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Article: Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn

Contributed by Peter Flügel

The Sthānaka-vāsin are a specific sectarian tradition of the Śvetāmbara Jains which includes monastic orders and lay followers. They are found mainly in Gujarat and in the Hindi- and Punjabi-speaking areas of North India.

The word Sthānaka-vāsin literally means 'hall-dweller' in Sanskrit and should be understood as being the opposite of mūrti-pūjaka or 'image-worshippers'. A 'hall' here is an empty building, contrasted with temples where images of the Jinas are housed and worshipped. First found in a text written in 1630, the term 'Sthānaka-vāsin' became regularly used only at the beginning of the 20th century. The Sthānaka-vāsins are sometimes considered to be ‘protestant’ Jains.

Origins and early history

The Sthānaka-vāsinsect can be traced to the reform movement started by Lonkā (circa 1415–1489), also called Lunkā, Lumpāka and Loṅkā Śāh. Born in Rajasthan, Loṅkā was from an Osvāl background.

A lay man founding a reform movement is remarkable because mendicants usually start reforming factions. As a copyist of Jain scriptures for monks, Loṅkā read the texts himself and looked at the behaviour of the ascetics around him. He made some observations on the oldest Śvetāmbara scriptures, which proved the starting points of his reform. He found the following things were not in the holy texts:

  • the practice of merit-making by giving money as religious gifts to build temples
  • the performance of image-worship – mūrti-pūjā – or similar ostentatious rituals involving the breaking of flowers and other acts of violence
  • the notion of ascetics staying in one place.

According to Loṅkā, strict asceticism and total non-possession are the key words of the scriptures. Asceticism is made up of practising non-violence, self-restraint and penance. Therefore he denounced the legitimacy of the existing Jain sects that were in favour of image-worship, and started to follow the oldest textual prescriptions himself. Though he lived as an ascetic, he had not been initiated by any mendicant so he formed his own group.

There are few reliable sources on Loṅkā, partly because rival groups suppressed information about him. But there is overall agreement that Loṅkā:

The Loṅkā-gaccha – 'Loṅkā’s monastic order' in Sanskrit – was not founded by Loṅkā himself, but by his first disciple, Bhāṇa, who initiated himself and 45 followers of Loṅkā’s doctrine. This happened some time between 1471 and 1476. The new Loṅkā-gaccha took the 'five great vows'mahā-vrata – of the Jain monks and nuns.

From the 16th century until the 19th and 20th centuries, the history of the order is that of successive splits creating many subgroups. Most of them comprised an intermediate category of lay-ascetics called yati, who did not accept all of the monastic vows and returned to worshipping images.

The tradition now known as Sthānaka-vāsins derives from five monks who separately split from different lines of the Loṅkā-gaccha tradition during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Monastic organisation

Two Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn nuns walk along a road in India. The monks and nuns of the Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn sect wear permanent mouth-cloths to avoid harming minute life forms. Like all Jain mendicants, they use their brooms to sweep before they sit

Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn nuns
Image by Anishshah19 © public domain

The Sthānaka-vāsin monks and nuns are split into numerous groups, mainly on account of historical, doctrinal and regional differences they think cannot be overcome. There were unsuccessful attempts at promoting unity before the Śramaṇa-saṅgha was founded in 1952. This still unites the majority of the Hindi-speaking Sthānaka-vāsin orders.

At present, there are 26 mendicant orders, which have a very complex history. Their origins can be traced to one or more of the five principal reformers – pañca munis – of the aniconic Jain tradition.

First is Jīvarāja, who was probably born in Surat in Gujarat and lived some time between 1524 and 1641. Some Sthānaka-vāsin scholars believe that he launched the innovations that are crucial to Sthānaka-vāsin identity:

  • selecting the 32 scriptures that are agreed to be canonical by all Sthānaka-vāsins
  • introducing various monastic items characteristic of Sthānaka-vāsin mendicants, namely the square mouth-cloth – muṃhpatti – which is used permanently, and the long broom – rajoharaṇa.

The second main reformer is Dharmasiṃha (1599–1671), who founded the Āṭh-koṭī or 'Eight Class' tradition. He was a scholar and wrote Gujarati commentariesṭabo – on the Prakrit scriptures. He introduced a special pratikramaṇa rites for his lay followers and taught that there is no accidental death, because the life span of a living being is determined by its karma.

The third reformer is Lava or Lavjīṛṣi (circa 1609–1659), who was also born in Surat. He is the founder of the Ḍhuṇḍiyā or 'Seeker' tradition. According to their mūrti-pūjak opponents, this name comes from the early mendicants, who looked for other accommodation rather than stay in buildings in temple grounds used by mendicants from Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjak sects. Sthānaka-vāsins interpret the word as a term for those mendicants who seek the true path of salvation.

Fourth is Dharmadāsa (1645–1703), who also founded his own tradition. He initiated himself in 1660, launching the Bāīstolā or 'Twenty-Two Schools' group.

Lastly, Hara created his own branch of Sthānaka-vāsin mendicants in 1668 or 1728.

The most recent statistics show that Sthānaka-vāsins represent 27.5% of all Jain mendicants. In 1999, there were 3,223, divided into 533 monks and 2,690 nuns.


The Sthānaka-vāsins recognise 32 canonical scriptures as authoritative. This compares with 45 canonical scriptures for other Śvetāmbara groups. The Sthānaka-vāsins consider that the other 13 do not reflect the teaching of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, and are apocryphal.

The Sthānaka-vāsin canon comprises:

Sthānaka-vāsin views are expressed in the commentaries or creative writings authored by some of their teachers and written in local languages such as Gujarati and Hindi.

Significant beliefs and practices

Doctrinally, only Dharmasiṃha’s Āṭha Koṭi tradition in Gujarat differs significantly from the other four schools, which disagree only on minor points of philosophy and ritual.

A common religious activity for the Sthānaka-vāsin laity is dayā dharma. This is compassionate help – dāna – for animals and human beings. Establishing, funding and working in shelters for animals and people accumulates merit and advances the active Jain along the path of salvation.

There are three doctrinal characteristics shared by all the Sthānaka-vāsin traditions.

Rejection of image-worship

A Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin monk meditates. Meditation – dhyāna – is very important for all Jains but is one of the main methods of worship for members of the Sthānaka-vāsin sect. They reject the worship of images in favour of mental worship – bhava-pūjā

Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin monk meditating
Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

The laity generally rejects material forms of worship such as performing rituals and praying to idols. Instead they worship mentally, through meditation – dhyāna – and study – svādhyāya. Practising the austerities – tapas – of fasting and asceticism is also a focus of religious practice.

As with the Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin sect, which was formed after an 18th-century schism within the Sthānaka-vāsin, the Sthānaka-vāsin laity focuses worship on individual ascetics, as symbols of the ideal life.

Nowadays, an elaborate infrastructure of halls – sthānakas – which double as monasteries for visiting mendicants, exists for communal performance of these practices.

Strict ascetic conduct

Some Sthānaka-vāsin sects are known for following strict rules of behaviour in accordance with the prescriptions in the 32 accepted Jain scriptures. The monks and nuns are not allowed to wash their clothes, to use flushing toilets or electricity, to publish books and so on.

Compulsory use of a mouth-cloth

Sthānaka-vāsin mendicants must always wear a mouth-clothmuṃhpatti – to prevent their accidentally swallowing living beings such as insects and dust. They may remove the mouth-cloth while eating or drinking.

The square white mouth-cloth is the main visible sign of identity for Sthānaka-vāsin monks and nuns.


  • Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn nuns Two Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn nuns walk along a road in India. The monks and nuns of the Śvetāmbara Stānaka-vāsīn sect wear permanent mouth-cloths – muṃhpatti – to avoid harming minute life forms by accident. Like all Jain mendicants, they use their brooms to sweep before they sit or lie, so that they do not commit violence against tiny creatures. . Image by Anishshah19 © public domain
  • Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin monk meditating A Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin monk meditates. Meditation – dhyāna – is very important for all Jains but is one of the main methods of worship for members of the Sthānaka-vāsin sect. They reject the worship of images in favour of mental worship – bhava-pūjā. Śvetāmbara Sthānaka-vāsin mendicants wear mouth-cloths permanently. . Image by Shree Diwakar Prakashan © public domain

Further Reading

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

‘Protestantische und Post-Protestantische Jaina-Reformbewegungen: zur Geschichte und Organisation der Sthānakavāsi I’
Peter Flügel
Berliner Indologische Studien
volume 13–14
Berlin, Germany; 2000

Full details

‘Protestantische und Post-Protestantische Jaina-Reformbewegungen: zur Geschichte und Organisation der Sthānakavāsi II’
Peter Flügel
Berliner Indologische Studien
volume 15–17
Berlin, Germany; 2003

Full details

‘Protestantische und Post-Protestantische Jaina-Reformbewegungen: zur Geschichte und Organisation der Sthānakavāsi III’
Peter Flügel
Berliner Indologische Studien
volume 18
Berlin, Germany; 2007

Full details

‘Protestantische und Post-Protestantische Jaina-Reformbewegungen: zur Geschichte und Organisation der Sthānakavāsī IV’
Peter Flügel
Berliner Indologische Studien
volume 20
Berlin, Germany; 2012

Full details

‘The Unknown Loṅkā: Tradition and the Cultural Unconscious’
Peter Flügel
Jaina Studies
edited by Colette Caillat and Nalini Balbir
Papers of the XIIth World Sanskrit Conference series; series editor Petteri Koskikallio and Asko Parpola; volume 9
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India; 2008

Full details

‘Sthanakavasi Jain Tradition’
Peter Flügel
Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices
edited by J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann
volume 4
ABC-CLIO Ltd; Santa Barbara, California, USA; 2002

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



Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.


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.


Non-possession, or not having an attachment to possessions. It is the fifth of the Five Greater Vows of mendicants and the Five Lesser Vows of lay Jains. 


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 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.


Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.


An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.


Giving, specifically alms-giving to mendicants.


The long wooden staff used by Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak monks as a religious insignia and for walking. At the top Mount Meru is represented. Below it are carvings symbolising the Three Worlds of Jain cosmology or the Three Jewels. Below these are carved the auspicious symbol of a full water pot and then five horizontal lines representing either the Five Greater Vows or the Five Supreme Beings who are worthy of worship.


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


A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.


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.


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


The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.


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.


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


Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.


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.


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.


The five vows taken by ascetics. Monks and nuns must follow these ‘absolute’ vows of:

  • non-violence – ahiṃsā
  • truth – satya
  • taking only what is given – asteya
  • celibacy – brahmacarya
  • non-attachment or non-possession – aparigraha.

The 24th Jina Mahāvīra added a fifth vow to his predecessor Pārśva's four, making the vow of celibacy not just implicit but a separate vow.


The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.


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.


Modern Indo-aryan language term from the Sanskrit ‘mukhavastrikā'. The small rectangular piece of cloth permanently fixed over the mouth by some mendicant orders. This is to avoid being violent accidentally, either by inhaling tiny creatures or killing them by breathing over them unexpectedly.

This is not the same as the mouth-cover used on some occasions by other mendicants and by laypeople when they perform certain rites.


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.


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 third of the four śikṣā-vratas or vows that lay Jains take. It involves attending a religious hall and observing the life of an ascetic for 24 hours once a month, withdrawing from ordinary activities and fasting.


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.


'Introspection’ in Sanskrit. The elaborate ritual of confession and repentance that involves reciting liturgical texts and performing set gestures at dawn and dusk. It is one of an ascetic's six daily duties – āvaśyaka. For many lay people, pratikramaṇa is the essence of Jainism.


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.


Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.


The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.


The cotton-thread broom used by some groups of Śvetāmbara ascetics to sweep the ground before sitting, for example, so no insects or small creatures are harmed by mistake. It is also used by lay Jains when performing certain rites.


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 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.


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.


Someone who copies manuscripts for a living. Scribes are common in societies where literacy is rare. In the past, however, scribes could not always read and write fluently.


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.


The study of scriptures.


Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.


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. 


Among the Śvetāmbaras, a spiritually advanced lay man. It may also refer to a Jain monk.

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