Jains form less than one percent of the Indian population. For centuries, Jains are famous as community of traders and merchants. The states of Gujarat and Rajasthan have the highest concentration of Jain population in India. The Jain religion is traced to Vardhamana Mahavira (The Great Hero 599-527 B.C.). Mahavira was the twenty-fourth and last of the Jain Tirthankars. Mahavira was born in a ruling family of Vaishali, located in the modern state of Bihar, India. At the age of thirty, Mahavira renounced royal life and devoted himself to the task of discovering the meaning of existence. At the age of 42 he attained enlightenment and spent the rest of his life meditating and preaching Jainism.
Jainism rests on a real understanding of the working of karma, its
effects on the living soul and the conditions for extinguishing action
and the soul's release. Jainism considers the soul as a living substance
that combines with various kinds of non-living matters. The Jain
religion rests on complete inactivity and absolute nonviolence (ahimsa)
against all living beings. It is evident from the Jain monks and nuns
wearing face masks to avoid inhaling small organisms. It is for the same
reason all practicing Jains try to remain vegetarians.
The Jain community evolved into two main divisions- the Digambara or "sky-clad"
monks do not wear clothes and the Svetambara or "white-clad"
monks and nuns, who wear white clothes and carry bowls for collecting
food. For centuries Western and southern India have been Jain
strongholds. In the mid-1990s, there were about 7 million Jains, the
majority of whom live in the states of Maharashtra (mostly in Bombay),
Rajasthan, and Gujarat. Karnataka, conventionally a stronghold of
Digambaras, also has a considerable Jain community.
Though the Jain shrines include images of the Tirthankars, yet they are
not worshiped but remembered and revered. Daily rituals of the Jains may
include meditation, bathing the images, offering food, flowers and light
lamps for the images. It is interesting to note that the Jains also
worship local gods and participate in Hindu or Muslim celebrations
without compromising their fundamental path. The Jains celebrate the
five major events in the life of Mahavira- conception, birth,
renunciation, enlightenment, and final release after death.
Major Jain pilgrimage destinations in India are Palitana, Ranakpur,
Shravanbelagola, Dilwara Temple, Khandagiri Caves and Udayagiri Caves.