In this essay we will discuss about Jainism. After reading this essay you will learn about:- 1. Introduction to Jainism 2. Life of Mahavira 3. Main Jaina Sects 4. Growth of Jainism 5. Jaina Doctrines and Philosophy 6. Jaina Sanghas 7. Causes of the Rise of Jainism 8. Causes of the Decline of Jainism 9. Religious Texts of Jainas 10. Jainism’s Contribution to Indian Culture.

Essay Contents:

  1. Essay on the Introduction to Jainism
  2. Essay on the Life of Mahavira
  3. Essay on the Main Jaina Sects
  4. Essay on the Growth of Jainism
  5. Essay on the Jaina Doctrines and Philosophy
  6. Essay on the Jaina Sanghas
  7. Essay on Causes of the Rise of Jainism
  8. Essay on Causes of the Decline of Jainism
  9. Essay on the Religious Texts of Jainas
  10. Essay on Jainism’s Contribution to Indian Culture

Essay # 1. Introduction to Jainism:

Jain tradition speaks of twenty-four Tirthankaras (prophets). In the Rigveda Mantras, there are references to Rishabha, the first Tirthankara as claimed by Jains. However, the first twenty-two Tirthankaras have no historical foundation. Only the last two, Parsva and Mahavira, are historical personages.


Very little is known of Parsva’s life. It is believed that he was the son of Asvasena, king of Banaras. He became an ascetic at the age of thirty, got enlightenment after 84 days of penance, gave his message to the people up to the age of 100 years and died on Mount Sammeta in Bihar nearly 250 years before Mahavira.

Essay # 2. Life of Mahavira:

In fact, the real founder of Jainism was its 24th Tirthankara, Mahavira. His childhood name was Vardhamana. He was born in a suburb of Vaisali, called Kundagrama about 540 B.C. His father, Siddharatha, was a wealthy nobleman of the Naya clan and his mother, Trishala, was the sister of Chetaka, an eminent Lichhavi prince of Vaisali. He was married to Yasoda and had a daughter called Priyadarsana. He left his family and became a monk after the death of his parents at the age of 30.

He abandoned his clothing after thirteen months and became a naked monk. After 12 years, near the village Jrimbhikagrama on the bank of the river Rijupalika, he got enlightenment under a Sala tree. Hence-fourth, he was called Mahavira.


He also became known as Jina (conqueror of passions) or Nirgrantha (free from worldly fetters). The remaining thirty years of Mahavira’s life were spent in preaching his doctrines. The main areas of his activities were confined to the boundaries of Magadha, Anga, Mithila and Kosala. His followers were called Nirgranthas or Jainas. He died at Pawa (Pawapuri) in Nalanda district (Bihar) at the age of 72 about 468 B.C.

Essay # 3. Main Jaina Sects:

The principal sects of Jainism are two:

(a) Svetambaras; and


(b) Digambaras.

There are differences between the two sects regarding versions of some incidents of the life of Mahavira, the type of food taken by Jaina preachers (munis) and the question whether women can attain Nirvana or not. But, more than that, the basic difference is on the use of clothes. It does not concern the followers or ordinary householder but the preachers. The preachers of Svetambara sect wore white clothes, while preachers of Digambara sect practise complete nudity.

It is not certain as to when and why schism developed in Jainism. Certain scholars maintain that Parsva did not ask his followers to discard clothes but after him Mahavira insisted on nudity. Therefore, the differences were there from the beginning of the teachings of Mahavira.

But the majority of scholars maintain that the split took place 200 years after Mahavira’s death. It is said that during the reign of Chandra Gupta Maurya, a terrible famine broke out in Magadha which continued for twelve years.

At that time the chief of Jaina community, Bhadrabahu, migrated to South India along with his many followers including Chandra Gupta and left Sthulabhadra as Chief of the Jainas that remained in Magadha. Sthulabhadra convened a council of Jainas at Patliputra when he felt that sacred scriptures of the Jainas were in danger of being lost. The council arranged the first 10 Purvas (Jainas’s sacred texts) in 12 Angas and allowed Jaina preachers to wear white robes.

When the followers of Bhadrabahu came back from the South they found the Jainas of Magadha wearing white robes. They protested against it. But when there was no compromise, the Jainas were divided into two aforesaid sects. Afterwards the Digambaras even refused to accept the 12 Angas (out of them one is lost now) as authentic.

Essay # 4. Growth of Jainism:

At first Jainism made great progress than its other contemporary religion, Buddhism. During his own life time Mahavira had made it popular in the kingdom of Kosala, Magadha, Anga and Mithila. Many kshatriya kings and a few republican states supported its cause and, thereby, helped in its popularity.

Afterwards, those Jainas who settled down in different parts of India participated in its progress. By the time of the Gupta-empire, Jaina religion had become popular from Orissa in the East to Gujarat in the West and also in the South as far as Kalinga and Mysore.

However, in later times its strongholds remained the provinces of Gujarat, Kathiawar and part of Rajasthan in the North where Svetambara sect dominated and Mysore and Hyderabad in the South where Digambara sect predominated. Among the ruling dynasties of the South, the Gangas, the Kadambas, the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas patronized Jainism and encouraged its art and literature.

Rashtrakuta king, Amoghavarsha gave protection to Jaina scholars, Jinesena and Gunabhadra who composed the Mahapurana. Among important rulers who supported Jainism were Chandra Gupta Maurya (who probably accepted Jainism in his later life), Kharavela of Kalinga and Kumarapala and Siddharaja of Gujarat.

Essay # 5. Jaina Doctrines and Philosophy:

Religious texts written in Pali do not recognize Mahavira as an originator of a new religion but as a reformer of an existing religion. Mahavira accepted mostly the religious doctrines of Parsva but, certainly, made some alterations and additions to them.

Parsva emphasized self-control and penance and advised his followers to observe four principles:

1. Satya (truth);

2. Ahimsa (non-violence);

3. Aprigraha (non-possession of property; and

4. Asteya (not to receive any thing which is not freely given). To these Mahavira added one more, that is;

5. Brahamacharya (celibacy).

As regards philosophy, Jaina philosophy shows a close affinity to Hindu Samkhya philosophy. It also ignores the idea of God, accepts that the world is full of sorrows and believes in the theory of karma (action or deed) and transmigration of souls.

Jaina philosophy is that of dualism. It believes that human personality is formed of two elements; jiva (soul) and ajiva (matter). Among them while ajiva is destructible, jiva is indestructible and the salvation of an individual is possible through progress of jiva.

In short, the philosophy can be summed up as follows: the living (soul) and the non-living (matter), by coming into contact with each other, forge certain energies which bring about birth, death and various experiences of life; this process could be stopped, and the energies already forged destroyed by a course of discipline leading to nirvana (salvation).

This means seven things:

1. There is something called the living;

2. There is something called ‘the non-living’;

3. The two come in contact with each other;

4. The contact leads to the production of some energies;

5. The process of contact could be stopped;

6. The existing energies could be exhausted; and

7. Salvation could be achieved.

These seven propositions are called the seven tattvas (Truths) or realities by Jainas. On the basis of these propositions, Jaina philosophy states that if one desires to attain Nirvana it is necessary for him to destroy karma. One can do so gradually if one first avoids evil karmas and gradually ceases karma. To equip himself for such a task the person should observe the five principles of the religion, namely, satya, ahimsa, aprigraha, asteya and brahamacharya.

There are also certain other vows of morality. For example, a householder should each day feed out of what is cooked for himself such holy persons as may turn up at his house at the proper time. A monk has to observe certain other strict rules as well. He has to abandon all worldly possessions, has to cease living under a roof which may be called his own and has to root out every hair of his head by his own hands.

He should walk only during the day taking care that he kills no being. In his talk he must not indulge in censure of others or self-praise or talk about women. He should so train himself as not to be affected or moved by the objects of the senses He should withdraw his senses from all objects and with meditation, concentration and reading of the life of arhats (monks who have succeeded in attaining salvation) prepare himself for salvation.

Jain religion has divided Karmas (deeds) into eight following categories:

1. Deeds which obstruct in the progress of soul;

2. Deeds which draw towards attachments;

3 Deeds which obstruct in recognising that pleasures and pains are just the same:

4. Deeds which are necessary for the maintenance and movements of body;

5. Deeds which lead to progeny;

6. Deeds which obstruct in performing of good deeds;

7. Deeds determining age, and

8. Deeds which obstruct the right direction of soul.

Jainism has defined evils as well. It has expressed the Mew that all deeds which trap an individual towards attachment to Karma are evil and these are eighteen in number. Among them are anger, jealously, attachment, theft, greed of wealth, violence, telling lie, etc.

According to Jain religion a person leads towards salvation only when he rejects all these Karmas (deeds) and evils.

Jain philosophy further states that nirvana or salvation depends on:

1. Right belief;

2. Right knowledge; and

3. Right action.

These are called Ratnatreya, or the three jewels of Jaina religion.

Mahavira did not believe in a supreme creator or God. The highest state of a soul was regarded as god by him. According to Jainism, therefore, man is the architect of his own destiny and he could attain salvation and even the status of a god by pursuing a life of purity, virtue and renunciation.

The same way, it believes that the world has not been created, maintained or destroyed by a personal deity, but functions only according to universal law of decay and development. The universe is eternal but is subject to an infinite number of cycles of development and decline.

Though Jainism has given no place to any god within it, yet it has assigned place to several great persons or Tirthankaras within its fold. Not only this, but when situation demanded, it gave place to several Hindu gods as well within its fold.

Jainism did not attack the caste-system of the Hindus severely and, later on, compromised with it to the extent that it even accepted untouchability within the caste-system. The same way Jainism did not disapprove slave-system though emphasized on humane treatment towards slaves.

However, Jainism believed that everybody without any distinction of caste, class or sex could attain Nirvana. It has been said of Mahavir Swami that his first woman-disciple was a slave. In the beginning, the Jains constructed Stupas but, later on, gave place to idol-worship in their religion. The Jains did not change the day-today life of their followers. The Jains pursued ceremonies at birth, marriage, death, etc., like the Hindus.

Therefore, Jainism always remained close to Hinduism and liberal in its attitudes. This was one reason why Jainism did not spread all over India but, because of the same reason, it was never discarded in India as was the case with Buddhism and, at present too, has a good following.

According to Jainism, full salvation is not possible to a house-holder. A monastic life is essential for it. Jainism has emphasized very much on Ahimsa (non-violence) and has clearly defined it. According to Jainism, there are three categories of violence. One is physical violence viz., when a person kills or physically harms another person; second is violence by words, viz., a person speaks such words which cause pain to another person; and, the third is mental violence, viz., when a person even thinks of harming another person.

Besides, a person can engage in violence himself, get violence done by somebody else or can merely accept doing violence by others. In all three cases, he becomes guilty of violence.

The Jains believe that life is there not only in animals, birds, vegetation, trees etc. but also in water, hills, mountains, etc. Therefore, no lay Jaina could take up the profession of agriculture since this involved not only the destruction of plant life, but also of many living things in the soil.

That is why the strict limitation of private property enforced by Jainism was interpreted to mean only landed property. There remained no bar in amassing wealth by means of trade and commerce. The reason of its becoming popular amongst the trading community was the same.

However, Jainism has suffered from one serious weakness. Its practice of non-violence is mostly negative. It has very little of positive virtue, that is, love. Therefore, it lays greater emphasis on vegetarianism and precautions against killing of insects and animals rather than on loving them.

Essay # 6. Jaina Sanghas:

Mahavir divided his followers in eleven Ganas (groups), appointed individuals as heads to look after each Gana and assigned them the responsibility of propagating his message among the people. Those heads of the Ganas established separate Sanghas for the propagation of Jaina religion.

The members of the Jaina community were divided into four groups called the Bikhsus (monks), Bikhsunis (nuns), Sravakas (male-disciples) and Sravikas (female- disciples) respectively. Among them the Bikhsus and Bikhsunis led lives of sanyasis and sanavsins respectively while the Sravakas and Sravikas led lives of Grahasthas (family-lives).

Bikhsus and Bikhsunis had to lead a life of complete Sanyas. They had to forgo all physical pleasures of life and adhere to every principle of Jainism strictly. They could not use any article even of comfort, e.g., even use of umbrella and shoes, chappals etc. were prohibited for them. Their sole aim in life was to lead a pious life and building of character. By avoiding evil deeds and performing good deeds, they were expected to move towards the goal of Nirvana.

Essay # 7. Causes of the Rise of Jainism:

Though Jainism never spread all over India like Buddhism yet it was a popular religion at one time and still exists in India with quite a large following. Jainism was and still is a distinct religion. Yet, it has proved closer to the more popular religion in India, viz., Hinduism. It has no special social doctrines of its own. The domestic rites of a layman, such as birth, marriage and death were and are still similar to those of the Hindus. At one time, it maintained a cult of stupas like that of Buddhism but this did not survive.

Gradually, the Jaina Tirthankaras were adored in temples in the form of icons; and, by the Middle Ages, their worship approximated to that of the Hindus with offerings of flowers, incense, lamps and so on. Jainism also accepted popular gods of Hinduism among the galaxy of their deified men, viz. men who had been spiritually great. It did not seriously oppose the Hindu theory of caste also. Rather, it compromised with it afterwards. Thus, Jainism proved most accommodating to Hinduism and therefore, did not enter into serious hostility with it. Besides, it did not prove dogmatic.

According to its logic, no absolute affirmation or denial was possible. It contends that all knowledge is probable and relative and. thus, possesses a tolerant spirit of accommodation with other religions. These factors not only helped in its progress but are also mainly responsible for its existence in present-day India.

The other factors in its rise were, more or less, the same as in case of the rise of Buddhism, i.e., the personality of Mahavira, support of certain powerful rulers, closeness to the spirit of its age, simplicity, acceptance of the language of the people for its propagation, refusal to accept caste-system, acceptance of women as Bikhunis (nuns), opposition to ritualism, Yajnas and animal-sacrifices, emphasis on moral life, providing a simple and cheap religion before the people, etc.

The religious zeal of its monks and nuns in propagating it and support of different rulers also helped in its popularity. Mahavir Swami was related to the then ruling families of Vaggis, Lichchhavis and Magadh; Udayana, son of Ajatsatru, the ruler of Magadha was a Jaina devotee; the Nanda rulers were influenced by Jainism: and. probably, Chandragupta Maurva accepted Jainism during later period of his life. Later on too, several ruling dynasties like Ganga. Kadamba. etc. also helped in its growth.

Essay # 8. Causes of the Decline of Jainism:

Various factors contributed to its declining popularity in India. It had to compete hard with both Hinduism and Buddhism. At one time Buddhism, and afterwards Hinduism, became the most popular religion in India.

Absence of popular religious preachers after the death of Mahavira, its division into two important sects, absence of protection by later rulers, revival of Hinduism under the Gupta, Chola, Chalukya and Rajput kings contributed to its decline though it still survives in India.

Essay # 9. Religious Texts of Jainas:

The original texts of the Jainas were called Purvas and were 14 in number. At the beginning of the third century B.C. a Jaina council held at Patliputra arranged them in twelve parts called Angas. In course of time the twelfth Anga was lost.

The remaining eleven Angas were rearranged by a Jaina council held at Valabhi in the fifth century A.D. All these were written in the Prakrat language. The validity of these Angas was not recognised by the Digambaras. Therefore, they constituted their own texts afterwards. However, the basis of all Jaina religious texts remained the same old texts.

Essay # 10. Jainism’s Contribution to Indian Culture:

Jainism has helped in enriching Indian culture, particularly in the fields of literature, architecture and sculpture. Though the language of its religious texts had been Prakrat, it helped in giving a literary shape to some spoken languages of India. Besides, Jaina-texts were written in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu as well which helped in enriching Indian literature. Its contribution to art reached its zenith in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

The temples and idols still existing in various cities such as Mathura, Gwalior, Junagarh, Chittor, Abu and other places within the teritories of Rajasthan, Madhya Bharat, Bundelkhand, Mysore and Orissa have been accepted as some of the best specimens of Indian architecture and sculpture, particularly the temples of Abu, the Jaina tower at Chittorgarh, the elephant caves of Orissa and the 70 feet high idol of Gomateshwara or Bahubali in Mysore.

Beside, Jainism certainly, helped in developing the attitude of kindness among the Indians. It has participated in the propagation of the ideas of non­violence, attitude of benevolence towards the poor and needy and welfare of birds and animals. The Jains have established hospitals for the care of birds and animals at several places. Thus, it has helped in developing humanism among the Indians.