Home   »   History   »   Jainism

Jainism History, Founder, Teachings, Sects, Doctrine, Symbol


Lord Mahavira’s promotion of Jainism in the sixth century B.C. helped the faith gain popularity. The term “Jain” comes from the word “Conqueror,” jina or jaina. There were 24 Tirthankaras (masters), and Rishabhanath or Rishabhadev was the first Tirthankara. Parshvanatha, who was born in Varanasi, was the 23rd Tirthankara. Vardhaman Mahavira was the 24th Tirthkara and the final one. For the art and culture sections of the UPSC Syllabus and the Subject History, Jainism is a crucial subject. It is a significant, old faith with Indian roots. You can learn about all the key Jain doctrines and facts in this article.

Read about: South Indian Dynasties

Jainism History

Rishabhadeva, the first Tirthankar, was the creator of Jainism. There are 24 Tirthankars in the Jain faith. A tirthankar is someone who has already passed the threshold between life and death and who has attained the states of Jina (conqueror), Arhat (capable), and Mahavira (enlightenment). All 24 Tirthankaras, with the exception of Mahavira and Parshavanath, are not factually justified; the first Tirthankar is Rishabha Dev, whose name is found in the Rigveda.

According to Jain tradition, Parshavanath, the 23rd Tirthankar, is a member of the Kasi Kshatriya royal line. He propounded 4 principles -Truth, Non-Violence, No Stealing, No Accumulation, and the fifth one was added by Mahavira, which is Celibacy, and then it became panch maha vrata for all disciples of Jainism. Dilwara Temple in Mount Abu (Rajasthan), Palitana Temples in Gujarat, Girnar (Gujarat), Shikharji (Jharkhand), and Shravanabelagola(Karnataka) are among the most important Jain religious sites in India.

Read about: Sangam Literature

Jainism Founder

Rishabhadev was the Jain religion’s creator. The identity of Jainism creator has given rise to a variety of theories and beliefs. By far, Rishabhadeva is regarded as the Jain religion’s original and true creator. Out of the 24 Tirthankaras, he was the first. Mahavir Jain was the last or 24th Tirthankara.

Adinath, Yugadeva, Adishwara, and Nabheya are additional titles for Rishabhdeva. The Rig Veda also contains his name. He was also the creator of the Ikshvaku Dynasty. By the current time loop, he should have lived millions of years ago. He was born in the North Indian metropolis of Ayodhya.

He got married and had two wives, Sumangala and Sunanda, just like any other guy would. According to legend, he had one daughter called Brahmi and 99 sons. Soon after, he began travelling, gave up worldly luxuries, and became a renunciate. He went for a year without eating, and today we observe Akshay Tritiya, an auspicious day, on the day he had his first meal, or ahara.

Read about: Tripartite Struggle

Jainism Teachings

Jainists are required by their religion to live in a manner that doesn’t hurt any living thing. According to Jainism, there is a three-fold route of correct belief, knowledge, and behaviour that one can follow to overcome bad Karma, break free from the cycle of rebirth, and find salvation. These three Jain gems are referred to as Ratnatraya.

Jains are required to adhere to the five constraints in existence:

  • Ahimsa(Non-Violence)
  • Satya(Truthfulness)
  • Asteya (Non-Stealing)
  • Aparigraha(Non acquisition)
  • Bhattacharya (chaste living).

Read about: Later Vedic Period

Jainism Doctrines

Compared to Buddhism, Jainism has much older beliefs. In Jainism, the term “Tirthankara” refers to 24 spiritually enlightened teachers who are thought to have achieved perfect knowledge through asceticism. Jainas view Mahavira as the 24th Tirthankara rather than the religion’s creator. The first Tirthankara, Rishabhadeva, is regarded as the principal founder and is referenced in the Rig Vega and the Vayu Purana. According to some estimates, the 22nd and 23rd Tirthankaras are Neminatha of Saurashtra, Gujarat, and Parshvanatha of Banaras.

Read about: Rig Vedic Period

Jainism Tirthankaras

The table below includes a summary of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras as well as a description of their symbols or emblems.

Tirthankaras Meaning Symbols or Emblems
Rishabhanatha or Adinath Lord Bull or Lord First Bull
Ajith Invincible one Elephant
Shambhava Auspicious Horse
Abhinandana Worship Ape
Sumati Wise Heron
Padmaprabha Lotus-Bright Lotus
Suparshva Good-sided Swastika
Chandraprabha Moon-bright Moon
Suvidi/Pushpadanta Religious Duties or Blossom-toothed Dolphin or Sea Dragon
Shitala Coolness Shrivatsa
Shreyamsha Good Rhinoceros
Vasupujya Worship by offering possessions Buffalo
Vimala Clear Boar
Ananta Endless Hawk/Bear
Dharma Duty Thunderbolt
Shanti Peace Antelope or Deer
Kunthu Heap of Jewels Goat
Ara Division of time Nandyavarta or the Fish
Malli Wrestler Water Jug
Suvrata or Munisuvrata Of good vows Tortoise
Nami/Nimin Bowing Down or Winking of the Eye Blue Lotus
Nemi/Arishtanemi The rim of whose wheel is unhurt Conch Shell
Parshvanath Lord serpent Snake
Vardhamana Mahavira Prospering great hero Lion

Vardhamana Mahavira

In a hamlet close to Vaishali (Capital of Videha), Vardhamana Mahavira was born in the year 599 BCE. He is regarded as the Buddha’s peer. His mother was a Lichchhavi princess, and his father was the leader of a well-known Kshatriya tribe. They had ties to the Magadha royal family, and because of their standing, Mahavira found it simple to address princes and other nobles in the course of his mission.

In the beginning, Mahavira led the life of a householder but in search of the truth, he abandoned the world at the age of 30 and became an ascetic. He wandered for 12 years practising severe austerities, fasting and meditation.

On the Rijupalika River’s banks, at the age of 42, he achieved perfect/infinite knowledge (kevalajnana). He spent 30 years spreading his faith. He overcame joy and sorrow through kevalajnana. He is known as “Mahavira,” The Great Hero, or “Jina,” i.e., the conqueror, and his adherents as “Jainas” as a result of this triumph. In 527 BCE, at the age of 72, he passed away and attained Siddha (complete liberation) in Pavapuri, close to Patna.

Read about: Sangam Period

Jainism Emergence

There are many reasons why Jainism came into existence as a faith. According to legend, there was utter confusion regarding faith in the sixth century B.C. Jainism was created as a response to this confusion and to provide guidance for the populace.

The corruption of religious customs and behaviours was one of the main causes. People claimed that the clergymen were dishonest and conned them out of their money. People opposed expensive relationships that were undertaken in the name of different rituals and practices. They wanted to be able to practice their religion in a less expensive manner.

The way individuals from various castes were handled was impartial and unfair. Therefore, a system where everyone is treated equally and caste shouldn’t factor in religion had to be developed. The Vedas, which are holy religious texts, were penned in the challenging Sanskrit language. This wording was not understandable to the average person. This is why a new religion was required in order for everyone to have simple access to such religious texts and benefit from the information.

Read about: Gupta Empire

Jainism Spread Worldwide

Mahavira established a group of his disciples to disseminate the Jainist teachings, and this order welcomed both men and women. Western India, where the Brahmanical faith was weak, saw the gradual spread of Jainism. To spread their doctrines, Jainas abandoned the Brahmanas’ preferred Sanskrit tongue in favour of the Prakrit spoken by the common people.

Chandragupta Maurya, who converted to Jainism, abdicated his throne, and lived the last years of his life in Karnataka as a Jain ascetic, is credited with spreading Jainism in the state. According to legend, the great famine in Magadha 200 years after Mahavira’s passing was the second factor in the expansion of Jainism in Southern India.

The famine continued for 12 years, during which time many Jainas fled to the south under Bhadrabahu’s leadership while the remainder remained in Magadha under Sthulabahu. When the immigrants came back to Magadha, they formed differences with the local Jainas. The southerners started going by Digambaras, while the Magadhas went by Shvetambaras.

In the fourth century BCE, Jainism began to expand to Kalinga in Odisha, and in the first century, it benefited from the support of Kalinga King Kharavela, who had vanquished the princes of Andhra and Magadha. It made it to the southern regions of Tamil Nadu in the first and second centuries BCE. Jainism spread to Malwa, Gujarat, and Rajasthan in later centuries, and today there are still many Jainas living there, mostly working in trade and business. Although Jainism did not initially gain as much state support as Buddhism and did not expand as quickly, it still holds sway in the regions where it did. However, Buddhism has all but vanished from the Indian peninsula.

Read about: Mauryan Empire

Jain Councils

The sacred Jain scriptures contain references to a large number of Jain Councils. These were gatherings that took place at different locations for various reasons. The primary justification given for these councils or gatherings has to do with the revision or alteration of the Jain Agamas, or holy writings of the Jain religion. Three Jain Councils in total are known to have taken place at various locations and at various periods.

1. Patliputra Council

The Patliputra Council is the name given to the first Jain Council because it took place there. It took place around 300 BC, or nearly 160 years after the passing of the final Tirthankara, Mahavir. Sthulabhadra held the chair during this gathering. Jainism was split into two groups at this council: Digambaras and Shvetambars.

2. Mathura Council and Vallabhi Council

The second meeting simultaneously took place in Mathura and Vallabhi. It took place in 512 AD. Devaradhi Kshama Ramana presided over the gathering in Vallabhi.

3. Vallabhi Council

The third and final conference took place in Vallabhi, now known as Vallabhi II. The Svetambaras were primarily responsible for calling this council, and Devarddhigani Kshamashramana presided over the gathering. It took place between 453 and 456 CE.

Read about: Rashtrakuta Dynasty

Jainism Sects

The Jain order is split into Digambara and Svetambara, two significant sects or schools. The major cause of the division was the severe drought in Magadha, which compelled a group of Jainas led by Bhadrabahu to relocate to South India.

The group in South India was confined to rigid traditions throughout the 12 years of famine, whereas the group in Magadha took a looser outlook and began to dress in white. Following the end of the famine, the South Indian Jaina group returned to Magadha, and the shift in practices caused Jainism to be split into two sects.

Read about: Alexander Invasion of India

1. Digambaras

Digambara translates as sky-clad. Digambaras emphasised the importance of nudism as a necessary condition for achieving redemption. The group stands for the Jainas who, 200 years after Mahavira’s passing, moved to the south under Bhadrabahu’s direction when Magadha experienced its great famine. An individual who has attained enlightenment, according to Digambara sect tradition, does not experience hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, illness, or dread.

According to the Digambara sect, a woman must be reborn as a male in order to achieve liberation because she lacks the physical capacity and mental resolve necessary. As a result, this branch of Jainism does not recognise the 19th Tirthankara as a female but rather as Mallinatha, a man. According to Digambara tradition, Lord Mahavira never wed and gave up the world even while his parents were still living.

The Digambara tradition depicts a Tirthankara as naked, plain, and in a meditative state with their eyes turned downward. The hagiographies are referred to as “Purana” by the Digambaras. An ascetic of the Digambara group is required to give up all of his possessions, including his clothing, but is allowed to keep a Rajoharana (an insect-sweeping tool made of peacock feathers) and a Kamandalu (a water pot made of wood for toilet hygiene). Digambaras rejected the outcomes of the first council’s work under Acharya Sthulibhadra’s direction and the redrafting of the angas.

Major Sub-Sects of Digambara

  • Mula Sangh
  • Bisapantha
  • Terapantha
  • Taranpantha or Samaiyapantha

Minor Sub-Sects of Digambara

  • Gumanapantha
  • Totapantha

2. Shvetambaras

Shvetambara is Hindi for white-clad. Shvetambaras argue against the necessity of total nudism for redemption. When the great famine hit Magadha, the sect stands in for the Jainas who remained there and followed Sthulabahu’s guidance. An individual who is all-knowing or omniscient does require food, according to a Shvetambara sect tradition.

According to the Shvetambara sect, women are capable of achieving spiritual success on par with males. This branch of Jainism recognises Mali as the 19th Tirthankara (the only woman Tirthankara). Mahavira did marry and lived a typical life as a homeowner until he was 30 years old. It was only after his parents’ passing that he turned to asceticism.

According to Shvetambara tradition, a Tirthankara is depicted as sporting a loincloth adorned with jewels and marble eyes made of glass. The word “Charita” is used by the Shvetambaras for this. A Shvetambara sect ascetic is permitted to own fourteen items, including a loincloth, arm cloth, etc. The Shvetambaras held the 12 angas and sutras, which make up the canonical texts, to be legitimate and holy.

Major Sub-Sects of Svetambara

  • Murtipujaka
  • Sthanakvasi
  • Terapanthi

Read about: Asiatic Society

Jainism UPSC

In the fourth century BCE, Jainism began to expand to Kalinga in Odisha, and in the first century, it benefited from the support of Kalinga King Kharavela, who had vanquished the princes of Andhra and Magadha. It made it to the southern regions of Tamil Nadu in the first and second centuries BCE. Jainism spread to Malwa, Gujarat, and Rajasthan in later centuries, and today these regions still have a sizable population of Jainas who are primarily involved in trade and business.  Read all the subjects related to UPSC on the Official Website of StudyIQ UPSC Online Coaching.

Read about: Dharma Sabha

Sharing is caring!


Is Jainism a Hindu or Buddhist?

While often employing concepts shared with Hinduism and Buddhism, the result of a common cultural and linguistic background, the Jain tradition must be regarded as an independent phenomenon rather than as a Hindu sect or a Buddhist heresy, as some earlier Western scholars believed.

What is the main belief of Jainism?

Jains believe in reincarnation and seek to attain ultimate liberation - which means escaping the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth so that the immortal soul lives forever in a state of bliss. Liberation is achieved by eliminating all karma from the soul. Jainism is a religion of self-help.

Do Jainism believe in God?

The Jain faith does not believe in a creator god like Hinduism or the Abrahamic faiths. In a way similar to Buddhists, the Jains venerate perfect ascetics who have been provided with valid authority on account of their career and abilities.

Do Jains believe in Shiva?

Both Jains and Hindus believe that every living creature has a soul within, jiva or jiva-atma. However, the Jains do not believe in the concept of param-atma, like Shiva or Vishnu , who embodies the cosmic soul.

Do Jains celebrate Diwali?

Diwali in Jainism marks the anniversary of Nirvana (final release) or liberation of Mahavira's soul, the twenty-fourth and last Jain Tirthankara of the present cosmic age. It is celebrated at the same time as the Hindu festival of Diwali.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *