Article: Prakīrṇaka-sūtras

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The Sanskrit word Prakīrṇaka, or its Prakrit form Paiṇṇaya, is given to a group of texts at the border of the Śvetāmbara canon. In contrast with the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas, for instance, which contain a closed and fixed number of texts, this group is characterised by its fluidity and has no maximum number of texts. Meaning ‘miscellany’, the Prakīrṇakas range in number from 10 to 20, with other disputed texts dubbed ‘supernumerary Prakīrṇakas’. Hence all Śvetāmbara Jains do not give the Prakīrṇakas the same status and authority as the other categories in their canon of holy writings.

For the most part in verse, this class of writings is written in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit, differing from the Ardhamāgadhī of most of the other Śvetāmbara scriptures. They are therefore probably younger than the two main types of Śvetāmbara holy texts, the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas.

In some respects the Prakīrṇakas can be thought of as supplementary to the rest of the Śvetāmbara scriptures. Directed chiefly at monks and nuns, most of them expand on subjects mentioned in texts from the other classes of scripture. The most important example is the practice of fasting to death. In all, five Prakīrṇakas discuss this ritual. They tend to focus on the spiritual and mental aspects of this rite.

One Prakīrṇaka is particularly interesting in that it appears to share concerns and even passages and literary imagery with texts from non-Jain sources. Scholars dispute the age of the Ṛṣi-bhāṣitāni, with some claiming it as an early work while others hold it to be a later collection of writings.

Authority and number

The Āgama-ratna-mañjūṣā, the monumental edition of the 45 holy Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks. Inspired by Ānandasāgara-sūri, the book is often enthroned as a sacred object in temples. This one is in the Agam Mandir in Surat, Gujarat

Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The three main sects of Śvetāmbara Jainism have slightly different canons of holy texts. Only the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pujaks class the Prakīrṇakas as an integral part of their canon. The Sthānaka-vāsins and the Terāpanthins reject them entirely. The status of the Prakīrṇakas as scriptures has therefore become a badge of sectarian identity among the Śvetāmbara Jains.

This is a real problem, as is admitted even by Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak monastic intellectuals, such as Muni Puṇyavijaya who has provided a critical edition of Prakīrṇakas. There is no fixed traditional list of these texts to give their number and order and which could be used as a standard reference. So there is scope for variation and diverging opinions.

The most common opinion is that the Prakīrṇakas should number ten. This number is the result of a simple deduction. The Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjaks state that their canon contains 45 texts. The holy texts in the other categories are fairly stable, totalling 35, and thus ten more are needed to reach the full count. Although the total of 45 scriptures has been well rooted in the Mūrti-pūjak tradition since the 15th to 17th centuries, there is no list of the additional works required to reach this number. In lists of the 45 Āgamas produced in the late medieval period, the heading ‘Prakīrṇaka’ is not necessarily used. The texts are simply enumerated, but no statement is made as to whether they belong to a specific category.

It is significant that this problem is addressed clearly by Jain scholars themselves:

The Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjaka tradition maintains that there are 45 Āgamas. Adding 10 Prakīrṇakas to 35 works consisting of Aṅgas, Upāṅgas, etc., the number of Āgamas is arrived at. As stated earlier, we have no tradition of the fixed established uniform titles of the ten Prakīrṇakasūtras […]. It is a fact that no sound basis for fixed established ten titles of the ten Prakīrṇakasūtras is available […]. Muni Puṇyavijaya was confronted with doubts during his long research in this field. […] This being the situation, Muni Shri Punyavijayaji made up his mind to publish those 20 Prakīrṇakasūtras whose old or very old manuscriptions are available in different Jain manuscript libraries.

A. M. Bhojak, introduction, pages 76 to 77 in Muni Puṇyavijaya 1984

Thus the number of the Prakīrṇakas fluctuates between 10 and 20, or even more sometimes.

Lists and titles

Statue of Ānandasāgara-sūri, the 20th-century reviver of the holy writings or Āgamas of Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks. Ācārya Ānandasāgara-sūri established Agam Mandirs devoted to the scriptures and inspired the 1999 publication of the canon in a single volume

Image of Ānandasāgara-sūri
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

To reach the number of 45 Āgamas which has become a sectarian marker for the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjaks, ten Prakīrṇakas are needed. But the question is then – which ones?

It seems there has always some disagreement over which writings make up the class of Prakīrṇakas. Lists vary and the order of texts within lists also differs, according to the criteria adopted. This dispute extends into contemporary study and practice, with diverging lists published in the 20th century.

The table presents the most commonly admitted list of these texts.

Sanskrit title

Prakrit title


Approximate stanzas




The ‘four refuges’



Ātura-pratyākhyāna (1)


‘Sick man’s renunciation’





‘Renunciation of food’





‘Straw bed’





‘Reflection on rice grains’

177 + prose




‘Hitting the mark’





‘Praise of the kings of gods’





‘A Gaṇi’s knowledge’

80 to 86




‘Great renunciation’





‘Great renunciation’


But the complexity of the situation is indicated by the report that a document published by the Jaina Conference at the beginning of the 20th century contained three different lists of ten Prakīrṇakas. Kurt von Kamptz, the first Western scholar to work seriously on these texts, clearly saw the intricacies of categorising the Prakīrṇakas (1929: 5–6).

The eminent scholar monk Muni Puṇyavijaya produced an edition of these texts in a volume called Paiṇṇaya-suttaiṃ. This lists 20 Prakīrṇakas. The first ten comprise those texts listed in the table above. The other ten are given in this table.

Sanskrit title

Prakrit title


Approximate stanzas


Maraṇa-samādhi or Maraṇa-vibhakti

Maraṇa-samāhi or Maraṇa-vibhatti

‘Concentration at the time of death’





‘Sayings of the seers’

Individual poems with varying number of stanzas




‘Condensed verse teaching on continents and oceans’



Catuḥ-śaraṇa or Kuśalānubandhi-adhyayana

Causaraṇa or Kusalāṇubandhi-ajjhayaṇa

‘The four refuges’




Āura-paccakkhāṇa (2)

‘Sick man’s renunciation’ (2)



Ātura-pratyākhyāna by Vīrabhadra

Āura-paccakkhāṇa by Vīrabhadda

‘Sick man’s renunciation’ (3)





‘Conduct for the monastic group’





‘Garland of hymns’



Jyotiṣ-karaṇḍaka by Pādaliptācārya


‘Basket of astronomy’





‘Disintegration of the ford’


Ācārya Ānandasāgara-sūri, a monastic leader of the 20th century who edited the Āgamas and made them known to a large audience, also compiled a list of Prakīrṇakas. Published in the Agamodaya Samiti series, this list combined works from both the earlier listings. Using the numbering from the preceding tables, this table shows the ten texts Ācārya Ānandasāgara-sūri considered to be Prakīrṇakas.

Sanskrit title

Prakrit title


Approximate stanzas




The ‘four refuges’



Ātura-pratyākhyāna (1)


‘Sick man’s renunciation’





‘Great renunciation’





‘Renunciation of food’





‘Reflection on rice grains’

177 + prose




‘Straw bed’





‘Conduct for the monastic group’





‘A Gaṇi’s knowledge’

80 to 86




‘Praise of the kings of gods’



Maraṇa-samādhi o Maraṇa-vibhakti

Maraṇa-samāhi or Maraṇa-vibhatti

‘Concentration at the time of death’


This is also the list adopted in the recent edition of the 45 Śvetāmbara Āgamas by Muni Dīparatnasāgara (2000).

Furthermore, some scholars, such as Hiralal Rasikdas Kapadia, give the label of ‘supernumerary Prakīrṇakas’ to some texts. This is a small group of texts that may be called Prakīrṇaka in the manuscripts. Among them is the Jambū-adhyayana or Jambū-ajjhayaṇa, a narrative text devoted to the Elder Jambū-svāmin. Written in Prakrit prose, it imitates canonical language and phraseology.

Finally, the Aṅga-vidyā or Aṅga-vijjā stands on its own but is occasionally included in this broad and welcoming category. It is an important Prakrit work on signs and divination in prose and verse.

Language and form

The Prakīrṇakas are all written in the variety of Prakrit known as Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī. They thus differ from the texts in the main categories of the Śvetāmbara canon such as the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas, which are composed in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit. Thus, from this angle, they may represent a later group of scriptures.

The vast majority of the texts categorised as Prakīrṇakas are in verse. They mostly use the metre known as āryā, unlike other canonical texts, which also use older syllabic metres such as the śloka, the triṣṭubh and the jagatī. This is also a sign of their slightly later composition. One exception is the Gaṇi-vidyā, where āryās and ślokas are represented in balanced proportion. However, their arrangement is such that the text might date back to the ‘Jain Middle Ages’ (Schubring 1969: 402), which could correspond to the 10th to 12th centuries.

Examples of Prakīrṇakas written in verse with prose portions are the Taṇḍula-vaicārika and the Ṛṣi-bhāṣitāni.

The length of the Prakīrṇakas varies considerably from one text to the other. The shortest one is the Vīra-stava, which has 43 stanzas. Longer ones have between 200 and 400 stanzas. Some of them – such as the Ātura-pratyākhyāna and the Catuḥ-śaraṇa – are known in more than one recension. Careful philological investigations show the impact of intertextuality, which has resulted in additions or reworkings in texts of related contents (Caillat 1992, Caillat 2008).

In contrast with other classes of the Śvetāmbara canon, some of the Prakīrṇakas are attributed to or composed by a named author.


This manuscript painting shows the nine planets or celestial elements – navagraha. The sun – sūrya – is in the middle and around him revolve the planets. The panel on the left shows the moon in his chariot. Below him are Ketu and Rāhu, who cause eclipses.

The nine celestial elements
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Mostly, the Prakīrṇakas do not repeat what is found in other categories of the Śvetāmbara canon. Rather, certain texts in this group single out and deal extensively with topics or trends found in other Śvetāmbara scriptures that are not developed there. Examples include:

Mentioned in the Aṅgas and Upāṅgas, these themes are treated more systematically in several Prakīrṇakas. Thus the Prakīrṇaka writings are kinds of supplements. Other subjects are also covered in some detail in other Śvetāmbara scriptures, such as:

One Prakīrṇaka – the Ṛṣi-bhāṣitāni – is unique among the holy writings. Using both poetry and prose, it is made up of a number of individual works. Of disputed age, it shares some elements with Buddhist texts and the Hindu Upaniṣads.

The contents of many of the Prakīrṇakas show that they are directed explicitly or implicitly at the Jain ascetic rather than the Jain lay man. This is particularly true of the works that deal with the predominantly mendicant practice of fasting to death.

Fasting to death

This manuscript painting shows two monks fasting to death – sallekhanā – under the supervision of a monastic teacher. The teacher or mentor is present throughout the ritual, overseeing the stages of penance and renunciation that end in the 'sage's death'.

Fasting unto death
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Several Prakīrṇakas are concerned with the theme of fasting to death. A theologically important notion, it is honoured among Jains as a profound expression of faith and spirituality. Though it is touched on in various writings of the Śvetāmbara canon, fasting to death is discussed in detail in some of the Prakīrṇakas.

This ritual practice is mentioned or described in several passages of the Aṅgas, the primary class of Śvetāmbara scriptures. It is the recommended final stage of a pious religious life, as seen in many canonical stories found in the eighth and ninth Aṅgas. The pattern story is that of Khandaga Kaccāyana, a brahmin converted to Jainism, whose life story is narrated in the fifth Aṅga – the Vyākhyā-prajñapti.  Examples of ascetics fasting to death are more numerous, but the seventh Aṅga – the Upāsaka-daśā – which is concerned only with Jain lay men, show that they can also decide to die this way.

This subject has become crucial to Jain identity. A number of Prakīrṇakas deal with it at length, principally the:

  • Ātura-pratyākhyāna in its various versions
  • Bhakta-parijñā
  • Mahā-pratyākhyāna
  • Maraṇa-samādhi or Maraṇa-vibhakti
  • Saṃstāraka.

Although they vary in length, these texts are closely interrelated and occasionally borrow material from each other, so that the boundary between them is rather thin. Some of them seem to focus rather on the monk, while others also include the lay man in their coverage of the ritual.

These Prakīrṇakas turn around the notion conveyed by the Prakrit term ārāhaṇā and the Sanskrit term ārādhanā – ‘reaching the goal’ – by resorting to ‘the ‘wise [one]’s death’ – paṇḍita-maraṇa. The person who strives for this goal is an ārādhaka. Such texts thus form a Śvetāmbara counterpart to the Bhagavatī Ārādhanā, a Digambara work written in Śaurasenī Prakrit. Its lengthy discussion of the topic has produced a range of story books centring around the names of saints mentioned in its verses.

These Prakīrṇakas share several common themes regarding fasting to death. Also called the ‘wise one’s death’, this ritual has significant spiritual and mental dimensions, which are crucial for the process to be considered a proper performance of the ritual.

Details of the ritual

This manuscript painting shows examples of 'the fool’s death' – bāla-maraṇa – or suicide. Various methods of suicide are colourfully illustrated here, including hanging, poisoning and jumping from a high place.

Suicide – the fool's death
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

These five Prakīrṇakas explain at length the main points relating to the ritual of the ‘sage’s death’.

Firstly, fasting to death – paṇḍita-maraṇa – is presented as the opposite of ‘the fool’s death’ – bāla-maraṇa. The former is the result of a decision taken in full consciousness and is the final step in a long practice and training in pious life, whether as a monk or lay man. The terms parijñā and samādhi in two of the titles point to a decision taken with awareness and concentration. The Sanskrit term samādhi-maraṇa is also used to refer to this type of death. The fool’s death, on the contrary, covers various forms of suicide, the result of being subject to passions or delusion.

Secondly, a mendicant may choose this type of death when his or her physical capacities weaken with incurable illness, great age or other circumstances. The Ātura-pratyākhyāna specifies irremediable sickness as a possible reason. The reasons for choosing the sage’s death given in the Prakīrṇakas are slightly different from what one reads in the first Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon. The Ācārāṅga states that external conditions should not be motivating factors in this decision.

Thirdly, in order to be achieved fully, the sage’s death needs careful preparation. This requires the assistance of a teacher or mentor of some sort. He is present throughout the full process, from when the mendicant proclaims his decision until the last instant.

Next, the faster must complete certain prerequisites before beginning the ritual, including:

  • giving up worldly pleasures
  • victory over sense organs – that is, not being ruled by the senses
  • observing proper conduct
  • enduring all hardships
  • giving up attachments of all sorts.
  • restating mendicant or lay vows.

Hence the texts often include stanzas describing the ‘three jewels’ of Jain doctrine:

The Prakīrṇakas also pay homage to the Five Entities – Pañca-parameṣṭhins – who illustrate these qualities in the best way.

Fifthly, the practitioner must prepare mentally. It is vital that the faster is totally cleansed of mental impurity, passions, sins and so on. This is achieved by making confession, asking for forgiveness and performing atonement. If faults are not confessed properly, they remain in the heart as pricking thorns that make one suffer. The Prakrit word saṃlehaṇā (see for instance Maraṇa-vibhatti 176) and its Sanskrit equivalent sallekhanā – which has become the standard term for this practice – actually means ‘scraping or emaciating the passions’ (Williams 1963: 166).

Furthermore, the faster must possess moral firmness to complete the practice properly. This moral purposefulness is guaranteed by concentration or meditationbhāvanā or anuprekṣā – on proper topics, such as the:

  • disgusting nature of the body
  • miseries experienced by the embryo
  • painfulness of rebirths
  • ultimate loneliness at the hour of death.

Related to this is the moral support provided by the teacher or mentor. This support implies offering the faster similes and, especially, examples from stories. The model characters in these tales decide to resort to specific penances and finally achieve them, bearing pains and difficulties without their resolve weakening. Several of the Prakīrṇakas unfold verses which briefly describe the lives of such figures. Sanatkumāra, who endured all diseases, and Gajasukumāla, who resisted extremely painful tortures, are among those often referred to. For example see Maraṇa-samādhi stanzas 413ff or Saṃstāraka 56–87 (von Kamptz 1929).

Next, the wise one’s death consists, in practice, of reducing the amount of food in stages. Towards the end, the practitioner takes only fluids, taking gradually smaller quantities until nothing at all is consumed. The Prakīrṇakas codify modes of renunciation, which the assisting teacher can adjust to the dying one’s capacities. Details of the ritual of fasting unto death are found more specifically in the Bhakta-parijñā.

In addition, the practitioner has also left his monastic community and no longer uses his mendicant equipment. He is therefore outside his usual environment.

Finally, the faster resorts to ‘a bed of straw’ – saṃstāraka. He lies on this until he dies, attended by his teacher.

When taken together, all these texts thus provide a full picture of all the aspects relating to fasting to death. But it should be noted that the practical aspects are not always their main concern. Rather, considerable emphasis is put on the mental and spiritual elements of the full process.

Astronomy, medicine and prophecies

This manuscript painting depicts the course of the moon and an eclipse. The moon - candra - rides across the sky in a chariot each night. In Indian mythology Ketu and Rāhu form a snake that swallows the moon or sun, bringing about eclipses.

Moon's path and eclipse
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Two of the Prakīrṇakas treat subjects outside the Jain teachings. The Jyotiṣa-karaṇḍaka and the Taṇdula-vaicārika deal with quite technical matters on unrelated areas. The former provides great detail on time and calendars and on astronomy. The Taṇdula-vaicārika, on the other hand, is concerned with the physical body and medicine.

The Jyotiṣa-karaṇḍaka is explicitly a work on time-measurement, astronomy and calendrical matters. Containing a lot of information that can be compared with non-Jain works on these topics, it thus represents an important contribution of the Jains to this area of knowledge. Among other things, it provides information on:

  • the various instruments that can be used to measure time, such as the clepsydra or water clock
  • divisions of time
  • calculations relating to the lunar days
  • the movements of the stars
  • revolutions of the moon and the sun
  • the length of seasons.

The Taṇdula-vaicārika is so named because it deals with the amount of ‘rice grains’ – taṇḍula –consumed by a man in a life of one hundred years. More broadly, it is concerned with matters relating to the nature of the physical body. The text expands on expositions found in the second and fifth Aṅgas.

The general idea is that the body is disgusting and should be considered impure and impermanent. This observation is not specifically Jain, being found also in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. But this text connects with the trend of Jain thought where the body is the starting point for thinking and meditation on the impure and the impermanent. Practice of the dharma is the only thing that is secure and is a way to overcome rebirth. In contrast, human beings of the distant past, who lived at the time of the first Jina Ṛṣabha, for instance, represent a kind of golden age and had perfect physical constitutions.

The development of the argumentation allows the transmission of information on several areas of knowledge relating to the human body (Caillat 1974). These include:

  • the different stages of the formation of the embryo in the womb, from conception to maturity and birth
  • elements of gynaecology
  • anatomy of the body
  • medicine proper, with all the diseases that may affect the body.

The result is that the Tandula-vaicārika can be read as a Jain counterpart and supplement to medical knowledge found in the Āyurvedic tradition.

The area of using signs to predict the future is represented by the Gaṇi-vidyā, in the context of monastic life.

Monastic knowledge and life

This illustration from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript depicts some of the qualities of a 'true monk', a perfect ascetic

The 'true monk'
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Two Prakīrṇakas are concerned with elements of monastic conduct. The Gaṇi-vidyā concentrates on the knowledge the leader of a monastic group should command. The Gacchācāra, on the other hand, deals with monastic life in general plus the subject of celibacy.

The Gaṇi-vidyā deals with what the head of a monastic groupgaṇin – should know. This is not knowledge in general, but a technical type of knowledge conveyed by the term vidyā, which is close to astrology and divining the future. According to passages in the Jain scriptures, mendicants should not resort to this type of knowledge and practice. However, in practice this means ‘not all mendicants’. Such recommendations are meant to stop ordinary monks indulging in divinatory activity rather than banning it altogether.

The head of a monastic group is here presented as being in charge of knowledge connected with the calendar. This is important because he or she should know which dates are appropriate for the different activities that make up mendicant life.

The nine sections of the text are:

  • natural days
  • lunar days
  • constellations
  • divisions of the day – karaṇas
  • days of the planets
  • moments – muhūrta
  • omens of bird activity
  • astral conjunctions
  • interpretation of signs.

The Prakīrṇaka known as the Gacchācāra deals with monastic conduct. According to the text itself, it is extracted from the Cheda-sūtras. These Śvetāmbara canonical works are specially devoted to the rules mendicants must follow in their daily lives and to penances in case of lapses. Unlike all Jain scriptures, it is meant to be read by monks and nuns alike. It can be viewed as a convenient abstract of technical and difficult works that are not always put in the hands of all mendicants. The emphasis is both on the monastic group as a whole – the gaccha – and on the behaviour of each of its components, namely:

  • the teacher – ācārya or sūri – who is the support of the whole community
  • the monk – sāhu in Prakrit – at various ranks
  • the nun – ajjā in Prakrit.

The issues of the relationship between monks and nuns and the conditions required for observing proper celibacy are discussed here in some detail.

‘Sayings of the Seer’

The types of human lives are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The length of life and many of the experiences of a lifetime are determined by karma, which comes mainly from behaviour in previous lives.

Kinds of human lives
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The place of the Ṛṣi-bhāṣitāni in the Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures is unique and special. In mixed prose and verse, the Sayings of the SeerṚṣi-bhāṣitāni – are individual compositions each attributed to a named seer. They display some archaic linguistic features, which have led some scholars to class this work as rather old. Others, however, consider this text as new work in old garb, which is perhaps intended to lend it the authority of ancient compositions.

This Prakīrṇaka is most adequately described as ‘a collection of some early views on simple religio-philosophical matters held by various thinkers of the time’ (Bhatt 1979: 163). Indeed, the names of some of the seers are found in non-Jain sources as well. Some of the verses and literary images have precise parallels and counterparts in Buddhist scriptures. This suggests that some of the poems, if not the whole work, may reflect shared concerns. Other statements point to parallels with those expressed in early Brahmanical thinking, as represented in the Upaniṣads (Nakamura 1967–68).

The subjects on which proclamations are made relate to:

  • transmigration
  • the nature of the soul
  • the nature of truth
  • the role of karma.

The stanzas are often concise and enigmatic – as if to underline that they do not come from ordinary persons but from wise individuals with visionary qualities.

Hymns of praise

The Prakīrṇakas of the Vīra-stava and the Sārāvalī are devotional songs. Hymns of praise have a special place in Jain scriptures. Despite its title, however, the Devendra-stava is not a hymn.

The Vīra-stava is one of the first surviving Śvetāmbara hymns to the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. The oldest instance is the one found in the second Aṅga of the canon. This short text starts by listing 26 names or epithets which can be applied to Mahāvīra. Each of them is then analysed and explained in turn.

Sanskrit epithets for Mahāvīra in the Vīra-stava

Sanskrit epithet for Mahāvīra

English meaning



‘who does not grow’ seeds that will create a jungle of rebirths



‘who kills the enemies’ of passions, troubles and attacks, and therefore ‘who is worthy’ of praise or homage



‘who is worthy of homage’



‘god’ – with divine qualities



‘victorious’ over the cycle of rebirth






‘extremely compassionate’



‘who knows all’



‘who sees all’



‘who has reached the other side’ – that is, who has totally mastered all teachings and has crossed the ocean of rebirth



‘knower of the three times’ of past, present and future



‘lord’ – honorific title



‘who has put an end to attachment’






‘teacher to all the three worlds’ of the Jain universe






‘the best favour in the three worlds



‘venerable’ – honorific title



‘maker of ford’ across the river of rebirths


Sakkehiṃ namaṃsiya or Sakk’-abhivandiya

‘revered by Indra’, the king of the gods



‘lord among the Jinas’



‘increaser of prosperity’



‘Hari’ – a name of the Hindu god Viṣṇu, one of the triad



‘Hara’ – a name of the Hindu god Śiva, one of the triad



‘Brahmā’ – a name of the Hindu god Brahmā, one of the triad



‘Buddha’ – ‘enlightened one’

The last four names give Mahāvīra titles usually associated with one of the three main Hindu gods or the Buddha. These are a way of saying that he is superior to them and that he includes them all in himself.

The Sārāvalī is noteworthy as the first text in the Śvetāmbara canon that deals with Mount Shatrunjaya, even though it might not be very old. The holiest among the holy places for the Śvetāmbara Jains is here given one of its numerous names – Puṇḍarīka-giri. The text is a praise of this sacred hill, offering information, legends and details of benefits resulting from religious practices performed there.

Although it is called ‘hymn of praise’ – stava – the Devendra-stava is a technical treatise describing particulars of the ‘kings of gods’, and is thus related to scriptures about the Jain universe. A lay man starts with a praise to the Jina. When he states that the Jina’s qualities are paid homage to by the ‘32 kings of gods’, his wife asks about them. The remaining 305 stanzas are devoted to this subject. All the technical aspects of the four main classes of gods are dealt with in turn. These gods are the:

The last part of the work is concerned with the general and particular features of ‘gods’ as a category. It covers various parameters such as the colours of their souls, their size and the types of knowledge they have.

Jain universe

This detail of a manuscript painting shows the yellow and blue mountain range of Mānuṣottaraparvata or 'Mountain Beyond Mankind'. In Jain cosmology human beings can live only in the Two and A Half Continents, up to the inner half of the third continent.

Mountain Beyond Mankind
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Two Prakīrṇakas discuss Jain cosmology, a substantial topic underlying religious doctrine. It is thus an important element of religious belief and features in other holy writings.

The Dvīpa-sāgara-prajñapti is a supplement to what is found in other texts of the Śvetāmbara canon describing the Jain universe. This Prakīrṇaka focuses on components that are not dealt with extensively in these other writings. Among these items are the:

  • Mānuṣottara mountains, which mark the boundary of human life
  • Añjana mountains
  • Ratikara mountains
  • Kuṇḍala continent
  • Rucaka continent.

The Tīrthodgālī is a long text concerned with:

This last will occur at an extremely distant period of time, when King Kalkin insults the Jain teaching. The comprehensive description of the figures of Jain Universal History – the Jinas, the Cakravartins, the Baladevas and the Vāsudevas – takes place in the context of a broader discussion on the cycles of time. This describes the descending eras – avasarpiṇī – and the descending eras – utsarpiṇī.

General teaching

Two of the Prakīrṇakas cover general topics of Jain doctrine.

The Catuḥ-śaraṇa deals with the ‘four refuges’ of the:

The text censures bad actions and praises good actions.

The Candra-vedhyaka first appears to deal with rather common subjects in the Jain faith. They are:

  • proper conduct, characterised by modesty and respect for religious hierarchy – vinaya
  • the ideal teacher – ācārya
  • the ideal discipleśiṣya
  • the virtues of victory resulting from proper religious conduct
  • the qualities of knowledge
  • the qualities of monastic life.

But the last section, which deals with the qualities of proper death, brings it closer to the Prakīrṇakas that have fasting unto death as their central topic. This section explains in detail the mental state and purity of mind which should mark out the human being at the hour of death. This is especially important for the Jain ascetic. A peaceful mind, purified by confession of all possible transgressions, is the ultimate condition for a pious death. It is significant that in the version edited by Muni Puṇyavijaya (1984) this last section is increased by a sizable group of stanzas that focus more on internal purity than on external rituals (Caillat 1992). The title Hitting the Mark means being prepared to reach the goal at the hour of death.


  • Āgama-ratna-mañjūṣā The Āgama-ratna-mañjūṣā, the monumental edition of the 45 holy writings or Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak sect. Inspired by Ānandasāgara-sūri, the book is often enthroned as a sacred object in temples. This one is housed in the Agam Mandir in Surat, Gujarat.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • Image of Ānandasāgara-sūri Statue of Ānandasāgara-sūri, the 20th-century reviver of the holy writings or Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak sect. Ācārya Ānandasāgara-sūri established a new type of temple devoted to the scriptures in the 1940s and inspired the 1999 publication of the Śvetāmbara Āgamas, known as Āgama-mañjūṣā. The Agam Mandirs hold engravings of the 45 scriptures, which are intended for worship, or at least darśana – being seen.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir
  • The nine celestial elements This painting from a manuscript shows the nine planets or celestial elements – navagraha. The sun – sūrya – is in the middle and around him revolve the planets. The panel on the left shows the moon in his chariot. Below him are Ketu and Rāhu, who cause eclipses.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Fasting unto death This manuscript painting shows two monks fasting to death – sallekhanā – under the supervision of a monastic teacher. The teacher or mentor is present throughout the ritual, overseeing the stages of penance and renunciation that culminate in the 'sage's death' – paṇḍita-maraṇa. The spiritual dimension is key, with the faster dying in a state of mental and spiritual purity.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Suicide – the fool's death This manuscript painting shows examples of 'the fool’s death' – bāla-maraṇa – or suicide. Various methods of suicide are colourfully illustrated here, including hanging, poisoning and jumping from high places.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Moon's path and eclipse This manuscript painting depicts the course of the moon and an eclipse. The moon - candra - rides across the sky in a chariot each night. In Indian mythology the ninth and tenth celestial elements bring about eclipses. Together, Ketu and Rāhu form a snake that swallows the sun or moon, causing an eclipse.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • The 'true monk' This illustration from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript depicts some of the qualities of a 'true monk', a perfect ascetic. The largest figure of a Śvetāmbara monk is the teacher, sitting on a dais. He discusses doctrine with his pupils, who show him due deference. Below stand two monks in the kāyotsarga meditation pose, one of the six obligatory actions each monk and nun must complete each day. Performing meditation is one of the internal austerities that helps burn karma and encourages spiritual progress.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Kinds of human lives The types of human lives are shown in this painting from a manuscript. The length of life and many of the experiences of a lifetime are determined by karma, which comes mainly from behaviour in previous lives. Examples of experiences that are shown include suicide, mendicancy and soldiery.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Mountain Beyond Mankind This detail of a manuscript painting shows the yellow and blue mountain range of Mānuṣottaraparvata or 'Mountain Beyond Mankind'. In Jain cosmology human beings can live only in the Two and A Half Continents, up to the inner half of the third continent, Puṣkara. The Mountain Beyond Mankind cuts Puṣkara into two along the middle of its ring-like geography. Separating the human lands from other lands with an uncrossable barrier, the Mountain Beyond Mankind is normally depicted as a crenellated wall in maps or pictures of the human world. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Further Reading

‘Les lecteurs jaina śvetāmbara face à leur canon’
Nalini Balbir
Ecrire et transmettre en Inde classique
edited by Gérard Colas and Gerdi Gerschheimer
Études thématiques series; volume 23
École Française d’Extrême Orient; Paris; 2009

Full details

‘On the role and meaning of the Śvetāmbara canon in the history of Jainism’
Nalini Balbir
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Jaina Law
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 4
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2013 – forthcoming

Full details

‘Review of W. Schubring: Isibhāsiyāiṃ’
Bansidhar Bhatt
Journal of Religious Studies
volume 7: 1
Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1979

Full details

‘Das Kanonproblem bei den Jainas’
Klaus Bruhn
Kanon und Zensur
edited by Aleida Assman and Jan Assman
Archäologie der literarischen Kommunikation series; volume II
Wilhelm Fink Verlag; Munich, Germany; 1987

Full details

translated and edited by Colette Caillat
volume 34
Publications de l'Institut de Civilisation Indienne; Paris, France; 1971

Full details

‘Sur les doctrines médicales dans le Tandulaveyāliya: 1. Enseignements d’embryologie’
Colette Caillat
Indologica Taurinensia
volume 2
International Association of Sanskrit Studies; 1975

Full details

‘Sur les doctrines médicales dans le Tandulaveyāliya: 2. Enseignements d’anatomie’
Colette Caillat
Adyar Library Bulletin
volume 38
International Association of Sanskrit Studies; 1974

Full details

‘Fasting unto death according to the Jaina tradition’
Colette Caillat
Acta Orientalia
volume 38
Oriental Societies of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden; Stockholm, Sweden; 1977

Full details

‘Interpolations in a Jain Pamphlet or The Emergence of one more Āturapratyāhyāna’
Colette Caillat
Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens
volume 36

Full details

‘On the composition of the Śvetāmbara tract Maraṇavibhatti-Maraṇasamāhi-Paiṇṇaya'
Colette Caillat
Jaina Studies
edited by Colette Caillat and Nalini Balbir
Proceedings of the XIIth World Sanskrit Conference series; series editor Petteri Koskikallio and Asko Parpola; volume 9
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 2008

Full details

Āgama suttāṇi
edited by Muni Dīparatnasāgara
Āgama Ārādhanā Kendra; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

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

The Jaina Path of Purification
Padmanabh S. Jaini
University of California Press; Berkeley, California USA; 1979

Full details

Über die vom Sterbefasten handelnden älteren Paiṇṇa des Jaina Kanons
Kurt von Kamptz
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Hamburg in 1929

Full details

A History of the Canonical Literature of the Jainas
Hiralal Rasikdas Kapadia
Surat, Gujarat, India; 1941

Full details

‘Study of Titthogāliya’
Dalsukh D. Malvania
Bhāratīya Purātattva: Purātattvācārya Muni Jinavijaya Abhinandana Grantha
edited by R. S. Dandekar
Śrī Munijinavijaya Sammāna Samiti; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1971

Full details

‘Yājñavalkya and other Upaniṣadic Thinkers in a Jaina Tradition’
Hajime Nakamura
Adyar Library Bulletin
volume 31–32

Full details

‘Causaraṇa-Paiṇṇaya: An edition and translation’
K. R. Norman
Adyar Library Bulletin
volume 38

Full details

edited by Muni Puṇyavijaya and Amritlal Mohanlal Bhojak
Jaina Agamas series; volume 17: 1, 2, 3
Śrī Mahāvīra Jaina Vidyālaya; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1984–1989

Full details

Muni Puṇyavijaya
Prakrit Text Society; Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1957

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The Doctrine of the Jainas: Described after the Old Sources
Walther Schubring
translated by Wolfgang Bühlen
edited by Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Lala Sunder Lal Jain Research series; volume 15
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2000

Full details

Tandulaveyāliya. Ein Paiṇṇaya des Jaina-Siddhānta: Textausgabe, Analyse und Erklärung
Walther Schubring
Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse series; volume 6
Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz; Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate and Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany; 1969

Full details

Isibhāsiyāiṃ: A Jaina Text of Early Period
Walther Schubring
L. D. series; volume 45
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1974

Full details

Isibhāsiyāiṃ: Aussprüche der Weisen
Walther Schubring
Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien series; volume 14
De Gruyter; Hamburg, Germany; 1969

Full details

Walther Schubring
Indo-Iranian Journal
volume 11

Full details

'On Karaṇas in Jaina Calendar’
S. D. Sharma
and S. S. Lishk
volume 8: 1–4

Full details

Albrecht Weber’s Sacred Literature of the Jains: An Account of the Jaina Āgamas
Albrecht Weber
translated by H. W. Smyth
edited by Ganesh Chandra Lalwani and Satya Ranjan Banerjee
Jain Bhavan; Calcutta, West Bengal, India; 1999

Full details

The “Śvetāmbara Canon.” A Descriptive Listing of Text Editions, Commentaries, Studies and Indexes: Based on Editions held in the Library of the Australian National University
Royce Wiles
unpublished; Canberra, Australia; 1997

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

Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras
Robert Williams
London Oriental series; volume XIV
Oxford University Press; London, UK; 1963

Full details



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


Authoritative scriptures. The holy texts that are considered authoritative depend on the group and the period.


Literally 'limb' in Sanskrit, Aṅga is a term for the first category of 11 texts that form the Śvetāmbara scriptures. There were originally 12 but the last has been lost for centuries.

Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit

A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.


Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.


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.


The regressive or descending half-cycle in the Jain conception of time. With the second half, the progressive one, avasarpiṇī forms a complete cycle of time.


Traditional system of medicine in the Indian subcontinent, based on the principle of balancing the three types of energy – doṣa – each person has.


One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal History, Baladevas are the older half-brothers of the Vāsudevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Baladevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Baladevas are devout Jains who, after renouncing the world to become monks, are usually liberated but may be reborn as gods in one of the heavens. Baladevas are also known as Balabhadras.


A practice for internal self-improvement, such as meditation or reflection. It is also the term for:

  1. a synonym of anuprekṣā among the Digambaras
  2. 25 supporting practices that uphold mendicant vows.


Sanskrit term meaning the 'Residents of Dwellings'. The class of gods that resides in mansions and lives like princes in the first hell of the Middle World.


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


Title meaning ‘Enlightened One’ in Sanskrit and Pali. It is most frequently used for Siddhārtha Gautama, whose teachings form the basis of the Buddhist faith. He lived about 563 to 483 BCE in the north-eastern area of the Indian subcontinent, around the same time and in the same area as Mahāvīra, the last of the 24 Jinas.

His life story is similar to that of the Jinas in certain ways, such as:

  • his mother had significant dreams on the night of conception
  • he was born a prince into a kṣatriya family
  • as an adult he renounced his wealthy, pleasurable life to seek the meaning of life through asceticism.

After six years he reached enlightenment while meditating and from then on was known as Buddha – 'Awakened One' or 'Enlightened One'.


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

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

Both sects are practised in India.


Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.


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


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.


A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.


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


Duty, religious codes or principles, the religious law. Jains think in terms of dharma or underlying order in the universe.

Related to this, the term is also used for the true nature of an object or living entity. For example, the dharma of:

  • fire is to burn
  • water is to produce a cooling effect.

The 15th Jina of the present age is called Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the vajra – diamond thunderbolt. There is no historical evidence of his existence.


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.


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


A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.


A term used for a man who is one of those listed in early sources as the direct successors of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina.


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.


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.


A religious title for a monk in charge of a small group of mendicants, who live and travel together. A gaṇinī is a nun who leads a group of female mendicants. 


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.


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.


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

Jaina Śaurasenī

A variety of Prakrit. A spoken language, it became used primarily for drama in northern India during the medieval period and is the language used for the main Digambara scriptures.


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.


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.


'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'.


The third class of gods, who are the astral or luminous bodies, such as the sun, moons, planets and stars. They live in the middle of the three worlds.


Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.


'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'.


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.

Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit

A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.


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.


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.


Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.


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.


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.


A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.


The study of texts with a focus on language. It covers the historical development and structures of languages, and of written records. Philologists may be interested in establishing the authenticity or age of a text or in tracing the introduction and evolution in usage of certain terms or languages.


A rather flexible class of Śvetāmbara scriptures, which not all Jains believe to be canonical. Several texts deal with sallekhanā or fasting unto death.


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.


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.


The ‘three jewels’ that form the fundamentals of Jainism, without which spiritual progress is impossible. They are:

  • right faith – samyak-darśana
  • right knowledge – samyak-jñāna
  • right conduct – samyak-cāritra.


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.


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.


A common term for Jain male mendicants.


Someone who is declared by a religious organisation or by popular acclaim to be of outstanding goodness and spiritual purity, usually some time after his or her death. The person's holiness is often believed to have been demonstrated in the performance of miracles. Saints are frequently held up as examples for followers of a religious faith.


The progressive eradication of passions and other negative features in order to reach total spiritual purity. In practice, it is the ritual of fasting unto death.


'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.


'Right insight' or the proper view of reality, which means faith in the principles of Jainism taught by the Jinas. The first of the Three Jewels of Jainism and a necessary first step in spiritual progress.


'Right knowledge'. Once one believes the principles of Jainism, one has to learn them and know them properly. The second of the Three Jewels.


Sanskrit for 'community'. The Jain ‘fourfold community’ is composed of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women.


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.


Reality or truth. This is very important to Jains and the satya-vrata is the second of the mendicant's Five Great Vows and the lay person's Five Lesser Vows.


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


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.


An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.


Breaking a religious or moral principle, especially if this is done deliberately. Sinners commit sins or may sin by not doing something they are supposed to do.


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


'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.

Universal History

A Western academic term used for the largely medieval texts that hold the Jain legendary history of the world. Recounting the life stories of the '63 Great or Illustrious Men', the writings are intended to provide role-models for later Jains. The main texts of Jain Universal History are the:

  • Śvetāmbara monk Hemacandra's Triṣaṣti-śalākā-puruṣa-caritraLife Stories of 63 Great Men
  • Mahā-purāṇaGreat Ancient Tale – of the Digambara writers Jinasena and Guṇabhadra.


A class of scripture in Hinduism, the Upaniṣads were first written down in the sixth century CE. Thirteen Upaniṣads form part of the sacred Vedas, although well over 100 Upaniṣads are known. Chiefly philosophical works on human existence and the universe, the Upaniṣads discuss topics such as the nature of reality and the definition of and path to the soul's liberation. They form the basis of key concepts in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, and thus are key to the development of Indian culture.


The progressive or ascending half-cycle in the Jain conception of time. With the first half, the descending one – avasarpiṇī – it forms a complete cycle of time.


Deities in the upper world of the Jain universe, who each have celestial vehicles or mounts. There are 26 in the Śvetāmbara tradition and 39 according to the Digambara sect. There are two types:

  • the kalpopapanna-devas in the lower heavens
  • the kalpātīta-devas in the higher heavens.


One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal HistoryVāsudevas are the younger half-brothers of the Baladevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Vāsudevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Each one battles his mortal enemy, one of the Prati-vāsudevas. For breaking the principle of non-violence, the Vāsudevas are reborn as hell-beings – nārakis. Some may then become Jinas in their next lives. Vāsudevas are also known as Nārāyaṇa.


Knowledge, especially magic knowledge or power.


Reverence towards the elders, modest behaviour.


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. 


A category of deities that lives between the first hell and the earth. There are eight types of Vyantara. They are the second type of gods and are recognisable by their various symbols.

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