Article: Sects

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Just as other religions have different groups within them, so Jainism has several sects or traditions, which were born as the religion developed. At the beginning of the Common Era, the followers of the Jinas separated into two groups, focusing on practices and beliefs surrounding mendicants. These groups gradually developed distinct doctrines and histories, boasting different canons of sacred writings and significant figures. These remain the main divisions or sects of Jainism.

The Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects each contain smaller subsects, which differ from the mother sect in various points of doctrine and practice. Though they may have fierce differences and disagreements over certain aspects of doctrine or practice, especially regarding the ownership of pilgrimage places, all the groups consider themselves Jains.

Very broadly, all lay and mendicant Jains can be grouped in sects. Monks and nuns are affiliated with various mendicant orders, which can be thought of as more or less a sect or subsect. For instance, a monk belongs to the Tapā-gaccha. For lay Jains, this is not really an accurate description, however. A lay man defines himself as a member of society, of a caste, who may view himself as a follower of mendicants who belong to a given order or sect.

Members of a given tradition claim identical spiritual affiliation. Historically, a mendicant order has mostly been at the root of a sect, attracting lay followers. However, some sects have grown up around a charismatic lay person. Some sects are now extinct while others have emerged in the 20th century.

This fading away of old sects and arising of new ones is the sign of a living faith, one which is not monolithic and inflexible. Changes within the Indian society where most Jains live or in the countries where they have settled have an impact on religious practice and thought. This is compounded by developments in the non-Jain religious landscape. However, promoters of ascetic 'reforms' – which may develop into a new sect – often present their ideas as returns to the original purity that has been challenged or lost in the course of time.

Terms

This manuscript painting shows the 'fourfold community' of Jains listening to a Jina. All four parts of the Jain community are crucial and interdependent. Lay men and lay women are shown on the top rows with monks and a nun below

Fourfold community
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The largest group with which a Jain can be associated is the ‘sect’. This concept can be described using various terms, some of which are broad synonyms while others suggest a slightly different meaning. The two principal traditions of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains use the following Sanskrit terms for the notion of a sect:

  • saṅgha – community
  • gaccha – group
  • gaṇa – mendicant group
  • panth – path.

The broadest term is saṅgha. It can be used of the whole ‘fourfold community’, made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women. However, it can also describe the ‘monastic community’ – sādhu-saṅgha or muni-saṅgha.

Jains use the terms gaṇa or gaccha, both meaning ‘group’, for a ‘monastic order’. Most Śvetāmbara Jains also use gaccha to refer to the largest unit of association, often called the ‘sect’. It is part of the name of certain Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak sects, such as the Añcala-gaccha and Kharatara-gaccha. The Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin use sampradāya instead.

Digambara Jains tend to use gaccha or gaṇa to describe their groupings.

Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras

Idols of Ṛṣabha, Māhavīra and Pārśva, in the Śvetāmbara temple in Potters Bar, England. The last of the 24 Jinas, Māhavīra, is in the centre. The first Jina, Ṛṣabha, is on the left while Māhavīra's predecessor, Pārśva, is on the right.

Śvetāmbara figures of Ṛṣabha, Māhavīra and Pārśva
Image by unknown © Oshwal Association of the UK (OAUK)

The major division within Jainism, between the Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras, is likely to have started early in the Common Era and is over 1500 years old. These two traditions or sects take their names from the appearance of their monks. One of the main areas of dispute that was instrumental in the split is that of holy writings. These two sects now recognise different canons of sacred texts.

Within these principal sects are several smaller traditions or subsects. These may be named for characteristic practices or beliefs or after their founder or inspiration. For some of these the chief point of contention, which was probably the seed of the break from the main sect, is that of image worship. The subsects can be classed as either iconic or aniconic and can belong in either of the main sects. The larger category is the iconic tradition, usually dubbed Mūrti-pūjaka – 'image-worshipping' in Sanskrit – which believes that images of the Jinas and other figures should be the focus of worship. The aniconic sects maintain that it is not proper to worship images.

Within the principal traditions, subsects often develop when a new mendicant order forms. Usually created by a charismatic monk and based on different interpretations of scriptures, these monastic orders may attract lay followers. The movement may then develop distinct doctrines and practices that lead it to be described as a new sect.

It can be hard to tease out the full picture of sectarian development, especially those that do not exist today. The biggest source of textual evidence is the records kept by the mendicant orders. For this reason it is particularly difficult to reconstruct the course of the Digambara tradition, which relies less on precedent and rule than the Śvetāmbaras.

Main differences

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

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

The monks of the Digambara tradition – ‘sky-clad’ in Sanskrit – go naked because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers were nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This involves renouncing all worldly items, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white robes and thus, as technically spiritually advanced lay women, they are believed to be inferior to monks.

Both monks and nuns in the Śvetāmbara tradition – ‘white-clad’ in Sanskrit – wear white clothing.

The major differences between the two traditions are summarised in this table.

Main differences between Digambara and Śvetāmbara sects

 

Digambara

Śvetāmbara

Mendicant clothing

Monk – nothing
Novice monks – white clothing
Nuns – white robes

white robes

Mendicant equipment

  • peacock-feather broom
  • water-pot
  • bowls
  • water-pot
  • cotton broom
  • mouth-cloth

plus, for Mūrti-pūjak mendicants only:

  • bookstand
  • staff

Holy texts

Siddhānta:

  • Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama
  • Kaṣāya-prābhṛta
  • Prathamānuyoga
  • Karaṇānuyoga
  • Caraṇānuyoga
  • Kathānuyoga

Āgamas:

  • Aṅgas
  • Aṅga-bāhyas

Women

cannot achieve liberation

can achieve liberation

Sex of Jinas

are all male

the 19th Jina, Malli, was a woman

Images of Jinas

  • closed eyes
  • naked
  • usually lack jewellery and embellishment
  • open eyes
  • wear loincloths
  • often painted and set in ornately sculpted altars and temples

In the course of history, subsects or groups developed within both sects. They formed monastic lineages centring on the figures of successive monastic leaders. Records of such lineages – the paṭṭāvalis or gurv-āvalis – are available for several subsects. They represent valuable forms of official monastic history and chronology, and thus can shed light on the growth of the sect.

Digambara traditions

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

Digambara monks and novices
Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kimiya

Today full-fledged Digambara mendicantsmunis – are scarce. Continuing the ancient tradition of a senior monk's attracting pupils, the monks tend to gather followers. These are usually junior monks, novices and lay people. Digambara mendicants ‘seem to have an especially weak sense of standard training, of a line of pupillary succession, or of allegiance to an order’ (Carrithers 1989: 230). Instead, there is greater emphasis on the charismatic leadership of individual mendicants who are able to influence the lay communities.

In the past the situation was probably similar in terms of the significance of individual leaders. However, when there were more Digambara mendicants it seems to have been much more complicated. Dundas (2002: 121) has rightly noted ‘the complexity of medieval Digambara ascetic organisation in which a plethora of sects and subsects, many of them totally obscure to us today, emerged on the basis of preceptorial association and geographical connection with particular regions and towns’.

This intricate picture of the Digambara tradition is increased by the fact that, besides monastic lineages, there are regional lineages of the bhaṭṭārakas. These are based on seats of power in particular places. The establishment of a bhaṭṭāraka in certain areas has contributed to the survival of Digambara Jainism.

Information on historical and contemporary monastic lineages is hard to come by. Early lineages seem to have faded, with the present Digambara monastic community tracing its origins to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of the six groups around at that time, only three are now present in contemporary India (Flügel 2006: 350). These are:

  • Śānti Sāgar ‘Dakṣiṇ’
  • Śānti Sāgar ‘Chāṇī’
  • Muni Ādi Sgar ‘Ankalīkar’.

These statistics of Digambara mendicants are based on information on page 355 of Flügel 2006.

Digambara mendicants in 2000 and 2001

 Year

Males

Females

Total

2000

453

365

818

2001

508

394

902

Śvetāmbara sectarian traditions

This manuscript painting shows some of Mahāvīra's chief disciples. The 24th Jina had 11 chief disciples – gaṇa-dharas – who were his closest followers. Depicted in Śvetāmbara robes, the monks sit in lotus and demonstrate typical signs of holiness

Five of Mahāvīra's disciples
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

 

The main evidence for the origin of Śvetāmbara mendicant lineages is the Sthavirāvalī, which forms the second part of the Kalpa-sūtra, a holy text. It is meant to reflect the situation at the time of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. His direct disciples were the eleven gaṇa-dharas, who were the heads of nine mendicant groups – gaṇas. The difference in number comes from the fact that two groups were managed by two gaṇa-dharas at the same time.

The only one of Mahāvīra’s disciples who founded a monastic succession is Ārya Sudharman. All the later Śvetāmbara sectarian traditions claim descent from him except one, the Upakeśa-gaccha. This group claims descent from the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

The Sthavirāvalī continues the list of successive teachers who claim a common mendicant ancestor. The last one mentioned is Devarddhi Kṣamāśramaṇa, the teacher who organised the writing down of the holy scriptures in the 5th century CE at Valabhī, in Gujarat.

On the other hand, later records concerned precisely with the writing down of the holy scriptures show that two distinct recitations existed. These were associated respectively with the towns of Mathurā and Valabhī. This means that there was some sort of division and disagreement between two schools even at this stage.

From the 11th to 12th century onwards, quite a number of subsects emerged. This ferment was probably linked to the issue of image worship, which became crucial in the late medieval period, causing a major split. The labels that are mostly used nowadays to distinguish among the subsects of Śvetāmbara Jains go back to this relatively late period. They are:

Although there are key points of agreements among all the Śvetāmbara sectarian traditions, there are several areas of dispute.

The Śvetāmbara sects agree on the:

The main cause of the schisms is the correctness of worshipping images. The largest sect, the Mūrti-pūjaks, worship images whereas the Sthānaka-vāsin and Terāpanthin Jains do not. There are also other matters of disagreement, which have probably arisen over time partly as a way of distinguishing the sects from each other.

Main areas of Śvetāmbara sectarian disagreement

 

Mūrti-pūjak sect

Sthānaka-vāsin sect

Terāpanthin sect

Number of authoritative canonical scriptures

45

32

32

Worship of images

yes

no

no

Monastic equipment – staff

yes

no

no

Monastic equipment – broom handle

short

long

long

Monastic equipment – use of mouth-cloth

worn at certain times

worn permanently

worn permanently

Nuns' status – access to canonical scriptures, to various levels

yes

yes

yes

Nuns' status – permission to preach

no

no

yes

Other areas where the sects differ relate to the daily liturgy and recitation of prayers and to the religious calendar.

Image worshippers

Lay women take part in the procession that accompanies the installation of an idol in a temple – pratiṣṭhāmahot-sava. This is a major religious occasion among the sects that worship images. An idol of Neminath, the 22nd Jina, was at the centre of this day

Celebrating the installation of an idol
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

The largest sect is the Mūrti-pūjaka, which means ‘worshipper of images’ in Sanskrit, referring to images of the Jinas. Synonyms are the modern Indian words Derāvāsī – which literally means ‘staying in temples’ – and Mandir Mārgī – ‘temple-followers’. The Mūrti-pūjaks can be categorised into several subsects – gacchas:

Such terms have to be understood in contrast with the Sthānaka-vāsins, who reject image worship. This explains why these terms became common when the latter came into formal existence, between the 15th and 17th centuries.

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.

Non-sectarian movements

A woman prays in the temple to Shrimad Rajchandra at the ashram in Dharampur, Gujarat. A lay man who lived according to strict ascetic principles, Śrīmad Rājacandra was a 19th-century writer and reformer. His life and teachings have inspired many follower

Shrimad Rajchandra temple
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

The more recent religious movements that have arisen among the laity have no formal sectarian affiliation. Both setting great emphasis on the practise of asceticism and focusing on developing the soul, these groups sit outside the ages-old divisions of Digambara and Śvetāmbara.

These two non-sectarian movements seem especially attractive to the diaspora, perhaps suggesting that a broader Jain identity is more appealing than a traditional sectarian one for many contemporary Jains, above all those outside India who may face particular challenges.

Two major examples are the movement associated with Rājacandra and the Kānjī-svāmī-panth.

Obsolete sects

There were undoubtedly sects that rose and fell in the past which are barely known among contemporary scholars and believers. Research into past periods of intellectual activity and social change will probably reveal much about these little-known groups as well as uncover more about the development of existing sects.

One example of an obscure group that no longer exists is the Yāpanīya sect. Primarily a mendicant tradition, it has left some evidence and appears to have been powerful and intellectually influential for hundreds of years.

Yāpanīya sect

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

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

There is little clear evidence of this sect. With its origins and decline uncertain, it has a complicated history, which scholars have painstakingly begun to reconstruct. Even so, the meaning of yāpanīya is not fully clear. But it is apparent that it stresses the practice of restraint and has nothing to do with external appearance, as ‘śvetāmbara’ and ‘digambara’ do.

Yāpanīyas could have been active in the period of the mid-second century BCE to the third century CE. One item of possible evidence is the Mathurā votive tablets depicting monks wearing a piece of cloth on their forearms to hide their nudity. However, these mendicants could be Digambara monks trying to accommodate the feelings of non-Jains who are hostile towards public nudity.

There is inscriptional evidence of Yāpanīyas between the 5th and 15th centuries, mainly in Karnataka, where they seem to have had influence.

References in Jain texts also show that they were active in intellectual life during part of this period.

At least one author can be identified as having belonged to the Yāpanīyas. Writing in the ninth century, Ācārya Śakaṭāyana authored two works on major topics of dispute between the Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras. These are:

  • Treatise on Women’s EmancipationStrī-nirvāṇa-prakaraṇa (Jaini 1991)
  • Treatise on Food Consumption by the OmniscientKevali-bhukti-prakaraṇa.

These texts show that their doctrinal position stood between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras on key subjects of disagreement. For instance, Śakaṭāyana does not consider that nudity is a requirement for liberation and holds that women can be liberated. On these two matters, they seem to have been closer to the Śvetāmbara view.

The Yāpanīyas seem to have disappeared after the 15th century and merged with the Digambaras.

Images

  • Fourfold community This manuscript painting illustrates the 'fourfold community' of Jains listening to a Jina preach. All four elements of the Jain community are crucial and interdependent. Lay men and lay women are shown on the top two rows while monks and a nun are on the bottom. All the figures are kneeling and raise their hands in a gesture of respect.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London
  • Śvetāmbara figures of Ṛṣabha, Māhavīra and Pārśva Idols of Ṛṣabha, Māhavīra and Pārśva, in the Śvetāmbara temple in Potters Bar, England. The last of the 24 Jinas, Māhavīra, is in the centre. The first Jina, Ṛṣabha, is on the left while Māhavīra's predecessor, Pārśva, is on the right.. Image by unknown © Oshwal Association of the UK (OAUK)
  • Digambara monk sitting cross-legged Digambara monks live naked and without possessions as part of their renunciation of the 'householder' life. After they take religious vows to become wandering ascetics, Digambara monks use only a water gourd and a peacock-feather broom to sweep insects from their path. Nudity is respected as a sign of advanced spirituality because nude monks show detachment from the world.. Image by Jainworld © Jainworld.com
  • Digambara monks and novices Digambara monks live naked to demonstrate detachment from worldly concerns. As a sign of advanced spirituality, it is much honoured. To become a full Digambara monk, novices complete two stages after their initiation. A kṣullaka or junior novice is technically a lay man and wears three pieces of white clothing. An ailaka wears a white loincloth and lives as a monk. When he becomes a full monk he casts off his loincloth and goes nude.. Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kimiya
  • Five of Mahāvīra's disciples This manuscript painting shows some of Mahāvīra's chief disciples. The 24th Jina had 11 chief disciples – gaṇa-dharas – who were his closest followers. Depicted in Śvetāmbara robes, the monks sit in the lotus position and demonstrate typical signs of holiness and monastic seniority.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London
  • Celebrating the installation of an idol Lay women Maya, Rekha, Vipool, Amit, and Ajit Shah take part in the procession that accompanies the installation of an idol in a temple – pratiṣṭhāmahot-sava. This is a major religious occasion among the sects that worship images. An idol of Neminath or Lord Nemi, the 22nd Jina, was at the centre of these 2005 celebrations at the temple at Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, England.. Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah
  • Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin nuns 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 members of either of the Śvetāmbara sects of Sthānaka-vāsin or Terā-panthin.. Image by arjunstc – Arjun © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Monks preach to lay men This illustration from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows monks preaching to lay men. Though dressed in white, like monks of the Śvetāmbara sect, the mendicants are Digambaras. Sitting on low platforms above their listeners, the monks hold scriptures in their hands. The bookstands before them underline their role as religious teachers. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Shrimad Rajchandra temple A woman prays in the temple dedicated to Shrimad Rajchandra at the ashram in Dharampur, Gujarat. A lay man who lived according to strict ascetic principles, Śrīmad Rājacandra was a 19th-century writer and reformer. His life and teachings have inspired the establishment of many temples and ashrams.. Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta
  • Nude monks carrying cloths Nude monks are shown with small cloths over their left forearms in this fragment from a Jain temple. Dating from the mid-2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE, this part of a gateway may show Digambara monks making concessions to sensitivities about public nudity. However, the figures may be ascetics from the Yāpanīya sect, which vanished around the 15th century.. Image by Brooklyn Museum © CC-BY-NC

Further Reading

‘The A(ñ)calagaccha Viewed from Inside and from Outside’
Nalini Balbir
Jainism and Early Buddhism in the Indian Cultural Context: Essays in Honor of Padmanabh S. Jaini
edited by Olle Qvarnström
Asian Humanities Press; Fremont, California, USA; 2003

Full details

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

Full details

‘The Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak Jain Mendicant’
John Cort
Man (New Series)
volume 29: 4
Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland; 1991

Full details

‘A Tale of Two Cities: On the Origins of Digambar Sectarianism in North India’
John E. Cort
Multiple Histories: Culture and Society in the Study of Rajasthan
edited by Lawrence A. Babb, Varsha Joshi and Michael W. Meister
Rawat Publications; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 2002

Full details

‘A Fifteenth-Century Digambar Jain Mystic and his Followers: Tāraṇ Taraṇ Svāmī and the Tāraṇ Svāmi Panth’
John E. Cort
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2006

Full details

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

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘Jainism without Monks?: The case of Kaḍuā Śāh’
Paul Dundas
Approaches to Jaina Studies: Philosophy, Logic, Rituals and Symbols
edited by N. K. Wagle and Olle Qvarnström
Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto Press; Toronto, Canada; 1999

Full details

‘Demographic Trends in Jaina Monasticism’
Peter Flügel
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2006

Full details

Jaina Sects and Schools
Muni Uttam Kamal Jain
Concept Publishing Company; Delhi, India; 1975

Full details

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

Full details

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

Full details

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

Full details

Bhaṭṭāraka Sampradāya: A History of the Bhaṭtāraka Pīṭhas especially of Western India, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh
Vidyādhara P. Joharāpurakara
volume 8
Jīvarāja Jaina Granthamālā; Sholapur, Maharashtra, India; 1958

Full details

‘Rethinking Religious Authority: A Perspective on the Followers of Śrīmad Rājacandra’
Emma Salter
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2006

Full details

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

Full details

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

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

Glossary

Aniconism

The belief and practice of avoiding the representation of divinities or other religious figures, which may also include human beings or living creatures. Aniconic followers may use images of abstract shapes or symbols, such as pillars, as the focus of religious worship. Aniconic Jains are opposed to the worship of figures of Jinas and deities.

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.

Asceticism

The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.

Bhaṭṭāraka

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

Canon

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Another word for 'scripture'.

Caturvidha-saṅgha

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

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.

Diaspora

From the Greek term meaning 'scattering or dispersal', the word 'diaspora' describes large groups of people with shared roots who live away from their ancestral homes. They have usually moved because they were forced to by other groups, because they have fled war, famine or persecution, or to improve economic opportunies. They usually have strong emotional, religious, linguistic, social and economic ties to their original homeland.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Doctrine

A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.

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.

Gaṇa

In modern usage, a small monastic unit. In older sources it could refer to a large division of mendicant lineages. Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin use the term for their undivided mendicant community.

Gujarāt

The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.

Hindi

The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.

Idol

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

Initiation

Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.

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.

Karnataka

State in south-west India.

Kharatara-gaccha

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

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

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.

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.

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.

Mūrti-pūjaka

Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.

Nudity

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

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.

Renunciation

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

Rite

A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.

Sāgāra

Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.

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.

Schism

A serious split in a philosophical or religious movement or organisation, leading to the establishment of various groups with different beliefs, which may be hostile to each other.

Scripture

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

Sect

An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.

Sthānaka-vāsin

The Sanskrit phrase meaning ‘hall-dwellers’ is used for a Śvetāmbara movement that opposes the worship of images and the building of temples. The term Sthānaka-vāsī, whose origin remains unclear, came into widespread use in the early 20th century. The movement's roots can be traced to the 15th-century reform movement initiated by Loṅkā Śāh, from which the founders of the Sthānaka-vāsī traditions separated in the 17th century. Sthānaka-vāsīns practise mental worship through meditation. The lay members venerate living ascetics, who are recognisable from the mouth-cloth – muhpattī – they wear constantly.

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.

Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin

A subsect of the Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin, which originated in Rajasthan in the 18th century. The Terāpanthin do not worship images. One of the sect's best-known leaders was Ācārya Tulsī, who created a new category of ascetics in 1980. These samaṇ and samaṇī are allowed to travel using mechanised transport and to use money.

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.

Temple

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

Upāśraya

Dwelling-hall near a Jain temple where wandering ascetics stay. They may stay for a short time during their travels or for the long rainy season. There is usually a main room where lay Jains come to listen to sermons. Lay people may also perform fasts here, such as upadhāna tapas or rituals such as posadha that involve leaving household activities for a while.

Valabhī

The wealthy city of Valabhī – now Vallabhi – in Gujarat was a major centre of Jain intellectual life in the early medieval period. The final version of the Śvetāmbara canon was written down there under the supervision of the religious teacher Devarddhi-gaṇi Kṣamāśramaṇa in the fifth century CE.

Votive

An object offered for religious purposes to a representation of a holy figure or in a sacred place.

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