Article: Monastic equipment

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Monastic 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 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

All Jain mendicants use a broom, regardless of their monastic order. They use it in all their daily activities and it never leaves their side. This is why it is so striking for observers in the past or present. Mendicants use the broom to 'sweep the area before sitting or lying down in order to avoid harming insects and minute forms of life' (Wiley 2004: 177).

Śvetāmbara mendicants use a broom 'made of long strands of soft white wool that are attached to a short wooden handle' (Wiley 2004: 177). This is called by either the Sanskrit term rajoharaṇa or the Prakrit word oghā. The size of the broom differs among the monastic orders. Among the Sthānaka-vāsins, who do not use the monastic staff, the broom has a much longer handle than among the Mūrti-pūjakas. The latter sometimes wrap the handle in a cloth decorated with the eight auspicious symbols.

Digambara mendicants use a broom made of peacock-tail feathers, shed naturally by the birds. It is known by the Sanskrit word picchikā or its modern equivalent – piñchī. The feathers are arranged in a circle and attached to a short handle.

Mouth-cloth

A group of Jain nuns walks barefoot up a hill. Dressed in white robes with their heads covered, they all wear cloths fixed over their mouths, attached by strings over the ears. This identifies them as either Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns.

Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns
Image by arjunstc – Arjun © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

The Sanskrit word for this piece of mendicant equipment is mukhavastrikā – ‘mouth-cloth’ – but the modern form – muṃhpatti – is more commonly used. Traditionally, this is a small rectangular piece of cotton which the mendicant keeps in front of his mouth when he or she speaks.

The mouth-cloth is intended to:

  • prevent minute living beings from entering the mouth and being killed or hurt
  • protect wind-bodied beings, which are one-sensed living beings according to the Jain classifications of life, when breathing out.

In many paintings of ascetics the mouth-cloth is depicted as a small white rectangle, which is easily recognisable.

The way to use the mouth-covering has been the subject of several debates over time. The result is that today it has become a marker of sectarian identity.

Mouth-cloth use among Śvetāmbara ascetics

Mendicant group

Mouth-cloth usage

Mūrti-pūjaka

When conditions indicate a need – temporary use

Sthānaka-vāsin

Permanently covers the mouth and is fixed to the ears with strings

Terāpanthin

Permanently covers the mouth and is fixed to the ears with strings

Among the Sthānaka-vāsin and Terāpanthin orders the mouth-cloth can be made of a kind of whitish plastic nowadays.

Bookstand

The cloth of this bookstand is embroidered with colourful examples of the auspicious symbol of the svastika.

Monastic bookstand with embroidered svastikas
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The term 'bookstand' is a convenient though partly inadequate equivalent of the Sanskrit word sthāpanācārya. It means literally ‘substitute teacher’ and is used among Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaka mendicants.

The bookstand consists of four sticks of wood bound together about halfway down, which open out either side of the binding. This enables the bookstand to support its own weight and creates an empty space between the upper sticks. This space is occupied by a piece of cloth tied to each of the wooden sticks. Today five cowrie shells wrapped in cloth are tied to the stand. They represent the Five Supreme Entitiespañca-parameṣṭhin. This detail is not found in earlier times, as shown in depictions of bookstands in Jain manuscripts.

The bookstand is placed in front of the mendicant when he or she performs various religious acts, such as confession or repentance – pratikramaṇa – and is alone. It represents the absent teacher and, more generally, the whole mendicant community. During preaching, a manuscript or book is placed on it, even when the ascetic’s teacher or other mendicants are present.

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