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Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 6.8 ► Jain Institutions

Published: 30.12.2015

The basic institution of the Jain community is the four orders of the sangha, which historical evidence suggests has been in existence since the time of Parsvanatha, about 2,800 years ago (Kalpasutra 1984: 155-56) Each order is interdependent upon the other three, ascetics providing for the spiritual needs of the laity; the laity providing for the material needs of ascetics. Jainism is primarily an ascetic religion. The goal of householders, when they are ready, should be the inititian into the ascetic order, therefore, the laities occupy a secondary place in the sangha.

The ascetics have a community of their own. It is possible for a monk of high spirituality to remain aloof to progress further on the spiritual path, but such Jinakalpi (jina like conduct) monks are rare and nowadays, we find jitakalpi (conduct towards the self-conquest) monks and nuns, who are members of a gachha (group) in the sangha. A group of ascetics is headed by an aacaarya, who is appointed by senior ascetics in consultation with the elder laities. He is responsible for the administration and motivation to the spiritual progress of ascetics in his group. He also acts as guide for the laity for all religious matters including temple consecration, rituals, festivals and interpretation of scriptures. A senior nun heads a group of female ascetics for administration and spiritual motivation of the members of her group under the guidance of the aacaarya of her gachha. She also guides the laypersons for the rituals and motivates them on spiritual path.

Jain institutions are broadly divided into four categories: religious, charitable, educational and socio-religious.

Religious institutions

After the liberation of the last tirthankara Mahavira, worship became focused upon the images of tirthankaras, and eventually it was crystallised into the formal arrangements of the temples and organisations were set up for their adminisration. All the Jain groups in India maintain both national and local institutions for the care and maintenance of temples; these take a variety of forms, for example, the Jain sangha or temple trust, but local institutions are not necessarily formally linked to national bodies. They manage the ayambil saalaa, a dining hall providing prescribed meals for ayambil and the bhojan saalaa, providing meals for pilgrims.

Svetambar national bodies, which are responsible for temple maintenance, are the 'temple funds/trusts' (pedhi) and donations raised in temples and through rituals are forwarded to these bodies for distribution where necessary. Digambars have similar bodies, 'committees for the preservation of temples' (tirtha raksa samiti). The Sthanakvasis call their institutions, the Sthanakvasi Sangha; which of course, aim is to maintain their 'halls' (upashrayas), not temples. Lastly, the Terapanthis manage bodies called 'great meetings' (mahaa sabhaa).

Both Svetambar and Digambar national institutions are involved in the management of places of pilgrimage and the major temples, and assist the trusts of smaller local temples when a new temple building or the renovation of older temple buildings is required.

Bhattarakas and Yatis: The Svetambar institution of yatis, which was very pervasive in the middle ages, has practically disappeared as the twentieth century has progressed, but the Digambar bhattarakas still function. Both yatis and bhattarakas act as preceptors and help communities by performing rituals, disseminating Jain values and by taking a priestly role in socio-religious affairs.

Samanas and Samanis: In the late twentieth century, Aacaarya Tulsi of the Terapanthis established the institution of samanas and samanis to propagate Jain teachings. They take minor vows, are allowed to travel by transport, to use modern toilet facilities and to cook for themselves if necessary. In other respects, they observe a way of life similar to 'initiated' ascetics.

Charitable institutions

Their charitable work has earned the Jains goodwill among all communities for many centuries; their work extends into many fields: the provision of food, medicine, shelter, education, meeting social and religious needs of the community and providing welfare for animals. Jains are motivated by their obligatory duty of compassion to all living beings, regardless of caste, creed, colour, species or other distinctions. The institutions maintain separate funds for each activity. The dedication of Jain volunteers in offering aid is greatly appreciated by their local communities.

Rest houses: Jains maintain a large number of rest houses (dharmasaalaas) in all large towns and all places of pilgrimage, which usually provide free board and lodging for pilgrims and visiting Jains. Most provide beds and utensils at a nominal charge, others provide only rooms, maintained by donations from pilgrims and philanthropists, but certain places of pilgrimage, such as Satrunjay, have accommodation for thousands. A survey of Gujarat in 1980 listed 266 rest houses in the state, but more have been constructed in recent years, with modern facilities (Sanghave 1980:p.266).

Animal sanctuaries: The unique Jain institution of the paanjaraa polas serves the needs of animals, birds and insects, where people can bring old, injured or sick creatures, confident that they will be cared for. Occasionally, animals are bought by Jains to save them from slaughter for their meat and skins and are housed in these sanctuaries. Medicines and veterinary care are available free to needy animals in paanjaraa polas, and also, for a nominal charge, at Jain-run independent veterinary hospitals and dispensaries. Some sanctuaries maintain insect houses where sick insects are collected and cared for. In Gujarat, it was estimated that in 1995 there were eighty such animal sanctuaries (1995: personal communication).

Vegetarian societies and Jiva Daya: Jains associate themselves with all kinds of animal welfare (jiva dayaa), taking an active part in vegetarian societies and donating generously to such causes. During natural calamities, such as famines, Indian State governments and the victims look to Jains for help and the management of animal welfare, for example in 1987-89 CE, a famine struck Gujarat and Jains were involved in saving more than one million cattle from starvation. (1995: personal communication)

Hospitals and Dispensaries: Jains have donated to and run many hospitals and dispensaries throughout India, and where Jains are unable to establish their own hospitals, they help other bodies to create the needed institutions, but some clinics and dispensaries are managed by the Jain community itself.

Other Humanitarian Work: Jains sympathise and help with practically all humanitarian causes, care for the old, the poor, orphans, prisoners' families and disaster relief, such as famines, the aftermath of riots, accidents and epidemics. Jains are usually in the forefront of helping the distressed and needy and in rendering practical assistance to the victims. A central organisation to co-ordinate activities, the Bhagvan Mahavir Kalyan Kendra, was established in 1968 in Bombay, operating in Maharastra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Karnataka and other parts of India.

Educational Institutions

Jain Educational Institutions may be placed in one of the four categories: libraries, educational institutions, including schools; research and teaching institutions; and Jain universities, courses in Jain studies and academic posts in other universities.

Libraries: Jains have established libraries (sastra bhandaras) to preserve Jain scriptures and other important manuscripts, managed by temple trusts or trustees appointed for this task. Vast numbers of books and texts have been preserved over many centuries, providing an important resource for scholars. Major sastra bhandaras are found in Jesalmir, Patan, Mudabidre and Karanja. Over the past decades, organisations such as the L.D. Institute of Indology in Ahmedabad, the Kailas Sagar Suri Jnan Mandir in Koba and the B.L. Institute, Delhi, have bought tens of thousands of important Jain texts from various sites, some very ancient, in order to guarantee their preservation. Catalogues of these collections are continually being published, updated or are in preparation; however, little is available to the international community in English or other Western languages, an issue which needs to be addressed.

Jain Publishing Houses: Until the early years of the twentieth century, Jains were not in favour of producing printed copies of their scriptures, but gradually attitudes changed and institutions were established to disseminate Jain literature. Examples of publishing houses are: the Central Jain Publishing House in Bihar, the M.D. Jain Granthamala in Bombay, the Jain Atmanand Sabha and the Jain Dharma Prasaraka Sabha in Bhavanagar, the Agamodaya Samiti in Surat, the Jain Siddhanta Prakasini Sanstha in Calcutta, and the Visva Kalyan Prakasana Trust in Mehsana.

Educational and Academic Institutions: Jains are keen to promote Jain education in all sections of Jain society. They operate pathasaalas for the education of young children, residential schools (gurukulas), ancient educational institutions for older children. These institutions still exist, but are in need of modernisation to meet present day requirements.

With the increased complexity of life and employment, the scope of education has widened and different forms of educational institutions now operate. Jains have established schools offering both religious and secular curricula, such as Tapovan in Navsari and Ahmedabad. There are many Jain educational institutions throughout India and some have recently been established abroad, and student residential institutions have been set up to offer support to Jain students including accommodation, board, fees and grants. One such example is the Mahavir Jain Vidhyalaya in Bombay, which has eight branches and supports thousands of Jain students, and another is the Parsvanath Vidhyashram in Varanasi, which provides facilities for education and research on scriptures.

Jain University: The Jain Vishwa Bharati, Ladnun is a major Jain institution that provides Jainological studies and research in India and has been granted the status of a university by the Government of India.

Jain Academy: This Academy has initiated a modular undergraduate course on Jain Studies at the De Montfort University, Leicester. It is the first undergraduate course to be started outside India. A formal link has been established with Bombay University with the opening of the Jain Academy Educational and Research Centre in 1996. The Jain Academy Educational and Research Centres have also been established in Rajkot, Baroda and Surat Universities in 1996-97, by the Jain Academy Bombay Trust. Jain Academy Foundation of North America is conducting various research and publication programmes.

Jain Teaching and Professorial Chairs: Many Universities in different parts of India have initiated Prakrit and Jainology departments, where facilities for postgraduate study and research are available. Presently there are about 24 such departments, some with chairs in Jainology in India, including Madras, Mysore, the Sanskrit University at Varanasi, Gujarat Vidhyapith and Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, but because of inadequate employment opportunities after completion of their studies or research projects, recruitment of students has been difficult.

Socio-Religious Organisations

These organisations are aimed at promoting the overall interests and growth of Jain society, and act as advisors on the social and cultural concerns of the community. Some co-ordinate with other faiths and organisations, and represent the interests of the Jain community to political and statutory bodies; others are more social institutions, which bring together members of different sects, and are also concerned with the social and family problems of an individual member.

The Mahaajana and Jaina Local Board Institutions: India has more than 500,000 villages and even today about 76% of its population resides in rural areas, thus, the social structure of the country remains largely village based. From the earliest times there have been village-level Jain institutions in all parts of the country functioning under various names. Their function was to manage the religious, social, cultural and educational activities of the community, to represent the community at varying levels, and to arbitrate in the socio-religious disputes of the community. In Western India, these institutions are known as the mahaajana (reputable people), elsewhere as the Jain pancayata (local board), managing temples and animal welfare institutions, meeting the needs of ascetics, and providing hospitality for guests of the community. In addition, they serve their locality through philanthropic, environmental and mercantile activities, and also act as advisors, bankers, preceptors and leaders of the village. They carefully regulate the Jain community so that their decisions are respected by all.

The Jain Social Groups Federation: This is a rapidly expanding movement aimed at creating friendship among its members through mainly social activities, but it also organises religious discourses and fund-raising for national calamities. It has its own coordinating central organisation and, at the time of writing, the Jain Social Groups Federation had 160 branches, including 14 overseas.

The Jain Journalists Association: More than 100 Jain periodicals, including one daily newspaper are published in India with publications ranging from weeklies to quarterlies, serving the community with news of the Jain world.

Jain Organisations Abroad: About 100,000 Jains live outside India; the majority in the United Kingdom, the United States and East Africa. According to a report published there were 131 Jain organisations outside India: 74 in America, 31 in Europe, 10 in Africa, 5 in Asia and 1 in Australia. (1988: Jain Digest of North America).

Women's organisations: Mahavira instituted the orders for laywomen and for female ascetics (saadhvis), as part of the fourfold sangha. Women play an active role in preserving Jain traditions and Jain values, and the majority of Jain organisations have women's 'sections', which engage in a wide range of religious, cultural and social activities.

Youth organisations: The Jain community has motivated youth organisations at the local, regional and national levels for wide range of activities, including religious, cultural and social: An example of their organisation was the Young Jains International Convention, held in London in July 1994, and attended by over 300 delegates.

Community Welfare Organisations: These help economically disadvantaged Jains by providing work at home, free medical and educational facilities, subsidised accommodation in some cities, and help on important social occasions such as weddings. In India, Jains have established co-operative movements, including a co-operative bank in Bombay.

Inter-faith organisations: Jains are active in interfaith work in accordance with their principle of relative pluralism (anekaantavaada), they seek to understand the teachings of other faiths and live peacefully with other communities. In addition to general interfaith co-operation, Jains have established a Jain-Christian Association and a Jain-Jewish association in the United Kingdom.

Plate 6.8 Archbishop of York Dr Habgood, High Commissioner of India Dr L. M. Singhvi, the Bishop of Leicester and the author at the seminar organised by Jain- Christian Association at Jain Centre, Leicester in 1992.

Plate 6.9 Jain Jewish dignitaries at the launch of Jain-Jewish Association at the Stenberg Centre for Judaism, London in 1995

The maryaada mahotsava is an 'annual general meeting' of ascetics and lay disciples of the Terapanthis, which discusses and resolves problems of the sect; it takes place during the bright half of the Indian month of Magha. In this meeting ascetics undertake penance, activities of the sect are audited, and future strategies are planned. Such meetings are of great importance to the community and are worthy of emulation by other Jain groups.

Jains have established many useful and admirable organisations, most of which are run on a voluntary basis. In the complex world of today, it is very difficult to manage an organisation without any infrastructure, thus, to succeed in modern age as a community, Jains will have to draw upon all their resources and professionalism and establish a central organisation with proper infrastructure which can serve as a coordinating institution for the needs of the modern age.


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahmedabad
  2. Ayambil
  3. Baroda
  4. Bhattarakas
  5. Bihar
  6. Bombay
  7. Calcutta
  8. Delhi
  9. Dharma
  10. Digambar
  11. Gujarat
  12. JAINA
  13. Jain Dharma
  14. Jain Digest
  15. Jain Education
  16. Jain Vishwa Bharati
  17. Jaina
  18. Jainism
  19. Jina
  20. Jiva
  21. Jiva Daya
  22. Jnan
  23. Judaism
  24. Karnataka
  25. Kendra
  26. Koba
  27. L.D. Institute Of Indology
  28. Ladnun
  29. Leicester
  30. London
  31. Madras
  32. Mahavir
  33. Mahavira
  34. Mandir
  35. Mysore
  36. Parsvanath
  37. Parsvanatha
  38. Prakrit
  39. Rajasthan
  40. Rajkot
  41. Sabha
  42. Sagar
  43. Samanis
  44. Samiti
  45. Sangha
  46. Sanskrit
  47. Sthanakvasi
  48. Sthanakvasis
  49. Surat
  50. Svetambar
  51. Terapanthis
  52. Tirtha
  53. Tirthankara
  54. Tirthankaras
  55. Tulsi
  56. Varanasi
  57. Yatis
  58. Young Jains
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