Jainism – a way of life




JAINISM is one of the oldest religions of the world. Followers of ‘Jina’ are called Jains and hence the religion practised by Jains is called Jainism. Jinas are the ‘conquerors’. They have conquered all desires and have obtained infinite knowledge and wisdom. They have laid down the path for the spiritual uplift of humanity and hence are known as Tirthankaras. Two distinct lines of thoughts prevailed during that time. One was the Vedic culture and the other was the Shraman culture. The first one gave Hinduism to the world and the other culture gave Jainism and Buddhism.

The first Tirthankara was Rushabhdev. He taught all the necessary knowledge regarding farming, house building, and cooking and basic education in arts, science and commerce. His symbol is the bull. Some coins of pre-Aryan civilisation show the bull on one side and an ascetic on the other. According to some historians Jain philosophy existed in India before the arrival of the Aryan people.

The 22nd Tirthankara Nemināth, a cousin of Lord Krishna, was a kind-hearted prince. Nemināth was about to be married to a princess called Rājul. During the marriage procession Nemkumār, as he was then known, heard the cries of animals that were caged and were to be slaughtered for a grand feast in celebration of their marriage. Nemkumār could not tolerate this and ordered for the release of all animals. He even decided to renounce the world instead of marrying princess Rājul. Later on, Rājul also became a nun.

The 23rd Tirthankara Lord Pārshvanāth, was born more than 250 years before Mahāvir. He preached the religion of four principles: non-violence, truth, non-stealing and non-acquisition. His tradition continued even at the time of Mahāvir. During Mahāvir’s time many followers of Pārshvanāth’s tradition adopted the preaching of Mahāvir. A monk called Keshi who was a follower of Parsva tradition and the chief disciple of Mahāvir called Gautam had a lengthy discussion about the ideology, which has been well documented. Keshi had raised many questions to Gautam and Gautam answered and satisfied him with his scholarly approach. Keshi then accepted Mahāvir’s tradition.

Mahāvir is the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jains.

He was born more than 2,500 years ago, in a small town called Vaishāli in North India. Almost all Jain historians now accept that he was born in 599 BC. His father’s name was Siddhartha. His mother’s name was Trishlā. His father was one of the nine rulers of Vaishāli area. The senate consisting of nine kings governed Vaishāli. Perhaps this is a good example of the early democratic system in India. Mahāvir was born in the northwestern part of Vaishāli, which was called Kshtriyakund. This place is now in the modern Bihār state near the town called Patnā. According to the Shvetāmbar tradition, mother Trishlā saw fourteen dreams (saw fourteen different things in her dream).

She saw: A lion, an elephant, a bull, the goddess of wealth (Laxmi), a garland, the moon, the sun, a flag, a jar (kumbh), a lake full of lotuses, a sea of milk, a vimān (aeroplane), a heap of jewels, and a flame. The king and queen were full of joy, as they knew that the child who was to born would be a perfect child with supreme virtues. The dream readers or astrologers also confirmed this and said:- ‘When a great saviour, prophet or great victor of wars enters the womb, then his mother sees fourteen auspicious dreams. The child will become brave, he will expand his territory, and will be a great victor in battle-fields OR

He will be a Jina, a religious and spiritual master, leader of the three worlds and a winner of all aspects in religion.

A child was born on the thirteenth day of the bright half of the month Chaitra. His name was Vardhamān who came to be known as Mahāvir (Great and brave) as he had conquered his inner passions and gained victory over all attachments. This is more than a victory in the battlefield. Though born as a prince, Mahāvir left his royal household, gave up his worldly possessions and became a monk when he was 30 years old. He spent twelve and a half years in meditation and practising non-violence and self-control. He obtained infinite knowledge when he was 42. He spent thirty years in teaching the principles of Ahimsā (non violence) samyam (self control) and tap (austerities).

He founded a religious order consisting of four groups: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. This is called sangha or tirtha, and the founder of the tirtha with it’s complete guidelines and code of conducts is called Tirthankara.

He preached the principles of Jainism, as we know them now. He said. “Everyone wants pleasure and happiness, no one wants misery but those who are ignorant and attached to worldly pleasures suffer again and again. One who knows other people’s misery does not pursue worldly pleasures and avoids sinful acts”

Those who can avoid the bondage of sinful acts can obtain liberation. His message is simple “No one should try to obtain happiness at the expense of others”. Mahāvir recognised the fact (or rather he was the first one in human history to say) that plants have life and that they feel pain when cut.

‘O Man! The one you are thinking of killing is no one but yourself. The one you are thinking of putting in misery is yourself. With this sort of understanding you will have equality with all living beings’. (Āchārānga Sutra )

This was his message of living in harmony with nature, all birds, animals and fellow human beings. He died (Nirvāna or Moksha) in 527 BC, when he was 72 years old. Jainism recognises the sanctity of all life. As a community, Jains run panjrāpoles, which look after sick and invalid cattle. They feed hungry animals and birds as part of their feelings of Jiv-dayā (kindness towards all living beings)


Dates BC

Unknown        Arhat civilisation

Unknown        Vedic civilisation

877-777 Pārshvanāth (23rd Tirthankara)

599-527 Mahāvir (24th Tirthankara)

505        New Jains of Shrimāl town came to be known as Shrimālis

457        ‘Newly became’ Jains of Upkesh town (Osiā) came to be known as Oshwāls

367        12-year famines in north India, Āchārya Bhadrabāhu went to south India. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya became a Jain and he went with the Āchārya. 11 main Anga-books were re-compiled. Bhadrabāhu died in 357 BC

312        Āchārya Sthulibhadra died. King Khārvel ruled Kalinga who built or repaired thousands of Jain idols/temples

57          King Vikram’s coronation, Vikram Calendar started

? ?         Umāswāti (Umāswāmi) who wrote Tattavārthasutra


00        Christian calendar—- AD

51,       130 Palitānā temples restored by Javadshāh

? ?        Kundkund Āchārya’s

80        Main rift: Shvetāmbar and Digambara in Jain religion became more apparent.

453       Conference in Vallabhi. Final compilation of Jain Shvetāmbar scriptures.

453   First reading of Kalpasutra, which has become an annual ritual now during Shvetāmbara Paryushan

510       Huns ruled the northwestern partof India. Later on many Oshwāls left that area due to oppression

745         Pātan ( town ) in Gujarāt was founded, most Oshwāls went there to live.

778         84 sub-sects of Jains developed

943         57ft high statue of Gommteshvara was carved out, Consecration in AD 981

969-1015    Vimalashāh built a temple at mount Ābu

1010            Mohammed Gazni destroyed countless temples

1088-1172  Hemchandrachārya’s time.

Solankis ruled in Gujarāt. King

Kumārpal helped promote Jainism.

Many Jain temples were built. Golden period for Jain literature.

1218-1246  Vastupāl, Tejpāl were ministers in Gujarāt.

Built famous temple at Mount Ābu.

Starting of Dasā and Visā clan.

1255-1258  Crores of rupees were donated by Jain merchant Jagdushāh during the famine in those years.

1415-1489    Lonkāshāh founded Sthānakvāsi sect

1525             Mogul period starts in north India

1547             King Pratāp and his Jain minister

Bhamashāh fought the Moguls. Bhamashāh donated all his wealth to the cause.

1556            Mogul emperor Akbar. Jain monk

Hirvijaysuri was successful in preaching Akbar. All slaughter houses were closed during religious days

1644-1686  Yashovijayji, writer of the Shripāl Charitra (now being read during navpad-oli)

1762          Jain Shvetāmbar Terāpanth sub sect started, now having strong institution and movement in Rājasthān and elsewhere. (Vikram Samvat 1818)

1893      Parliament of the World’s Religions held at Chicago. Virchand Gāndhi represented Jainism.

1867-1901           Shrimad Rājchandra

Jainism outside India

26-7-1963 A Jain temple opened in Mombasa, Kenya

12-2-1984 A Jain temple opened in Nairobi, Kenya

July 1988 A Jain temple opened in Leicester, England

August 2006 A Jain Temple opened in Potters Bar, England.

There are Jain temples in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco and many other places in the U.S.A.

There is a Jain temple in Kobe, Japan

Soon a temple will be built in Antwerp, Belgium.


Bhadrabāhu Swāmi:- Bhadrabāhu Swāmi was born in 443 BC. He is believed to be a great astrologer and poet but above all he was the great scholar and the head ogfthe sangha. He is still revered with utmost respect. He wrote the Kalpa-sootra, a Jain Holy Book.

Hirvijay Suri:- Hirvijay was alive during the rule of the Mogul Emperor Akbar. Hirvijay Suri was born in 1526 AD. He explained the Jain philosophy to Akbar, as a result of which the king had ordered the closure of slaughterhouses during the Jain holy days.

Kundkundāchārya:- Highly respected and revered monk in the Digambara tradition. He was born during the later part of first century or early second century AD. Some of the well known holy books written by Kundkundāchārya are:

1. Pravachan Sāra
2. Niyam Sāra
3. Samay Sāra

The first two books deal with the essential duties of monk and nuns. The Pravachan Sāra is the one, which can be found in almost all devout Digambara’s homes. This books deals with the metaphysical treatises explaining matter, life and other aspects of the Jain philosophy. The third book, which is called the Samay Sāra, also describes metaphysical aspects. Samaya sāra teaches about the ultimate aim in one’s life and that is to know the pure soul and to realise that the pure soul is unbound and unpolluted by any karma. This is considered to be the most respected book of Kundakunda and it is believed that it is too sacred to be read by ordinary householders.

Umāswātiji:- Umāswātiji was born in the first century AD. He has written an important Jain book called the Tattavārtha Sutra. Both Shvetāmbaras and Digambaras alike have accepted this book and that is why the book is recognised as a main source material for philosophical aspects of Jainism. The first famous aphorism in the first chapter says that enlightened faith, enlightened knowledge and enlightened conduct lead to moksha or final emancipation.

Hemchandrāchārya:- He was born in a Vanik family in 1088 AD in a small town in Gujarāt. His parents were very much devoted to the Jain faith. Hemchandra joined the order of Jain monks at a very early age. He practised the austerities described in Jain literature. He crossed the whole ocean of learning within a short space of time. The then king Sidhharāj was impressed by the qualities of Hemchandrāchārya. Āchārya’s political wisdom, religious strength and immense knowledge gave him a special place in the king’s court.

King Sidhharāj had fought and won many battles. Once he won the battle of Malva, which was a superior place then Gujarāt. Malva had its own strong, unmatched literary tradition. Malva had the best Sanskrit grammar, whilst Gujarāt had none. The king wanted Gujarāt to be at the forefront of the literary field too. The king requested áchārya to compose a grammar, which would lift his prestige. Āchārya undertook this mammoth task. After continuous research and hard work áchārya composed the grammar of the Sanskrit and Prakrit languages. This work is still held in high esteem. When the work was completed the king celebrated the historical event. The book was placed on the king’s elephant and a colourful procession was held. More then 300 manuscripts of this work were made and sent to various parts of India. The roots of Gujarāti language lie in the ancient Prakrit and Apbhransa languages. Hemchandra discussed the apbhransa in his book; sustaining an important research work.

Hemchandra lived through to see two great rulers in Gujarāt’s Solanki dynasty. Kumārpāl became the king of Gujarāt after the death of Sidhharāj. Kumārpāl was greatly influenced by the Āchārya. It is said that he became a Jain and had many Jain temples built and restored.

This was the golden period of Jainism in Gujarāt. The king made many social and political reforms. He was influenced by Hemchandra and had given orders not to kill any animals in the kingdom. Hemchandrāchārya had a special place in the king’s court. The king regularly paid his respects to this great monk and received his blessings.

During these years Hemchandra’s literary journey continued. He wrote another mammoth work called ‘Trishashti Shalākā Purusha Charitra’ The book is about 63 great personalities. Hemchandra’s book on yoga is also very famous. Yoga-Shāstra describes all aspects of the yoga system. Āchārya has also written books on grammar, science, the art of poetry and different lexicons.

Although a Jain monk, Hemchandra was very sympathetic towards other religions. He went to Hindu temples and had composed a ‘Mahādeva Stotra’ in praise of Lord Shiva.

Hemchandra knew about his death six months before the actual end. He had finished all his works. He died at the age of 84 in AD 1173.

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