Jainism and its artefacts

Jainsim has many different aspects, public and private. The public aspects of Jains and their religious practice often elicit many questions. Here, we take a look at some implements and practices of Jainism.



Jains are divided into two major sects. These are the Digambara and the Shwetambara. These images are of a Shwetambara monk and nun.

Both sects agree on basic Jain beliefs. Their disagreements are mainly about how monks and nuns should live. The Digambara sect believes monks should be naked (‘clothed in the sky’), whilst the Shwetambara monk can wear simple white clothes.

Jain monks and nuns take five ‘great vows’ (Maha Vrata) of non-violence, truth, not stealing, chastity and non-possession.

The Digambara sect is stricter than the Shwetambaras.

Rosary Beads

These are a string of beads used by devotees to help them count the number of prayers or chants they are repeating. Each rosary contains 108 beads.

The significance of 108 comes from Panch Parmeshthi, which means the ‘108 qualities of the Five Supreme Beings’. The Five Supreme Beings are Arhants, Siddhas, Acharyas, Upadhyayas and Sadhus. (Buddhist who has attained Nirvana; one with occult power; a preceptor or instructor in religious matters; Jain monks (Prakrit Uvajhaya) who do both study and preaching; and spiritual aspirants.)

Another explanation is that there are 108 ways to commit sins (see Tattvartha Sutra, Chapter 6, Aphorism 9) and to remind the believer to stay away from these 108 different types of sinful activities.


The wooden tripod or sthapanacarya holds a manuscript or book. It was originally understood as a substitute for the teacher.

It has four sticks on to which five cowrie shells wrapped in cloth are placed. The shells symbolise the Five Supreme Beings. In art it symbolises
teaching or a tutor.


All Jain mendicants use a broom in all their daily activities and it never leaves their side. They use it to ‘sweep the area before sitting or lying down in order to avoid harming insects and minute forms of life’.

Shwetambar mendicants use a broom ‘made of long strands of soft white wool that are attached to a short wooden handle’.

Digambara mendicants use a broom made of peacock-tail feathers.


This small cloth or mumpatthi is permanently fixed over the mouth by some mendicants, even when they speak.

It is intended to prevent minute living beings in the air from being killed or hurt unexpectedly.

Prayer Mat

Shwetambara mendicants use a prayer mat for praying. The broom is used to sweep the area before they place the mat.

A Picture of the Temple

Jains temples are called derasars or mandirs. There are different types of Jain temples, from cave temples to the ‘four-faced’ temples. Private homes may have small shrines. Jain temples are found in all parts of India, in particular Mount Abu and Ranakpur.

There are also many Jain temples outside India. The most renowned temples in the UK can be found in Leicester and Potters Bar.


Jain symbols remind Jains how they should live their lives. The outline of the main Jain symbol shows the shape of the universe. The seven hells are at the bottom. The middle part is the earth and the planets. The top is heaven.

The small crescent at the very top represents the abode where all the souls that have achieved liberation arrive. These souls are free from the cycle of birth and rebirth.

The three dots below the crescent are the ‘Three Jewels’. These are ‘right faith’, ‘right knowledge’ and ‘right conduct’.

The Jain swastika is a reminder of the cycle of reincarnation. The four arms of the swastika tell Jains they will be born again in one of the four realms as: heavenly beings; human beings; animals and plants; or hellish beings. Jains believe that even heavenly beings will be born again.

The swastika – ancient name svaasti was taken by the Third Reich and used for their own purposes. This symbol is known to be more than 6000 years old and means “auspiciousness“, that which is sacred and holy and uplifting to humankind. The Nazi’s took the Jain swastika, turned it on an angle and used it as a good luck symbol. The reversal of the symbol was unfortunate; it brought bad luck upon Hitler and the Third Reich.

The raised hand means ‘stop’. The word in the wheel is ‘Ahimsa‘ (which means non-violence). These both remind Jains to think twice before doing anything.


Mahavira was the 24th and last Tirthankara or Jina.

At the age of 30, Prince Mahavira left his palace and began living a simple life without any pleasures or comforts. For the next 12 years he fasted and meditated. At the end of this time he reached a full understanding of his soul. He then spent the rest of his life teaching others and made Jainism more popular. At the age of 72, Mahavira died and attained nirvana, that blissful state beyond life and death.

Mahavira was very important in consolidating the teachings of the previous Tirthankaras.


Jain monks and nuns use bowls to hold the food they receive from people.

Shwetambara begging bowls are usually red or dark orange and are often stacked inside each other when not being used. String is wound around jars for liquids, to create carrying handles.

Rules about the bowls and jars are set out in scriptures. Monks and nuns are not allowed to cook for themselves so beg alms from the local community. Bowls are made of gourds, wood or clay.


 Jain Tirthankaras (great teachers)

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