Jainism in India

Jainism prohibits killing, violence, or injury to any living thing. Orthodox Jain monks and nuns demonstrate this reverence for all life by wearing cloth masks over their faces to prevent them from accidentally inhaling tiny flying insects and sweeping the ground in front of them to avoid crushing any living organism under their feet.

Tranquility is the prevailing sentiment in Jain art and iconography. An image of a Jina does not represent a god but is instead a reminder of an ideal. Jina are always portrayed as beggars or ascetics and are always shown in one of two positions: either seated in the classic lotus position of meditation or standing as solid or erect as a stone column, a position that signifies "non-movement" or total abandonment of the world. A diamond-shaped emblem called a srivatsa is seen on the chest of all Jina figures. It means "Beloved of Fortune" and is one of the few ways to identify a Jina from other figures.

Of the three to four million Jains in India, about six to seven thousand are ascetics or renouncers, usually referred to as sadhus or munis (monks), and sadhvis (nuns). Nuns outnumber monks by four to one, and this has been true throughout Jain history. Jain saints follow the following rules very strictly for fear of causing himsa to living beings:
1. Inspect the ground they walk.
2. Never walk at night for fear of harming life.
3. Do not walk on grass.
4. Never pluck leaves from trees.
5. Never drink liquor which could contain microbes.
6. Never eat at night because when a lamp is lit microbes and tiny creatures fall into food.
7. Never eat flesh of dying bullocks and buffaloes for microbes and germs are in their flesh.

Interestingly, Jains are primarily urban dwellers thus avoiding the "killing" of living creatures like insects and bugs in the ground as agriculturalists grow food. They refrain from any form of himsa or harm to animals - sacrifice, hunting, entertainment, digging wells, preparing clothes, constructing houses, gardening.

Visit a large historically-important pilgrimage Jain temple and a small Jain temple in a village, both in Udaipur, West India.

Learn more about Janism.

Map source at the top: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.