Svetambara

The Svetambara (śvētapaṭa; also spelled SvetambarShvetambara or Swetambar) is one of the two main branches of Jainism, the other being the Digambara. Śvētāmbara means “white-clad”, and refers to its ascetics practice of wearing white clothes, which sets it apart from the Digambara “sky-clad” Jains, whose ascetic practitioners go naked. Śvētāmbaras, unlike Digambaras, do not believe that ascetics must practice nudity.

The Svetambara and Digambara traditions have had historical differences ranging from their dress code, their temples and iconography, attitude towards Jain nuns, their legends and the texts they consider as important. Svetambara Jain communities are currently found mainly in Gujarat, Rajasthan and coastal regions of Maharashtra. According to Jeffery D. Long – a scholar of Hindu and Jain studies, about four-fifths of all Jains in India are Svetambaras.

A 1st- to 2nd–century CE water tank relief panel showing two ardhaphalaka Jain monks carrying colapatta cloth on their left hand found in the ruins of Mathura (Brooklyn Museum 87.188.5).[7] This cloth carrying tradition to cover genitalia by ancient Jain monks in principle resembles the beliefs of the Svetambara and now extinct Yapaniya subtradition.

A 1st- to 2nd–century CE water tank relief panel showing two ardhaphalaka Jain monks carrying colapatta cloth on their left hand found in the ruins of Mathura (Brooklyn Museum 87.188.5). This cloth carrying tradition to cover genitalia by ancient Jain monks in principle resembles the beliefs of the Svetambara and now extinct Yapaniya subtradition

History

Main article: Jain schools and branches

The Svetambaras and Digambaras disagree on how the Svetambaras sub tradition started in Jainism. According to Svetambaras, they are the original followers of Mahavira, and Digambaras arose 609 years after the death of Mahavira (about 1st-century CE) because of an arrogant man named Sivabhuti who became a Jain monk in a fit of pique after a fight at home. He is accused of starting the Digambara Jain tradition with what Svetambara call as “eight concealments”, of rejecting Jain texts preserved by the Svetambara tradition, and misunderstanding the Jain ideology including those related to nuns and clothes. In contrast, according to Digambaras, they are the original followers of Mahavira and Svetambaras branched off later in the time of Bhadrabahu when their forecasted twelve-year famine triggered their migration from central India. One group of Jain monks headed west and north towards Rajasthan, while the second group headed south towards Karnataka. The former became Svetambaras and retained their “heretic” beliefs and practices such as wearing “white clothes” they adopted there, say the Digambaras. Neither of these explanations can be found in early Jain or non-Jain texts. The earliest version of this Digambara story appears in the 10th-century CE, while the earliest version of the Svetambara story appears in the 5th-century CE.

Śvētāmbara Jain bhagwan, 23rd Tirthankar, Parsvanatha at a Mysuru temple. In contrast to Digambara icons, the Svetambara icons are more life-like, with crown, red lips and inlaid eyes.

Śvētāmbara Jain bhagwan, 23rd Tirthankar, Parsvanatha at a Mysuru temple. In contrast to Digambara icons, the Svetambara icons are more life-like, with crown, red lips and inlaid eyes.

The Svetambaras have subtraditions. A majority of the Svetambaras are murtipujakas, that is they actively offer  devotional puja in temples, worship before the images or idols of Tirthankaras and important Jain goddesses. Others are split into various subtraditions where either Jain temples and halls are built but puja is minor, or where all construction and use of temples, images and idols is actively discouraged and avoided. These subtraditions began around 14th-century through 18th-century. One of the key Jain scholar who opposed devotional temples, images and idols was Lonka Shah (c. 1476 CE). These later subtraditions are primarily Sthānakavāsī and Terapanth orders. Early colonial era observers and some early 20th-century Jain writers such as Malvaniya hypothesized that this movement against idol worship may be the impact of Islam on Jainism, but later scholarship states that the subtraditions arose from an internal dispute and debate on the principle Ahimsa (non-violence). The new movements argued that the construction of temples or buildings of any kind, idols and images, as well as the puja rituals hurt and kill small creatures and microscopic life forms in soil, wood and other materials involved, and is thus against their core principle of non-violence.

The newer Śvētāmbara subtraditions cover their mouth with a white cloth or muhapatti to practise ahimsa even when they talk. By doing so they minimize the possibility of inhaling small organisms. The terapanthi order is strongly aniconic and has lakhs of followers in many parts of the world.

Differences with Digambara

Other than rejecting or accepting different ancient Jain texts, Digambaras and Śvētāmbara differ in other significant ways such as:

  • Śvētāmbaras trace their practices and dress code to the teachings of Parshvanatha, the 23rd tirthankara, which they believe taught only Four restraints (a claim, scholars say are confirmed by the ancient Buddhist texts that discuss Jain monastic life). Mahāvīra taught Five vows, which Digambara follow. The Digambara sect disagrees with the Śvētāmbara interpretations, and reject the theory of difference in Parshvanatha and Mahāvīra’s teachings.
  • Digambaras believe that both Parshvanatha and Mahāvīra remained unmarried, whereas Śvētāmbara believe the 23rd and 24th did indeed marry. According to the Śvētāmbara version, Parshva married Prabhavati, and Mahāvīra married Yashoda who bore him a daughter named Priyadarshana. The two sects also differ on the origin of Trishala, Mahāvīra’s mother, as well as the details of Tirthankara’s biographies such as how many auspicious dreams their mothers had when they were in the wombs.
  • Digambara believe Rishabha, Vasupujya and Neminatha were the three tirthankaras who reached omniscience while in sitting posture and other tirthankaras were in standing ascetic posture. In contrast, Śvētāmbaras believe it was Rishabha, Nemi and Mahāvīra who were the three in sitting posture.
  • Digambara monasticism rules are more rigid.
  • Digambara iconography are plain, Śvētāmbara icons are decorated and colored to be more lifelike.
  • According to Śvētāmbara Jain texts, from Kalpasūtras onwards, its monastic community has had more sadhvis than sadhus (female than male mendicants). In Tapa Gacch of the modern era, the ratio of sadhvis to sadhus (nuns to monks) is about 3.5 to 1. In contrast to Śvētāmbara, the Digambara sect monastic community has been predominantly male.
  • In the Digambara tradition, a male human being is considered closest to the apex with the potential to achieve his soul’s liberation from rebirths through asceticism. Women must gain karmic merit, to be reborn as man, and only then can they achieve spiritual liberation in the Digambara sect of Jainism. The Śvētāmbaras disagree with the Digambaras, believing that women can also achieve liberation from Saṃsāra through ascetic practices.
  • The Śvētāmbaras state the 19th Tirthankara Māllīnātha was female. However, Digambara reject this, and worship Mallinatha as a male.
  • A male human being is considered closest to the apex with the potential to achieve liberation, particularly through asceticism. In the Digambara traditional belief, women must gain karmic merit, to be reborn as man, and only then can they achieve spiritual liberation. However, this view has been historically debated within Jainism and different Jain sects have expressed different views, particularly the Śvētāmbara sect that believes that women too can achieve spiritual liberation from rebirths in Saṃsāra. The Śvētāmbaras state the 19th Tirthankara Māllīnātha was female. However, Digambara reject this, and worship Mallinatha as a male.

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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