Article: Pilgrimage

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.

Pilgrimage destinations

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

Defined by the presence of temples and imagesmūrti – 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.

Mental pilgrimage

This unusual paṭa or cloth wall-hanging of Mount Shatrunjaya depicts worldly life on the right, with green background, while the left-hand side shows Shatrunjaya. Mntal pilgrimage completed by meditating on a paṭa is considered equal to a physical journey

Paṭa of Mount Shatrunjaya
Image by Brooklyn Museum Collection © no known copyright

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.

Why go on a 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.

When to go on a pilgrimage

Pilgrims attending the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka – of the Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola in 2006 are seen clearly from the platform above the image. The 1008 pots of different consecrated substances can also be viewed.

View from above Bāhubali statue
Image by Mehool Sanghrajka © Mehool Sanghrajka

Pilgrimages are forbidden, or at least not encouraged, during the rainy season, for practical as well as religious reasons. Some holy sites are closed during this season. In other cases, site management organisations do not provide any of the normal facilities during this period. There are, however, disagreements on this point concerning pilgrimage to Shatrunjaya (Luithle-Hardenberg, The Pilgrimage, 2010: 337).

Some of the major Jain festivals are occasions for large-scale pilgrimages when they are either connected or often linked with a specific sacred place. Examples include the:

More generally, on special occasions believers commonly undertake pilgrimages to a place that houses an image said to have special powers, instead of going to the local temple.

Organising a pilgrimage

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

Nowadays the popular pilgrimage sites offer facilities to the thousands of religious visitors who journey there each year. Even so, arranging a pilgrimage is an important matter in religious life and a leading member of a lay community often does this. Bringing the official title of saṅgha-pati – 'lord of the community' – this prestigious position indicates considerable wealth and is a chance to earn religious merit.

In the past, a group of pilgrims would have had to cross dangerous places. It was customary for them to inform the local political authorities of their travel plans. In the Mughal period, they would issue formal edicts – farmāns – equal to official authorisation. This was a way the pilgrims could ensure some safety.

Rich and pious lay men, including kings or government ministers, often organised pilgrimages that involved huge crowds, along with servants and animals carrying food and water. Cloth paintings of sacred places – paṭas – often depict these pilgrimage processions in great detail. Departure was fixed for an auspicious day, with the planets in favourable positions. Stories of rich patrons organising pilgrimages, of journeys where hardships alternated with the satisfaction of witnessing miracles in shrines, are plentiful. A record of a 1935 pilgrimage from Ahmedabad to Shatrunjaya (Cort 1990: 290) provides the impressive numbers of:

  • 400 monks
  • 700 nuns
  • 15,000 laity
  • 1,300 bullock carts
  • 200 big tents
  • 900 small tents
  • 200 servants and cooks
  • 200 watchmen
  • 100 volunteers
  • a cost between 500,000 and 600,000 rupees.

Small pilgrimages last one day, but larger ones can last several days or weeks. In the past, organising a pilgrimage meant finding places to rest or stay overnight, where new pilgrims would join the group. Community networks were used so that along the way pilgrims could stay either with fellow Jains or in large halls or buildings known as sarāīs. Feasts were also organised on the journey.

Today, many of the prominent sacred places such as Shatrunjaya and Shravana Belgola provide modern accommodation and eating facilities for pilgrims. Here, pilgrims usually stay in rest-houses – dharma-śālās – which are organised partly by the managing trusts and by caste or regional organisations. Placed outside the holy site itself, dharma-śālās vary from the very simple, where pilgrims sleep in small cells, to the very luxurious, where the rooms have en-suite bathrooms. In places such as Palitana, these pilgrim hostels can be viewed as manifestations of local communities, and they reflect 'the divisions of the Śvetāmbara Jains according to local origin and to ascetic branches and sub-branches' (Luithle-Hardenberg, The Pilgrimage, 2010: 332). Pilgrims eat in refectories – bhojana-śālās – where they find purely vegetarian food conforming to the rules of Jain diet. The walls of the eating-hall are often adorned with portraits of the wealthy lay people who have donated money towards its establishment.

Elements of a pilgrimage

The steep path to the temples at Mount Shatrunjaya has around 4000 steps. Most visitors go on foot but those who are unable to climb so far can take a kind of palanquin – ḍolī – carried by two men, commonly called 'doli-wallahs'.

Steps to Shatrunjaya temples
Image by unknown © unknown

Before beginning their journey, pilgrims prepare by starting to live the mendicant lifestyle. Going on pilgrimage is the closest that most lay Jains come to the wandering life of monks and nuns, which is physically and mentally demanding. Mendicants are frequently found at pilgrimage destinations and may lead groups of pilgrims if they all travel on foot. Many Jain sacred places are located on top of hills where pilgrims are not allowed to stay overnight. Thus they usually complete the final stage of their journey in one day. The pilgrims climb up the sacred hill and tour the temples that make up the pilgrimage site. It is often a profoundly spiritual and emotional experience, increased by performing rites of worship in the holy place. Devotees also usually donate money to the management of the site, for upkeep of the temples and so on.

Jains who are planning to go on pilgrimage carry out mental preparation and special observances. These involve dietary restrictions, sleeping on the ground, meditating, abstaining from sexual relations and keeping to religious restraints. During the pilgrimage the followers aim to come as close as possible to mendicant life. They do not think any longer about the concerns of worldly life, for pilgrimage is a time to focus on religious discourse or teachings.

This is formalised in the so-called cha rī pālit among Śvetāmbaras from Gujarat, which emphasises six restrictions that people do not necessarily follow the rest of the time. The would-be pilgrims must:

  1. follow the strict dietary rules that only ascetics usually observe
  2. eat only once a day and not eat anything after sunset
  3. walk barefoot and not use any means of transportation
  4. sleep on the floor
  5. remain celibate
  6. perform the ritual of forgiveness by reasserting that all living beings are dear to them.

First, pilgrims arrive in the neighbouring village or town, where they stay and eat. Then they travel on foot up the hill, to reach the main temples. In some places, like Shravana Belgola, pilgrims have to walk barefoot, but even when this not a rule many people choose to do so. In places like Shatrunjaya, elderly or ill pilgrims can be carried up the steep hill in a ḍolī. This is a kind of individual seat on which the passenger sits cross-legged, which hangs from ropes attached to a bamboo pole carried between two men.

The ‘99fold’ – navanu – pilgrimage to Shatrunjaya (Luithle-Hardenberg 2010) is characterised by extreme asceticism and is an endurance challenge. Along with observing numerous restrictions, pilgrims who perform this have to complete the journey to the main temple on the top of the hill 108 times over two months.

Pilgrims frequently recite in a low voice or sing hymns along the way or when reaching the temples that are their destination. They often express their joy by spontaneously composing devotional poems.

A pilgrimage is complete when the devotee has visited all the sacred spots in a holy place and has had the 'sight' – darśana – of all the images there. In large pilgrimage centres like Mount Shatrunjaya there are several possible routes that allow the pilgrim to pass near each and every spot. A 'temple circuit' – caitya-paripāṭī – is a necessary part of pilgrimage. Modern guidebooks or publications of hymns provide lists of the temples to be covered, along with information about their location, the name of the main JinaJina image and so on.

Worship – pūjā – is performed in the same way it is in daily practice. However, special pūjā rites can also be organised for large group pilgrimages.

Mendicants are often seen at pilgrimage sites. For Mūrti-pūjak Jains, pilgrimage is a common activity. To some extent, the whole life of wandering – vihāra – of monks and nuns is a permanent pilgrimage, since holy places are where they often stop. They may also lead groups of laity on their pilgrimages in the rare cases where the whole journey is done on foot.

Pilgrims also make donations to the temple management.

A pilgrim’s experience

The 17th-century writer Banārasīdās casts his poem 'Navarasa' on the waters of the river Gomati after he rediscovers the Jain beliefs of his family. Banārasīdās later became regarded as the leader of the Adhyātma lay movement of northern India

Banārasīdās throws away his poem
Image by unknown © unknown

All Jain pilgrims experience the key moment that a pilgrimage represents in an individual’s life and spiritual development.

In the middle of the 17th century the Jain merchant Banārasīdāsas, who became a leading figure in the Adhamātya movement, reported his own experience in his memoirs. The party of pilgrims visits different holy sites during this single pilgrimage. Banārasīdāsas's response is representative of the general experience Jain pilgrims seem to have.

Vardhaman Kunwarji, a broker, had collected a company to go on pilgrimage; Banarasi joined the company of pilgrims. The pilgrimage was to Ahichhatrapur and Hastinapur. Banarasi left one early morning, taking his mother and wife with him. They sat in the carriage, all three, in a state of unbroken devotion for the entire journey. In Samvat 1675, at an auspicious hour in the month of Paush, they offered puja at Ahichhatrapur. Then they moved to Hastinapur, where they paid homage to the tirthankar[s] Shantinath, Kunthunath and Aranath. In honour of Shanti, Kunthu and Aranath, Banarasi composed a verse which he would recite every day with great devotion. […] After the pilgrimage, Banarasi’s heart filled with gladness. The company of pilgrims then turned towards Delhi.

Half a Story
translation by Chowdhuri, page 243, stanzas 579 ff.

This account describes simply the various stages of the spiritual and physical journey that form a pilgrimage.


  • 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
  • Paṭa of Mount Shatrunjaya This unusual paṭa or cloth wall-hanging of Mount Shatrunjaya is probably from the 18th century. Worldly life is depicted on the right, on a green background, while the left-hand side shows Shatrunjaya itself. The river runs down the left alongside the enclosures and temples of the pilgrimage site. Ādinātha, the first Jina, is the large white figure while to his right stand the five Pāṇḍava brothers, who were liberated on Shatrunjaya. The circle on the bottom right may represent the village of Palitana, with the shrines arranged as a samavasaraṇa. Jains can complete a mental pilgrimage – bhāva-yātrā – by meditating on the paṭa of a pilgrimage site. A mental pilgrimage is often considered better than a physical pilgrimage.. Image by Brooklyn Museum Collection © no known copyright
  • View from above Bāhubali statue Pilgrims attending the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka – of the Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola in 2006 are seen clearly from the platform above the image. The 1008 pots of different consecrated substances can also be viewed in front of the statue's feet. The ceremony involves pouring the pots' contents over the statue's head, creating spectacular waves of colour.. Image by Mehool Sanghrajka © Mehool Sanghrajka
  • 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
  • Steps to Shatrunjaya temples The steep path to the temples at Mount Shatrunjaya has around 4000 steps. Most visitors go on foot but those who are unable to climb so far can take a kind of palanquin – ḍolī. These are seats on which a visitor sits cross-legged, and which is slung on bamboo poles carried by two men, who are commonly called 'doli-wallahs'.. Image by unknown © unknown
  • Banārasīdās throws away his poem The 17th-century writer Banārasīdās casts his poem 'Navarasa' on the waters of the river Gomati after he rediscovers the Jain beliefs of his family. Banārasīdās later became regarded as the leader of the Adhyātma movement of northern India, in which Jain lay men discussed religious and philosophical issues.. Image by unknown © unknown

Further Reading

Ardhakathanak: A Half Story
translated by Rohini Chowdhury
Penguin Books India; New Delhi, India; 2009

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

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

‘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

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

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

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



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:

  • 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.


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:

  • a spiritual teacher
  • 'heavy', in contrast to laghu or ‘light'.


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.


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:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.


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

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.


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.

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