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Jainism in India

Jainism in India notes/study material for preparation of UPSC, BPSC, UPPSC and other State PSC Examinations.

Table of Contents

Introduction :

The word ‘Jain’ is derived from ‘Jina’ or ‘Jaina’ which means the ‘Conqueror’.

Rise of Jainism in India as a heterodox sect was in response to the existing orthodox and ritualistic nature of religion dominated by rites and rituals. Jainism became a prominent religion in India during the 6th century BC.

You can read more about the causes for the rise of Jainism and Buddhism here : Read Now

Tirthankaras in Jainism

  • There were 24 teachers called Tirthankaras, who worked towards spreading the message of jainism to the common populace. Every Tirthankara is associated with a symbol.
  • The 1st Tirthankara was Rishabnatha. His symbol was Bull.
  • The 23rd Tirthankara was Parshvanatha. His symbol was Snake. He attained Kaivalya on Mount Sammeta (Parasnath) located in Jharkhand.
  • The 24th and last Tirthankara was Vardhaman Mahavira. His symbol was Lion. He was born at Kundagrama near Vaishali. 
  • In the 13th year of his penance, Vardhamana  attained the highest spiritual knowledge also called as ‘Kevala Jnana’ meaning supreme wisdom. Thereafter, he was called Mahavira and Jina. 
  • He preached his doctrines for 30 years and died at the age of 72 at Pavapuri near Rajagriha.

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Teachings of Mahavira

To attain salvation, Mahavira propounded three principles of Jainism, also known as Triratnas (three gems) which are:

  • Right faith – Belief in the teachings and wisdom of Mahavira
  • Right knowledge – Acceptance of the theory that there is no God and that the world has been existing without a creator and that all objects possess a soul.
  • Right conduct – It refers to the observance of the five great vows : 
    • Satya – Not to lie
    • Ahimsa – Not to injure life
    • Asteya – Not to steal
    • Aparigraha – Not to acquire property
    • Brahmacharya – Not to lead an immoral life

As per Mahavira’s teachings, all objects have souls and various degrees of consciousness.

They possess life and feel pain when they are injured. Even the practice of agriculture was considered sinful as it causes injury to the earth, worms and animals. 

Mahavira rejected the authority of the Vedas and propounded that  the universe and all its substances or entities are eternal. It has no beginning or end with respect to time.

Spread of Jainism

  • Mahavira organized the Sangha to spread his teachings. 
  • He admitted both men and women in the Sangha, which consisted of both monks and lay followers. 
  • The rapid spread of Jainism was due to the dedicated work of the members of the Sangha. It spread rapidly in Western India and Karnataka. 
  • Great kings like Chandragupta Maurya, Kharavela of Kalinga and the royal dynasties of south India such as the Gangas, the Kadambas, the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas adopted and promoted Jainism. They built various monuments for Jains.

Sects of Jainism

By the end of the fourth century B.C., there was a serious famine in the Ganges valley. Many Jain monks led by Bhadrabagu and Chandragupta Maurya came to Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. Those who stayed back in north India were led by a monk named Sthulabahu who changed the code of conduct for the monks. 

This led to the division of Jainism into two sects Svetambaras (white clad) and Digambaras (Sky-clad or Naked).

  • Digambara Jains – Followers of this sect believed in complete nudity. Male monks did not wear clothes while female monks wear unstitched plain white sarees. They followed all five vows (Satya, Ahimsa, Asteya, Aparigraha and Brahmacharya) propounded by Mahavira.
  • Svetambara Jains – Followers of this sect would wear white clothes. They followed only 4 vows (except brahmacharya).

Jain Councils:

  • The first Jain Council was convened at Pataliputra by Sthulabahu, the leader of the Digambaras, in the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. 
  • The second Jain Council was held at Valabhi in the 5th century A.D. The final compilation of Jain literature called Twelve Angas was completed in this council. 

Jain Literature

  • Lord Mahavir’s teachings were compiled by his followers into many texts collectively known as ‘Agams’ which are considered as the sacred books of the Jain religion.

Jain Architecture:

Jain Architecture includes various caves, Sculptures and temples. Some of the worth mentioning examples of Jain architectures are : 


  • Ellora Caves (Cave No. 30-35) – Aurangabad, Maharashtra
  • Udayagiri-Khandagiri Caves –  Bhubaneswar, Odisha
  • Hathi-gumpha Cave – Bhubaneswar, Odisha
  • Sittanavasal Cave – Tamil Nadu


  • Dilwara Temple- Mount Abu, Rajasthan
  • Girnar and Palitana Temple –  Bhavnagar district, Gujarat

Gommateshwara statue – It is a 57-foot (17 m) high monolithic statue in the town of Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. Carved of a single block of granite, it is one of the tallest monolithic statues in the world.

Jain Philosophy

Anekantavada – As per Anekantavada philosophy, reality can be examined from many standpoints. The same thing can be described from several standpoints and all can be equally true. This particular school promotes tolerance of contrary opinions.

Decline of Jainism:

There were several causes for the decline of Jainism in India.

Severity in the code of conduct of Jainism, decline in royal patronage, incomprehensible philosophy for common people, division into sects, rise and spread of Buddhism, bhakti movement and the rise in popularity of Vaishnavism and Shaivism were the primary causes for the decline of Jainism.

You can read about the Decline of Jainism in more details here : Read Now

In the next Chapter, we will study about the Buddhism.

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