Jainism is a religion centered in India that focuses on attaining enlightenment and ending the cycle of death and rebirth. In Jainist tradition, 24 tirthankaras have achieved enlightenment and exist to help others make a similar journey. There are two main sects of Jainism active today - the Digambaras and the Svetembaras.
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In Jain belief, there are 24 tirthankaras who have broken the cycle of death and rebirth and have achieved moksha. Because they create a path for others to achieve enlightenment, tirthankaras are sometimes called ford-makers (or bridge-makers). The first tirthankara was Rishabhanatha.
The 24th (and most recent) tirthankara is Mahavira, who was born Prince Vardhamana. Some credit him as being the founder of Jainism, but most scholars credit Mahavira’s predecessor, Parshva. Mahavira’s biography, the Kalpa Sutra, is a sacred text in Jainism and is read as part of the celebration of Paryushana, the most important Jain holy festival.
Jains (like Buddhists and Hindus) are known for their devotion to ahimsa, or nonviolence. Ahimsa is one of the five vows that Jains adhere to. Adherence to the five vows help believers attain the ratnatraya (or three jewels) of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct that are necessary to achieve enlightenment.
The Digambaras are the more austere of the two sects of Jainism. The name means “sky-clad”, referring to the practice of Digambara monks of going nude. Digambara monks have but three possessions - a book of scriptures, a gourd for carrying water, and a broom of peacock feathers to sweep away insects. Digambaras also often wear a cloth over their mouth to prevent accidentally swallowing insects. Believing that only men can achieve moksha, they hold that Mallinatha, the 19th tirthankara, was a man. This is a key point of dispute between Digambaras and Svetembaras.
The other sect of Jainism is Svetembara. The name means “white-clad”, referring to the practice of Svetembara monks wearing all white clothing. Unlike the Digambaras, the Svetembaras believe that Mallinatha, the 19th tirthankara was a woman.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
* The Jain diet is much more restrictive than vegetarian or even vegan. Read more about what Jains eat here.
* Learn more about the Jain festival of Paryusana here.
* Some Jains commit suicide by fasting, a practice known as sallekhana. In 2015, India’s Supreme Court heard a case centered around attempts to ban the practice. Listen to the story on NPR:
* What happens when teenagers give up their modern lives and take vows as a Jain monk?
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