Article: Monastic clothing

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Even though the two major Jain sects take their names from their respective mendicant clothing practices, lay people of all Jain sects wear clothes. The issue of nudity or clothing is discussed only for mendicants. Monastic clothing has become the most obvious way to differentiate male mendicants of the Śvetāmbara and Digambara sects, which form the two main Jain sectarian traditions. The former means 'white-clad' in Sanskrit while the latter means 'sky-clad' – that is, naked. It is not as superficial a topic as it may appear, because wearing or not wearing clothes symbolises attachment or non-attachment to the world respectively.

Both male and female mendicants take a vow of non-possession when they become monks and nuns. As the ideal to which mendicants aspire, the ‘perfect ascetic’ demonstrates total detachment from the things of the world. This includes not just objects but emotions of all kinds, since complete detachment enables spiritual progression towards omniscience and liberation from the cycle of births. Disagreements over the interpretation of the vow of non-possession – aparigraha – support the different practices of the sects when it comes to whether their mendicants wear clothing and, if so, what kinds of clothing are permitted.

The sectarian attitudes towards mendicant clothing can be seen most clearly in the issue of female nudity. Female mendicants of all sects wear white robes. However, Digambara nuns are not considered to be the female equivalent of monks because they are not permitted to be nude. Since, for Digambaras, mendicants must renounce clothing to achieve salvation, nuns are not considered capable of the level of spirituality required for liberation. In contrast, Śvetāmbaras believe that nuns are just as capable of gaining emancipation as monks, even though both wear clothes. For them, detachment involves having no feelings of attachment to monastic equipment, not in using the items themselves. Both sects consider certain items vital to living a religious life.

Examples of both clothed and nude figures can be found in Jain art. Early depictions of Jinas show them naked but loincloths appear around the fifth century. Since then idols created by the Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects have usually demonstrated representative attitudes towards mendicant nudity. This results in Śvetāmbara images wearing loincloths while Digambara images are naked.

To non-Jains, being nude in public for any reason can be disturbing, shocking or even wrong from a religious point of view. This has led to periods when rulers of India discouraged or banned public nudity. The official disapproval of nudity in the 19th century weakened as Digambara monks revived the custom in the early 20th century. Though there is a national law against nudity in public, the principle of religious nudity is legally accepted. However, attitudes towards public nudity today vary and Digambara monks may try to adapt to the traditions of the local population.

Nudity and clothing

Digambara monks live naked and without possessions as part of their renunciation of the 'householder' life. After they take religious vows to become wandering ascetics, Digambara monks use only a water gourd and a peacock-feather broom to sweep insects

Digambara monk sitting cross-legged
Image by Jainworld © Jainworld.com

The Sanskrit terms for nudity are nagnatva or a-celakatva, the latter meaning literally 'absence of clothing'. Partly in recognition that living naked is difficult, not all Digambara mendicants go nude. Full monks – munis – among the Digambaras go without clothing, while novices and juniors wear garments. Digambara nuns wear white robes, as do monks and nuns of the Śvetāmbara sect.

For the Digambaras, nudity is a symbol of perfect detachment from everything, whether material possession or moral defilement. Therefore it is necessary stage in the theoretical possibility of reaching salvation. This is stated very clearly by Kundakunda, one of the most famous authoritative Digambara voices, who lived around the first century of the Common Era:

According to the Teaching of the Jina, a person wearing clothes cannot attain mokṣa [emancipation] even if he be a Tīrthaṃkara. The path of mokṣa consists of nudity (nagna); all other paths are wrong paths

Suttapāhuḍa, verse 23
translated by Padmanabh S. Jaini, page 35, 1991

In the Śvetāmbara tradition, absolute nakedness is the rule only for spiritually advanced monks who live according to the rule of Jinas – jinakalpikas – or for Jinas themselves. For example, according to the Kalpa-sūtra, when Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, renounced worldly life in order to become an ascetic, ‘for a year and a month, he wore clothes – cīvara-dhārī; after that time he walked about naked – a-cele, and accepted the alms in the hollow of his hands’ (Jacobi 1884: 260). The first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, also lived most of his monastic life without clothing. The other 22 Jinas, however, wore clothes after renunciation.

The fact that nakedness is one of the 22 disturbancesparīṣahas – which a mendicant has to try to face with equanimity refers to a situation where it was the rule to be followed:

‘My clothes being torn, I shall [soon] go naked’, or ‘I shall get a new suit’, such thoughts should not be entertained by a monk. At one time he will have no clothes, at another time he will have some; knowing this to be a salutary rule, a wise [monk] should not complain about it

Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 2: 12–13
translation by Hermann Jacobi, page 11, 1895

Another argument in favour of nudity is that clothes may attract minute living beings through dirtiness. Since these beings could be destroyed, even involuntarily, clothes hinder the practice of perfect non-violence, one of the key principles of Jainism.

For average ascetics, however, the use of clothing is the rule.

Passages found in the scriptures, Digambara as well as Śvetāmbara, show that clothing:

  • protectis the body from heat, cold and insect bites
  • contributes to the sense of shame
  • avoids the disgust that the sight of a naked body may produce.

Such statements underline the fact that going nude is not something easy and that not all ascetics can do it. Being able to go naked without feeling embarrassed requires detachment with regard to both the body and onlookers’ eyes. Hence nudity means being invulnerable to the ‘passions’ or emotions, to which shame and pride belong (Dundas 2002: 50). For instance, a Digambara commentator recommends that male ascetics can use clothes if they have genital or other deformities (quoted in Jaini 1991: 100). This, however, seems quite unusual, as the rule is normally that people with deformities are not allowed to receive monastic initiation.

In general, nudity produces great respect among the Jains because only those who are capable of full detachment can practise it in total freedom and have inner purity.

Concept of possession – parigraha

Detail of a Śvetāmbara monastic broom – rajoharaṇa or oghā. Each Jain monk and nun carries a broom with which to sweep the ground before sitting or lying down. This avoids harming living beings, which is against the key principle of ahiṃsā or non-violence

Detail of a Śvetāmbara broom
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Non-possession or non-attachment is the theoretical ideal of Jain mendicants. The question is then whether wearing clothes contradicts this ideal or not. In fact neither Śvetāmbaras nor Digambaras regard clothing as a possession – parigraha. Both sects view certain items as essential to a proper mendicant lifestyle, but their interpretations of whether clothing is one of them vary.

The view of the Digambaras is rather radical in that they take this literally. From their perspective, rejection of clothes to live in total nudity is the clearest example of non-possession. Therefore only the most advanced ascetics can achieve this.

Śvetāmbaras promote a different interpretation of possession and non-possession. For them parigraha is attachment or feeling of ownership. Thus it is not related to clothing or to the number of monastic equipment ascetics use. This equipment, such as brooms and staffs, is viewed as necessary to live a religious life and such items are not embellishments.

Monastic robes are normally not private or individual properties. They are part of the equipment the newly initiated mendicant gets at the time of initiation – dīkṣā. During this ceremony clothes play a symbolic role. Before initiation the candidate is dressed richly, like a prince or a princess. After initiation he or she wears only the sober white monastic robes. These robes are also part of the religious gifts – dānalay people can offer.

Receiving and using clothes

A Śvetāmbara nun washes monastic clothing in the nuns’ lodgings – upāśraya. Rules in scriptural texts govern all aspects of monastic life, including necessary tasks such as the washing of clothes.

Nun washing clothes
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Ascetics receive monastic clothes from lay people in the same way they accept food or other monastic equipment from them as alms. One chapter of the Ācārānga-sūtra, the first of the Śvetāmbara scriptures, is devoted to this topic and provides rules that have to be followed. They relate to:

  • authorised materials
  • size and number of clothes
  • distance the mendicant may cover in order to get them, and other such details
  • provenance.

Only natural fabrics made from plants are permitted, such as wool and cotton. Animal products, such as furs, or any material using animal hair is forbidden. Expensive, perfumed or embroidered clothes are also not allowed. When monks and nuns receive clothing, they should not do anything to it, such as washing or dying.

Mendicants should not request clothes belonging to the donor, as it would amount to theft.

These rules are meant to eliminate reasons for quarrelling, mutual envy, attachment, breaking of self-control and so on.

Similarly, washing clothes is not supposed to be done haphazardly (see Deo 1960, pages 260 to 261 for ancient prescriptions). Mendicants must use boiled water, to ensure no living beings are in the water, and, theoretically, no detergent. This reduces the level of unavoidable violence involved.

Moreover, scriptures dealing specifically with rules of monastic life show how clothes were worn depending on circumstances. Generally, the complete outfit is worn when the ascetics go out for their alms-round, for preaching, for pilgrimage and so on. They are allowed to wear lighter clothing when inside the monastic lodgings.

Nudity, clothing and female ascetics

This painting from a 15th-century manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra shows the Śvetāmbara nun Rājīmatī and monk Rathanemi in a cave sheltering from a storm. Rājīmatī's beauty makes Rathanemi forget his monastic vows but her sermon inspires him

Rājīmatī and Rathanemi in the cave
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

According to a saying of Jain scriptures frequently quoted in debates about nuns’ clothing, ‘it is not permitted that a nun may go without clothes’ (Bṛhatkalpa, in Jaini 1991: 56). This is mirrored in practice both past and present. Underlying this are the notions that inherently female qualities are denied if women go without clothes and that female nudity weakens self-discipline among males. The issue of female nudity is also strongly connected to the question of whether women can achieve a high enough spiritual level to reach liberation.

In Indian culture nudity signals rejection of bashfulness and shame, which means a nude woman must deny the qualities which society recognises as recommended to females. Female nudity also leads to increased excitement and lack of control in men, especially male ascetics, whose self-control could be endangered.

A well-known instance involves Rājīmatī and the monk Rathanemi, brother of her former fiancé Prince Nemi. After she had become a nun, Rājīmatī was caught in a heavy storm on her way to Mount Girnar. Seeking shelter in a cave, she took off her wet clothes and when she ‘was naked as [the day] she was born, thus she was seen by Rathanemi, whose [peace of mind] became [thereby] disturbed’ (Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 22: 33–34; Jacobi 1895: 116–117).

These reasons mean a female ascetic cannot renounce clothes. The following statement is a good representative of the dilemma:

The teacher allows clothes for nuns, even though they are a possession, because in abandoning clothes there would be a total abandonment [of all the mendicant restraints], whereas in wearing clothes there is only a minor defect

Strīnirvāṇaprakaraṇa, verse 33
translated by Padmanabh S. Jaini, page 57, 1991

This leads to the conviction among Digambaras that a woman cannot reach emancipation. She must be reborn as a man to be liberated.

In contrast, Śvetāmbaras believe that clothes are not a possession but an aid to emancipation, like other items of monastic equipment. Therefore they believe that women are able to reach salvation.

The best example of the extensive debate between the two camps is the Strīnirvāṇaprakaraṇa (see Jaini 1991: 41–108). The text’s author is not a Śvetāmbara but a Yāpanīya, a short-lived mendicant order that tried to compromise between radical positions. The position of opponents to female emancipation is best summarised thus:

Nudity must be considered a prerequisite for mokṣa; if this were not so, it would not be obligatory for males also. Being unfit for nudity, a woman must be considered unfit for Siddhahood [= liberation of the soul], like anyone who is unfit to receive initiation

Strīnirvāṇaprakaraṇa, verse 56
translated by Padmanabh S. Jaini, page 57, 1991

Clothing

Two Śvetāmbara nuns inside their lodgings – upāśraya. One wears the full nun's outfit, ready to begin the alms-round. Strict rules specify that nuns must wear white robes that completely cover them while in public

Śvetāmbara nuns in their lodgings
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Monks and nuns always wear white clothing, though some garments may be a pale cream colour. Some subsects may have identifying bands of colour on their robes.

The regulations on monastic clothing go into detail about the number, type and fabric of garments which Jain mendicants are permitted. Directions on where and how to wear them are also included in the scriptures.

Clothing depends to some degree on rank and status. Since nudity is associated with a high state of spirituality, lower-ranking monks among the Digambaras wear more clothes. Śvetāmbara monks wear three garments. Digambara nuns wear two items of clothing at most while their Śvetāmbara counterparts use up to four.

Colour

Pure white is the only colour of Jain monastic clothing, whatever the order to which mendicants belong.

Jains who wear orange or yellow robes are either temple attendants – pujāris – or Digambara clerics known as bhaṭṭārakas. On holy days lay people may also wear orange, which is a sacred colour in India.

Digambara ascetics

Although the Digambara sect is known for the nudity of its monks, not all mendicants in the sect live naked. Men who are initiated into the Digambara mendicancy pass through novitiate stages. They may not become fully-fledged monks, who are the ones who go nude.

Digambara nuns are not technically mendicants, since they cannot renounce clothing and thus cannot fully renounce the world. As spiritually advanced lay women, they wear white robes. However, they follow the same rules of mendicant lifestyle as the male ascetics.

Male mendicants

Digambara monks live naked to show detachment from worldly concerns, which is much honoured. A kṣullaka or junior novice wears three white garments while an ailaka wears a loincloth. When an ailaka is ready to become a monk he casts off his loincloth

Digambara monks and novices
Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kimiya

The three stages of male monastic hierarchy among Digambaras are reflected in whether clothes are worn or not. The stages depend on the man’s level of spiritual advancement.

Digambaras connect these stages with the general scheme of the pratimās, recognised by both Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras. This scheme defines a progression of 11 degrees, by which a lay man slowly renounces household life (Jaini 1991: 38–39; Wiley 2004: 245). As the table makes clear, nudity thus represents the culmination of a graduated path.

Digambara monastic clothing stages

Mendicant stage

Clothing

Pratimā scale

novice – kṣullaka

Three pieces of clothing:

  • an undergarment
  • two outer garments

But Carrithers (1989: 222) states that ‘he wears only two garments: a loincloth and an upper cloth. He may not use a blanket’.

10th – stage of leaving the household, or becoming a monk

junior – ailaka

One garment:

  • loincloth

11th – stage of begging alms like a monk

monk – muni

nudity

Post-pratimā stage – has climbed the full scale

Female mendicants

A Digambara female ascetic can never go naked. Her clothing depends on her position in the ascetic community, which itself depends on the degree of her spiritual advancement.

A female novice – kṣullikā – keeps two pieces of clothing. She wears a white sari and covers the top part of her body with a long shawl. She removes this shawl while eating.

A Digambara nun –āryikā – wears only one piece of clothing, a white sari.

Śvetāmbara ascetics

Barefoot and dressed in three simple white garments, Śvetāmbara monks are surrounded by their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa – which consists of brooms, staffs and begging bowls. Every day the monks beg alms from the lay community.

Śvetāmbara monks and equipment
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Śvetāmbara ascetics of both sexes wear clothing, which is closely defined by scriptural rules. Monks’ clothes are much simpler than nuns’ robes. Nuns' garments are loose-fitting and almost entirely cover them.

Since time immemorial all Jain mendicants have walked barefoot. In recent years, however, a minority of Śvetāmbara mendicants has started using cotton sandals or socks. Usually, only aged or suffering monks or nuns wear them but younger mendicants sometimes use them too, especially in winter in northern India, when it gets very cold.

Male mendicants

Śvetāmbara monks are allowed the following three garments:

  • two of cotton, worn underneath
  • one of wool, worn on the top (Deo 260: 258).

But there are different rules according to the status of the mendicant, the age of texts (see Deo 1960) and the practice of various monastic orders. The passage from the Ācārānga-sūtra mentioned above refers to a context which could be that of the fifth century BCE. Today’s monastic clothes are not identical to the prescriptions in such a text. Stitched or unstitched, the robes are folded and wrapped around the body. The mendicants wear the complete outfit whenever they go out of their lodgings. When inside their lodgings, they may take off the outer garment.

Female mendicants

Two Śvetāmbara nuns in white monastic robes – saṃghaḍī – in their lodgings – upāśraya. They are barefoot and hold their monastic brooms – rajoharaṇa or oghā – under their left arms. Jain nuns of all sects wear white robes that cover them from head to toe

Two Śvetāmbara nuns
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Śvetāmbara scriptures have a variety of technical terms for nuns’ garments, which are much more complicated than monks’ clothes. Nuns have to be covered more than monks because:

  • they need more protection against potential dangers of the wandering life
  • their physical attractions should be covered, to reduce the temptation to break celibacy.

The holy writings go into great detail about nuns' clothing because of this. As an example, the table summarises material provided by Deo (1960: 480-–82), which indicates the clothing used in the first centuries of the Common Era.

Śvetāmbara nuns' clothing in the first century

Name

Use

uggahaṇantaga

to cover private parts, being broad in the middle and thin at the ends

paṭṭa

fastened over the waist, covering the uggahaṇantaga

aḍḍhoruga

to cover the two previous garments and the entire waist

calaṇī

from the waist down to the knees

anto-niyaṃsaṇī

from the waist to halfway down the thighs

bāhira-niyaṃsaṇī

from the waist down to the ankles

kañcuka

to cover the breasts

okacchiya

tied on the left shoulder, covering the back and breasts

vegacchī

tied on the right shoulder, to cover the two previous pieces of clothing

saṃghaḍī – ‘robes’

four robes were used

khandha-karaṇī

for protection against a strong breeze. It could be used for 'giving an appearance of dwarf[ish]ness to beautiful nuns by placing it at their backs and tying it with the garments' (Deo 1960: 482) thereby making them unattractive

Today the clothing of Śvetāmbara nuns is made of cotton and comprises three different pieces (Shântâ 1997), for which the older word saṃghaḍī can be used as a generic term. According to Shântâ, every nun has three skirts, three blouses and four veils. Most of the time the nuns cover their heads with their veils.

Śvetāmbara nuns' clothing nowadays

Name

Use

sāḍā or colapaṭṭo

long, full skirt, to cover from waist to feet

kaṃcavo or kaṃcuka

long blouse with sleeves or a long sleeveless blouse

pacheḍī or cādar

light veil to cover the head, which falls on the shoulders and can reach the waist

kambal

woollen shawl used in the winter, which is always white or light cream. In some monastic orders, it has a red line along the hem.

Nudity and monastic clothing in art

Nude monks are shown with small cloths over their left forearms in this fragment from a Jain temple gateway. This relief may show Digambara monks making concessions to sensitivities about public nudity or may show ascetics of the obsolete Yāpanīya sect

Nude monks carrying cloths
Image by Brooklyn Museum © CC-BY-NC

Both nude and clothed mendicants and Jinas are widespread in Jain art. Though practically all idols of Jinas share certain features, such as body pose and individual emblem, artistic representations of them have differed according to sect from the early medieval period. Since then Digambara images are easily identified from their severe style, nudity and downcast eyes. Śvetāmbara images have wide open eyes and are often richly painted, wearing loincloths and jewellery.

Though the symbolism of clothing is important in the Jain religion, depictions of mendicants in art vary widely. In addition, as artistic conventions have changed over the centuries, identification of sect and even status as a mendicant are often hard to prove conclusively.

The earliest Jina images are those from Mathurā in Uttar Pradesh. The oldest date back to the mid-second century BCE while the newer ones are from the 3rd century CE. They are all naked.

An image of Ṛṣabha wearing a lower garment is found in the fifth century CE but not earlier (Dundas 2002: 48).

Later on, in Digambara temples Jina are always shown without clothes, whereas they tend to be shown wearing a loincloth in Śvetāmbara temples.

As for depictions of ascetics in art, on the pedestals of some Jina images they are shown ‘with a small piece of cloth draped over their left forearms to hide their nudity’ (Wiley 2004: 142) and have thus been called ardha-phālaka – ‘with partial covering’. Despite various attempts (for example Jaini 2000), it is difficult to know for sure to which sect these monks belong and whether they could represent Yāpanīya ascetics.

In western Indian manuscript painting of the medieval period, the robes of Śvetāmbara mendicants are always depicted as white or transparent with large white dots. But on earlier palm-leaf manuscripts and in later times, the robe is simply shown as white, as it is today.

Nudity is not shown if the character is a nun. Paintings of the episode where the monk Rathanemi sees Rājīmatī naked do not depict her nude when she has taken off her wet clothes. The nun is shown at least half-covered by a piece of cloth or sometimes wears an odd garment that symbolises nudity.

Rather unusually, a Digambara monk may be shown with clothing, but this is difficult to interpret.

Attitudes towards mendicant nudity

Broom and water-pot in hand, a Digambara monk makes the ritual gesture of seeking alms. A lay man dressed in sacred orange kneels before him, showing that he offers food. The ancient ritual of alms-giving has complex rites for both lay and mendicant

Digambara monk seeks alms
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Even though there is a longstanding association of nudity with advanced spirituality in wider Indian society, the public nudity of Digambara monks has been and sometimes still is an issue in public. A society led by non-Jain religions has often banned or discouraged public nudity at different periods.

Public nudity was not allowed in certain areas ruled by Muslims during late medieval times and made the circulation of Digambara monks problematic. Śrutasāgara, a 16th-century commentator, reports the case of a Digambara monk who allowed his group of monks to cover themselves with a mat or a piece of cloth when they went out seeking alms or for other purposes (quoted in Jaini 1991: 101). This, however, was felt to be an exceptional toleration of the sensitivities of another faith. Though it was intended to adapt practice to unexpected circumstances, covering any part of the body for Digambara monks was still considered wrong behaviour.

During British rule, this was again an issue (Scholz 2011: 260). It is said to partly explain the decline of Digambara monastic communities. The authorities ruled that Digambara monks had to wear clothes or keep some covering with them when they were in public, to put on if someone objected to their nakedness.

In the early 20th century, however, the tradition of monastic nudity was revived through three men who decided to initiate themselves (Wiley 2004: 159).

Digambara monks who revived nudity

Name

Details

Ācārya Ādisāgara (1868–1943)

  • initiated himself as a Digambara muni in 1913
  • initiated 32 monks, 40 nuns and one kṣullaka in Maharashtra (Wiley 2004: 25)

Ācārya Śāntisāgara (1873–1955)

  • revived the ancient tradition of Digambara munis in Karnataka

(Wiley 2004: 192; Scholz 2011: 258–279)

Ācārya Śāntisāgara (1888–1944)

  • did the same in Chāṇī in Rajasthan (Wiley 2004: 192)

Since then Digambara monks have adopted the three stages of monkhood, progressing to full nudity. This process was customary before the Mughal period.

There is a law against public nudity in India, although nudity for religious purposes is customary among the mendicants of some Hindu sects as well as Digambara Jains. Nowadays occasional press reports show that the nudity of Digambara monks can be a source of conflict between the Jain community and non-Jains. This is particularly the case in areas where there are not many Digambara Jains and thus the general population is not used to the sight of naked Digambara monks, finding public nudity disturbing. The monks therefore may try to avoid public places in daytime. This happened, for instance, in 2008 in Puducherry.

In 2003 the late Digambara Jain activist Bal Patil made an official complaint to the Press Council of India about an article published on 2 March 2003 in the Sunday Times of India. Entitled ‘Privacy, Nudity & Jazz’, it included the following statement: ‘A certain sect of Jains – Digambars – who move about uncovered in public invoke their right to religious freedom’. No prosecution was made because the journalist’s argument that the sentence has to be read in context and was written in good faith was accepted. However, it was recognised that the feelings of a minority could have been hurt by this statement.

Such examples show that the nudity of Digambara monks can be a sensitive issue in today’s India as well as in the past, even though it is not a common sight given the small number of munis.

Images

  • Digambara monk sitting cross-legged Digambara monks live naked and without possessions as part of their renunciation of the 'householder' life. After they take religious vows to become wandering ascetics, Digambara monks use only a water gourd and a peacock-feather broom to sweep insects from their path. Nudity is respected as a sign of advanced spirituality because nude monks show detachment from the world.. Image by Jainworld © Jainworld.com
  • Detail of a Śvetāmbara broom Detail of a Śvetāmbara monastic broom – rajoharaṇa or oghā. Each Jain monk and nun carries a broom with which to sweep the ground before sitting or lying down. This avoids accidentally harming living beings, which is against the key principle of ahiṃsā or non-violence. Śvetāmbara brooms are made of thick strands of soft white wool attached to a wooden handle. . Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Nun washing clothes A Śvetāmbara nun washes monastic clothing in the nuns’ lodgings – upāśraya. Rules in scriptural texts govern all aspects of monastic life, including necessary tasks such as the washing of clothes. To make sure that as little violence as possible is done, mendicants must use boiled water so no living beings are in the water and, theoretically, no detergent. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Rājīmatī and Rathanemi in the cave This painting from a 15th-century manuscript of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra shows the Śvetāmbara nun Rājīmatī and monk Rathanemi in a cave sheltering from a storm. Rājīmatī's beauty makes Rathanemi forget his monastic vows but her sermon inspires him to become an ideal monk.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Śvetāmbara nuns in their lodgings Two Śvetāmbara nuns inside their lodgings – upāśraya. One wears the full nun's outfit, ready to begin the alms-round, while the other wears the lighter option because she is staying inside. Strict rules set out what nuns must wear. Nuns' clothes are always white and cover them from head to toe. They must wear the full outfit in public. . Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Digambara monks and novices Digambara monks live naked to demonstrate detachment from worldly concerns. As a sign of advanced spirituality, it is much honoured. To become a full Digambara monk, novices complete two stages after their initiation. A kṣullaka or junior novice is technically a lay man and wears three pieces of white clothing. An ailaka wears a white loincloth and lives as a monk. When he becomes a full monk he casts off his loincloth and goes nude.. Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kimiya
  • Śvetāmbara monks and equipment Barefoot and dressed in three simple white garments, Śvetāmbara monks are surrounded by their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa – which consists of brooms, staffs and begging bowls. Every day the monks beg alms from the lay community.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Two Śvetāmbara nuns Two Śvetāmbara nuns in white monastic robes – saṃghaḍī – in their lodgings – upāśraya. They are barefoot and hold their monastic brooms – rajoharaṇa or oghā – under their left arms. Jain nuns of all sects wear white robes that cover them from head to toe while in public. Strict rules in scriptures specify the garments they must wear.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Nude monks carrying cloths Nude monks are shown with small cloths over their left forearms in this fragment from a Jain temple. Dating from the mid-2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE, this part of a gateway may show Digambara monks making concessions to sensitivities about public nudity. However, the figures may be ascetics from the Yāpanīya sect, which vanished around the 15th century.. Image by Brooklyn Museum © CC-BY-NC
  • Digambara monk seeks alms Broom and water pot in hand, a Digambara monk makes the ritual gesture of seeking alms. A lay man dressed in sacred orange kneels before him, showing that he offers food. The ancient Digambara ritual of alms-giving consists of complex rites, in which both the lay donor and the mendicant perform certain acts and utter set phrases at particular times. . Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Further Reading

'Âkârâṅga 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: 2
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1884

Full details

‘Naked Ascetics in Southern Digambar Jainism’
Michael Carrithers
Man (New Series)
volume 24: 2
Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland; June 1989

Full details

History of Jaina Monachism from Inscriptions and Literature
Shantaram Bhalchandra Deo
Deccan College Dissertation series; volume 17
Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute; Pune, Maharashtra, India; 1956

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 Monks from Mathurā: Literary Evidence for Their Identification on Kuṣāṇa Sculptures’
Padmanabh S. Jaini
Collected Papers on Jaina Studies
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details

Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California, USA; 1991

Full details

The Digambara Jainas of South Maharashtra and North Karnataka Since the Late 19th Century: Towards the Establishment of a Collective Religious Identity and a Digambara Jaina Community
Sabine Scholz
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Manchester in 2011

Full details

‘The Revival of the Digambara Muni Tradition in Karnataka during the Twentieth Century’
Sabine Scholz
The Jaina Heritage: Distinction, Decline and Resilience
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
South Asian and Comparative Studies Heidelberg series; volume 2
Samskriti; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

The Unknown Pilgrims: The voice of the sādhvīs – the history, spirituality, and life of the Jaina women ascetics
N. Shāntā
translated by Mary Rogers
Sri Garib Dass Oriental series; volume 219
Sri Satguru Publications; New Delhi, India; 1997

Full details

'Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra'
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Jaina Sutras Part II: Uttarâdhyayana Sûtra and Sûtrakritâṅga
Sacred Books of the East series; series editor F. Max Müller; volume 45
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1895

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

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.

Aparigraha

Non-possession, or not having an attachment to possessions. It is the fifth of the Five Greater Vows of mendicants and the Five Lesser Vows of lay Jains. 

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.

Bhaṭṭāraka

Sankrit term meaning 'pontiff'. This title is given to a type of Digambara clergy who are not mendicants. Instead of practising the 'wandering life' – vihāra – of Jain monks and nuns, a bhaṭṭāraka stays in one place, living in a kind of monastery called a maṭha. There are several bhaṭṭārakas in south India, who lead the local Jain community.

Celibacy

Avoiding or stopping sexual relations, often after taking a religious vow. A celibate practises celibacy.

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.

Detachment

Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.

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.

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.

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.

Idol

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

Initiation

Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.

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.

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.

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.

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'.

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.

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.

Mughal

The Mughal Empire lasted from 1526 to 1858, a period noted for its wealth, overall religious tolerance, and cultural and intellectual achievements, particularly in art and architecture. Originally Muslims who swept down from Central Asia, the Mughals' best-known ruler is probably Akbar the Great (1556–1605).

Muni

Sage. A common term for a Jain monk.

Muslim

A Muslim, or ‘one who submits to God’ in Arabic, follows the religion of Islam, which means ‘peace’. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last in a line of prophets. The complete word of Allah or God was revealed to Muhammad in the sixth century CE and set down in the Arabic Qur’an or ‘recitation’. Nearly all Muslims belong to either the Shia or Sunni sects, with Sunni Muslims comprising around 90% of Islamic believers.

Nemi

The 22nd Jina of the present age, also called Ariṣṭanemi. His symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem the conch. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

The Jains hold that Nemi is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣna. The tale of his renunciation and jilting of his fiancée Princess Rājīmati are famous among the Jains.

Nudity

The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.

Nun

A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

Parigraha

Possession or attachment to possessions, which involves desire for something, including emotions and states of mind.

Pratimā

A series of 12 vows that constitute 11 stages of progressive renunciation for a lay Jain. These vows are:

  • five aṇu-vrata
  • three guṇa-vrata
  • four śikṣā-vrata

Preach

To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:

  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.

Provenance

The origin of something, especially its history of ownership. This is used in art and archaeology, in particular, to help establish the age and creator of an artwork or other artefact.

Renunciation

Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.

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.

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.

Śrāvikā

'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.

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.

Temple

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

Uttarādhyayana-sūtra

An ancient Jain text outlining the rules of monastic conduct, said to be Mahāvīra's final sermon. These 36 lectures provide rules for ascetics but also discuss various topics, such as karma and the substances in the universe, and recount the tale of Nemi's renunciation.

Vihāra

A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.

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