Ritual and Temple Worship


The Tirthankaras : Every Jain temple consecrated to one of the twenty-four Tirthankaras worshipped in the sanctum sanctorum. The honorary title of ford maker (Tirthankara) can be interpreted to mean one who makes a ford through the ocean of rebirth. The Tirthankaras, the holiest of the holies, are always represented in the posture of meditation with hands in the lap and fingers interlaced. Consequently, different mudras (hand positions) as in the case of Buddhism are not possible. The concept of the Tirthankara is not that of a saviour who continues to influence the destiny of humankind, but rather a teacher who serves as a role model. The images of the liberated one seem to be neither animate nor inanimate but pervaded by an absolute spiritual calmness, which symbolises the successful renunciation of the world. The fixed stare achieved using inlaid stones or silver for the eyes emphasises the aloofness and isolation of the figure. Generally, it is not allowed to take pictures of the idol in the main sanctuary but there are innumerable other idols in the temple. Either they are housed in their own small shrines or they can be put in a row on a lower bank. Very often, the figures are made of translucent alabaster in order to highlight the transparency of a body cleansed of all earthly matter. The statues represent, in a very impressive manner, the victory of the transcendental principle over the power of the flesh. As such, the differing Tirhankaras cannot be distinguished one from the other. Consequently, the differing signs of each of the Tirthankaras - a lion or bull, for example - serve to distinguish them.

In addition to the seated yoga posture, the Tirthankaras are also represented in the rigid, erect and immobile posture of 'dismissing the body'. Typical of the south is the worship of colossal statues in this posture such as that of Shravana Belgola (strictly speaking, this is not a statue of any of the Tirthankaras).

The worship of Tirthankaras is a subjective and not an objective exercise. Since they are beyond earthly propitiation and are inaccessible, strictly speaking, there can be no prayer in a Jain temple. Instead, the singing of hymns, the incantation of mantras, the circumambulation, the offerings are all meant to inspire in the devotee a positive attitude and a feeling of peace. Naturally, they also improve there karma.

The story of an episode from the life of Parsva, as told by Heinrich Zimmer (refer to bibliography), best reveals the Jain attitude to worship:

'When Parsva dwelt on this earth in the incarnation of Chakaravartin Ananadakumara, he was assailed by doubts during a religious celebration in honour of Tirthankara Arishtanemi. "What." he wondered, "is the use of bowing before an image?" The sage, Vipulamati dispelled his doubts by comparing the image to a mirror: the mirror is red when a red flower held before it; it will be blue, if a blue flower held before it. In the same manner, presence of an image transforms the mind. Contemplating the form of the passionless Lord in a Jain temple, the spirit filled automatically with a sentiment of renunciation. Just as the sight of a courtesan makes one restless, the sight of a Tirthankara inspires a feeling of peace"

Other Deities : Since human beings, however, cannot in the ultimate analysis, do without invoking the help of celestial beings. The Jains also worship not only their Tirthankaras but also, on the one hand, the famous teachers and sages of their religion and the other deities who are interested in the temporal well being of human beings: thus the Jains pray especially to the shasanadevatas (goddesses of the doctrine) And yakshas (spirits), who have already helped the Tirthankaras.

Some of these spirits assume the appearance and names of brahmanical gods such as Kali, Brahma, Kubera, and Varuna.

The Jains particularly worship the sixteen goddesses of knowledge and the Indras, the divine kings of the various heavens

The large scale Hindu influence on Jainism, which was, perhaps its only possibility of survival, has led to the representation and invocation of Ganesha, Lakshmi, Hanuman and many other Hindu deities. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that the Jains often describe themselves as Hindus today, and frequently participate in the Puja in the Hindu temples, such being the case, what today distinguishes Jainism from the more dominant religion of the Hindus is probably their special brand of ethics and their attitude to the Tirthankaras.

The Temple Ritual : The normal practice of worship is restricted to hymns, which used for all the groups (I mean the groups of gods to whom they chant hymns), mentioned so far. It also includes the ritualistic circumambulation of the idols in a clockwise direction.

Besides this, there is a regular temple service, which conducted by the pujari (someone who offers the Puja). Pujari's are not priests in our sense of the term. They are merely responsible for the upkeep of the temple and its idols and for conducting the service. Brahmans who hold the proceeding of Puja and, strictly speaking, they are not even Jains this incongruity is the outcome of the Hindu influence on Jainism.

The duties of such a pujari begin around 6.30 in the morning: the temple and the idols washed, and then vasa powder (a mixture of sandalwood, saffron, camphor, musk and amber) applied to the Tirthankaras.

Finally, the Pujari arranges the rice in the form of the swastika sign and covers it with fruits, and the crescent shape covered with sweetmeats. A lay follower normally performs this activity and the rice is arranged in the following manner.

The four sides of the swastika sign represent the four possible states in which a soul may be born a hell being, a divine being, a man or a beast. The three little dots above the swastika symbolise the three jewels of right knowledge, right faith and right conduct and the crescent embodies moksha. After reciting a mantra and prostrating himself, the pujari circumambulates the idol three times, sings a hymn and leaves the temple.

A second Puja begins at 10 am, this time with a folded cloth placed across the mouth: the old powder from the morning now removed and the panchamrita (five-fold nectar) made of milk, curdled milk, ghee, water and sugar poured over the idol. At the end, the idol is washed with water and dried carefully.

The pujari then marks the idol with sandalwood paste in nine places and adorns it with flowers. The idol is then worshipped with incense and lamps after this the pujari makes a fresh swastika .sign and sings hymns.

Early in the evening, the third prayer service takes place: this time apart from the incense, a lamp with five wicks are waved in front of the Tirthankara, followed by an oil lamp and to the accompaniment of musical instruments, particularly kettledrums and bells. Every time devotees come close to the idol, or remove themselves from the vicinity of the idol, they ring the bell.

Festivals and Special Days : Most common Hindu festivals such as Diwali (the festival of lights in honour of Lakshmi. the goddess of wealth), Holi (festival of spring) or the birthday of Ganesha, are celebrated by Jains The most important actual Jain festival, however, is Paryushana (monsoon). This festival should be celebrated one month and twenty days after the monsoon season has begun, this duration varies from sect to sect from eight to seventy days, The important events of this festival and the celebration of Mahavira's birthday on the fifth day and a general confession and reconciliation on the last day The followers are expected to fast for either one day or for all eight days They spend the time in meditation and study, i.e. for this period they should temporarily lead a monk's life.

The other important festival, the Siddha Chakra Puja (worship of the holy wheel) is celebrated twice in a year - in March April and in September October. The highlight of this festival is the ceremonial bathing of the holy wheel in a lake.

Pilgrimages : Common to Hinduism and Jainism is the belief that pilgrimages serve the purpose washing away one's sins. In the case of Jainism, however, a place viewed as only, if it is in sonic way, connected to the life of a Tirthankara. Mostly, these religious places are holy mountains, and among these the 591 meter-high Mt. Shatrunjaya, Palitana (Gujarat) enjoys special significance.

This pilgrimage is as important to the Jains, as visiting Mecca is to the Muslims. During the pilgrimage to Palitana, the pilgrim gains for himself special merit because he has to toil up down thousands of steps ninety-nine times.

While on pilgrimage, the Jain should temporarily lead the life of a monk: restricts meals to just once a day, and enjoins the observation of chastity and sleeping on the ground. The monks do not wander from place to place during the monsoon season and, instead, settle down in one place for this period. Monks and gurus follow this practice too consequently; a pilgrimage can be also to the places where these sages sojourn, and so these places given wide publicity in advance. In close proximity of his guru or Acharya (master), the pilgrim can continue practising the ascetic lifestyle of his journey. He can also combine his pilgrimage with the celebration of the Paryushana festival.

It is just as meritorious to finance the pilgrimage of another and, if possible, to escort personally the pilgrim. This practice was common among the rulers and ministers, Vastupal's pilgrimage (refer to chapter on Ranakpur) in the 13th century, for example, was famous because he took with him for the pilgrimage one thousand one hundred Digambaras, twelve thousand one hundred Shvetambaras four hundred fitly singers, three thousand and three hundred bards and two thousand nine hundred servants.



Article Source :"Jainism And The Temples of Mount Abu And Ranakpur"
Publisher: Gyan Gaurav Publishers. C-34, Sir Pratap Colony, Airport Road, Jodhpur
Tele : 91-291-2515861, 9414127863, Editor : Mr. Dilip Surana
Layout & Graphics : Antesh Choudhary
Text: Lothar Clermont, Photos : Thomas Dix,
Printer : First Printed 1998, Reprinted 2006 by Thomson Press, New Delhi
Volume : 96 pages, Size: 242 x 312 mm


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