Article: Sūri-mantra-paṭa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

A sūri-mantra-paṭa is a type of mystical diagram – maṇḍala or yantra – inscribed with formulas of homage and magic syllables – mantras. Most Jain yantras are used in rituals and meditation by both mendicants and lay people, and are important parts of worship. In contrast, only Śvetāmbara monks use sūri-mantra-paṭas and primarily in certain situations.

The sūri-mantra-paṭa is associated with the highest monastic rank of sūri, from which it gets its name. It is particularly linked with Indrabhūti Gautama. As the leading disciple of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, he provides a model of spiritual devotion and leadership for the worshipper. Śvetāmbara mendicants use this mystical diagram to mark the elevation of a monk to the level of sūri, a title for the leader of a religious order. According to tradition, the sūri-mantra was also used to perform miracles and win converts.

Sūri-mantra-paṭas take the shape of either circles or squares and consist of sets of mantras and auspicious symbols arranged in patterns on a square cloth. The mantras are phrases or syllables that invoke the powers of the Jinas and other holy figures as well as key Jain concepts or beliefs. These phrases and the auspicious illustrations are believed to aid the worshipper's prayers and meditations, and bestow good fortune on the devotee.

Sūri-mantra-paṭas are known from the 15th century onwards and are still made today. They are usually kept within the monastic community and are seldom found outside Indian collections, yet one of the highlights of JAINpedia is the sūri-mantra-paṭa held by the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) in London. Its rarity is also due to its age, because it is one of the earliest known examples. It looks decidedly different in style from those favoured by contemporary Jains. In addition, the RAS paṭa bears two auspicious symbols on its reverse side, which were uncovered during recent conservation work.

Purpose

This manuscript painting of a Svetāmbara siddhacakra shows the five highest beings in Jain belief, depicted in different colours. The petals in between contain Sanskrit mantras praising the 'four fundamentals'. It is a visual summary of key Jain doctrines

Siddhacakra
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

A sūri-mantra-paṭa is a special kind of mystical diagram. A mystical diagram is a maṇḍala or yantra and is usually described as a paṭa when it is on cloth. Yantras can be painted on paper or marked out in ink and are of many kinds. At the heart of Jain worship for all sects, different maṇḍalas are used for various purposes.

Only Śvetāmbara monks of the highest monastic rank use the sūri-mantra-paṭa. Like all yantras, it contains mantras and other auspicious words and symbols to perform worship and to help in meditation.

The best-known examples of mantras today are the:

Using the yantra

This manuscript painting shows Indrabhūti Gautama preaching. The white-clad monk is fanned by a servant and sits on a lotus, symbols of worldly and spiritual rank. King Śreṇika and his family sit separately from the lords and ladies of the court

Indrabhūti Gautama preaches
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak monks, especially the Kharatara-gaccha and the Tapā-gaccha, use these sūri-mantra-paṭas for recitation of mantras and for meditation or worship when they are initiated into the higher grades of religious hierarchy. Indeed, this type of yantra takes its name from the term sūri, which is the highest monastic rank, used for the head of a monastic order. Traditional records describe sūris harnessing the power of the maṇḍala to perform miracles to make converts and placate evil deities.

When a monk is considered by his elders to be spiritually eligible to receive the rank of a pontiff, he is given this title in an initiation ceremony performed in the presence of the fourfold community. The guru whispers a mantra in his right ear, signifying that he has now attained the position of a sūri.

The earliest reference to such a ritual is possibly by Haribhadra, in the 8th century. He has 'a description of how a pupil, on the appropriate day and in a suitable state of purity, should be given the sūrimantra by his teacher along with sprinkling of the head with sandalwood powder (abhivāsanā), the latter being a consistent feature of ascetic ritual'

Dundas 1998: 36

Sometimes, the term 'sūri-mantra-paṭa’ is improperly used as a generic name when a monk receives a lower title than sūri. In this case the proper mantra is the vardhamāna-vidyā.

More generally, monks who worship a sūri-mantra-paṭa wish to emulate Indrabhūti Gautama or Gautama-svāmin, the foremost disciple of Mahāvīra, who is an emblematic figure of both disciple and teacher (Dundas 1998). According to tradition, the practice is said to have originated at the time of Mahāvīra. He instructed his disciple to compose the mantra, which is regarded as 'the best of all' – sarva-śreṣṭha. Hence Gautama is often shown at the centre of the diagram.

The chroniclers of the Kharata-gaccha monastic order have taken particular care to show that monastic teachers could use the sūri-mantra for more than the ritual for teacher consecration. Other uses would be to:

demonstrate his authority within his sect by mastering through meditation and ritual the various magic powers embodied in the mantra, such as curing disease and overcoming enemies, and thus to transform himself into the latter-day equivalent of Gautama, the miracle-working favourite disciple of the twenty-fourth tīrthaṃkara, Mahāvīra

Dundas 2000: 233

These activities were intended to win over ascetics of other creeds or yoginīs who controlled pilgrimage places (Dundas 2000).

Shape and material

A sūri-mantra can be square or round. It can be drawn and painted on paper or on cloth. If it is on cloth, it is called a paṭa.

If the sūri-mantra-paṭa is a circle, it is normally placed within a square. It consists of a varying number of concentric circles and can be of different levels of complexity. Such a diagram can also be viewed as a miniature representation of the Jain universe.

Different sūri-mantra-paṭas are reproduced in Shah 1948 and Jambuvijaya 1977, or in catalogues of Jain art objects. One is exhibited permanently in the L. D. Museum in Ahmedabad. Another one from around 1600 is available at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and is described in Pal 1994: 228–229.

Content

This temple ceiling is painted with the nine celestial entities in the centre of concentric rings featuring various deities and their vehicles, and selected yakṣas and yakṣīs of the Jinas.

Heavenly entities and gods decorate a temple ceiling
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

Maṇḍalas usually contain both pictures and text. The text is usually a set of mantras plus instructions while the illustration consists of auspicious symbols.

The textual parts of this yantra comprise Sanskrit or Prakrit formulas of homage to teachers and deities or concepts such as kinds of knowledge and spiritual attainments. These are arranged in the concentric circles of the maṇḍala, occasionally divided into compartments. The phrases are partly standardised, but they can be arranged in different ways, so that there are hardly any identical sūri-mantra-paṭas. Over the centuries many Jain teachers have commented upon these formulas (Jambuvijaya 1977). They are interspersed with magic syllables such as hrīṃ and śrīṃ.

The devotee invokes all beings, from Jinas to deities, so that they enhance the worship connected with this diagram. This is expressed in the Sanskrit phrase:

pūjāṃ pratīcchantu, svāhā

May such and such deities / demons / teachers …. grace the worship

This phrase recurs in most yantras.

In some portions of the text, there are instructions for using the maṇḍala. There are indications of the number of times a mantra should be recited and what kind of worship or meditation it should be used for.

Yantras always include auspicious symbols. These auspicious symbols may be miniature pictures of Jinas or other holy figures, some of the eight auspicious symbolsaṣṭa-mangala – or pairs of eyes. A pair of eyes is believed to convey auspiciousness, and is thus also found on auspicious jars – mangala-kalaśas. The origin of this auspicious symbol is unknown, however.

Ritual handbooks

It is often considered that only oral transmission could guarantee the preservation of the sūri-mantra, that it was secret and not written down. Yet it has become a special literary genre with ritual handbooks produced in the medieval period, which give various versions. Details of some examples are given in the table and are taken from Dundas 1998: 38 and Jambuvijaya 1977.

Sūri-mantra ritual handbooks

Title

English rendering

Author

Date

Mendicant order

Mantra-rāja-rahasya

Secrecy of the Kings of Mantras

Siṃhatilaka-sūri

13th century

Kharatara-gaccha

Sūri-mantra-kalpa

Ritual of the Sūri-mantra

Rājaśekhara-sūri

14th century

Maladhārīya-gaccha

Sūri-mantra-br̥hat-kalpa-vivaraṇa

Explanation of the Large Ritual of the Sūri-mantra

Jinaprabha-sūri

14th century

Kharatara-gaccha

Sūri-mukhya-mantra-kalpa

Ritual of the Main Mantra, the Sūri-mantra

Merutuṅga-sūri

14th to 15th centuries

Añcala-gaccha

Royal Asiatic Society yantra

The rare sūri-mantra-paṭa in the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Dated 1499, it is one of the oldest surviving examples and, being mainly textual, looks quite different from contemporary ones.

Sūri-mantra-paṭa
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

Sūri-mantra-paṭas are normally used only by mendicants within their monastic orders. They are rarely found outside the Śvetāmbara monastic community or outside collections in India so the one held by the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) is very valuable. It is also one of the oldest surviving sūri-mantra-paṭas. Unfortunately, the provenance of this object is not documented even in the institutional archives, but a great deal of information can be gleaned from the paṭa itself.

The RAS example is round and looks quite different from the majority of modern-day sūri-mantra-paṭas because it is chiefly textual. As with all maṇḍalas, it contains numerous mantras intended to invoke:


This sūri-mantra-paṭa is associated with the Kharatara-gaccha sect. This Śvetāmbara monastic order emerged in western India around the 12th century. The maṇḍala dates back to 1449 CE, according to the date written on it, which appears to be genuine. The RAS sūri-mantra-paṭa may never have been used as a tool of worship or meditation, however.

Conservation and restoration work in 2013 uncovered two more yantras on the back of this sūri-mantra-paṭa, which may have been hidden for centuries.

Pattern and illustrations

This detail from a sūri-mantra-paṭa shows the mantra hrīṃ flanked by a pair of eyes. Both highly auspicious symbols for Jains, they are frequently found in yantras, sacred objects and manuscripts and are tools of meditation and religious worship.

Hrīṃ and eyes
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

This round sūri-mantra-paṭa is rather elaborate, with seven circles, not counting the central one. It is similar to number 14 in the standard collection edited by Muni Jambu-vijaya in 1977. At the top, in the centre of the page, is hrīṃ, the magic and sacred syllable, flanked on each side by an eye. The pair of eyes is believed to convey auspiciousness and can be seen on other sacred objects.

Since it is sober and chiefly text, this example contrasts with modern sūri-mantra-paṭas, which are often painted in vivid colours and have little text, such as this one on Flickr and this one on HereNow4U.

Mantras

In the central circle is the main formula, which here pays homage to Gotamasvāmin, referring to Indrabhūti Gautama, the first disciple of Mahāvīra. An image of Gautama is frequently placed in the middle of a sūri-mantra, because he was the 24th Jina's highest-ranking disciple and the first mendicant in Mahavira's monastic lineage. He is the spiritual example whom mendicants seek to imitate.

Moving from the outside in, within the second circle homage is paid in turn to the 24 Jinas, whose names are given in 24 boxes.

The paṭa contains many formulas of homage, such as those to:

Occasionally, there are scattered Sanskrit stanzas where homage to these deities is offered. For instance, there is a verse dedicated to Śrī-devī in the left side of the bottom part of the yantra. On the right side, in the middle part, there is a stanza in Prakrit offering homage to the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

Monastic order

This detail of a 500-year-old sūri-mantra-paṭa shows the footprints – pādukās – of Jinacandra-sūri. A holy figure's footprints are sacred and this painting underlines the holiness of Jinacandra, one of the most eminent Kharata-gaccha monks and a Dādā-guru

Footprints of Jinacandra-sūri
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

It is clear that this sūri-mantra-paṭa is connected to the Śvetāmbara monastic order known as the Kharatara-gaccha, which has been present in Western India, especially Rajasthan, since the 11th century. Indeed, the sūri-mantra 'clearly played a significant part in establishing sectarian identity for the followers of an ascetic group like the reforming Kharatara Gaccha' (Dundas 1998: 36) and in the legitimation of their leaders.

Paradoxically, the name of the order itself does not appear. Instead, the phrase ‘our gaccha’ – asmad-gaccha – is given at several places. In the top-left corner there is a list of names of the successive heads of the Kharatara-gaccha order, so the identity of the order as the Kharatara-gaccha is clear. The list of sūris is given as:

  • Vardhamāna-sūri
  • Jineśvara-sūri
  • Jinacandra-sūri
  • Abhayadeva-sūri
  • Jinavallabha-sūri
  • Jinadatta-sūri.

Vardhamāna-sūri (died 1031 CE) was the founding teacher of this monastic order in the 11th century. The deity Dharaṇendra is thought to have revealed the meaning and secret of the sūri-mantra to him, and thereafter this monastic order has considered the yantra a magic spell. Jineśvara-sūri is the monk who consolidated the order. Then come his disciples and successors.

The monastic lineage is continued in the top-right part of the maṇḍala as:

These are two teachers who succeeded each other as monastic leaders in the 12th century. Thus they are not contemporary with the diagram, but illustrious predecessors who are offered homage. Jinapati-sūri is one of those who could win over yoginīs through the use of the sūri-mantra (Dundas 2000).

The name of Jinacandra-sūri appears also on the lower part of the left side of the diagram, above the footprints – pādukās. This text pays homage to him:

śrīJinacandrasūri-pādebhyaḥ sadā namo ‘stu //

May there always be homage to the feet of Jinacandra-sūri

Several heads of the Kharatara-gaccha had the name Jinacandra-sūri and lived in very different times. The footprints are usually commemorative, so it indicates that the Jinacandra-sūri referred to was not alive when the yantra was made. It is likely that the footprints and homage refer to the one listed in the top right, who is one of the Dādā-gurus. These are the major teachers of this monastic order, who largely owe their fame to their miraculous powers (see Babb 1996).

Date

The RAS document has a date in the middle of the right-hand portion:

saṃvat 1506 pratiṣṭito ‘[yam] ārādhaka

it was consecrated in the year 1506 of the Vikrama era. The worshipper is this

This date corresponds to 1449 CE. If this date is authentic and genuinely refers to the year when the object was consecrated, it means it is an old specimen and thus very valuable.

During the period corresponding to this date, the head of the Kharatara-gaccha was Jinabhadra-sūri, but his name does not appear anywhere here. However, there is no clear reason to doubt the authenticity of the date on the yantra.

One element of information is missing, however. This is the name of the ārādhaka, namely the monk who would have worshipped this diagram and become a sūri using this diagram. This indicates that this yantra was perhaps not actually used.

Modern label

Here, the object designation appears in the last line of the bottom right corner. Written by a hand different from all the rest, this label states:

//saṃvat 406 ro Sūramaṃtra ṭebā //1//

commentary on the sūrimantra of saṃvat 406

The term ṭebā is a variant of ṭabo, which is a Gujarati word meaning 'commentary' or 'word-to-word paraphrase'. The term ro is the Rajasthani postposition meaning 'of'.

The date as written here is strange. But the intention of the writer is certainly to identify the maṇḍala with a tag and a repetition of the original date of 1506, before selling or presenting it as a gift. This label thus is likely to date back to the 19th century, when many Jain manuscripts and yantras changed hands, and was added to the object for identification.

Reverse side

One of the two nandyāvartas found hidden at the rear of the sūri-mantra-paṭa held in the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Discovered during conservation, these nandyāvartas were probably added after the completion of the main yantra.

Nandyāvarta
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

Unusually, this paṭa has more mystical diagrams on its back. At first sight, the reverse of the cloth was blank. But the restoration and conservation work to prepare the sūri-mantra-paṭa for digitisation on JAINpedia led to the discovery of an intermediate lining somehow fixed at the back of the recto.

In this lining two labyrinth-shaped diagrams in red are visible. But they are not inscribed with mantras. The two symbols are examples of the nandyāvarta, which is one of the eight auspicious symbolsaṣṭa-mangala. It is unknown when these diagrams were inked onto the reverse of the main maṇḍala, but it is probable that adding them was thought to increase the auspicious power of the yantra.

Images

  • Siddhacakra This manuscript painting of a Svetāmbara siddhacakra shows the five highest beings in Jain belief in different colours. The petals in between contain Sanskrit mantras praising the 'four fundamentals'. A visual summary of key Jain doctrines, the siddhacakra is associated with the namaskāra-mantra. The most popular yantra, it is worshipped in festival rites and features in many art forms.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Indrabhūti Gautama preaches This manuscript painting shows Indrabhūti Gautama preaching. The white-clad monk is fanned by a servant and sits on a lotus, symbols of worldly and spiritual rank. King Śreṇika and his family sit separately from the lords and ladies of the court.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Heavenly entities and gods decorate a temple ceiling This temple ceiling is painted with the nine celestial entities in the centre of concentric rings featuring various deities and their vehicles, and selected yakṣas and yakṣīs of the Jinas. All of these holy figures often appear in temples and artworks and may be worshipped in their own right, although not all Jains practise this.. Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
  • Sūri-mantra-paṭa The rare sūri-mantra-paṭa in the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Dated 1499, it is one of the oldest surviving sūri-mantra-paṭas and, being mainly textual, looks quite different from contemporary examples. Like all yantras used in ritual worship, it contains mantras that are recited to aid meditation but is used only by high-ranking Śvetāmbara monks.. Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London
  • Hrīṃ and eyes This detail from a sūri-mantra-paṭa shows the mantra hrīṃ flanked by a pair of eyes. Both are highly auspicious symbols for Jains, with the mantra believed to control the false world that human beings experience. Both symbols are frequently found in yantras, sacred objects and manuscripts and are tools of meditation and religious worship. These are set above the sūri-mantra, thereby enhancing the power of the circular maṇḍala, which is used only by Śvetāmbara monks with the rank of sūri, the highest monastic rank. This rare sūri-mantra-paṭa is closely associated with the sect of the Kharata-gaccha and dates back to 1449.. Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London
  • Footprints of Jinacandra-sūri This detail of a 500-year-old sūri-mantra-paṭa shows the footprints – pādukās – of Jinacandra-sūri. Jains believe that footprints left by a holy figure are sacred and they are frequently worshipped. This pair of painted footprints underlines the holiness of Jinacandra-sūri, who was one of the most eminent leaders of the Kharata-gaccha in the 12th century. Called 'Maṇidhārī', he is the second Dādā-guru and is worshipped by members of this sect.. Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London
  • Nandyāvarta One of the two nandyāvartas found in a hidden layer at the rear of the sūri-mantra-paṭa held in the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Discovered during conservation, these nandyāvartas were probably added after the completion of the main yantra. As one of the eight auspicious symbols – aṣṭa-mangala – the nandyāvartas may have been painted to increase the auspicious power of the sūri-mantra on the front of the cloth.. Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

Further Reading

Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture
Lawrence A. Babb
Comparative Studies in Religion & Society series; volume 8
University of California Press; Berkeley, California, USA; 1996

Full details

‘Becoming Gautama: Mantra and History in Śvetāmbara Jainism’
Paul Dundas
Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History
edited by John E. Cort
SUNY Series in Hindu Studies series
State University of New York Press; Albany, New York, USA; 1998

Full details

‘The Jain Monk Jinapati Sūri Gets the Better of a Nāth Yogī'
Paul Dundas
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

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

Sūrimantrakalpasamuccayaḥ
edited by Muni Jambūvijaya
Jaina Sāhitya Vikāsa Maṇḍala; Bombay, Maharashtra, India

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

'Kharataragacchagurvāvalī'
ŚrīJinapālopādhyāyādi-saṅkalita
Kharataragacchabṛhadgurvāvali
edited by Muni Jambuvijaya
Singhi Jain series; volume 42
Bhāratīya Vidyā Bhavana; Bombay, India; 1956

Full details

The Peaceful Liberators
Pratapaditya Pal
Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Thames and Hudson; Los Angeles, California, New York USA and London, UK; 1994

Full details

Śrī Sūrimantra Kalpa Saṃdoha: Pandar Pariśiṣṭo tathā Gujarātī Bhāṣāntara Sahit (Sacitra)
Pandit Ambalal Premacand Shah
Sarabhai Manilal Nawab; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1948

Full details

Kharataragaccha kā Bṛhad Itihāsa
Mahopādhyāya Vinayasāgar
edited by Sāhitya Vācaspati
Prākṛta Bhāratī Puṣpa series; volume 161
Prakrit Bharati Academy; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 2005

Full details

Kharataragaccha pratiṣṭhā lekha saṃgraha (12vīṃ śatī se lekar 20vīṃ śatī tak kharataragacchācāryoṃ dvārā pratiṣṭhita pratimā lekhoṃ kā saṃgraha)
Mahopādhyāya Vinayasāgar
Prākṛta Bhāratī Puṣpa series; volume 182
Prakrit Bharati Academy; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 2005

Full details

Glossary

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.

Auspicious

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

Caturvidha-saṅgha

The ‘fourfold society’ of Jain tradition, which is made up of ascetics and the laity, and of males and females.

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.

Consecration

A ritual in which an item or place is declared to be holy. A person may also consecrate a specific time or activity or be consecrated, which means becoming dedicated to a religious purpose.

Dādā-guru

The four Dada-sūris or Dada-gurus – 'granddad gurus' – are venerated by the Kharatara-gaccha sect, traditionally in the form of footprint images – pādukās. They were distinguished monastic leaders whose advanced spiritual condition gave them miraculous powers.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

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.

Disciple

An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.

Gaccha

Literally a Sanskrit word for 'tree', gaccha is used by Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak Jains to describe the largest groups of their mendicant lineages. It is often translated as 'monastic group', 'monastic order' or 'monastic tradition'. These groups are formed when some mendicants split from their gaccha because of disagreements over ascetic practices.

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.

Guru

Sanskrit term meaning both:

  • a spiritual teacher
  • 'heavy', in contrast to laghu or ‘light'.

Haribhadra

Śvetāmbara mendicant leader who lived around the seventh to eighth centuries. He wrote many significant philosophical works, including the Anekāntajayapatākā and the Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya. He also wrote the first Sanskrit commentaries on the Āgamas.

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.

Indrabhūti Gautama

Chief disciple of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. From a brahmin family, he was the first of Mahāvīra's 11 chief disciples. He became enlightened on the day Mahāvīra was liberated. He achieved liberation himself 12 years later.

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.

Jinacandra-sūri

Called 'Maṇidhārī', Jinacandra-sūri (1140–1166 CE) was a prominent monk and leader of the Kharata-gaccha sect. As the second Dādā-guru, he is worshipped by members of this sect, with his shrine at Mehraulī Dādābāṛī a popular pilgrimage site.

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.

Jñāna

'Knowledge', of which there are five main types:

  • mind-based and sensory knowledge – mati-jñāna
  • scriptural knowledge – śruta-jñāna
  • extra-sensory knowledge or clairvoyance – avadhi-jñāna
  • knowledge of others’ minds or telepathy – manaḥparyaya-jñāna
  • omniscience or absolute knowledge – kevala-jñāna.

With spiritual progress, one can gain the different types of knowledge.

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

Kharatara-gaccha

Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century. 

Mahāvīra

The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.

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.

Miracle

An extraordinary event that cannot be explained by natural causes or human effort and therefore is believed to be caused by divine or supernatural powers.

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.

Muni

Sage. A common term for a Jain monk.

Mysticism

A system of contemplative prayer, meditation and complete detachment from worldly affairs in the hope of gaining direct spiritual experience of the divine. In Jainism those who practise mystical techniques hope to gain true self-realisation and thus destroy karma and be liberated.

Nandyāvarta

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

Pādukā

The petrified footprint of a dead mendicant or holy figure, which is treated as a commemorative sacred object.

Parameṣṭhin

The ‘supreme beings’ in Sanskrit, also known as the pañca-parameṣṭhin or 'Five Supreme Beings'. A term for the categories of teachers who are paid homage in the Namaskāra-mantra:

  • enlightened teachers – Arhats
  • liberated souls – siddhas
  • mendicant leaders – ācāryas
  • mendicant tutors – upādhyāyas
  • mendicants – sādhus.

Paṭa

Decorative map of a holy site. A paṭa is used for 'mental pilgrimage'bhāva-yātrā – during which devotees contemplate the paṭa and complete a pilgrimage by moving around the temples in their minds.

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.

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.

Rajasthani

The language spoken in Rajasthan, in north-western India, and surrounding states. It is also spoken in some parts of neighbouring Pakistan. Also the adjective describing people, things or places in or associated with the state of Rajasthan.

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.

Recto

Known as a folio, a single sheet of paper or other material has a front and a back side. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.

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.

Sandalwood

A fragrant wood from trees in the Santalum genus, which is often made into oil, paste, powder or incense. Widely used in religious ceremonies across Asia, sandalwood paste and powder are used to mark or decorate religious equipment, statues or images, priests and worshippers. Also used for carvings, sandalwood produces a highly prized oil used in cosmetics and perfumes.

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.

Siddhacakra or Navadevatā

The most common mystical diagram – yantra – in Jainism, which is believed to destroy karma and bring prosperity and good luck. There are nine parts, usually arranged in the shape of a lotus flower. The Five Highest Beings are depicted on five parts of the yantra. On the four other parts, there are sectarian differences.

Digambaras call it the navadevatā or navdevata or navpad. The other four elements for them are:

  • a Jina image
  • a temple
  • the dharma-cakra or sacred wheel of law
  • the speech of the Jinas, in the scriptures.

For Śvetāmbaras it is the siddhacakra or navapada or navpad, which has representations of:

  • the 'three jewels' of Jain tradition
  • 'right austerity', often called the 'fourth jewel'.

Śrī

Hindu goddess of wealth, Śrī is the personification of spiritual energy and is closely associated with the lotus. Also a name for Lakṣmī, Hindu goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth.

Sūri

A title for the leader of a religious order among the Śvetāmbaras. It is a higher position than ācārya.

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.

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.

Vidyā-devī

One of the 16 goddesses who personify sciences or types of magical knowledge. The vidyā-devīs live on the slopes of Mount Vaitāḍhya, in the middle world.

Vikrama-saṃvat

Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.

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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