Jain Religion

About Jainism : Jainism, traditionally known as Jain Dharma, arose in the 6th century BC as protest against the overdeveloped rituals of Hinduism, particularly its sacrificial cults and the authority of the Veda. Jaina tradition teaches that a succession of 24 tirthankaras (saints) originated the religion. The last, Vardhamana, called Mahavira (meaning the great hero) and Jina (the victor), seems to be historical. He preached a rigid asceticism and solicitude for all life as a means of escaping the cycle of rebirth, or the transmigration of souls. As Jainism grew and prospered, reverence for Mahavira and for other teachers, historical and legendary, passed into adoration and many beautiful temples were built and cult images set up.

Jainism has significantly influenced the religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India for well over two millennia. Jainism stresses the spiritual independence and equality of all life and lays particular emphasis on non-violence (ahimsa). Self-control is the means by which Jains attain moksha, Keval Gnan, or realization of the soul's true nature. A lay Jain is termed a shravaka i.e. a listener. The Jain Sangha, or order, has four components - monks, nuns, lay men and women.

Today, many of Jains are India's most prominent industrialists, bankers and political leaders. A distinctive form of charity among Jains is the establishment of asylums for diseased and aged animals.

Basic Principles : The five basic principles of Jains are:
  1. Ahimsa or Non-violence - not to cause harm to any living beings
  2. Satya or Truthfulness - to speak the harmless truth only
  3. Asteya or Non-stealing - not to take anything not properly given
  4. Brahmacharya or Chastity - not to indulge in sensual pleasure
  5. Aparigraha or Non-possession / Non-attachment - complete detachment from people, places, and material things.
Major Sects : The two major sects of Jainism are Svetambara and Digambaras. These two sects trace their origin to events that occurred 200 years after the death of Mahavira. Bhadrabahu, chief of the Jain monks, foresaw a period of famine and led all those who would follow him (12,000 people), to southern India. Twelve years later, they returned to find that Svetambara sect had arisen. The followers of Bhadrabahu became known as the Digambaras.
The Digambar monks do not wear any clothes because they believe Lord Mahavira did not wear any clothes and clothes are possessions, thereby increasing desire. The Svetambar monks wear white clothes because they believe there is nothing in Jain religious books to condemn the wearing of clothes. The different points of view are caused by different interpretations of similar holy books. The sadhvis (lady religious persons) of both sects wear white clothes. Both the sects differ on some other points too like accomplishment of salvation by women and the text of prayers.

Founder : The reformers of Jainism are called "Tirthankaras". The first tirthankara was Adinath or Rushabhanath. The last tirthankara was Vardhamana Nataputta, called Mahavira, who is sometimes referred to as the founder of Jainism.

Time of Origin : The actual date is disputed, but is believed to be no earlier than 850 BCE.

Place of Origin : India, exact place is not determined

Population : Jainism is among the smallest of the major world religions and has 4 to 5 million followers. Jains constitute 0.4% of the Indian population.

Regional Spread : The Jains live throughout India. They have a significant population in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat. A considerable number of Jains are also present in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Besides, Jainism has a large following in the Indian region of Punjab, especially in the towns of Ludhiana and Patiala. Metropolitan cities of India such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai as well as Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad have adherents of Jainism faith.

Outside of India, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) have large Jain communities. Besides, smaller Jain communities exist in Nepal, Japan, Singapore, Australia etc. Jainism as a religion was at various times found all over South Asia including Sri Lanka and what are now Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Afghanistan.

Major Idols : Jains idolize their Thirthankaras. Of all the Thirthankaras, great respect is given to first thirthankara - Rishabhnath and the last thirthankara Vardhamana Mahavira.

Religious Texts : Jain literature is classified into two major categories:
Lord Mahavir's preaching was methodically compiled by his followers into many texts. These texts are collectively known as Agams, the sacred books of the Jain religion. Hence, the Jain religion does not have one sacred book like the Bible or Koran, but it has many books complied by many followers. They are written in the Prakrit language. Agam literature is also divided into two groups:
  1. Ang-agams or Ang-pravista-agams: These texts contain the direct preaching of Lord Mahavir. They were complied by Ganadharas.
  2. Ang-bahya-agams (outside of Ang-agams): These texts are expansions of Ang-agams. They were complied by Srut-kevalis.
This consists of commentary and explanation of Agam literature and independent works, complied by elder monks, nuns, and scholars. They are written in many languages such as Prakrit, Sanskrit, Old Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannad, Tamil, German, and English.

Sacred Symbols : Jains have few core symbols. One Jain symbol incorporates a wheel on the palm of the hand. The holiest one is a simple unadorned swastika or svastika. The other major Jains symbols include:
  1. 24 Lanchhanas for Tirthankaras
  2. The Ashta-mangalas
  3. The Ashta-mangalas
  4. The Ashta-mangalas
  5. The dreams of Tirthankara's mother
  6. Dharma-chakra and Siddha-chakra
Food Habits : Jains have a strong belief in the doctrine of Ahimsa and hence are strictly vegetarian. Jainism forbids meat, fish, eggs, honey and figs. Strict Jains also do not eat any root vegetables like potatoes because smaller insects are killed in their harvest and the vegetable itself will have millions of bacteria. Some Jains also avoid garlic and onions because they increase sexual desires. However, the degree and strictness, to which it is followed, depends on individuals, and their family eating habits. Jains don't normally eat or drink anything after sundown is because it is believed that doing so would cause the death of minute microorganisms that emerge in the dark.

Wedding Traditions : Jains prefer marriages within their community. Unlike Hinduism, the Jain community condemns the practice of negotiating a dowry before marriage. Jains believe that there should be no waste of money or time. A typical Jain Marriage initiates with "Vagdana" - wherein the parents of the bride and groom declare the intention to marry them after which the "Pradana" takes place where the bride is gifted with ornaments.

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