Jainism (/ˈnɪzəm/), traditionally known as Jain Dharma, is an ancient Indian religion. Followers of Jainism are called “Jains”, a word derived from the Sanskrit word jina (victor) and connoting the path of victory in crossing over life’s stream of rebirths through an ethical and spiritual life. Jains trace their history through a succession of twenty-four victorious saviors and teachers known as Tirthankaras, with the first being Rishabhanatha, who is believed to have lived millions of years ago, and twenty-fourth being the Mahavira around 500 BCE. Jains believe that Jainism is an eternal dharma with the Tirthankaras guiding every cycle of the Jain cosmology.

The main religious premises of Jainism are ahimsa (“non-violence”), anekantavada (“many-sidedness”), aparigraha (“non-attachment”) and asceticism. Jain monastics renunciants and devout householders take five main vows known as vratas, outlined in their oldest surviving text, the Acaranga Sutra: ahimsa (“non-violence”), satya (“truth”), asteya (“not stealing”), brahmacharya(“celibacy or chastity”), and aparigraha (“non-attachment”). These principles have impacted Jain culture in many ways, such as leading to a predominantly vegetarian lifestyle that avoids harm to animals and their life cycles. Parasparopagraho Jivanam (“the function of souls is to help one another”) is the motto of Jainism. Namokar Mantra is the most common and basic prayer in Jainism.

Jainism has two major ancient sub-traditions, Digambaras and Svetambaras; and several smaller sub-traditions that emerged in the 2nd millennium CE. The Digambaras and Svetambaras have different views on ascetic practices, gender and which Jain texts can be considered canonical. Jain mendicants are found in all Jain sub-traditions, with laypersons (śrāvakas) supporting the mendicants’ spiritual pursuits with resources.

Jainism has between four and five million followers, with most Jains residing in India.[6] Outside India, some of the largest Jain communities are present in Canada, Europe, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Suriname, Fiji, and the United States. Major Jain festivals include Paryushana and Daslakshana, Mahavir Jayanti, and Diwali.

About the author: Devendra Bagnal Verified icon 2

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