of Jina images of the Śvetāmbara sect.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Bhadrabāhu’s sacred footprints Sacred footprints in Bhadrabāhu’s Cave on Candra-giri at the pilgrimage site of Shravana Belgola, Karnataka. These footprints – caraṇa – are considered to be those of the 3rd-century sage Bhadrabāhu, who fasted to death at Shravana Belgola. The flowers and powders on the footprints are evidence of a ritual of worship which devout pilgrims have performed recently. . Image by Ilya Mauter © CC BY-SA 2.5
  • Nākoḍā Bhairava An image of Nākoḍā Bhairava in Prakrit Bharati Academy in Jaipur, Rajasthan. This replica of the original figure is decorated with flower offerings. Nākoḍā Bhairava is a very popular protective god in the Śvetāmbara Pārśvanātha temple in Nākoḍā, Rajasthan. His popularity means that reproductions of the original statue are found throughout India and beyond.. Image by Knut Aukland © Knut Aukland
  • Mount Kailash Kailāśā Parvata or Mount Kailash is a mountain in the Himalayas often thought to be the earthly version of Mount Aṣṭāpada. Aṣṭāpada is the mythical place where the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, reached liberation. It is thus an extremely holy place to Jains. . Image by reurinkjan © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Temples at Mount Shatrunjaya One of the holiest of Śvetāmbara pilgrimage sites, Mount Shatrunjaya has nearly a thousand temples. This temple-city outside the town of Palitana in Gujarat has a special connection with Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. Also called Ādinātha or Adishvar, meaning ‘First Lord’, he is the first Jina and is worshipped in the largest and most conspicuous temple on the site, called the Adishvar Temple.. Image by JAINA © public domain
  • Worlds of gods and saviours This 15th-century paṭa or cloth wall-hanging shows eight major pilgrimage sites and their associated events. In the centre is the last Jina, Mahāvīra, in Pāvāpurī, where he was liberated. The concentric circles below represent Nandīśvara-dvīpa, the continent where the gods worship the Jinas. In the top left is a red idol in a temple on Mount Śatruñjaya. Below is a temple with statues of the 24 Jinas. Underneath, five pilgrims climb the steep hill to a temple dedicated to Pārśva, the 23rd Jina. He is the green figure with the snake headdress. At the top right is Mount Girnār, sacred to the 22nd Jina, Nemi. His jilted fiancée Rājīmatī stands behind the pilgrims. Beneath them is Sammet Shikara, where 20 Jinas reached enlightenment. At the bottom right, the temple of Jiravala Pārśvanātha shows pilgrims being sheltered and fed.. Image by San Diego Museum of Art © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Edwin Binney 3rd Collection
  • Location of Mount Kailash Kailāśā Parvata or Mount Kailash is a Himalayan mountain often believed to be equivalent to the mythical peak of Aṣṭāpada. A very holy place for Jains, Mount Aṣṭāpada is where Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, gained salvation from the cycle of rebirth.. Image by University of Texas © CC-PD-Mark
  • Path to Jal mandir at Pāvāpurī As the place where the last Jina, Mahāvīra, reached liberation, Pāvāpurī in the modern state of Bihar is an extremely sacred site. The Jal Mandir is a temple built in the middle of a lotus-filled lake, on the spot where Mahāvīra died.. Image by Panchawatkar © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Temples on Mount Girnār The temples on the peaks of Mount Girnār overlook the city of Junagadh, Gujarat. One of the most famous Jain temple-cities, Girnār has temples built by both of the main Jain sects, the Digambaras and the Śvetāmbaras. It is sacred to all Jains because the 22nd Jina, Neminātha or Lord Nemi, attained final liberation here.. Image by peteranddorota © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Jinas at Gwalior Huge statues at Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh depict the 24 Jinas, whose teachings show the path to liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Cut into the rock face, these figures were carved by Digambaras in the 15th century and may have been designed to survive the end of the world, which some Jains viewed as linked to the spread of Islamic power.. Image by Werner Van Der Cruyssen © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Mukta-giri temple-city The temple-city of Mukta-giri is, unusually, set in a valley in a mountain range instead of on a hilltop. Set around a waterfall, the 52 temples are Digambara, some of them dating back to the 15th century.. Image by mAhEsH bAseDiA – Mahesh Basedia © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Thousand Pillar Temple The Saavira Kambada Basadi in Mudrabidri is known by several names, including the Thousand Pillar Temple. Dedicated to Candraprabha-svāmi or Lord Candraprabha, the eighth Jina, the temple was completed in 1430. The village of Mudrabidri in Karnataka is a popular pilgrimage site thanks to its striking temples and holy scriptures.. Image by rjstyles – Riju K © CC BY 2.0
  • Peaks of Mount Girnār Mount Girnār has been a famed holy site for both Jains and Hindus for centuries. The highest point in Gujarat, the mountain has hundreds of Jain and Hindu temples on the steep slopes of its five peaks and even at their summits.. Image by Le Batteur De Lune © CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Quwwat al-Islam mosque The Quwwat al-Islam mosque in Delhi was built in the late 12th century on the orders of 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.. Image by Nasser Rabbat © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Pilgrims at Mount Sammeta 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 both Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras and attracts numerous pilgrims.. Image by Deeeep – Deepak Mehta © CC BY-NC 2.0
  • Pilgrim prays at Mount Shatrunjaya 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.. Image by Marina & Enrique © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Jain Center of Greater Phoenix The Jain temple in Phoenix, Arizona in the USA, is called the Jain Center of Greater Phoenix. It was completed in December 2008 to a contemporary design.. Image by Vijay J Sheth © CC BY-SA 3.0

Further Reading

‘Understanding Possession in Jainism: A Study of Oracular Possession in Nakoda’
Knut Aukland
Modern Asian Studies
edited by Joya Chatterji
volume FirstView
Cambridge University Press; July 2012

Full details

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

Full details

Jainism in Tamilnadu
Nalini Balbir
, Karine Ladrech and N. Murugesan and K. Ramesh Kumar
Institut Français de Pondichéry; Puducherry, India; forthcoming

Full details

Organizing Jainism in India and England
Marcus Banks
Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology series; volume 3
Clarendon Press; Oxford, UK; 1992

Full details

‘Historical Consciousness in Theravāda Buddhism and Śvetāmbara Jainism at the Turn of the Century and its Impact on the Attitude to Places of Religious and Historical Significance’
Torkel Brekke
Jainism and Early Buddhism in the Indian Cultural Context: Essays in Honor of Padmanabh S. Jaini
edited by Olle Qvarnström
Asian Humanities Press; Fremont, California, USA; 2003

Full details

The Temples of Śatruñjaya: the Celebrated Jaina Place of Pilgrimage, near Pālitāṇā in Kathiawad
James Burgess
Gujarat State Committee for the celebration of 2500th Anniversary of Bhagwan Mahavira Nirvan; Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India; 1976

Full details

‘Passions of Nation and Community in the Bahubali Affair’
Michael Carrithers
Modern Asian Studies
volume 22: 4
Cambridge University Press; 1988

Full details

‘Monts sacrés et alchimie jaina au Moyen Age: L’Ujjayantakalpa de Jinaprabhasūri’
Christine Chojnacki
Vividharatnakaraṇḍaka: Festgabe für Adelheid Mette
edited by Christine Chojnacki, Jens-Uwe Hartmann and Volker M. Tschannerl
Indica et Tibetica series; volume 37
Indica et Tibetica; Swisttal-Odendorf, North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; 2000

Full details

Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India
John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘Medieval Jain Accounts of Mt. Girnar and Satrunjaya: Visible and Invisible Sacred Realms’
Phyllis Granoff
Journal of the Oriental Institute
volume XLIX: 1–2
Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1999

Full details

Victorious Ones: Jain Images of Perfection
Phyllis Granoff
Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd and Rubin Museum of Art, New York; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India and New York, USA; 2009

Full details

‘Creating Sacred Space in Medieval Jainism: Some Case Studies’
Phyllis Granoff
Journal Asiatique
volume 297: 2
Peeters; 2009

Full details

Re-Formation of Identity: The 19th-century Jain Pilgrimage Site of Shatrunjaya, Gujarat
Kim Hawon Ku
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Minnesota in March 2007

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

Jaina Iconography
Jyotindra Jain
and Eberhard Fischer
Iconography of Religions – Indian Religions series; volume 13: 12 and 13
Institute of Religious Iconography, State University of Groningen; E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1978

Full details

‘The Pilgrimage to Shatrunjaya: Refining Shvetambara Identity’
Andrea Luithle-Hardenberg
An Anthropology of Values – essays in honour of Georg Pfeffer
edited by Peter Berger, Roland Hardenberg, Ellen Kattner and Michael Prager
Pearson Longman; Delhi, India; 2010

Full details

‘The “99fold“ pilgrimage to Shatrunjaya: A case study of young women’s embodiment of Jaina tradition’
Andrea Luithle-Hardenberg
Svasti – essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah
edited by Nalini Balbir
Muddushree Granthamala series; volume 75
K. S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust; Bangalore, Karnataka, India; 2010

Full details

Die Reise zum Ursprung: Die Pilgerschaft der Śvetāmbara-Jaina zum Berg Śatrunjaya in Gujarat, Indien
Andrea Luithle-Hardenberg
Manya Verlag; Munich, Bavaria, Germany; 2011

Full details

Śrāddhavidhiprakaraṇa
Ratnaśekhara-sūri
Śreṣṭhi-Devacanda-Lālbhāī-Jaina Pustakoddhara Fund series; volume 106
Surat, Gujarat, India; 1960

Full details

Treasures of Jaina Bhandāras
Umakant Premanand Shah
L. D. series; volume 69
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1978

Full details

Paṭadarśana (Tīrthaṃkara praṇīta dharmadeśanā antargata Śatruṃjaya māhātmya): The glory of Shatrunjaya as depicted in a 19th Century Jain scroll
Kalpana K. Sheth
and Nalini Balbir
Jain Vishva Bharati University; Ladnun, Rajasthan, India;

Full details

Jain tīrthoṃ kā aitihāsik adhyayan
Shivaprasad
Parshvanath Vidyashram Granthamala series; volume 56
Parshwanath Vidyapeeth; Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1991

Full details

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

Full details

Travels in Western India: embracing a visit to the sacred mounts of the Jains and the most celebrated shrines of Hindu faith between Rajpootana and the Indus, with an account of the ancient city of Nehrwalla
James Tod
Munshiram Manoharlal; New Delhi, India; 1997

Full details

Steps to Liberation: 2500 Years of Jain Art and Religion
Jan van Alphen
Etnografisch Museum Antwerpen; Antwerp, Belgium; 2000

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

Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras
Robert Williams
London Oriental series; volume XIV
Oxford University Press; London, UK; 1963

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.

Aṣṭāpada

Legendary mountain where Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, was liberated. Mount Kailāsa in the Himalayas is frequently thought to be this mountain.

Auspicious

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

Candragupta

Founder and first ruler of the Mauryan Empire, Candragupta (circa 340–298 BCE; ruled from circa 320 BCE) is an important figure in Jain history. According to Digambara tradition he abdicated his throne to become a monk and followed the sage Bhadrabāhu. The pair fasted to death at Shravana Belgola and are commemorated there.

Cult

Religious activity centred around a deity or saintly figure. Religious rituals are performed regularly to the god or goddess, who may be represented in images or relics or found in natural features such as springs and trees. Shrines and temples are frequently built at the site of a cult and pilgrims arrive to worship the deity.

Deity

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

Diaspora

From the Greek term meaning 'scattering or dispersal', the word 'diaspora' describes large groups of people with shared roots who live away from their ancestral homes. They have usually moved because they were forced to by other groups, because they have fled war, famine or persecution, or to improve economic opportunies. They usually have strong emotional, religious, linguistic, social and economic ties to their original homeland.

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.

Donor

A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.

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. 

Gaṇeśa

The elephant-headed Hindu god, who is popular among believers in many Indian religions. He is known as the remover of obstacles, a god of new beginnings and patron of arts and sciences, intellect and wisdom. He is commonly invoked by Jain authors and scribes.

Gujarāt

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

Hindu

Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.

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.

Iconoclasm

From the Greek for 'image-breaking', iconoclasm is hostility towards items of religious or political importance, which may lead to their destruction. Iconoclasts hold iconoclastic beliefs.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

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.

Jambū-dvīpa

The innermost island-continent in the Middle World, in Jain cosmology. It is divided into seven continents separated by six mountain ranges. It takes its name - 'Rose-Apple Continent' - from a rock formation that resembles a rose-apple tree, which is found on Mount Meru in the centre of the island.

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.

Karnataka

State in south-west India.

Kevala-jñāna

Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

Kharatara-gaccha

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

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.

Māhārāṣṭra

Bordering on the Arabian Sea, Māhārāṣṭra in central India is the third-largest and the richest state in India. Its capital is Mumbai and the official language is Marathi.

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.

Miracle

An extraordinary event that cannot be explained by natural causes or human effort and therefore is believed to be caused by divine or supernatural powers.

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.

Mount Sammeta

Mountain in the north-eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, which is also known as Sammeta Śikhara and Pārasnātha Hill. Twenty Jinas and many other Jain saints attained liberation there, and it is the site of auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – connected with many Jinas. It is thus one of the holiest places for Jains, with numerous temples attracting thousands of pilgrims each year.

Muhammad bin Tughlaq

Second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty, from 1325 to 1351. He expanded Tughlaq control across much of the Indian subcontinent and shifted the capital to Daulatabad in the Deccan.

Muslim

A Muslim, or ‘one who submits to God’ in Arabic, follows the religion of Islam, which means ‘peace’. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last in a line of prophets. The complete word of Allah or God was revealed to Muhammad in the sixth century CE and set down in the Arabic Qur’an or ‘recitation’. Nearly all Muslims belong to either the Shia or Sunni sects, with Sunni Muslims comprising around 90% of Islamic believers.

Nandīśvara-dvīpa

The 15th continent in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. It is religiously important as the place where gods come together to celebrate festivities in its 52 temples. The Nandīśvara-dvīpa is often carved in stone models or slabs found in Jain temples, where they are worshipped. This is especially common among Digambaras.

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.

Pādukā

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

Pāṇḍava

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

Pāraṇā

The ritual in which a faster ends his or or her fast.

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.

Paṭa

Decorative map of a holy site. A paṭa is used for 'mental pilgrimage'bhāva-yātrā – during which devotees contemplate the paṭa and complete a pilgrimage by moving around the temples in their minds.

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.

Rainy season

The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.

Rajasthan

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

Rajput

An ethnic group probably descended from warrior castes, who claim their ancestors were Hindu gods. Rajput clans dominated large parts of the northern, western and central areas of the Indian subcontinent from around the sixth century until the rise of the Mughal Empire. After the Mughals fell, Rajput princes ruled many of the 'princely states' of the British Raj.

Rāma

An avatar of Viṣṇu, the preserver or protector who is one of the three major Hindu gods. Rāma is a prince of Ayodhyā and is often shown with blue skin, holding a bow and arrow. The epic poem Rāmāyaṇa recounts his adventures as he searches for his wife Sītā, who has been kidnapped by Rāvaṇa. Blending Jain values into the story, the Jain Rāmāyaṇas cast him and other figures in the tale as some of the 'great men' of Jain Universal History.

Relic

An item from the past that has religious significance and is thus venerated as a sacred object. It is usually something that belonged to or was associated with a holy figure or event, for example a saint's clothing or body part, such as a bone.

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.

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.

Saṇgha

Sanskrit for 'community'. The Jain ‘fourfold community’ is composed of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women.

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.

Shrine

A small structure holding an image or relics, which may be within a temple or building designed for worship. A shrine may be a portable object. Worshippers pray and make offerings at a shrine, which is often considered sacred because of associations with a deity or event in the life of a holy person.

Śiva

The principal destroyer or transformer deity in the Hindu religion. One of the triad of major Hindu gods, along with Brahmā the creator and Viṣṇu the preserver or protector. Śiva is often depicted with a third eye, a crescent moon on his forehead, matted hair and smeared with cremation ashes.

Śrī

Hindu goddess of wealth, Śrī is the personification of spiritual energy and is closely associated with the lotus. Also a name for Lakṣmī, Hindu goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth.

Sultan

Title for a ruler in some Muslim societies.

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.

Temple-city

A cluster of many temples built so close together that they form a group as large as a small town or city. No one lives in a temple-city, which has no shops or other buildings found in normal towns, because it is dedicated to worship. Consisting solely of temples and other religious buildings, usually linked by streets, a temple-city is visited by pilgrims and priests.

Tīrtha

A place that has become sacred owing to its connection with a Jina or another holy figure. It becomes a place of pilgrimage because one of the auspicious events of his life took place there. In another meaning the word refers to the Jain community of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women, or can be used for a mendicant, viewed as a ‘walking tīrtha'.

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