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The Geography of Jainism

The Essentials of the Faith

Founded: The founder of Jainism, Mahavira (meaning great hero), born Nataputta Vardhamana, lived between 599 and 527 BCE. It was a time of religious turmoil throughout the East. Jainism came as a reaction to the caste system, animal sacrifices, and other practices offensive to many in Hinduism. The key to Jainism was found in nonviolent behaviors designed to liberate the soul from the endless cycle of samsara.

Adherents: Jainism is the religion of about ten million people in India, with it's own distinctive scripture, history, and philosophic tradition. Originally a heterodox Hindu sect, Jainism evolved as a mode of perfecting a basic Hindu ideal.

Distribution: The distribution listed for Jains is given as follows from Markham, pp. 356-357:

Area Adherents Population Percentage
Latin America4,0000.0%
Northern America4,0000.0%

Major Teachings: Out of the surrounding Hindu culture came the deep concern with the problem of the cycle of birth, death, and the transmigration of souls, known as samsara. Jainism placed the primary emphasis on behavior; that is, one must behave in such a way as to avoid contamination by matter, considered destructive to a being's spirituality. Jainism teaches a strict doctrine of karma, which binds a person to suffer rebirth and retribution for all evil actions. A person must therefore liberate himself or herself from the chains of karma by taking a vow of the ascetic and avoid all violence in deed, thought, or word. Jainism does not believe in a Creator or personal God; instead, each person must realize their own potential for perfection.

Scriptures and Significant Writings: Jain scripture was originally passed down by oral tradition until the death of Bhadrabahu, the last to know it perfectly in the third century BCE. The scripture was then reconstructed as far as was possible and was organized into twelve sections (Angas) which replaced the fourteen former texts (Parvas). This was accepted by the Shwetambara sect but was rejected by the Digambara sect who held that the canon was hopelessly lost. Eighty-four texts are now recognized in the Shwetambara canon, including forty-one sutras, twelve commentaries, one great commentary, and other unclassified works (Eerdmans, pp. 210, 211).

Symbols: The symbol chosen to represent Jainism on this website is the Sanskrit word for non-violence, Ahimsa. Ahimsa is central to the philosophy and practice of Jainism.

Major Divisions: There are two major divisions of Jainism. The first is the Digambara sect, meaning sky-clad or nude. The absolute nudity of a monk is an essential condition for attaining omniscience. It is the ultimate detachment from worldly possessions. The second sect is the Shwetambara sect, meaning clad in white. They consider the wearing of clothes sometimes necessary and should not be considered an impediment to the highest attainments. The main distinction merely comes down to the Digambara wearing no clothes and the Shwetambara wearing a loincloth. Both believe in the same doctrines of Jainism. A further minor schism occurred in 1653 CE, when the Sthanakavasi broke with the Shwetambara to condemn idolatry and temple worship.

Major Holy Days: The only known ritual or event is the Paryushana festival held in August or September on the lunar calendar. This festival commemorates the birth of Mahivira. The fifth day, or midway through the festival is considered Mahivira's birthday. Participants reenact the fourteen dreams announcing Mahavira's birth.

The Details about Jainism

As a youth, Mahavira lived the life of a pampered prince who had every opportunity for wealth. He married the daughter of another princely family and had one daughter. Then, upon the death of his parents, Mahavira renounced the world and became an ascetic. It is said that he gave away all he possessed, pulled out his hair in five handfuls and vowed absolute silence. For a few months he wore clothes, but soon gave them up and lived as a naked ascetic, wandering about receiving injuries from men and animals, and imposing all kinds of self-torture upon himself. This he did in an effort to gain complete control and mastery over himself and his body When he believed he had gained this control, he returned to social life and became a leader and teacher. He won many converts as well as blessings from four kings. He continued his work the remainder of his life.

The Geography of Jainism

India has been greatly influenced geographically by Jainism in Jainism has had an effect out of all proportion to its size and distribution. During Mahavira's lifetime, Jains remained confined to the area of modern Bihar and those nearby territories where the teacher was known. Later on, his eleven disciples and his followers succeeded in transmitting the Jain religion to all geographic areas of India.

Mathure, one of the ancient settlements in northern India, became a center for Jains in the early Christian period. Inscriptions from this era tell of a substantial Jain community established there in the first century CE.

By the twelfth century CE, Jainism gained control in Gujurat under the influential King Kumarapala who was converted by a Jain teacher. He in turn marked his conviction by prohibiting the killing of animals in his state.

In southern India, Jain converts included King Samprate, ruler of Ujjayini; King Kharavela, who ruled Orrissa; the Ganga Dynasty; as well as the rulers of Karnataka, the Rashtrakutas, the Hoyasala, and the Chalukyas.

The Jain contribution to art and architecture is one noted in carvings and design. Hilltops and secluded valleys are notable Jain locations for religious structures. Perhaps the most dynamic creation of the Jains is the colossal statue of Bahubali in Mysore. Considered a "sculptural wonder of the world", the 57 foot statue was chiseled out of solid rock in the tenth century CE. It is the site of a festival of pilgrims held there.


Finegan, Jack, The Archeology of World Religions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952.

Frost, S.E., The Sacred Writings of the World's Great Religions. New York: Garden City Publishing, 1943.

Jain, J.C., Jainism. New York: Sheikh Publishing, 1972.

Markham, Ian S., (Editor), A World Religions Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

Nevaskar, Balwant, Capitalists Without Capitalism. Westport, CN: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1971.

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Eerdmans' Handbook to The World's Religions. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.

Links for More Information

Jain Center of Northern California
Jain-List Home Page
U of M Jains WWW Page
Young Jains of America
Yahoo's links page on Jainism

Version 1.0 dated 1.15.98

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