Article: Sects

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Non-image worshippers

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

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

Developing from the lay tradition established by the lay man Lonkā Śāh in the 15th century, the Sthānaka-vāsins reject the worship of images. Instead of temples the centre of public worship is the mendicant dwelling-hall. Meaning 'hall-dweller' in Sanskrit, ‘Sthānaka-vāsin’ seems to have become a common term only in the early 20th century.

Founded by a Sthānaka-vāsin monk who left his order, the Terāpanthins also do not believe that image worship is correct. Ācārya Bhikṣu established it in the 19th century, along with 12 other monks. The sect gets its name from this fact, because the Hindi term terāpantha or terahpantha means either ‘your path’ or ‘path of 13’.

Lay traditions

This illustration from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows Digambara monks preaching to lay men. Sitting on low platforms above their listeners, the monks hold up scriptures. The bookstands in front underline their role as religious teachers

Monks preach to lay men
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In the course of history, a new sect has commonly been generated after a new mendicant order has developed. However, a number of traditions that have arisen among both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras have been established among lay communities. Some of them were created by lay men who were not ordinary householders but who were also deliberately not fully initiated monks. Others were founded by mendicants but without giving birth to monastic lineages.

Comparatively recent religious movements that do not fit easily into the customary two-sect model have expanded rapidly. These may reflect changes within the wider Jain community, as increasing numbers of Jains settle outside India.

Sectarian movements

The Digambara lay sects are the:

  • Taraṇ Svāmī Panth
  • Terā-panthins
  • Bīs-panthins.

The three lay traditions in the Digambara sect all originated in the northern and central regions of India. As their characteristic features relate to the practice of rituals in worship, this was probably an important point in areas where Digambara Jains were smaller in number.

The Śvetāmbara sect also includes traditions that have a lay origin, namely the:

  • Kaḍuā-gaccha
  • Lonkā-gaccha.

Reactions against what they perceived as lax or unscriptural practices seem to have been behind the establishment of these new lay organisations. Following a strict ascetic lifestyle outside the formal mendicant orders is noticeable in the origins of these two subsects.

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