Contributed by Nalini Balbir
The Jains do not believe in gods or a god as creators of the world. The status of gods and goddesses among Jain followers is disputed. Some Jains do not worship deities but many Jains pay homage to gods and goddesses as mediators between the perfected souls of the Jinas and the imperfect world of human experience. Divine figures are very common in Jain temples and are frequently at the centre of religious rituals.
The focus of worship among Jains is the 24 Jinas. Believers respect and worship the Jinas, who are teachers and sources of the doctrine. The Jinas are fully liberated beings who have escaped the world of rebirths. They are perfect souls, who cannot, therefore, interact in any way with followers of the Jain religion. As unsurpassable models or ideals, they are beyond all possible requests coming from humans. They are thus totally different from gods, to whom worshippers pray to get various benefits.
The Jinas have reached the summit of the Jain universe – the siddha-śilā – and do not belong to any of the realms of the three worlds. In these kingdoms, however, lives a wide range of deities who are integrated into the system of Jain values to different extents. Living in allocated places in the Jain universe, the pantheon of Jain deities comprises various groups and some key individual figures. The divinities may have various roles and may be associated with concepts such as knowledge and worldly matters such as childbirth and wealth. Lesser gods are also worshipped in Jainism, who may be local divinities or sets of deities who represent or personify certain features or ideas.
Many of the major deities are known under the same names or different names in other Indian religious traditions. For example, Śrī or Lakṣmī is a major goddess for Hindus as well as Jains. Their Jain names may be identical to or in differing forms from those found in other Indian faiths. This does not necessarily mean that Jainism has 'borrowed' them. The origins of Jain gods and goddesses are complex and have to be specially investigated.
Although they may be members of groups of deities, some Jain divinities have personalities as individual figures and are worshipped as such. Associations with wealth or childbirth, for example, partly account for their popularity and they may be the focus of special religious rites.
Other Jain gods and goddesses are worshipped primarily as groups. There may not be much substantial difference among the individual members although each usually has divine attributes and a divine vehicle.
Evidence of the deities' presence in iconography around images of the Jinas or as independent figures is growing, with investigations being carried out in regions which had previously been neglected, such as Bihar and Bengal or Tamil Nadu. In addition, recent examinations of sculptures, such as Mevissen, show that groups of deities, such as the guardians of directions – dik-pālas – and the nine planets – nava-grahas – are more common than scholars had so far thought.
Some gods are local deities connected with specific places, who may be worshipped only by people from that area. However, some have gained broader popularity in recent decades, such as Nākoḍā Bhairava, whose appeal has spread far and wide from his original home in Rajasthan.
All these deities may be part of Tantric modes of worship, where they are invoked and their statues or paintings placed on diagrams – yantras – for meditation (Jhavery 1944: 331, etc.).
The sources of the Jain doctrine are the Jinas and the long route to liberation is an individual path. Gods and goddesses are part of the world of rebirths and are not self-controlled, instead demonstrating passions – kaṣāyas – as do human beings. Thus occasional voices deny that they have anything to do with the protection of Jain teaching and refuse their integration into the Jain system of values (Sethi n.d.). They consider them to be ‘popular’ or ‘folk’ deities, whose worship, if any, should be kept separate from ceremonies focused on the Jinas. Many image-worshipping Jains, however, pray to divinities as part of the general practice of their faith.
There have been heated debates within and between monastic orders in the Śvetāmbara sect as to whether the cults of these deities are justified in scripture. The issue includes whether hymns to the ‘deities of knowledge’ – śruta-devatās – and ‘guardian deities’ – kṣetra-devatās – should be part of the pratikramaṇa – the repentance ritual (Balbir 2003: 271–273).
For example, the Tapā-gaccha and the Kharatara-gaccha refer to the scriptural tradition, which, they say, teaches such worship and gives high credit to these deities. They quote examples of great monks whom deities helped. They assert that worshipping gods and goddesses helps to destroy the karma that keeps souls trapped in the cycle of birth, provided there is auspicious meditation. These sects consider these deities protect and help the teaching, deserve proper worship and are compatible with religious duties.
In the 13th century a new monastic order separated from the Pūrṇimā-gaccha after disagreements over the status of Jain deities. The new group took the name Tristutika-gaccha – ‘the three-hymned monastic order’ – or Āgama-gaccha – ‘the Scripture monastic order’ – because they rejected three homage formulas to Jain deities. Though they accepted the concept of praying to divinities, they held that 'right believers' should not accept such formulas. This subject still needs scholarly investigation.
Śvetāmbara writings often link monks and nuns with deities in positive ways. Present-day mendicants are frequently active in promoting the worship of gods among lay followers, which is intended to complement worship of the Jinas, not to replace it.
There are several episodes which show that great Jain teachers – ācāryas – could play the role of māntrikas – knowers and practitioners of Tantric modes of worship – and could write Tantric works connected with Jain deities. Stories show that kings could call upon such teachers for help or rescue, asking them to use their powers in matters relating to the state or political power. Several teachers of the Kharatara-gaccha, an important Śvetāmbara monastic order found mostly in Rajasthan, are well known for their capacities in this area. Revered for having such abilities, they are known as the Dādā-gurus.
In modern times there is evidence that leading Jain mendicants are the primary movers in revivals or creations of cults to deities among local lay communities. These efforts are meant to deter Jain followers from worshipping non-Jain deities and to associate the quest for liberation with ways to satisfy worldly needs within the context of Jainism. Such instances are the cults of:
All the deities that make up the various groups of the Jain pantheon are supposed to live in one of the three worlds of the Jain universe, namely the:
This is one way to group them (Jain and Fischer 1978). But there are also some categories that cut across this system, such as the dik-kumārīs.
Moreover, clan or family deities – kula-devatās – who are generally recognised and quite widespread, are not part of the Jain pantheon because they are local divinities who are not allocated places in the Jain universe.
Part of the Jain universe
Upper world – lower levels
Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.
The infernal region of the universe. This is the lowest of the three worlds in Jain cosmology and is the home of hellish beings.
Literally 'limb' in Sanskrit, Aṅga is a term for the first category of 11 texts that form the Śvetāmbara scriptures. There were originally 12 but the last has been lost for centuries.
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.
Sacred syllable commonly written as 'Oṃ' or 'Om', which is also used in Hinduism and Buddhism. Jains use it, for instance, in the Namaskāra-mantra. The letters in the word are significant:
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future.
A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.
A follower of Buddhism. There are two main schools of Buddhism, namely:
Both sects are practised in India.
Usually written as 'chowrie' in English, the Hindi carũrī is a fly-whisk or fan. It is probably descended from the Sanskrit term cāmara, which means a 'yak-tail fan'. Like the cāmara, the chowrie is used to fan royalty or priests and thus signifies high status in Indian art.
Formally recognised leaders within a religion. The clergy often perform rituals, lead worship and instruct believers in religious principles. Lay men and women usually complete formal study before being initiated into the clergy. Clerics are active among lay believers, often living in society. They may have specific roles or ranks and may progress through a hierarchy to become top leaders of the religious organisation.
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.
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.
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.
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.
'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.
Falling in late September or October, the annual 'Festival of Lights' is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, though they have different understandings of it. Jains of all sects commemorate the liberation of Mahavira and the omniscience of his chief disciple Indrabhūti Gautama. The festival also marks a new religious year for Jains.
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
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.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
The Sanskrit term haṃsa is used for a goose or swan. It is associated with the qualities of wisdom, purity, divine knowledge, detachment and the highest spiritual achievements. The haṃsa is the vāhana or mount of the Hindu goddess Sarasvatī, patron of learning, music and the arts.
Antelope-faced commander-in-chief of the god Śakra, who transfers the embryo of Mahāvīra from the womb of the brahmin Devānandā to that of the kṣatriya Queen Triśalā.
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.
A sacred symbol or mantra that controls the false world that people experience.
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:
Conventions or rules governing how images, symbols and the placement of elements and figures are used in art to represent ideas and convey meaning. Also the term for the academic study of such artistic conventions.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.
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.
(1075–1154) Kharatara-gaccha monk. Later biographers give accounts of his miraculous powers, including raising the dead. He is one of the four Dada-sūris or Dada-gurus – 'granddad gurus' – of the Kharatara-gaccha, who are worshipped in western India.
The third class of gods, who are the astral or luminous bodies, such as the sun, moons, planets and stars. They live in the middle of the three worlds.
The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:
A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
'Passion' that causes activity, which results in new karma binding to the soul. It must be eliminated by restraints or austerities so the soul can be liberated. Passion may be attraction – rāga – or aversion – dveṣa – and has degrees of intensity. There are traditionally four passions:
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.
Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century.
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.
The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.
A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.
There are three worlds in traditional Jain cosmology. The middle world is where human beings and animals live, and sits between the upper and the lower worlds.
From the Sanskrit for 'circle', a maṇḍala is a geometric design that symbolises the spiritual universe. It is used in religious rituals and to help meditation.
A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.
Ascetics are initiated into a tradition handed down from a named religious teacher. Religious instructions and principles are passed on orally and in writings from one generation of mendicants to the next, continuing the monastic lineage.
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.
A single-sex group of ascetics that vows to follow rules set out by a founding religious teacher. They formally renounce the world to become monks and nuns. They usually have a hierarchy of leaders at different levels to govern them.
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.
The cosmic axis of the Jain universe. Located in the middle of Jambū-dvīpa, the innermost continent of Jain cosmology, Mount Meru consists of three forested terraces, each smaller than the one below. When a Jina is born, the gods visit the earth, take him away and wash him in the standard birth ritual on the mountain. Jain temples often have a tower symbolising Mount Meru. Mount Meru is also the centre of the universe in traditional Buddhist and Hindu belief.
Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.
Supernatural event during which a human being, animal or object is controlled by a spirit or god, leading to noticeable changes in behaviour or health.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
'Introspection’ in Sanskrit. The elaborate ritual of confession and repentance that involves reciting liturgical texts and performing set gestures at dawn and dusk. It is one of an ascetic's six daily duties – āvaśyaka. For many lay people, pratikramaṇa is the essence of Jainism.
A religious communication offered by a believer to a god or object of worship. It may:
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:
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
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.
One of the fundamental works of Indian literature, the Rāmāyaṇa is an epic poem recounting the adventures of Prince Rāma as he searches for his wife Sītā, who has been kidnapped by Rāvaṇa. Blending Jain values into the story, the Jain Rāmāyaṇas present him and other figures in the tale as some of the 'great men' of Jain Universal History.
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.
Also called Saciyā Devī or Sācikā-devī. The lineage goddess – kula-devī – of many Ośval Jains, she was originally a Rajput Hindu deity who was absorbed into Jain religious activity and belief.
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
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.
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.
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.
A leading female lay follower of Mahāvīra.
Title for a ruler in some Muslim societies.
An expression invoking good luck or blessings. It is often found in manuscripts and yantras.
'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.
Jain Tantric worship aims to control other people or counter evil influences. Tantric rituals try to placate the aggressive side of a deity's nature, encouraging the divinity to behave benevolently. If not worshipped correctly, the vengeful deity may cause harm. The devotee invokes the deity under his or her various names, places images of the deity on yantras – mystical diagrams – and meditates, repeating mantras.
A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
The kṣatriya birth-mother of Mahāvīra. Queen Triśalā was married to King Siddhartha.
The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:
The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.
Knowledge, especially magic knowledge or power.
A highly decorated formal letter inviting a leading monk of a certain monastic group to spend the next rainy season in a certain place. Sent by lay people, the vijñapti-patra is a speciality of the Śvetāmbara Kharatara-gaccha and Tapā-gaccha communities.
The male attendant of a Jina, one of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.
The female attendant of a Jina, also called yakṣinī. One of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.
Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.
Semi-divine sorceress and shape-changer who can bestow magical powers on her devotees or be malevolent if offended. The yoginīs are often said to number 64 and their cult became popular in north India by around the 10th to 11th centuries.
British Library. Or. 16192. Unknown author. 1744
British Library. Or. 13700. Unknown author. 1445