Article: Deities

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.).

Contested status

Lay people in Melbourne, Australia, perform the ābhiṣeka – 'anointing ceremony' – of a small figure of the goddess Padmāvatī. The worshippers have covered their noses and mouths so they do not accidentally pollute the statue.

Anointing Padmāvatī
Image by hedonia – Ruchi © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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.

Mendicants and deities

Nākoḍā Bhairava in the Prakrit Bharati in Jaipur, Rajasthan, decorated with flower offerings. Nākoḍā Bhairava is a guardian deity in the Śvetāmbara temple in Nākoḍā. He is very popular and replicas of the original statue are found in India and beyond.

Figure of Nākoḍā Bhairava
Image by Knut Aukland © Knut Aukland

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:

As part of contemporary worship, Jain deities are also popular among the diaspora.

Deities and the Jain universe

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.

Groups of deities in the Jain universe

Part of the Jain universe

Group

Lower world

  • yakṣas and yakṣīs
  • dik-pālas
  • nava-grahas, who are part of the planetary gods – the Jyotiṣkas

Middle world

  • vidyā-devīs, who are connected to vidyā-dharas
  • dik-kumārīs
  • goddesses of the lakes

Upper world – lower levels

  • Śakra with Hariṇaigameṣin and other indras
  • Sarasvatī
  • Lakṣmī
  • Kṣetra-pālas

Yakṣas and yakṣīs

Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva sits in the lotus pose commonly used for Jinas. Above his head five serpent heads fan out while his half-snake attendant gods stand either side. The yakṣas hold fly-whisks, which, along with his jewellery, underline his status.t

Pārśva attended by yakṣa and yakṣī
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

With complex origins, this group of divinities has come to be considered as the male and female attendant deities to the 24 Jinas. Living in the lower world, they have names and individual characteristics, such as vehicles and divine attributes, though these vary in the different Jain sects. They have special roles as protectors of the Jinas' message and as intermediaries between devotees and the Jinas. Information on the yakṣas and yakṣīs is explored in a detailed article.

Some of the yakṣas and yakṣīs have developed cults of their own, which are celebrated either throughout India or chiefly in given regions. These are mainly the goddesses:

The only male yakṣa who can compare with them as an independent deity is Brahmadeva.

Dik-pālas

This manuscript painting shows the king of the Saudharma paradise with his court. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and Saudharma by Digambaras, Indra – meaning 'king' – rules the lowest of the heavens – kalpa. He plays a key role in the kalyāṇakas.

King of the Saudharma heaven
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The Dik-pālas – 'Guardians of Directions' – form a category found in many Indian religions. There are eight or ten Jain Dik-pālas, depending on whether the deities of the upper and lower directions are included. The sect of the Digambaras does not include these deities, so there are always eight Digambara Dik-pālas.

These deities, who live in the lower world, serve the Jinas. The best known is Śakra, who intervenes at key points in the Jinas’ biographies.

There is a lot of variation in the attributes given to them in the available sources, namely ritual texts (Bhattacharya 1974: 109–116). Images of Dik-pālas depicted individually or in groups are carved on the outside walls or on the ceilings of temples in western India and Karnatak (Shah 1981 with plates). Recent research in eastern India has yielded interesting examples of Dik-pālas depicted as the entourage – parikara – of Jina images (Mevissen).

Dik-pālas

Dik-pāla

Direction

Summary

1

Indra
 or Śakra

east

  • the elephant Airāvata is his divine vehicle
  • a vajra or thunderbolt is his attribute
  • his wife is Śacī

2

Agni


south-east

  • a ram is his divine vehicle
  • a spear is his attribute
  • he bears seven flames
  • his wife is Svāhā

3

Yama


south

  • a buffalo is his divine vehicle
  • a staff is his attribute
  • his wife is Chāyā

4

Nairr̥ta

south-west

  • a corpse or goblin is his divine vehicle, he wears a tiger-skin and holds a club or sword and a bow – Śvetāmbara
  • a bear is his divine vehicle and his divine attribute is a club – Digambara

5

Varuṇa

west

  • a dolphin or fish is his divine vehicle
  • he wears the ocean and holds a noose

6

Vāyu

north-west

  • a deer is his divine vehicle
  • he holds a thunderbolt or banner

7

Kubera

north

  • a man is his divine vehicle
  • his attributes are gems and a club
  • he has a chariot named Puṣpaka – Digambara

8

Iśāna

north-east

  • a bull is his divine vehicle
  • his attributes are a bow and trident
  • he has the symbol of a skull – Digambara

9

Brahmā

upper regions

  • four-headed
  • a swan is his divine vehicle
  • his attributes are a book and lotus
  • Digambaras do not accept him

10

Nāga

lower world

  • a lotus is his divine vehicle
  • his attribute is a snake
  • Digambaras do not accept him

Nava-grahas

Figures of the Nava-grahas – 'Nine Planets' – in a shrine outside the main temple at Karandai, Tamil Nadu. The Nava-grahas are one of the classes of gods – the Jyotiṣkas – who live in the lower world of Jain cosmology.

Nava-graha statues
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The Nava-grahas – 'Nine Planets' – are known in all the religious traditions that arose in India. They are part of the Jain universe as they form one of the classes of gods – the Jyotiṣka-devas.

As gods allotted homes in the lower world of Jain cosmology, they have been described in cosmological, iconographical and ritual texts. But descriptions of the Jyotiṣkas are not systematic in Śvetāmbara works and may be unavailable in Digambara sources. They are depicted as gods or humans in painting and sculpture.

Nava-grahas

English name

Indian name

Summary

Sun

Sūrya

  • rides on a chariot drawn by seven horses
  • holds two lotuses as his attributes

Moon

Candra

  • rides on a chariot drawn by ten white horses
  • holds an urn of nectar as his attribute

Mars

Mangala

  • stands on the earth
  • holds a shovel as his divine attribute

Mercury

Budha

  • a swan is his divine vehicle and he holds a book
  • or rides a lion and holds a sword, shield and club while making the gesture of giving a boon – varada-mudrā

Jupiter

Br̥haspati

  • a swan is his divine vehicle and he holds a book
  • or has four hands holding a rosary, staff and water pot and making the gesture of giving a boon

Venus

Śukra

  • a snake is his divine vehicle
  • an urn is his attribute

Saturn

Śani

  • a tortoise is his vehicle
  • an axe is his divine attribute

God who creates eclipses

Rāhu

  • a lion is his vehicle
  • an axe is his divine attribute

Comet

Ketu

  • a cobra is his divine vehicle
  • a cobra is his attribute

Their presence is more collective than individual. Eastern Indian sculpture shows that some or all of them can be carved as the entourage – parikara – of Jina images, either as astral symbols or as figural representations (see Mevissen).

In Tamil Nadu, images of the nine planets are often depicted outside the main temple in a specific enclosure, where they may take non-human forms.

Vidyā-devīs

The intricately carved dome of the Lūṇa Vasahi at Mount Abu in Rajasthan. Dedicated to the 22nd Jina, Nemi, the temple was built by Tejaḥpāla in 1232 CE. The marble ceiling features the 16 vidyā-devīs – goddesses of magical knowledge – in a circle.

Ceiling of Lūṇa Vasahi
Image by olderock1 – Rakhee © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Sanskrit word vidyā and its Prakrit counterpart vijjā refer to magic powers which can be obtained through meditation and ascetic practice. Of feminine gender, the term vidyā-devīs came to be used rather early only for 16 goddesses who personify individual magical qualities. The vidyā-devīs are said to live on the slopes of Mount Vaitāḍhya, in the middle world of the Jain universe.

The presence of vidyās is evidenced especially in two early Prakrit works which are likely to date back to the first six or seven centuries of the Common Era:

  • Vimala-sūri’s Pauma-cariya
  • Vasudeva-hiṇḍī.

The Pauma-cariya is a Jain version of the Rāmāyaṇa epic poem, which was composed in Sanskrit. It lists the 16 classes of vidyās and explains their origins. The people who possess the vidyās are called vidyā-dharas and their kings are called Nami and Vinami. They gained their powers as the result of their worship of the first Jina, R̥ṣabhanātha or Lord R̥ṣabha. In this version of the Rāmāyaṇa, the monkeys – vānaras – and demons – rākṣasas – belong to lineages of vidyā-dharas.

The Vasudeva-hiṇḍī is a story work where the acquisition of vidyās plays an important role in the hero’s progress.

The notion of vidyās gradually develops into individual goddesses. They are then fixed as a group of 16, which is first available in Digambara sources, then later adopted in Śvetāmbara sources as well.

The individual vidyā-devīs vary but the best-known list is given in the table.

Sixteen vidyā-devīs

Number

Name

Approximate English meaning

Appearance

1

Rohiṇī

she makes the seed of merit ‘grow’ up

four-armed, six-armed, eight-armed, multi-armed forms

2

Prajñapti

she has wide knowledge and helps in shape changing

two, four or multiple arms

3

Vajra-śr̥ṅkhalā

after her main attribute of a strong chain

  • two, four, six or multiple arms
  • a lotus is her vehicle

4

Vajrāṅkuśā

after her attributes of the thunderbolt and goad

  • two, four or multiple arms
  • an elephant is her vehicle

5

Apraticakrā or Jambunadā

  • also a yakṣī
  • characterised by the disc – cakra

6

Puruṣadattā

origin of name unclear

two, four or multiple arms

7

Kālī

after her dark complexion

two, four or multiple arms

8

Mahā-kālī

‘very dark’

  • four or multiple arms
  • a man is her vehicle
  • a bell is her symbol

9

Gaurī

‘of light complexion’

  • two, four or multiple arms
  • crocodile is her vehicle
  • lotus as her symbol

10

Gāndhārī

no convincing explanation

two, four or multiple arms

11

Mahājvālā or Jvālāmālinī

  • also a yakṣī
  • associated with flames
  • two, four, eight or multiple arms

12

Mānavī

name unclear

  • two, four or multiple arms
  • tree is her symbol

13

Vairoṭī or Vairoṭyā

for the removal of enmity, connected with snakes

two, four or multiple arms

14

Acyuptā, Acchuptā, Acyutā

cannot be defiled by sins

  • two, four or multiple arms
  • a man is her vehicle

15

Mānasī

‘born from the mind’

four arms

16

Mahā-mānasī

no convincing explanation of her name

four or multiple arms

Śvetāmbara and Digambara ritual or iconographic texts provide details about their iconography (Bhattacharya 1974: 124–132). However, representations of the individual vidyā-devīs are not common, especially among Digambaras.

Even so, there are some well-known carvings of the 16 vidyā-devīs as a group. The most famous ones are the group sculptures adorning:

  • the ceiling of the dome in the main hall of the Vimala Vasahi, probably dating back to 1088 CE, when the original temple was constructed, which presents them standing with four arms each
  • a corridor ceiling in front of cell number 41 of the Vimala Vasahi, showing them with six arms each
  • the ceiling of the Lūṇa Vasahi at Mount Abu in Rajasthan, built by Tejaḥpāla in 1232 CE
  • the outer wall of the shrine of the Kharatara Vasahi, also at Mount Abu, dating back to the 16th century, which displays a set of seated images and another of standing goddesses
  • the domed ceiling of the temple at Ranakpur, in Rajasthan.

There are also possibly two vidyā-devīs and other goddesses in the Mahāvīra temple at Kumbharia,in Gujarat.

Vidyā-devīs are also occasionally represented in manuscripts, especially on palm leaf, usually with four arms (Shah 1947).

Dik-kumārīs

The paintings on this manuscript page feature the central continent of Jambū-dvīpa and the three peaks of Mount Meru. Jambū-dvīpa is the first continent of the Two and A Half Continents that make up the only areas human beings can live in the three worlds

Mount Meru, Jambū-dvīpa and Lavaṇa-samudra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The ‘Princesses of the Directions’ – dik-kumārīs – live on the different summits of Mount Meru and Rucaka-dvīpa in the middle world of the Jain universe. They act as attendants to the mother of a Jina, and have a very specific role in the ceremonies performed in honour of a newborn Jina.

They are listed and described in Śvetāmbara canonical works such as the Jambūdvīpa-prajñapti and the Kalpa-sūtra. Some Digambara texts also give the same role to dik-kumārīs.

There are 56 dik-kumārīs, distributed into two categories of 32 and 24. There are eight deities for the four quarters of the Rucaka mountains, who are known from Jain and Buddhist sources (Alsdorf). Śvetāmbara texts also detail 24 additional goddesses, but disagree over where they live and come from.

Hemacandra's version (Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacarita, Johnson’s translation, volume I: 105–107) has become the standard Śvetāmbara list, and states there are:

  • eight dik-kumārīs living in the lower world
  • eight living in the upper world
  • eight living on the eastern Rucaka mountains, on the Rucaka continent
  • eight living on the southern Rucaka mountains
  • eight living on the western Rucaka mountains
  • eight living on the northern Rucaka mountains
  • four living on the Rucaka mountains at the intermediate points of the compass
  • four living on the Rucaka continent.

Dik-kumārīs are occasionally shown in Kalpa-sūtra miniature paintings depicting the Jinas’ birth celebrations. It is uncertain whether a set of female figures shown in two circular rows at the Vimala Vasahi temple on Mount Abu in Rajasthan represent this group of deities (northern Paṭṭaśālā, bhāva number 37 in front of cell number 47; Shah 1982: 281). They carry pitchers, fly-whisks and so on, which may be associated with religious ceremonies.

Goddesses of the lakes

These are six goddesses who live on islands in the middle of the six lakes – hrada – located on the six ranges of mountains which divide the Jambū-dvīpa in the middle world. They are personifications of feminine concepts.

Goddesses of the lakes

Name of goddess

Lake

Mountain range

Śrī – ‘prosperity’

Padma

Himavant

Hrī – ‘sense of shame’

Mahāpadma

Mahā-himavant

Dhṛti – ‘patience’

Tigiñcha

Niṣadha

Kīrti – ‘glory’

Kesarī

Nīla

Buddhi – ‘intelligence’

Mahāpuṇḍarīka

Rukmin

Lakṣmī – ‘prosperity’

Puṇḍarīka

Śikharin

They are often called mahā-devīs – ‘great goddesses’ – and their names are often mentioned in Tantric modes of worship and other contexts. Representations are rare or difficult to identify.

Śakra and other indras

The Sanskrit word indra is used as a noun for the king of a group of gods. Śvetāmbaras admit a total of 64 indras (Shah 1984).

Kings and gods in the upper world

Classes of gods

Number of groups

Number of indras

Bhavanavāsin

10

2 indras for each group = 20

Vyantara

8

2 indras for each group = 16

Vāṇa-Vyantara

8

2 indras for each group = 16

Vaimānika

distributed over the 12 heavens

12 indras

These divinities live in the upper world of the Jain universe, in the kalpas or heavens. The most famous is Śakra, the lord of the gods who reside in the Saudharma, the lowest of the 12 kalpas in the upper world.

Śakra intervenes at key points in the lives of the Jinas, as shown in both the Kalpa-sūtra text and miniature paintings in manuscripts of the work. He is usually portrayed sitting on a lion throne in his court, depicted with four arms and holding a thunderbolt – vajra. His vehicle is the elephant Airāvata. JAINpedia provides numerous examples of digitised manuscripts with illustrations of Śakra, with notable examples including:

The story of the previous birth of his mount Airāvata is also illustrated.

Figures of Śakra's commander-in-chief Hariṇaigameṣin may be replacements of vidyā-devīs – goddesses of magical knowledge – in sculpture, like here in the Mahāvīra temple at Kumbharia, Gujarat.

Another indra of importance is Īśāna, lord of the second kalpa, the Aiśāna.

The indras are described among classes of gods in cosmological manuscripts, with details of their attributes, identifying animals and so on. They are commonly carved on temple walls and painted on paper manuscripts or cloth paintings of the yantra type.

Hariṇaigameṣin

A manuscript painting of Hariṇaigameṣin taking the embryo from Devānandā's womb. King of the gods, Lord Śakra has ordered him to move the embryo of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. A Jina cannot be born into the brahmin caste, but must have a kṣatriya mother

Hariṇaigameṣin removes the embryo
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

This deity is mainly known among Śvetāmbaras, as the god who performs the embryo transfer of the 24th Jina, Mahāvira, and he is thus associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

As Śvetāmbara Jains narrate in the Kalpa-sūtra text, Hariṇaigameṣin is the commander-in-chief of Śakra. The divine king orders Hariṇaigameṣin to transfer Mahāvira’s embryo from the womb of the Brahmin lady Devānandā to that of Queen Triśalā.

Hariṇaigameṣin is familiar to Śvetāmbaras from his depiction in manuscript paintings of the scripture called the Kalpa-sūtra. Some examples on JAINpedia are:

His name means 'antelope-headed' and the standard representation of Hariṇaigameṣin is of a male figure with the head of an antelope, ram or goat. The oldest image comes from the early site of Mathurā, in Uttar Pradesh.

Hariṇaigameṣin seems to have been regarded as a god who can grant the boon of pregnancy and he is worshipped to this effect. The Jain version of the story of Kr̥ṣṇa found in the Antagaḍa-dasāo, the eighth Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures, shows how the childless woman Sulasā worshipped him. She had an image made of Hariṇaigameṣin, to which she performed rites every day, and revered him. In compassion for her, Hariṇaigameṣin caused her to become pregnant. When it happened that her children were born dead, the god carried them to Devakī and brought her living children to Sulasā for her to care for instead (Barnett 1907: 67).

Sarasvatī

Śvetāmbara figure of the deity Sarasvatī. The goddess of speech and knowledge, Sarasvatī is very popular among Hindus as well as Jains. This colourful statue sits on a lotus, holding her lute – vīṇā – with her divine vehicle of a swan beside her.

Sarasvatī
Image by hedonia – Ruchi © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jains call the goddess of speech and knowledge Sarasvatī, which is also her name among Hindus. She is also known as:

  • Śruta-devatā – ‘the divinity of learning’
  • Śruta-devī – ‘goddess of knowledge’
  • Vāg-īśvarī – ‘the goddess of speech’
  • Śāradā.

Sarasvatī lives in the lower levels of the upper world of the Jain universe, where gods and goddesses live. She is very popular and is honoured by writers in particular. In addition, worship of Sarasvatī is one of the key parts of the annual festivals of knowledge.

Sarasvatī's antiquity in the Jain tradition is supported by references in early texts, including some of the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures.

Numerous statues of Sarasvatī are available. The oldest is a headless image dated 132 CE from the Kankāli Tila site at Mathurā, in modern Uttar Pradesh. One of the most famous Sarasvatī images is the marble figure in Rajasthan, dating from the 12th century and known as ‘Bikaner or Pallu Sarasvatī', which is kept in the National Museum, New Delhi.

The main identifying characteristics of Sarasvatī in iconography are:

  • her divine vehicle – vāhana – of a swan or peacock, the latter mainly in Digambara sources
  • attributes of a manuscript or book, and a lotus
  • the presence of a lute – vīṇā.

Painted images of Sarasvatī are often found in manuscripts. Writers who wish for a well-received work frequently pay homage to Sarasvatī in her capacity as the goddess of speech at the beginning or end of their manuscripts.

Several of the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia show instances of this, such as:

Sarasvatī is worshipped especially at the yearly Jain festivals connected with knowledge and teaching:

The Tantric mode of worship characteristic of the worship of yakṣīs such as Padmāvatī and Jvālāmālinī can also be used to honour Sarasvatī. Rituals implying meditation on mantras and yantras, and propitiatory rites are described in kalpa texts such as Malliṣeṇa-sūri’s Sarasvatī-mantra-kalpa and Bappabhaṭṭi’s Sarasvatī-kalpa (Nawab 1937/1996: 151–166 and Jhavery 1944: 316–320). The mantra hrīṃ-kāra is particularly connected with Sarasvatī.

Śrī or Lakṣmī

This detail from an invitation scroll shows the goddess Śrī being sprinkled with water by a pair of elephants. Lay communities frequently send highly decorated scrolls – vijñapti-patra – inviting mendicant groups to spend the rainy season with them.

Śrī and elephants
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Śrī, who resides in the lake at the top of Mount Himavant, is also the Jain goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is also known as Lakṣmī, more rarely Padmā or Ramā. She has the same names among Hindus. In the Jain universe she lives in the lower levels of the upper world, the home of gods and goddesses.

She is specially worshipped by lay Jains, among whom business is one of the main occupations, on the day known as Dhana-terasa – ‘Wealth Thirteenth’ – before the festival of Dīvālī. This is done through a pūjā that ‘involves sprinkling auspicious red powder and pañcāmr̥t or ‘five nectars’ of milk, curd, clarified butter, honey, and sugar onto silver coins’ (Cort 2001: 164).

Śrī or Lakṣmī is found in early sources, as she features among the 14 or 16 dreams announcing the birth of a future Jina, which the mother experiences while pregnant. As such, she is painted on manuscript pages or embroidered on cloth manuscript covers, and usually appears in larger size than the other dreams. Among items digitised on JAINpedia, noteworthy examples are:

Kṣetra-pālas

Idol of the bhairava Bhomiyaji at Sammeta Shikhara in Rajasthan. Bhairavas are local male deities who guard temple precincts as the word bhairava means ‘frightening, terrible’. They are often given fierce expressions and warlike attributes.

Bhomiyaji
Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0

This generic designation refers to deities who are considered ‘guardians of land or territory’. This means either a large area or, more narrowly, the temple precincts. They live in the lower levels of the upper world of the Jain universe.

There are three main classes of kṣetra-pāla gods among Jains:

As protective deities, the kṣetra-pālas are fierce and can be aggressive so devotees may placate them in religious ceremonies. They also have the power to grant wishes if worshipped correctly.

When kṣetra-pālas are shown in Jain temples, they are found mainly at the sides of doors, as if to protect the entrance.

Yoginīs

The yoginīs form a category familiar in other Indian religions. Thought of as guardians of land or territory, the 64 yoginīs are mostly seen as terrifying and therefore need to be pacified. Thus they appear in Tantric modes of worship and are invoked, with their images placed on yantras or maṇḍalas in various stotras (see for instance Nawab 1937/1996: 186 and Jhavery 1944: 333–335).

The available lists show variations in the names of the yoginīs. They feature in a number of Jain writings, which portray them as malevolent deities who can take possession of human beings. Texts from the 12th century relate how famous Jain teachers performed rites to free people from their evil influence.

In one example, Hemacandra is said to have persuaded the goddess Saindhava-devī at Broach or Bharuch in Gujarat to order the yoginīs to quit the minister Ambaḍa. He had fallen ill due to their influence (Jhavery 1944: 220).

In another case, Jinadatta-sūri is said to have won control over the yoginīs and other groups of deities as well (Jhavery 1944: 214).

According to another anecdote, the 64 yoginīs took over the 64 towers around the new Ahmedabad fort. Harassed by the deities, Sultan Ahmed Shah sought aid from the Jain teacher Ratnasiṃha-sūri, who was able to help him by using a mystical diagram.

Bhairavas

Bhairava guarding a temple in Gujarat. The term bhairava means ‘frightening, terrible’ and bhairavas are protective gods often portrayed as aggressive warriors. They frequently have weapons and frightening expressions on their red faces.

Bhairava
Image by Anirudh Bhatti © CC BY-SA 2.0

The bhairavas are male deities who protect temple precincts. They are depicted as aggressive warriors, reflecting the name bhairava, which means ‘frightening, terrible’. They are originally local deities, very common in Rajasthan for instance. They are associated with the Hindu god Śiva, especially as Bhairava is also the proper name of one of Śiva’s terrifying forms. Some of the bhairavas, such as Nākoḍa Bhairava, have been thoroughly integrated into the Jain fold.

Images of a bhairava riding a dog are fairly common on the sides of the doors of Jain temples as both the god and the animal are regarded as guardian figures.

Vīras

Another category of guardian deities are the vīras – ‘heroes, warriors’. Traditionally there are 52 of them but only two have assumed prominent roles.

Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra

Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra in a temple in Jaipur. Above the protective deity is his Sanskrit mantra, with the squares of numbers at the sides indicating how many times it should be recited. On each side of his head are two bells, as his name means 'Bell-ears'

Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra
Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0

A deity who has gained growing importance in Śvetāmbara Jainism since the early 20th century is Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra. Images of this solid mustachioed male figure, ready to shoot an arrow fixed on the bow he carries, are increasingly seen in Jain temples.

Ācārya Buddhi-sāgara-sūri (1874–1925) established the cult, with its main centre at Mahudi, near Vijapur in Gujarat, and made it a largely public phenomenon (Cort 2000, 2001). Thousands of devotees visit this place, which has become extremely popular, especially on the day before Dīvālī. They offer a special sweet dish known as sukhaḍī to Ghaṇṭākarṇa, both to thank him and to ‘insure that any possible malevolent influences from the previous year are negated’ (Cort 2000: 419). His cult implies making offerings to fire, a normal procedure in Hindu worship.

Ghaṇṭākarṇa’s mantra is:

Oṃ Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra! Destroyer of all ailments! Protect protect those in mighty fear of boils, Greatly Strong!
Wherever you stand, O deity, diseases and gout are destroyed by the written lines of letters.
Instantly from the recitation in the ear there is no fear of kings. Witches, ghosts, vampires, and demons do not arise.
There is no untimely death, nor are snakes seen, nor is there fear of fire or thieves, hrīṃ Ghaṇṭākarṇa! Homage to you ṭhaḥ ṭhaḥ ṭhaḥ svāhā

Translation by Cort 2001, page 166

The mantra, however, ends with the phrase ‘Show the path to liberation by the gift of pure knowledge’. This discreetly underlines that worldly benefits are not the only ones requested. For details and translations, see pages 420 to 433 of Cort 2000.

Māṇibhadra Vīra

Sitting on an elephant that is often shown with three trunks, this boar-headed being with four or more hands has become a familiar sight on side doors or niches in Śvetāmbara temples. He is worshipped only among Tapā-gaccha followers, and is the presiding deity of this monastic order.

Legendary accounts of Māṇibhadra Vīra stress his fighting character and role in defending both image worship and the Tapā-gaccha monastic lineage. For example, he is described as the reincarnation of a 16th-century lay man who defended image-worshipping practice against the followers of Loṅkā Śāh. In his subsequent birth he was a hero who defeated a bhairava who had been invoked by opponents of the Tapā-gaccha (Wiley 2004: 138).

According to another version (Shah 1982: 97):

Māṇek, a lay Jain follower of the Tapāgaccha, hailing from a place called Magarvāḍa, heroically fought against the supernatural obstruction of yoginīs created by monks of the Kharatara-gaccha, while he was on his way to Shatrunjaya and died. He was born as a demi-god, a Vīra. He then protected his fellow brethren of the Tapāgaccha and gradually overcame the other party.

There are Śvetāmbara shrines specifically dedicated to him at Magarvada and Aglor in north Gujarat, and at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.

Gaṇeśa

Linked with wealth, arts and sciences, knowledge and wisdom, Gaṇeśa has the head of an elephant and a pot belly, and is a very popular deity. Statues of him are common in Jain temples although there are none dedicated to him alone.

Gaṇeśa
Image by Charlotte Warren © CC BY-ND 2.0

The well-known elephant-headed, pot-bellied god of the Hindus is also a Jain god. Associated with wealth, arts and sciences, knowledge and wisdom, Gaṇeśa is very popular among Jains.

He never features as the main deity in a Jain temple, but it is quite common to see Gaṇeśa depicted either on the outside walls of western Indian temples or in cells at the entrance or sides.

Worship of this god may be a part of Jain worship during ceremonies (Cort 2001: 168).

Kula-devatās

The term kula-devatā or its synonym kula-devī means ‘clan or family deities’. These local deities are mainly goddesses, regarded as protective mothers – mātās. They are not part of what may be called the Jain pantheon, since they are not given places in the Jain universe, but are elements in the lives of many Jains.

Worshipping kula-devatās is considered compatible with being a Jain, and most families regularly travel to their original villages to perform worship at ancestral shrines. There are examples of goddesses, such as Sācikā-devī at Osian, Rajasthan, who have been included in the Jain fold. It is quite possible that many of the local deities Jains recognise were originally village gods and goddesses who had nothing to do with Jain values.

Images

  • Anointing Padmāvatī Lay people in Melbourne, Australia, perform the ābhiṣeka – 'anointing ceremony' – of a small figure of the goddess Padmāvatī. The worshippers have covered their noses and mouths so they do not accidentally pollute the statue. Padmāvatī is the yakṣī – female attendant deity – of Pārśva, the 23rd Jina, as well as an important goddess in her own right.. Image by hedonia – Ruchi © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Figure of Nākoḍā Bhairava An image of Nākoḍā Bhairava in a shrine at the Prakrit Bharati in Jaipur, Rajasthan, decorated with flower offerings. Nākoḍā Bhairava is a guardian deity in the Śvetāmbara temple of Pārśvanātha in Nākoḍā, Rajasthan. He is very popular and replicas of the original statue are found throughout India and beyond.. Image by Knut Aukland © Knut Aukland
  • Pārśva attended by yakṣa and yakṣī Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva sits in the lotus pose commonly used for Jinas. Above his head five serpent heads fan out while his half-snake attendant gods stand either side. The yakṣa and yakṣī hold fly-whisks, which, along with his jewellery, underline Pārśva's status as a spiritual king. The snake motif identifies him as the 23rd Jina.. Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
  • King of the Saudharma heaven This manuscript painting shows the king of the Saudharma paradise with his court. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and Saudharma by Digambaras, Indra – meaning 'king' – rules the lowest of the heavens – kalpa. He plays a key role in the five auspicious events of a Jina's life – kalyāṇakas.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Nava-graha statues Figures of the Nava-grahas – 'Nine Planets' – in a shrine outside the main temple at Karandai, Tamil Nadu. The Nava-grahas are one of the classes of gods – the Jyotiṣkas – who live in the lower world of Jain cosmology. In Tamil Nadu, they are often depicted outside the main temple in a specific enclosure, where they may take non-human forms.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Ceiling of Lūṇa Vasahi The intricately carved dome of the Lūṇa Vasahi at Mount Abu in Rajasthan. Dedicated to the 22nd Jina, Nemi, the temple was built by Tejaḥpāla in 1232 CE. The marble ceiling features the 16 vidyā-devīs – goddesses of magical knowledge – arranged in a circle around the central pendant.. Image by olderock1 – Rakhee © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Mount Meru, Jambū-dvīpa and Lavaṇa-samudra The paintings on this manuscript page feature the central continent of Jambū-dvīpa and the three peaks of Mount Meru. Jambū-dvīpa is the first continent of the Two and A Half Continents that make up the only areas human beings can live in the three worlds. It has various regions, mountains, lakes and rivers, marked out by symmetrical coloured lines. The cosmic axis of Mount Meru is the yellow ciricle in the middle. Around Jambū-dvīpa is the circular ocean, Lavaṇa-samudra. The eight tusk-shaped promontories jutting into the ocean and the sets of pots in the four cardinal directions can be clearly seen.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Hariṇaigameṣin removes the embryo A manuscript painting of Hariṇaigameṣin taking the embryo from Devānandā's womb. King of the gods, Lord Śakra has ordered the antelope-headed god to move the embryo of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. A Jina cannot be born into the brahmin caste, but must have a kṣatriya mother.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Sarasvatī Śvetāmbara figure of the deity Sarasvatī. The goddess of speech and knowledge, Sarasvatī is a very popular divinity among Hindus as well as Jains. This colourful statue sits on a lotus, holding the distinctive attribute of a lute – vīṇā – with her divine vehicle of the swan in front.. Image by hedonia – Ruchi © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Śrī and elephants This detail from an invitation scroll shows the goddess Śrī being sprinkled with water by a pair of elephants. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, this is the fourth of 14 dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who becomes a Jina. Lay communities frequently send highly decorated scrolls inviting mendicant groups to spend the rainy season with them. These vijñapti-patra often feature colourful paintings of the 14 auspicious dreams. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Bhomiyaji Idol of the bhairava Bhomiyaji at Sammeta Shikhara in Rajasthan. Bhairavas are local male deities who guard temple precincts as the word bhairava means ‘frightening, terrible’. They are often given fierce expressions and warlike attributes, to both signify and help them in their protective role.. Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Bhairava Bhairava guarding a temple in Gujarat. The term bhairava means ‘frightening, terrible’ and bhairavas are protective gods often portrayed as aggressive warriors. They frequently have weapons and frightening expressions on their red faces.. Image by Anirudh Bhatti © CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra in a temple in Jaipur. Above the protective deity is his Sanskrit mantra, with the squares of numbers at the sides indicating how many times it should be recited. On each side of his head are two bells, because Ghaṇṭā-karṇa means 'Bell-ears'. Ghaṇṭākarṇa Mahāvīra has grown popular since the early 20th century among Śvetāmbara Jains, with figures of him becoming more widespread in Jain temples.. Image by Romana Klee © CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Gaṇeśa Figure of Gaṇeśa in a Jain temple. Linked with wealth, arts and sciences, knowledge and wisdom, Gaṇeśa has the head of an elephant and a pot belly, and is a very popular deity. Statues of Gaṇeśa are commonly found in Jain temples although there are none dedicated to him alone.. Image by Charlotte Warren © CC BY-ND 2.0

Further Reading

‘Further Contributions to the History of Jain Cosmography and Mythology ’
Ludwig Alsdorf
Kleine Schriften
edited by Albrecht Wezler
Glasenapp Stiftung series; volume 10
Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH; Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1974

Full details

‘Samayasundara’s Sāmācārī-śataka and Jain Sectarian Divisions in the Seventeenth Century’
Nalini Balbir
Essays in Jaina Philosophy and Religion
edited by Piotr Balcerowicz
Lala Sundara Jain Research series; volume 20
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 2003

Full details

The Antagaḍadasāo and Aṇuttarovavāiya-dasā
translated by Lionel D. Barnett
Royal Asiatic Society; London, United Kingdom; 1907

Full details

The Jaina Iconography
B. C. Bhattacharya
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and Patna, Bihar in India; 1974

Full details

‘Absences and Presences: Ganesh in the Shvetambar Jain Tradition’
John E. Cort
Ganesh the Benevolent
edited by Pratapaditya Pal
Marg Publication; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1995

Full details

‘Tantra in Jainism: The Cult of Ghaṇṭākarṇ Mahāvīr, the Great Hero Bell-Ears’
John E. Cort
Bulletin d’Etudes Indiennes
volume 15
1997

Full details

‘Worship of Bell-Ears the Great Hero: A Jain Tantric Deity’
John E. Cort
Tantra in Practice
edited by David Gordon White
Princeton Readings in Religions series; series editor Donald S. Lopez Jr.; volume 8
Princeton University Press; Princeton, New Jersey, USA and Oxford, UK; 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

Tapāgacchādhiṣṭhāyaka Yakṣarāja śrī Māṇibhadradeva
edited by Nandalal B. Devakul
Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India; 1997

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

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

Life in Ancient India as depicted in Jaina Canon and Commentaries: 6th Century BC to 17th Century AD
Jagdischchandra Jain
Munshiram Manoharlal; Delhi, India; 1984

Full details

Comparative and Critical Study of Mantrashastra (With Special Treatment of Jain Mantravada): Being The Introduction to Sri Bhairava Padmavati Kalpa
Mohanlal Bhagwandas Jhavery
Sri jain kala sahitya samsodhak (Jain Art Publication) series; volume 1
Sarabhai Manilal Nawab; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1944

Full details

Die Kosmographie der Inder: nach den Quellen dargestellt
Willibald Kirfel
Georg Olms; Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany; 1967

Full details

‘Corpus of Jaina Stone Sculptures Bearing grahas as Subsidiary Figures’
Gerd Mevissen
Berliner Indologische Studien
volume 13/14
2000

Full details

‘Planetary Deities on Jaina Images in Stone’
Gerd Mevissen
South Asian Archaeology 1999
edited by Ellen M. Raven
Gonda Indological Studies series; volume 15
Egbert Forsten; Groningen, Netherlands; 2008

Full details

‘Three Interesting Jaina Sculptures from Dinajpur’
Gerd Mevissen
Journal of Bengal Art (Dhaka)
volume 6
2001

Full details

‘Corpus of Hindu and Jaina devī Images Bearing Figures or Symbols of Astral Deities’
Gerd Mevissen
Berliner Indologische Studien
volume 15/16/17
2003

Full details

Vividha Kalpa Saṃgraha: Mul, gujarātī bhāṣāntara, mantra-yantra-tantra no saṃgraha pariśiṣṭo sāthe
Nawab Sarabhai Manilal and Nawab Rajendra Sarabhai
Śrī Jaina kalā sāhitya saṃśodhana granthamālā series; volume 22
Amadāvāda; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1998

Full details

Śrī Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa: śrīBandhuṣeṇa nī vistṛta ṭīkā tathā śuddha mantragarbhita 31 pariśiṣṭo sahita [aneka yantrakṛtio sāthe] dvitīya saṃvṛddhita āvṛtti [ādya sampādaka Sva. Prof. K.V. Abhyankar]
Malliṣeṇasūriviracita
Nawab Sarabhai Manilal; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1996

Full details

‘Jain Tantra: Divinatory and Meditative Practices in the Twelfth-Century Yogaśāstra of Hemacandra’
Olle Qvarnström
Tantra in Practice
edited by David Gordon White
Princeton Readings in Religions series; series editor Donald S. Lopez Jr.; volume 8
Princeton University Press; Princeton, New Jersey, USA and Oxford, UK; 2000

Full details

Padmāvatī ādi śāsana devoṃ kā astitva hī nahīṃ
Viradhīlāl Seṭhī
Jain Saṃskr̥ti Saṃrakṣaṇ Samiti

Full details

‘Iconography of the sixteen Jaina Mahāvidyās’
Umakant Premanand Shah
Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art
volume 15
1947

Full details

‘Some Minor Jaina Deities: Mātṛka-s and Dikpāla-s’
Umakant Premanand Shah
Journal of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda
volume 30: 1
1981

Full details

‘Minor Jaina Deities’
Umakant Premanand Shah
Journal of the Oriental Institute (Baroda)
volume 31: 3
March 1982

Full details

‘Minor Jaina Deities’
Umakant Premanand Shah
Journal of the Oriental Institute (Baroda)
volume 32: 1–2
September to December 1982

Full details

‘Minor Jaina Deities’
Umakant Premanand Shah
Journal of the Oriental Institute (Baroda)
volume 34: 1–2
September to December 1984

Full details

Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; New Delhi, India; 1987

Full details

The Jain Saga: 63 Illustrious Persons of the Jain World, Brief History of Jainism
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
edited by Muni Samvegayashvijayji Maharaj
Acharya Shrimad Vijay Ramchandra Suriswarji Jain Pathshala; Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2009

Full details

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

Full details

‘Jaina Sculptures and Paintings in the United Kingdom’
Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari
Kalā: the Journal of Indian Art History Congress
volume III
1996 to 1997

Full details

‘Brahmanical Deities in Jaina Pantheon and Religious Art’
Maruti Nandan Tiwari
Saṃskṛti Sandhāna
volume IV
1991

Full details

Jaina Art and Aesthetics
Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari
and Shanti Swaroop Sinha
Aryan Books International; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 2
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1937

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

The Concept of Divinity in Jainism
Robert J. Zydenbos
Centre for South Asian Studies of the University of Toronto; Toronto, Canada; 1993

Full details

Glossary

Ācārya

Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.

Adho-loka

The infernal region of the universe. This is the lowest of the three worlds in Jain cosmology and is the home of hellish beings.

Aṅga

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.

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.

Auṃ

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:

  • 'A' refers to Arhats, siddhas and ācāryas
  • 'U' refers to preceptors or teachers
  • 'M' refers to mendicant.

Auspicious

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

Brāhmaṇa

A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.

Buddhist

A follower of Buddhism. There are two main schools of Buddhism, namely:

  • Theravāda – 'the Teaching of the Elders' in Pali – is older and is found chiefly in Sri Lanka and continental South East Asia
  • Māhayana – 'Great Vehicle' in Sanskrit – is the larger sect and is followed mainly in East Asia and the Himalayan nations.

Both sects are practised in India.

Carũrī

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.

Clergy

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.

Commentary

An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

Common Era

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.

Cosmology

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.

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.

Devotee

An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.

Dhyāna

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.

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.

Dīvālī

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.

Doctrine

A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.

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. 

Gujarāt

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

Haṃsa

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.

Hariṇaigameṣin

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.

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.

Hrīṃ

A sacred symbol or mantra that controls the false world that people experience.

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.

Iconography

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.

Idol

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

Indra

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.

Invocation

A formula or prayer calling upon a deity or authority to bring blessings and protection. Invocations are frequently found at the beginning of Jain texts.

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.

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.

Jinadatta

(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.

Jyotiṣka

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.

Kalpa-sūtra

The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:

  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.

A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.

Karma

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:

  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.

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.

Kaṣāya

'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:

  • anger – krodha
  • pride – māna
  • deceit – māyā
  • greed – lobha.

Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā – 'soul-quest'.

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.

Loka

The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.

Lotus

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.

Madhya-loka

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.

Maṇḍala

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.

Mantra

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.

Mendicant lineage

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.

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.

Monastic order

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.

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 Meru

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.

Mūrti-pūjaka

Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.

Possession

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.

Prākrit

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.

Pratikramaṇa

'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.

Prayer

A religious communication offered by a believer to a god or object of worship. It may:

  • be private or public
  • be silent or aloud
  • be undertaken alone or in a group
  • take prescribed ritual form or be improvised
  • need tools and accessories or not
  • be a wish to be granted
  • be a request for guidance
  • be a hymn of praise or thanks
  • be a confession
  • express an emotion or thought.

Pūjā

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.

Rajasthan

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

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.

Rāmāyaṇa

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.

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.

Saciyā Mātā

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.

Sāgāra

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.

Sanskrit

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.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

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.

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.

Sulasā

A leading female lay follower of Mahāvīra.

Sultan

Title for a ruler in some Muslim societies.

Svāhā

An expression invoking good luck or blessings. It is often found in manuscripts and yantras.

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.

Tantra

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.

Tapā-gaccha

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.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Triśalā

The kṣatriya birth-mother of Mahāvīra. Queen Triśalā was married to King Siddhartha.

Ūrdhva-loka

The highest of the three worlds in Jain cosmology, the home of the various types of gods.

Vāhana

The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:

  • be the deity's emblem
  • symbolise positive attributes associated with the deity
  • represent evil powers over which the god has triumphed
  • help the divinity to perform duties.

The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.

Vidyā

Knowledge, especially magic knowledge or power.

Vijñapti-patra

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.

Yakṣa

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.

Yakṣī

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.

Yantra

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.

Yoginī

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.

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