Contributions of The Jains to The World

Posted: 14.04.2014
Updated on: 02.07.2015


Mr. Pierre Amiel, Niece, France

The Jains in India and abroad may be proud of their contributions in many different domains, including religion, history, philosophy, literature, arts, science, technology, etc. A full examination of these contributions would require an encyclopaedia; in this essay, I will examine here only some of the most important contributions.

Contributions of the Tirthankaras - Jainism, the religion of the Jains, is considered as one of the oldest of India. The Jains say that it has existed from eternity, as has the world, and that it has no beginning and no possible end. They worship and follow the teachings of 24 Prophets or Tirthankaras (ford-makers), who appear in India during each cycle of time to recall the great principles of living on the earth. The most revered Tirthankaras of the present cycle are: Rishabha, also called Adinath (first Lord), who appeared many centuries ago during the prehistoric era, Parshvanath who lived from 877 to 777 BCE, and Vardhamana, who is referred to as Mahavara (the great hero) and who lived from 599 to 527 BCE. All of the Tirthakaras observed a life of total non-violence, of detachment, meditation and austerities. As a result, they attained omniscience (kevala jnana), became Tirthankaras and taught humans how to obtain the liberation (moksha) of their souls from the cycle of transmigrations (samsara) and to enjoy eternal bliss in the abode of pure souls (siddha loka) above the universe.

Rishabha, the first Tirthankara of this time cycle, was a great Emperor of India who abandoned his prestigious position state to become a naked wandering ascetic (nirgrantha). After having obtained omniscience he taught the Jain principles to the people and attracted numerous disciples. Acharya Bhadrabahu reports in the “Kalpa Sutra”2 that the venerable ascetic (arhat) Rishabha had an excellent community of 84,000 monks, 300,000 nuns, 305.000 male lay votaries, 505,400 female lay votaries and many sages, kevalins, professors and disciples.3 Jain tradition asserts that he was the harbinger of human civilization by inaugurating the age of action (karma-bhumi). He founded the social institutions of marriage, family, law, justice, state, etc. He taught mankind the cultivation of land, different arts and crafts, reading, writing, calculation, etc. He built villages, towns, cities and provided a new kind of social order to increase the welfare of living beings. Rishabha abdicated his throne in favor of Bharata, his eldest son, and the new Emperor gave his name to India as “Bharata-varsha” or country of Bharata.1 So we see already major contributions by two great Jain Emperors of India.

Parshvanath and Mahavira, the other two Tirthankaras mentioned above, also made important contributions on matters of religion, ethics, science and many other areas of knowledge. Their oral teachings have been written in numerous sacred texts by great Jain Acharyas of both Shvetambara and Digambara sects. So we find in the Jain canons and their numerous commentaries the rich contributions of these two last Prophets of the present cycle of time. They taught above all humans the path of liberation (moksha) of their souls by practicing the “three jewels” (tri-ratna) of right vision, right knowledge and right conduct. Such path is based on vows of non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), honesty (asteya) chastity (brahmacharya), non-attachment to worldly possessions (aparigraha), and on the practice of numerous virtues (dharmas) and austerities (tapas). I will not discuss in detail the rules prescribed for the ascetics and for the laity that are the fundamentals of Jainism. I cite them here only to illustrate their major contribution to lea a moral life on the earth.

The “Kalpa Sutra” reports also that the arhat Parshvanath had a large community of 16,000 monks, 38,000 nuns, 164,000 male lay votaries, 327, 000 female lay votaries and many sages, kevalins, disciples and professors. It adds that the arhat Mahavira also had a large community of 14,000 monks, 36,000 nuns, 159,000 male lay votaries, 318,000 female lay votaries and many sages, kevalins, professors and disciples.4

So we see that the influence of these three particular Tirthankaras was great in India and that those who followed their teachings were high in number.

By the Jain scriptures (agamas) we learn that Mahavira preached, in addition to the vows of ahimsa, satya, asteya and aparigraha, the vow of brahmacarya and the principle of equality of all living beings (humans, animals and plants). He also taught the doctrines of qualified assertion (syadvada), of partial expression of the truth (nayavada) and preached tolerance based on the doctrine of manifold aspects of things and thoughts (anekantavada). He was also an ardent defender of the independence of Indian people from priestly domination, of human self reliance, and of the emancipation and education of women. As example, Mahavira placed Candana, a woman, as the head of the nuns. He also encouraged mutual assistance between all living beings with as motto “parasparopagraho jivanam”.5 The history of India reports that numerous rulers and kings were converted and became fervent Jains.

As major principle, Mahavira preached absolute non-violence (ahimsa). He commanded not to cause harm by thoughts, words and deeds even to the slightest living being. Based on this principle, he maintained that animal sacrifices be suppressed in Hindu rituals and that an attitude of welfare be promoted by the practice of absolute vegetarianism and the construction of shelters for the old, sick and injured birds, cows and other beasts. It was also his command to not harm or ill-treat human beings and to afford help and assistance to the poor, sick and suffering people. Accordingly, the Jains give alms to the needy and money to construct hospitals, clinics, nurseries and shelters for poor retired people. They practice amity and friendship with everybody and assistance and compassion for victims of misfortune.

Lord Mahavira also preached a great respect of nature because there are air-bodied, water-bodied, fire-bodied, earth-bodied, and vegetables-bodied souls. As a result, the Jains are fervent ecologists, practicing and preaching respect of eco-systems, air, water, soil, forests, etc. They seek to provide protection to all living creatures especially those threatened by extinction. As one example among many others, on the 23rd of October 1990, Jain delegates presented in London to Prince Philip, as President of the World Wildlife Fund, a declaration of ecological preservation in a period of more and more devastation by human beings.6

Mahatma Gandhi was greatly impressed by the Jain education of his mother and by one of his great friends Shrimad Rajchandra, a devout Jain. In applying the principle of non-violence against the British occupation, he obtained the independence of India. This great success-using Ahimsa to achieve independence without bloodshed—is a most important Jain contribution to the history of India.

Mahavira’s teachings invited the Indian people to practice right conduct instead of animal sacrifices to attain the liberation of their souls. His teachings also offered independence from the Brahmanas and the possibility to achieve self-realization without the intervention of a god creator or of some other deities. This is often thought of as atheism but it is not. Mahavira did not deny the existence of GOD; he maintained that GOD exists within the individual and that each soul has the potential to realize GOD within himself or herself.

Because he endorsed the principle of equality of all living beings, Mahavira vigorously rejected the Hindu cast system. In the Indian Constitution,7 adopted on the 26th of January 1950, the abolition of untouchability is included in article 17, equal protection of the laws for all in article 14, and prohibition of discriminations on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth in article 16. Although the caste system remains in existence in India, discrimination is no longer regarded as legitimate under the law. The same may be said about discrimination against women. This great contribution to equality and rights for all is amongst the most valuable contribution Mahavira made, in addition to the respect of truthfulness and honesty, chastity, avoidance of passions, encouragement to practice virtues and detachment, etc., which he advocated.

As mentioned above, numerous kings and rulers were followers of Jainism and this was the case until the end of the XIII th Century CE. Some of these rulers had Jain ministers, counselors or even generals. In Bihar, the dynasties of the Saishunagas, Nandas and Mauryas included devout Jains, such as Emperors Chandragupta Maurya and Samprati. Emperor Ashoka was also a Jain before his conversion to Buddhism. In Orissa, Emperor Kharavela was one of the greatest patrons of Jain faith.8 In Bengal, there were numerous “nirgranthas” according to the report of Hiuen Tsang.9 In Karnataka, many Kadamba, Ganga, Chalukya, Rastrakuta, Hoysala and Kalachuri rulers were Jains. In Andhra Pradesh and in Tamilnadu, there are numerous epigraphs and relics that indicate the large presence of the Jains. In Gujarat and in Maharashtra, where Jains are the most numerous today, they were present from ancient times, as indicated by the old cave-temples and other ancient temples that constitute true marvels. The Jains were also present in North India especially in cities like Mathura, Ujjain, Udaipur, Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jaipur and other places. In South India, their strong presence is demonstrated by the remarkable temple city at Shravana Belgola.

From Mahavira’s age and up until the present day, there have been eminent Jain Acharyas who were (or are) great preachers and writers. Among them may be cited in the Shvetambara sampradaya: Sthulabadra, Devardhigani, Umasvati, Haribhadra, Siddhasena, Devagupta, Shantisuri, Nemicandra, Yashodeva, Abhayadeva, the great Hemacandra, Jinadattasuri, Yashovijaya, Bhiksu, Vallabh Vijaya, Tulsi, Mahapragnya, etc. In the Digambara sampradaya must be cited among many others: the great Kundakunda, Samantabhadra, Kartikeya, Pujyapada, Jinasena, Somadeva, Amitagati, Camundaraya, Ashadara Vamadeva, Rajamalla, Shantisagar, Vidyasagar, etc.10 All are renowned for their action in favor of the observance of the Jain principles and for their extensive scholarship on all matters of knowledge. For example, Hiravijayasuri and Jinacandrasuri were invited by Emperor Akbar to Fatehpur Sikri to discuss problems of philosophy and religion and they persuaded him to issue an edict forbidding the slaughter of animals for six months, abolishing the confiscation of lands of deceased persons, and setting free numerous captives, birds and animals.

The period extending up until and including the XIIIth century is called “The Golden Age of Jainism” because it was nearly the religion of the state in India. That was due to: the the influence of the Jain monks on the royal dynasties; a devout Jain class of merchants; the uniformity of practices for the ascetics and the laity, the respect for the other faiths; the use by the Jain Acharyas and monks of vernacular languages for their scriptures and sermons; the respect for non-violence; the teaching of social equality; the reputation of honesty, truthfulness, loyalty, and friendship; the encouragement of philanthropy; the adaptation to different times and environments; and the care for the needy and for animals.11 But after such a period of prosperity, Jainism decreased due to factors including: the prosecution of its followers by some Hindu sects and, more importantly, by the Muslim invaders of India; the conversion of the ruling elites to Hinduism and at a lesser level of the common people to Buddhism, Islam, Christianity; the proselytizing of religions less demanding than Jainism; laxity in the practice of right conduct by some Jain ascetics and laities; the lack of only one great religious leader; the fragmentation of the community into sects and sub-groups, the lack of proselytizing, etc.12

Archeological Remains - Important in the history of India are the Jain archeological remains in the Indus Valley and in the ancient strongholds of Jainism. There have been many discoveries—ancient walls, monuments, sculptures, inscriptions, potteries, coins, paintings, etc.-that provide knowledge of Indian history and an idea of the dates of some great events in the country. In many regions Jain inscriptions written in different languages and scripts are of great interest for historians. Some objects of great cultural interest like statues, paintings, sculptures, etc. remain at the sites. Others are preserved in museums in India in Delhi, Mumbai, Bikaner, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Jaipur, Gwalior, Patan, Rajgiri, Chennai, Kolkatta, etc. and abroad at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, at the Musée des arts asiatiques Guimet in Paris, the Museum für indische kunst in Berlin, the County Museum of Arts at Los Angeles, the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City, and elsewhere.

Languages and Literature - In the area of languages, the contributions of the Jains are very important. They used Prakritis (Ardhamagadi, Apabhramsha, Shauraseni, etc.) for religious sermons, mantras, prayers, hymns, sacred texts and commentaries intended for the common people and Sanskrit for scholars and intellectuals. There are also many Jain writings in the various languages of India, such as Hindi, Rajasthani, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati, Kanarese, Telugu, Urdu, etc., and, more recently, in foreign languages like English, German, French, Japanese, etc.13

In matter of literature the most important contribution of the Jains concerns the sacred texts of the Shvetambaras and of the Digambaras, but there are many other important works in prose and in the verses.

The “Purvas,” sacred texts supposedly written at the time of Rishabha, are considered as lost. The canon of the Shvetambaras containing the teachings of Parshvanath and Mahavira, enshrined in 460 C.E. by a council at Valabhi, comprises 45 texts in Ardhamagadhi.14 The primary canons or limbs (angas) include not only the Jain tenets but also the lives of the Jinas, the rules of conduct for the ascetics and the laity, heretical views, doctrine, mythology, cosmology, stories, accounts of lay devotees, stories of liberated souls, of devas and devis in the heavens yet subjects to transmigrations, influx of karmas on the soul, results of good and sinful deeds, etc. The secondary canon (upangas) covers religion, astrology, geography, biology, history, philosophy, narratives and legends. There are also texts on discipline (cheda sutras), on basic law (mula sutras), appendices (culika sutras) and miscellaneous works (prakirnakas). Many commentaries (niryuttis, bhasyas, curnis, tikas, and vrittis) have also been composed in Sanskrit and in Prakritis.

The sacred literature of the Digambaras comprises two major “agamas” written on Jain principles by Acharyas Pushpadanta and Bhutabali, and one another on passions by Acharya Gunabhadra. In addition, there are four works of the great Kundakunda and four texts, called “anuyogas”, with stories and legends, calculation, cosmology, astrology, conduct for the ascetics and the laity, and discussions on substances that includes the “Tattvarthadigama sutra” by Umaswami or Umaswati. This text is considered to be the “Bible” of the Jains, with precious comments on the heavens, the lower and middle regions, the gods, the enlightened world-view, knowledge and action, nature of the soul, matter composed of atoms, measurements of time and space, numbers, karma, vows, etc. “Tattvarthadigama sutra”is a great contribution of its author to Indian culture. To it must be added another more recent “Bible” called “Saman Suttam” compiled in 1993 by Jinendra Varni with the help of delegates of each branches of modern Jainism.15

In addition to the sacred texts, there are many writings by numerous acharyas, pandits, bhattarakas, monks, nuns, scholars, on religion, devotion, rituals, meditation, yoga, biographies, history, philosophy, ethics, science, technology, mathematics, literature, grammars, glossaries, chemistry, physics, ecology, botany, economics, medicine, etc.16 Some ancient Jain manuscripts are on leaves or on paper richly decorated and in different languages. Some yet not translated are preserved in diverse Jain libraries (bhandaras), such as those at Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Jaipur, Ajmer, Nagaur, Kota, Udaipur, Jodhpur etc. Jain literature constitutes a precious cultural inheritance of India. There are copies of parts of these manuscripts at the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (U.K.), and at the BNUS in Strasbourg (France).17 There are also many web sites about Jainism in Hindi, English, French and other languages. A list of plenty of these links is on the site “”.

In philosophy, especially in ethics, psychology and logic, the Jains have excelled. They assert that all of the substances of the universe can be broadly divided into two major categories: the living or soul (jiva) and the non-living or not soul (ajiva). When they come in contact with each other, they generate certain energies that bring about birth, death and various experiences of life, such as the karmas due to the good and bad activities of mind, words and deeds. These karmas have as their major effect the bondage of the soul in accordance with the process of transmigration. This process can be stopped and the energies already forged can be destroyed by a course of discipline leading to liberation.18 Such explanations are of great interest for their logical and ethical analyses.

Art and Architecture - On arts and architecture, the Jains have made many splendid contributions. With respect to architecture, Jains did not create a specific type; rather, they adopted the local Indian traditions but they produced many of the finest realizations of these traditions. In general, they selected either lonely hill tops or deep and secluded valleys for their cave-temples, temples, city-temples, stupas, pillars and towers, but there are also some beautiful temples in large cities such as Delhi, Kolkatta, Mumbai, etc. They continue to erect temples in India and abroad in the U.S., U.K., Kenya, Nepal, Japan, etc. Numerous Jain temples in India are breathtaking in beauty because those who erected them were either ministers or wealthy individuals, such as the Dilwara temples on Mount Abu (Rajasthan) erected in 1230 by two ministers of Viradhaval, King of Gujarat. These temples in marble are unsurpassed in their carvings and the richness of their design. The temple of Ranakpur is surely the most beautiful of all in India. Other ones, such as those of Khajuraho, Lakkundi, Jinanathapura, Seth Hathisingh, Hose Vasadi, etc. are also superb.

We must also note the cave-temples in Aihole and Badami, Patan, Ellora, Kalugumalai, etc.; the stupa near Mathura; the temples-cities of Palitana, Girnar, Sammed-Shikhara, Sonagiri, Muktagiri, Kunthalgiri, Shravana-belgola, Mudabidri, etc.; the splendid tower at Chittorgarh; the numerous pillars (manastambhas) of pleasing design and singular grace;19 and, of course, the innumerable sculptures especially representing the Tirthankaras or some saints, such as the huge statues of Bahubali at Sharavana-belgola, Karkal and Venur. The statues of the Tirthankaras are either in temples or outside, seated or standing, in crystal, alabaster, bloodstone or various precious metals like silver or gold. There are also numerous colourful paintings in naive Jain style of exquisite quality, the decorative Jain rangolis of flowers, the religious dances, hymns, songs and musics, the edifying plays and dramas, etc., which are all valuable Jain artistic works. Finally, we must not forget that Jain jewelers have created splendid works of arts with precious stones and metals.

Science, Technology, and Medicine - In matter of science, we find numerous details in the sacred Jain texts and in an innumerable number of books written by Jain specialists. They concern numerous topics. In cosmology, ancient Jain texts like the “Tattvarthadigama sutra” describes the universe as composed of two parts, one occupied and the other consisting of an empty space. In this text there are the measurements of the occupied space composed of three parts: upper, middle and low. Jain texts define time (kala) as a wheel moving in a clockwise direction and divided into cycles each of two equal parts: the descending one (avasarpini) and the ascending one (utsarpini). Jain texts identify and provide detailed analysis of the six kinds of substances or realities (tattvas): souls (jivas), matter (pudgala), the medium of motion (dharma), the medium of rest (adharma), space (akasha) and time (kala). The Jains were the first to say that atoms are the basic constituents of the material universe.

Jains have developed two forms of mathematics and mathematical symbols. Worldly mathematics comprise for them eight types of processes involving: arithmetic, fractions, equations, logarithms, algebra, trigonometry, geometry and numeral calculation including zero. The major work on mathematics is “Ganitasara Samgraha” by the Jain monk Mahaviracharya (IXth century CE).20 Jain mathematicians have detailed treatments for infinity, permutations and combinations and described normal and comparative length, distance and time units.21

Jains have also analyzed and developed medicine in eight major divisions: surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, toxicology, psychiatry, gerontology, rejuvenation and oto-rhino-laryngology. They have followed the scientific method of direct and indirect observations and analytical methods for the acquisition of knowledge and so have written treatises on physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, astronomy, astrology, etc.22

Religious and Charitable Institutions in India and Abroad - The Jains have established numerous institutions in India and in countries abroad where they have communities, such as in the U.S., U.K., Kenya, Australia, Japan, etc. These institutions are primarily religious, charitable, socio-religious, and educational and are often affiliated with the various Jain sects and sub-sects (the Digambara bisapanthis, terapanthis, taranapanthis, gumanapanthis, totapanthis, kanjipanthis; the Shvetambaras murtipujakas, sthanakavasis, terapanthis). In addition, there are minor divisions or groups (gacchas) among the murtipujakas and various caste institutions like those of the oshwals, shrimalis, agrawals, khandelwals, etc. Jains sometimes organize their communities separately based on sect and sub-sect, have their own temples, newspapers, rules for marriages, etc. Such divisions threaten to weaken Jainism and to decrease its influence. Therefore, especially in U.S. and U.K., there are strong efforts to unite all Jains. For example, in the Jain Temple at Leicester (U.K.), there are two levels—one for Digambaras and one for Shvetambaras—but these are both in a single temple. In the U.S., the large, national association known as JAINA seeks as an explicit goal the unity of all Jains. Groups such as the Young Jain Associations and the Jain Women’s Associations are intended to unite the Jain youth and Jain women in order to increase Jain influence and ensure continuity of the fundamental Jain principles.

There are also Jain pathashalas, gurukulas, vidyapittas in India and a Jain university at Ladnun in India. A number of universities have a department of Jainology and there are efforts, such as the “International School for Jain Studies”, which are intended to provide instruction in the fundamentals of Jainism to researchers and scholars from India and from foreign countries.

The Jains are formally not very numerous in number: 4,225,053 according to the 2001 census in India,23 which represents 0.4 % of the total population. But they have the highest literacy rate compared with the national average. They have among them not only great industrialists and businessmen but also prominent individuals such as members of the High Court of Justice in India, politicians, administrators, physicians, accountants, traders, specialists in computer science, etc. The late Dr. L.M. Singhvi is one example of the prominence that has been achieved by members of the Jain community. Dr. L.M. Singhvi, a very devout lay Jain, was successively a judge, member of the Parliament of India, and High Commissioner of India in U.K. Some acharyas have received formal awards by the Indian government. Jain monuments, prominent Jains, and Jain symbols have been represented on postage stamps, coins, etc.

In foreign countries that have Jain communities, numerous laypeople have engaged in considerable effort to teach about Jainism. As industrialists, engineers, physicians, accountants, etc., they seek to show that it is possible to practice a profession without engaging in violence. These Jains have become integrated into their communities and professional organizations, with which they have excellent relations. They practice their religion in temples or at home. They manage their organizations and associations with great order to maintain their faith without conflict with other religions. They give conferences on Jain tenets and lessons on meditation, yoga, etc.

Since the Jains have the highest income per capita in India, they are able to give money not only for the construction of new temples or halls of prayers (sthanakas) but also for the development of charitable, educational, social and medical institutions such as schools, rest-houses (dharmashalas), clinics, dispensaries, hospitals, penjarapolas, etc. They give money for the support of their ascetics and the maintenance of their temples, for providing medicine and education, for the publication of books on religion to propagate Jain tenets, and for the management of numerous web sites in Hindi, in English and other languages.

The message of ahimsa is disseminated not only in India by great acharyas, like Acharya Mahapragya in his ahimsa yatra, and by numerous others in both sects, but also by nuns and monks and abroad by a category of semi-ascetics called “shramans” and “shramanis” created by late Acharya Tulsi, as well as by devout Jain laities as scholars, authors and religious activists.

Conclusion - By preaching their fundamental principles of ahimsa, anekantavada, and aparigraha, the Jains are great promoters of peace. Jainism is the only religion that has never hurt or killed anybody to force a conversion or to impose its rituals and rules of conduct. The Jains follow the teachings of Lord Mahavira that have made him one of the best respected prophets in India. Jainism does not ascribe to belief in a god as creator of the universe that bestows favors and rewards or imposes punishments. Rather, Jainism asserts a complete trust in the power of all humans to reach the eternal bliss of their souls through right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct. That is a great contribution to the matter of human dignity and the ability of all humans to achieve salvation as a result of their own effort.

Building on the wonderful success that Virchand Raghav Gandhi had at the 1893 “Parliament of World Religions” in Chicago (USA), the Jain delegates at the 2009 Parliament from the 3rd to the 9th of December in Melbourne (Australia) will ensure that justice, tolerance, solidarity and peace will make progress in our world, which is greatly in need of these virtues at the present time. The theme of the Parliament,24 “Make a world of difference: hearing each other, healing the earth”, reflects the urgent need to act on concerns for the environment, peace, and for overcoming poverty, as well as to cultivate awareness of our global interconnectedness. Such a theme calls for action and is the concrete aim of the teachings of Lord Mahavira.

1) Dr. Vilas Sangave in “Aspects of Jaina religion” 1990.
2) Hermann Jacobi Translation of the “Kalpa sutra” in The sacred books of the East (Vol 22) 1884.
3) Id.
4) Id.
5) Dr. Vilas Sangave in “Aspects of Jaina religion” 1990.
6) Pierre Amiel in “Jains today in the world” 2008.
7) www. Constitution of
8) Dr. Vilas Sangave in “Aspects of Jaina Religion” 1990.
9) Id.
10) R. Williams in “Jaina Yoga” 1963.
11) Dr. Natubhai Shah in “Jainism - The World of Conquerors” (Vol 1) 2004.
12) Id.
14) Dr. Natubhai Shah in “Jainism-The World of Conquerors” 2004.
15) Pierre Amiel in “Jains today in the world” 2008.
16) Dr. Natubhai Shah in “The World of Conquerors” (Vol 2) 2004.
17) Pierre Amiel in “The Jains today in the world” 2008.
19) Dr. Vilas Sangave “Aspects of Jaina relgion” 1990.
20) Dr. R. Krishnan in “Nouvelles de l’Inde” Janvier-Février 2009.
21) Dr. Nathubai Shah in “Jainism-The World of Conquerors “(Vol 2) 2004.
22) Id.
23) www. 2001 Census in India.
24) www. 2009 Parliament of World Religions.

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