Article: Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin

Contributed by Peter Flügel

Maryādā Mahotsava

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

All monks and nuns in the Terāpanthin order attend the annual Festival of Restraint. Lay Terāpanthin communities send representatives to the festival, which lasts three or four days in January or February. Recently, it has become a large occasion, with some 50,000 pilgrims attending.

Instituted by Ācārya Jītmal – Jayācārya – in 1864 to mark Ācārya Bhikṣu’s completion of the rules governing monastic behaviour, the festival is when Terāpanthin mendicants recite an oath of loyalty to the ācārya. He chooses the members of groups of ascetics for the following year and decides where they will travel and spend the rainy season.

Modernising Jainism

Ācārya Tulsi was the head monk of the Śvetāmbara Terāpantha sect for 57 years. He was innovative, establishing the AĀuvrat Movement in 1949 and new types of mendicant in 1980. The samaṇas and samaṇīs can travel outside India, helping the Jain diaspora.

Ācārya Tulsi
Image by Pramodjain3 © CC BY-SA 3.0

In post-Independence India, Ācārya Tulsi insisted not only on the religious values of detachment and asceticism, but also that social values such as education and morality should be encouraged among the Jain laity.

In 1949 Ācārya Tulsi created the Aṇuvrat movement to develop non-violence and morality among lay followers. The movement is based on the aṇuvrat, meaning 'minor vows'. The term 'minor vows' describes the vows of lay Jains while Jain ascetics take the mahā-vrata or 'great vows'. Membership of the Aṇuvrat movement is open to all people, including non-Jains, and provides rules of ethics that guide everyday life. The rules emphasise self-restraint, tolerance, peace, friendship and unity. This shows Ācārya Tulsi’s drive to create a new Jain way of life and to extend traditional Jain values into wider society.

Female education is another area where Ācārya Tulsi’s contribution has been highly significant. The nuns, especially the samaṇis, are encouraged to study the scriptures and follow university courses. Several have gained PhDs in India and have written scholarly books.

In 1960 an initiative called nayā moḍ – 'new turn' – sought to stamp out ‘outdated’ social customs among the Terāpanth laity, such as dowries, ritual wailing and female purdah. Nowadays female education is encouraged and marriage across caste barriers permitted while dowries have been abolished.

Location

The main centres of Śvetāmbara Terāpanthin activity are in Rajasthan. This connection dates back to the birth of Ācārya Bhikṣu near Udaipur in the 18th century. It was reinforced by Ācārya Tulsi’s also being born in Rajasthan. His birthplace, Ladnun, is today the main centre of the Terāpantha.

Ladnun is also the seat of the Jain Vishva Bharati University, which is now the physical heart of the Terāpanthin movement. Founded in 1970, it combines spiritual and moral education in the Jain tradition with academic studies.

The activities of samaṇas and samaṇis among Jains outside India mean that the Terāpanthins are the fastest-growing Jain sect, although this increase is chiefly among the Jain diaspora. Today, lay followers of the Terāpanthins number between approximately 250,000 and 300,000.

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