Contributed by Nalini Balbir
As in other Indian religious traditions, ‘pilgrimage’ in Jainism is known as tīrtha-yātrā – 'going to a sacred place'. It is a Sanskrit term in common use even in modern Indian languages of north India. In earlier times, when travelling was done on foot, the word ‘pilgrimage’ was understood as meaning the complete journey. In today’s understanding, when most lay people use mechanical means of transportation, such as trains or cars, the yātrā is understood to imply only the part accomplished on foot. In many cases, when the main sacred centre is on top of a hill, climbing to the summit forms a key episode in the pilgrim’s progress.
Not all Jain sects perform pilgrimages. Only the sects that worship images and have temples undertake these spiritual journeys. A place normally becomes a destination for pilgrims because of its connection with a Jina. Sites associated with prominent religious teachers may also become pilgrimage attractions. Jain mendicants are permanent pilgrims and visits to holy places are part of their daily life. They may also keep specific vows on their journey to a certain site. Ascetics also encourage the laity to organise travel to distant places. In both the past and present, monks and nuns are often the driving forces behind the creation of new holy places and, consequently, new pilgrimages.
Pilgrimage may be mental or physical for Jains. Artworks in temples and homes provide the focus of concentration for mental journeys, which are quite common and gain a lot of karmic merit. Jains chiefly undertake pilgrimages for the spiritual benefits they bring. This is partly related to the normal lifestyle of ascetics that lay Jains adopt before and during pilgrimage. The physical discomforts of mendicant lifestyle are accompanied by meditation and a focus on religious teachings instead of everyday life. Going on pilgrimage is also an important method of strengthening faith and binding Jains together, as they share hardships along the way and the joy of reaching their destination.
Usually undertaken outside the rainy season, pilgrimages are commonly timed to finish on a holy day. Sites associated with certain Jinas, events or individuals often see great crowds of pilgrims on commemorative festivals.
Despite the longstanding significance of pilgrimage for Jains, it is difficult to determine when it became an institution. From the 14th century onwards, it becomes a prescribed religious activity in the handbooks of rules governing the lives of lay people – śrāvakācāra. There are numerous descriptions or reports from this period showing that pilgrimages were an important part of religious life, although they were not compulsory.
Defined by the presence of temples and images – mūrti – Jain holy places are the focus of pilgrimage mainly for Jains who believe in image-worship. Well-known examples include Mount Shatrunjaya and Shravana Belgola.
Holy sites are usually sanctified by events connected with a Jina or a leading religious figure. The 14th-century Śvetāmbara author Ratnaśekhara-sūri defines a pilgrimage – tīrtha-yātrā – 'as meaning the visiting of such places as Shatrunjaya and Raivata [= Girnar] where the atmosphere is hallowed by association with the birth, initiation, enlightenment, or nirvāṇa of tīrthaṅkaras' (Williams 1963: 235).
Jains of all sects are often willing to undertake a pilgrimage to the place where a Jain mendicant they think of as their special guru stays for a time. A mendicant is regarded as a 'moving tīrtha' – jangama-tīrtha.
The concept of completing a mental pilgrimage is codified in Jainism and known as bhāva-yātrā. The pilgrims do not journey to the holy place physically. Instead, they are transported there mentally when they view cloth hangings – paṭas – on which the prominent tīrthas of sacred places such as Shatrunjaya, Girnar, Sammet Shikhar and others are depicted.
These pictures are displayed permanently in temples or brought out occasionally on special days for the benefit of all. Many Jains keep photographs, magnets or traditional paintings of these places in their homes as well.
This form of pilgrimage is a substitute for bodily pilgrimage, especially for people who cannot travel because of illness or physical condition. This kind of journey is also made during the rainy season, when pilgrimages are generally not undertaken. A mental pilgrimage is not necessarily considered less meritorious than the physical journey. On the contrary, Jain ascetics tend to consider it the highest form of pilgrimage.
There are a few main reasons Jain followers perform a pilgrimage.
Jain teachers and devotees alike give spiritual progress as the first reason. Karmic effects, positive or negative, are regarded as being more powerful in sacred places. In these places not only are sins removed more easily but merits are acquired more easily as well.
One important pilgrimage motivation is to have or take the darśana of the Jina image, meaning to see and worship it. The Jinas, who are at the centre of Jain sacred sites, are not worshipped to gain worldly benefits. Thus, in principle, Jains do not expect a miracle or improvement in their own lives after completing a pilgrimage to a Jain sacred place.
Sometimes Jains go on pilgrimage for other reasons. For example, Jains who want children often turn to family deities, who can intervene in affairs of the world because they are not liberated beings, yet have magical powers. They may undertake pilgrimages to their ancestral villages to visit deities associated with their family history.
In addition, curative powers are often attached to natural features in sacred places, such as trees and ponds. For instance, while visiting pilgrimage destinations, Jains may include stops at these natural features in the hope of curing infertility.
As a mostly group activity, a pilgrimage is also a period when the lay community’s cohesion is strengthened and faith refreshed. It is not compulsory but it is among favoured lay activities because it combines religious and recreational aspects.
The 18th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the fish or flower to Digambaras and the nandyāvarta to Śvetāmbaras.There is no historical evidence of his existence.
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.
The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future.
Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:
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.
Avoiding or stopping sexual relations, often after taking a religious vow. A celibate practises celibacy.
Vision, insight or perception. It works with the quality of jñāna – knowledge in the soul – to gain deep, true understanding and is ever-changing.
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.
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.
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.
Persian term for an imperial order or decree.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
Sanskrit term meaning both:
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:
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
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.
The 17th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the goat. There is no historical evidence of his existence.
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.
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.
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.
The Mughal Empire lasted from 1526 to 1858, a period noted for its wealth, overall religious tolerance, and cultural and intellectual achievements, particularly in art and architecture. Originally Muslims who swept down from Central Asia, the Mughals' best-known ruler is probably Akbar the Great (1556–1605).
Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.
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.
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.
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.
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.
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.
The official currency of India. One rupee is divided into 100 paise. First used in the 1540s, the name probably comes from the Sanskrit term rūpyakam, which means 'wrought silver' or a coin of silver.
The 16th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the deer. There is no historical evidence of his existence.
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.
Breaking a religious or moral principle, especially if this is done deliberately. Sinners commit sins or may sin by not doing something they are supposed to do.
'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.
'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.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.
A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.