Jainism – a way of life




NO RELIGION or faith is free from divisions within its main framework. Jains are also divided into many sects. Different viewpoints arising out of scriptural interpretations have led to different factions. The first rift came after the nirvāna of Lord Mahāvir. Monks at that time were having different opinions about wearing clothes. For some monks true renunciation means giving up one’s own clothes too. But for others it was the basic requirement in order to live and mix with lay people.

There was a big famine in India about 160 years after the nirvāna of Mahāvir. Jains were divided not only geographically but their ideas as regards interpretation of the code of conduct differed very much. It is largely believed that Pārshvanāth’s followers were in favour of the usage of clothes for the monks. Mahāvir himself had given up or did not care to pick up his last peace of cloth entangled in the bush. After his nirvāna there were debates about this issue but his followers continued both tendencies. Early scriptures mention monks of both traditions without any reference of a rift. However the rift was a real one (AD 80) and became a fully developed ideology within the main structure. The monks who were wearing white clothes were called Shvetāmbaras and those monks who propagated total nudity were called Digambaras. Digambaras have always stressed the practice of nudity as an absolute pre requisite to the mendicant’s path and to the attainment of salvation. But the Shvetāmbaras say that the practice of complete nudity is not an absolute requirement for nirvāna.

Digambaras believe that a woman must be reborn as a man before a nirvāna. But the Shvetāmbaras hold the contrary view and say that women are capable to attain nirvāna in their present lifetime.

The division of the Jain religion into two sects was only the beginning of splitting the religious order into various sub sects. Each of the two great sects split into various sub-sects depending on the interpretations of the scriptures.

Sub-sects within the DIGAMBARA sect:-

1. Bisapantha,
2. Terāpantha, and
3. Taranapantha or Samaiyapantha.

(1) The followers of Bisapantha support the religious authorities known as Bhattarakas who are also the heads of Jain monasteries. The Bisapanthas, in their temples, worship the images of Tirthankaras and also the idols of Kshetrapala, Padmāvati and other deities. While performing these worships the Bisapanthis sit on the ground and do not stand. They perform Ārati, i.e., waving of lights over the idol, in the temple even at night and distribute sweets (prasada). Most Digambara Jains from Mahārashtra, Karnataka and South India plus a sizeable number of Digambara Jains from Rajasthan and Gujarāt are the followers of Bisapantha.

(2) Terāpantha:

Terāpantha sect started in AD 1596 ‘as a revolt against the domination and conduct of the Bhattarakas’. Terāpanthis install the idols of Tirthankaras and not of Ksetrapala, Padmāvati and other deities. Further they worship the idols not with flowers, fruits and other green vegetables (known as sachitta things), but with sacred rice called ‘Aksata’, cloves, sandal, almonds, dry coconuts, dates, etc. As a rule they do not perform Ārati or distribute Prasada in their temples. Again, while worshipping they stand and do not sit.

The Terāpanthis are in greater number in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. It is noteworthy that Terāpantha sub-sect appears both between the Digambara and the Shvetāmbara sects but the two Terāpanthis are entirely different from each other. While the Digambara Terāpanthis believe in nudity and idol worship, the Shvetāmbara Terāpanthis are quite opposed to both.

(3) Taranapanthis:

Three main peculiarities of the Taranapanthis:- (a) the aversion to idol worship, (b) the absence of outward religious practices, and (c) the ban on caste distinctions. This sect evolved as a revolt against the religious beliefs and practices prevailing in the Digambara Jain sect, and it appears that Tarana-Swāmi might have formulated these principles under the direct influence of Islamic doctrines and the teachings of Lonkāshāh, the founder of the non-idolatrous Sthānakvāsi sub sect of the Shvetāmbara sect.

In recent years a new sub sect known as ‘Kanji pantha’ (followers of Kanji Swāmi) is formed and is becoming popular especially among the educated sections. Kanji Swāmi was a ‘Shvetāmbara Sthānakvāsi’ by birth and was very much influenced by the sacred texts of the Digambara Jain Āchārya Kunda-Kunda. Kanji Swāmi put greater stress on the philosophy of nischaya naya, that is, realistic point of view, in preference to vyavahara naya, that is, practical point of view. Digambaras generally consider that both the viewpoints are of equal importance. However, the influence of Kanjipantha is steadily increasing and Sonagarh near Pālitānā in Gujarāt and Jaipur in Rajasthan have become the centres of this particular ‘sect’.

Sub-sects in Shvetambara

Shvetambara sect has also been split into three main sub sects:

1. Murtipoojaka,
2. Sthānakvāsi, and
3. Terāpanthi

(1) Murtipoojaka:

The original stock of the Shvetāmbaras is known as Murtipoojaka Shvetāmbaras since they are the worshippers of idols. They offer flowers, fruits, saffron, etc. to their idols and adorn them with jewelled ornaments.

Their ascetics cover their mouth with strips of cloth while speaking; otherwise they keep them in their hands. They stay in temples or in the especially reserved buildings known as upashrayas. They collect food in their bowls from the Shrāvakas or householders’ houses and eat at their place of stay.

The Murtipoojaka sub sect is also known as Derāvāsi.

The Murtipoojaka Shvetāmbaras are found scattered all over India for business purposes in large urban centres but mainly they are concen­trated in Gujarāt and Maharashtra.

(2) Sthānakvāsi:

The Sthānakvāsis arose not directly from the Shvetāmbaras but as reformers. Lonkāshāh, a rich and well read merchant of Ahmedabad, founded the original reformist sect in about 1474 A.D. The main principle of this sect was not to practice idol worship. Later on, some of the members of the Lonka sect disapproved of the ways of life of their ascetics, declaring that they lived less strictly than Mahāvira would have wished. A Lonka sect layman, Viraji of Surat, received initiation as a Yati, i.e., an ascetic, and won great admiration on account of the strictness of his life. Many people of the Lonka sect joined this reformer and they took the name of Sthānakvāsi, meaning those who do not have their religious activities in temples but carry on their religious duties in places known as Sthanakas, which are like meditation ­halls.

The Sthānakvāsis are also called by terms as (a) Dhundhiya (searchers) and (b) Sadhumargi (followers of Sadhus, i.e., ascetics). Except on the crucial point of idol worship, Sthānakvāsis do not differ much from other Shvetāmbara Jains. Sthānakvāsis do not approve of idol worship at all. They do not have temples but only sthānakas. The ascetics of Sthānakvāsi cover their mouths with strips of cloth (muhpatti) all the time and they use only white clothing. Moreover, the Sthānakvāsis admit the authenticity of only 32 of the scriptures where as the Shvetambaras Moortipoojaks believe in 45 scriptures (Āgams).

The Shvetāmbara Sthānakvāsis are also spread in different business centres in India but they are found mainly in Gujarāt, Maharashtra, Punjab, Harayana and Rajasthan.

It is interesting to note that the two non idolatrous sub sects, viz., Taranapanthis among the Digambaras and Sthānakvāsi among the Shvetāmbaras, came very late in the history of the Jain Church and to some extent it can safely be said that the Mohammedan influence on the religious mind of India was greatly responsible for their rise.

(3) Terāpanthi:

The Terāpanthis are also found within Sthānakvāsi section. Swāmi Bhikkanaji Mahāraj founded the Terāpanthi sub sect in 1760 A.D.

As Āchārya Bhikkanaji laid stress on the 13 religious principles, namely, (i) five Mahāvratas (great vows), (ii) five samitis (regulations) and (iii) three Guptis (controls or restraints), his sub sect was known as the Tera-pantha (path of thirteen) sub sect. In this connection it is interesting to note that two other interpretations have been given for the use of the term Terāpantha for the sub sect. According to one account, it is mentioned that as there were only 13 monks and 13 laymen in the group, it was called Terā-pantha. Sometimes its followers give another interpretation of the term Terāpantha. Terā means yours and pantha means path; in other words, it means, “ Lord Mahāvir! It is your path.”

The Shvetambara Terāpanthis also do not believe in idol worship.

The penance of Terāpanthis is considered to be very severe. The dress of Terāpanthi monks and nuns is akin to that of Sthānakvāsi monks and nuns. But there is a difference in the length of a piece of white cloth (muhapatti) kept to cover the mouth.

The Terāpanthis are considered reformists as they emphasise simplicity in religion. For example, the Terāpanthis do not even construct monasteries for their monks, who inhabit a part of the house, which the householders build for themselves.

There are other minority groups, which are known by their followings of certain monks or by their origin. Some Jains came to be known by the name of towns. e.g. A group of kshtriya Jains who came from the town called Oshia in Rājasthān state are called Oshwāls. Oshwāls have their own strong organisation. Porvāds and Bhinnmāls are another two names, which came to exist in a similar way.

Most Jains are business people. They are therefore called Vaniās or Vaniks.( The word Vaniā comes from Vanijya which means business). There are many kinds of Vaniks. In East Africa nine different types of Vaniks gathered together and founded their own term which is referred to as ‘Navnat’.


There are now 7.5 million Jains in the world. There are between 150,000 and 200,000 Jains living outside India.

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