Article: Three Jina festivals

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Dates connected with events in the lives of all Jinas are all potential dates for festivals. Although they are all holy for the Jains, only some of them are the focus of public celebrations – Mahāvīr Jayantī and Dīvālī are the most prominent of these. The holy days of Maunaikādaśī, Poṣa-daśamī and Meru-trayodaśī do not have the same wide impact, but they display some of the same characteristics.

The features that are typical of most Jain festivals can be found in these three smaller festivals, including the close association of certain numbers with a holy day. As with all Jain festivals, the dates on which these smaller religious events take place vary year by year, because they are calculated in the lunar calendar. There are standard festival routines involving attending the local temple or mendicant dwelling-hall to listen to sermons and stories about the relevant Jina, particularly on the events in the Jina's life that have inspired the festival. Performing hymns of praise to the Jina is a common activity, along with carrying out rituals. Devotees also take part in the common festival activities of fasting, donating money to the temple and taking the opportunity to reflect on the example of the Jina. They may also go on pilgrimages, timed to end when the festival begins. The side effects of festivals' promoting fellow feeling among the Jain community and presenting a coherent identity to non-Jains are also found.

In addition, the Meru-trayodaśī festival is interesting because it shows the continuing development of religious practice. The major holy days have been such for centuries but the emergence of newer festivals such as Meru-trayodaśī illustrates the elastic qualities of the Jain religious calendar.

Maunaikādaśī

Digambara statue of Aranātha or Lord Ara in a temple. A fish – the Digambara emblem of the 18th Jina – is on the pedestal. Jains believe he was also a cakravartin. Ara's initiation is marked in the festival of Maunaikādaśī

Image of Ara
Image by Ramesh Kumar © Jain Sites in Tamilnadu

Usually falling around early December, Maunaikādaśī takes part of its name from the Sanskrit term for the date in the month it starts. Meaning 'Silence Eleventh', Maunaikādaśī takes the other part of its name from the vow of silence that some Jains take for this day.

It is closely associated with the five auspicious events that characterise the lives of all Jinas and above all with three Jinas:

  • Aranātha or Lord Ara
  • Mallinātha or Lord Malli
  • Naminātha or Lord Nami.

Numbers are full of meaning in Jain philosophy and particularly so in this festival.

On this day, the Jain faithful will generally follow the customs shared by all the festivals in the religious calendar, including performing austerities such as fasts, listening to sermons and stories, and singing hymns. Reflection and meditation are also encouraged in Jain festivals.

Date and origin

Maunaikādaśī is the Sanskrit form of what is known in Gujarati as 'Maun Agyāras' or 'Silence Eleventh'. It refers to the 11th day of the bright half of Mārgaśīrṣa, which is called Māgsar in Gujarati and is roughly from November to December in the Western calendar.

Maunaikādaśī is one of the richest days of the Jain religious calendar because some of the five auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – in the lives of three different Jinas took place on this date.

Auspicious Jina events associated with Maunaikādaśī

Auspicious event

Jina

Number of Jina

Initiation as a monk – dīkṣā

Ara

18

Birth, initiation and omniscience

Malli

19

Omniscience

Nami

21

This day has further numerical significance, being associated with the number 150. Numerology and mathematics are important aspects of Jain religious thought.

As well as the 24 Jinas in the Two and A Half Continents of Jain cosmology who live in the present era, there are other Jinas. They live in other continents in eras other than the current descending cycle of time. Counting the five auspicious events in the lives of all the Jinas, the total of auspicious events taking place on this date adds up to 150.

This total comes from the following calculation:

Maunaikādaśī marks 150 auspicious Jina events

5 auspicious events

x

5 lands of Bharata

25

5 auspicious events

x

5 lands of Airāvata

25

Total auspicious events in all lands

50

50 events

x

3 times (past + present + future)

Total auspicious events in all lands and all times

150

This is the reason traditional teachers such as Ratnaśekhara-sūri and Bhuvanavijaya give Maunaikādaśī a special place, regarding it as a kind of essence of all festivals. They say that the 22nd Jina Neminātha or Lord Nemi responded thus when his cousin Kṛṣṇa asked which festival was the most important.

Main activities

A white-clad faster is ceremonially fed to break his fast. Fasting is a key part of Jain practice and is frequently undertaken during festivals or to fulfil a vow. Fasters gain great religious merit – puṇya – as do the relatives who help break their fasts

Breaking a fast
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

The festival of Maunaikādaśī shares several key elements with the other Jain holy days. Many lay people take vows relating to temporary restraints on food. Attending sermons at the local temple or gathering-hall strengthens community bonds as well as passing on religious ideas. Hearing retellings of the events and individuals that have inspired the festival and singing hymns are also customary activities. However, the defining feature of this holy day, which gives it its name, is taking a vow of silence – mauna. This vow is mostly taken by monks and nuns (Cort 2001: 179).

The general atmosphere of Maunaikādaśī is one of serenity and self-restraint. As in other Jain festivals, the notions of self-control and dietary restrictions are prominent. Lay Jains often choose to keep vows relating to food during Maunaikādaśī. Vows regarding food restraints take three possible forms:

  • dietary restrictions
  • partial fasting
  • complete fasting.

The first one is the lowest type of restraint and consists of not eating certain kinds of food for the period of the festival. The second kind is the average level and relates to the quantity of food. It usually means taking one meal a day instead of two or three. The final kind is at the extreme end of religious austerity. Only boiled water passes the lips of the devotees, who fast completely for a limited period of time. The water they drink must be boiled because only then can they be sure there is no life in it. It is therefore the only acceptable liquid from the religious point of view, since otherwise they may unknowingly commit violence.

As with all Jain festivals, on Maunaikādaśī lay Jains listen to sermons given by mendicants. The monks and nuns also give accounts of the Jinas and five auspicious events that have inspired the festival.

Devotees sing hymns of praise to the three Jinas celebrated in this festival:

  • Aranātha or Lord Ara, the 18th Jina
  • Mallinātha or Lord Malli, the 19th Jina
  • Naminātha or Lord Nami, the 21st Jina.

There are many devotional songs that have been composed for this occasion by several authors.

Poṣa-daśamī

Women chanting hymns in the temple. Singing hymns of praise to the Jinas is one of the main elements of worship and is a crucial part of most religious ceremonies.

Women singing hymns
Image by Dey – Dey Alexander © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

One of the most widely worshipped Jinas is the 23rd, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. Falling in late December or early January in the Western calendar, the festival of Poṣa-daśamī celebrates his birth and is thus also known as Pārśvanātha-jayantī.

The standard festival activities of fasting, worship, sermons and meditation feature in celebrations of Poṣa-daśamī. Special decorations are used to honour idols of the Jina and a lamp with 108 wicks is reserved for performance of the lamp ceremony. However, these are not required to mark the festival. Jains belonging to all sects observe Poṣa-daśamī and it is not strongly connected with any particular place, though some Gujarati Śvetāmbaras may go on a pilgrimage.

Date and origin

Poṣa-daśamī or 'Poṣa Tenth' is the day that commemorates the birth of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. The name of this celebration comes from its traditional date, represented, for instance, by the account in the Kalpa-sūtra or in Hemacandra's Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra. In the latter's words:

On the tenth of the dark half of [the month of] Pauṣa, [the moon] in rādhā [Vaiśākhā], she bore a son, dark blue in color, marked with a serpent, like the ground at the foot of a mountain bearing a jewel

Johnson’s translation, volume V, page 380, 1962

This date is valid for the areas which follow the north Indian calendar, which 'begins with the dark half of the month and ends with the full moon' (Cort 2001: 179). But in Gujarat, which conforms to the south Indian calendar, the month starts in the bright half of the month and ends with the new moon. Thus according to the calculation of the Gujarati calendar, Pārśva's birth is the tenth day of the dark half of the month of Mārgaśīrṣa, or Māgsar in Gujarati.

Main activities

The infant Pārśva and his mother are shown in this 15th-century Śvetāmbara manuscript painting. Pārśva's birth is celebrated in the festival of Poṣa-daśamī. Also called Pārśvanātha-jayantī, the festival falls in late December or early January each year.

Pārśva's birth
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Poṣa-daśamī does not demonstrate any very unusual celebrations. In common with other Jain festivals, Poṣa-daśamī is characterised by both communal and individual actions. This religious event therefore helps to generate community feeling among the local Jains and create a coherent Jain cultural and religious identity for outsiders. Devout lay people may individually choose to keep vows for the duration of the festival, usually relating to food. Activities involving the whole community of local Jains take place chiefly in the neighbourhood temple or mendicant dwelling-hall. Lay Jains visit the temple to hear the monks and nuns deliver sermons and stories relating to the subject of worship, Pārśvanatha or Lord Pārśva.

The Jina Pārśva is at the centre of worship during Poṣa-daśamī – his temples, his images and legendary episodes of his career. Statues of the Jina are hung with special ornaments and a dedicated lamp with 108 wicks may be used for the lamp ritual performed during regular evening worship. Although this festival can be celebrated anywhere, places with temples dedicated to Pārśva are especially popular.

For Gujaratis who want to practise a three-day fast – aṭṭham – Śankheśvar is a favourite destination. This is a favoured pilgrimage site in which to observe a three-day fast because it recalls a legendary episode. It is said that Kṛṣṇa, the cousin of the 22nd Jina Nemi, performed this fast there. This led him to obtain the Śankheśvar image of Pārśva, which was instrumental in his defeat of his enemy Jarāsandha (Cort 2001: 180).

Meru-trayodaśī

This relief sculpture of the first Jina Ṛṣabha probably dates from the 13th century. Ṛṣabha is meditating, sitting in the lotus pose, surrounded by symbols of royal status. His nudity indicates that the figure belongs to the Digambara sect.

Ṛṣabha meditating
Image by Given by Miss Clara Montalba © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The festival of Meru-trayodaśī does not always appear in lists of Jain holy days and has hardly been described in scholarly literature. An example of the overlap between a vow or religious commitment over a long period of time and a festival, it shows the flexibility of the Jain religious calendar in allowing certain holy days to evolve over time. The stories of the 24 Jinas offer numerous chances to commemorate significant events in their lives but not all such remembrances are celebrated widely enough to be considered festivals.

Meru-trayodaśī has developed from a day that marks a key event in the life of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, to a fairly well-known, if minor, festival. Centring on a vow to perform certain rituals each month, this festival can thus be seen as a way of completing the Jain religious calendar. Adding a date connected with Ṛṣabha, who is otherwise prominent only in the festival of Akṣaya-tṛtīyā, ensures that the most-worshipped Jinas each have festivals associated with them.

Date and origin

Meru-trayodaśī takes place annually on the 13th day of the dark half of Pauṣa, corresponding to mid-December to mid-January. Many Jain festivals commemorate an event relating to one of the 24 Jinas and Meru-trayodaśī is no exception, celebrating the liberation of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, which took place on mythical Mount Aṣṭāpada.

As in the case of the Pauṣa-daśamī festival, there is some variation in the date due to different calendrical systems. In the standard Śvetāmbara account of Ṛṣabha's life found in Hemacandra's epic Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, the date of Meru-trayodaśī is given as the 13th day of the dark half of the month of Māgha. This is roughly equivalent to mid-January to mid-March.

Numbers holding a special significance among Jains and frequently associated with festivals, Meru-trayodaśī is linked with 13, its date.

Main activities

A rice nandyāvarta is part of a temple offering, the fruit representing a soul in the cycle of birth. For Śvetāmbara Jains the nandyāvarta is one of the eight auspicious symbols – aṣṭa-mangala – and the emblem – lāñchana – of the 18th Jina, Ara.

Nandyāvarta in rice
Image by Cactusbones - Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

The Meru-trayodaśī rituals demonstrate particular elements of Jain religious philosophy, namely the auspiciousness of numbers, mantras, symbols and cosmographical features. The connection of the number 13 with the festival is underlined in some of the ceremonies.

According to a contemporary Śvetāmbara mendicant, Muni Bhuvana-vijaya, the festival consists of a sequence of rituals. These rites take place in addition to the standard activities associated with Jain festivals, such as going to the temple to hear sermons and stories, singing hymns, performing confession and making donations. Regularly performing the rites over given lengths of time is believed to destroy all the karmas that have been accumulated and to achieve success in this lifetime.

On the 13th day of the dark half of Māgha, the devotee observes a cauvihār fast. This fast means avoiding both food and water.

The devotee places five silver replicas of Mount Meru in front of an image of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. Four small replicas are set at each of the cardinal directions, with a bigger model in the centre.

The worshipper creates an auspicious svastika and nandyāvarta in front of each of the four small Merus. Then he or she performs pūjā with lights, incense and so on to each of the models.

The believer then recites the mantra Oṃ Hrīṃ Śrī Ṛṣabha-deva-pāraṃgatāya namaḥHomage to Ṛṣabha-deva who has reached the other shore – two thousand times. The term 'the other shore' refers to the emancipation of Ṛṣabha's soul from the cycle of rebirth.

If the worshipper has been keeping a fast, he or she breaks it after offering alms to a monk or nun.

Performing these rituals is central to celebrating the holy day of Meru-trayodaśī. However, ideally, they should be repeated on the 13th day of the dark half of every month, for a minimum of 13 months and a maximum of 13 years. Completing this commitment ensures the destruction of karmas and worldly success in the current birth.

A devotee should observe the Meru-trayodaśī rituals according to his or her capabilities. This may mean that sometimes the festival is not celebrated, some months the fast cannot be completed or models of Mount Meru cannot be found.

Images

  • Image of Ara Digambara statue of Aranātha or Lord Ara, set within a niche protected by a locked grille in a temple. A fish – the emblem of the 18th Jina for the Digambara sect – is clearly seen on the pedestal. Jains believe that this Jina was also a cakravartin or universal emperor. Ara's initiation is one of the events commemorated during the festival of Maunaikādaśī.. Image by Ramesh Kumar © Jain Sites in Tamilnadu
  • Breaking a fast A white-clad faster is ceremonially fed to break his fast. Fasting is a key part of Jain practice and is frequently undertaken during festivals or to fulfil a vow. Fasters gain great religious merit – puṇya – as do the relatives who help them break their fasts.. Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah
  • Women singing hymns Women chanting hymns in the temple. Singing hymns of praise to the Jinas is one of the main elements of worship and is a crucial part of most religious ceremonies.. Image by Dey – Dey Alexander © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Pārśva's birth The infant Pārśva and his mother are shown in a typical depiction of a Jina's birth in this 15th-century Śvetāmbara manuscript painting. Pārśva's birth is celebrated in the festival of Poṣa-daśamī. Also called Pārśvanātha-jayantī, the festival falls in late December or early January each year.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Ṛṣabha meditating This relief sculpture of the first Jina Ṛṣabha probably dates from the 13th century. Ṛṣabha is meditating, sitting in the lotus pose, surrounded by symbols of royal status. His nudity indicates that the figure belongs to the Digambara sect.. Image by Given by Miss Clara Montalba © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Nandyāvarta in rice The auspicious nandyāvarta is created in rice as part of a temple offering, with the fruit representing a soul in the cycle of rebirth. One of the eight auspicious symbols – aṣṭa-mangala – among Śvetāmbara Jains, the nandyāvarta is also the Śvetāmbara emblem – lāñchana – of the 18th Jina, Aranatha or Lord Ara.. Image by Cactusbones - Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

Further Reading

Śrī parvakathādi vividha viṣaya saṃgraha
Muni Bhuvanavijaya
Bhinmal, Rajasthan, India; 1980

Full details

‘Remembrance and Celebration: The Jain Religious Year’
John E. Cort
Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India
edited by John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, New York, USA; 2001

Full details

Jain Vrata-tap
Saryu Vinod Doshi
Rajkot, Gujarat, India; 2002

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

Discover Jainism
Colin Hynson
Institute of Jainology; London, UK; 2007

Full details

'The Kalpa Sûtra of Bhadrabâhu'
Bhadrabāhu
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes
Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft series; series editor Otto Loth; volume VII: 1
F. A. Brockhaus; Leipzig, Saxony, Germany; 1879

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

‘Festivals’
Jyoti Prasad Jain
Religion and Culture of the Jains
Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī granthamālā: English series; volume 6
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha; New Delhi, India; 1975

Full details

‘Jaina Festivals’
Padmanabh S. Jaini
Collected Papers on Jaina Studies
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India ; 2000

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 1
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1931

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 4
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1954

Full details

Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 5
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1962

Full details

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

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

'Kalpa Sûtra'
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Jaina Sutras: Âkârâṅga Sûtra and Kalpa Sûtra
Sacred Books of the East series; series editor F. Max Müller; volume 22: 1
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1884

Full details

Glossary

Alms

Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.

Āratī

Rite of offering lamps to the image of a Jina, usually performed to finish worship. As part of material worship, āratī is thus something that not all Jains do.

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Aṣṭāpada

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

Auspicious

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

Bright fortnight

The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its fullest.

Confession

Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing.

Dark fortnight

The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its smallest. It is so dark it is almost invisible.

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.

Donor

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

Fast

Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Festival

A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 

Gujarāt

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

Gujarati

The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.

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.

Idol

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

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

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.

Jīva

Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.

Kalyāṇaka

An auspicious moment in a Jina's life. There are five pañca-kalyāṇakas:

  • garbha – conception
  • janma – birth
  • vairāgya – renunciation
  • kevala-jñāna – enlightenment
  • mokṣa or nirvāna – liberation.

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.

Kṛṣṇa

One of the best-known avatars of the deity Viṣṇu the preserver, Kṛṣṇa is one of the principal Hindu gods. Since his name means ' dark blue', 'dark' or 'black' in Sanskrit, he is usually depicted with blue or black skin. Often shown as a boy or young man playing a flute, Kṛṣṇa is a hero of the Indian epic, Mahābhārata, and protagonist of the Bhagavad Gītā. Jains believe he is the cousin of Lord Nemi, the 22nd Jina.

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.

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.

Nandyāvarta

A kind of diagram shaped like an elaborate svastika. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols or aṣṭa-maṅgala.

Pārśva

The 23rd Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is green and his emblem the snake. Historical evidence points to his living around 950 to 850 BC.

Pilgrimage

A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.

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.

Rite

A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.

Ṛṣabha

First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.

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.

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Sermon

A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.

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.

Tapas

Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.

Temple

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

Upāśraya

Dwelling-hall near a Jain temple where wandering ascetics stay. They may stay for a short time during their travels or for the long rainy season. There is usually a main room where lay Jains come to listen to sermons. Lay people may also perform fasts here, such as upadhāna tapas or rituals such as posadha that involve leaving household activities for a while.

Vrata

Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā

Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:

  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline

All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders. 

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