Appreciating that individuals and cultures express their beliefs and values through many different forms.
Stories have been central to the survival and dissemination of the faith. There have been not hundreds nor thousands but hundreds of thousands of stories in the Jain faith. Some scholars have said that the Jains were the master story-tellers of India. The stories were used to explain values and ideals, and often covered complex aspects of the faith which were otherwise difficult to grasp. For a long time, the tradition was oral and it would not be surprising to find the average Jain mother to know hundreds of stories through memory.
As there is no major distinction between the sacred and the normal, stories were seen as expressions of the heritage rather than divine revelations or statements. Perhaps the most important stories are the life stories of the Tirthankaras – but as such there are no stories which are more special than others. Some are enacted through theatre and drama, accompanied by music and poetry and have become more popular as a result. However, stories abound everywhere and some are expressed through songs and poetry as well.
The subjects of stories have been equally vast – from stories of angels and gods, to animal stories, family stories and stories of miracles and the triumph of truth over falsehood. Often there is a deep analysis of the complex web of living beings in the Universe and the drama of their interdependence and entanglements. The stories are synonymous with core values and beliefs and have played a critical role in the survival of such a minority faith during periods of persecution and curtailment. They have been expressed and written in many languages in different parts of India. In many cases, the artistic depth and poetry behind the stories has been legendary. Sometimes, there are artistic illustrations of stories in ancient texts and manuscripts.
Symbolism is important in the Jain tradition. It is manifested in temple designs, paintings and illustrations, printed matter such as wedding invitations and Diwali cards, and in rituals and worship. There is a broad range and there is no one core symbol or central emblem for all Jains. The swastika, however, is often seen as a key Jain symbol and there is a Jain Om which incorporates the Universe and symbols representing the three jewels of Jainism – right faith, right knowledge, right conduct. This is a very ancient symbol which is many thousands of years old and was possibly originally a representation of the shape of the Universe according to the Jains.
Symbols have meaning and remind the seer about the core values of the faith – such as the three jewels of right conduct, right knowledge and right faith as the key to liberation. This is expressed sometimes during the temple ‘puja’ ceremony using rice to draw the symbol. Symbols are used as an expression of belief and as a reminder of core wisdoms.
Worship is performed in home shrines and temples and community halls either specially built or rented for purposes of personal and communal worship. Worship is conducted through recitation of prayers, through puja or a bathing of the sacred images, through meditation, collective singing and recitation of sacred words and scriptures, through art and ritual implements, use of flowers and rice and other natural ingredients.
Ideally, each morning, Jains recite sacred verses when they wake, whilst saluting five kinds of spiritual beings. They vow to live a good life and not to injure living beings. Often they will go to the temple to bow before twenty-four images of the jinas and perform the puja. The most important Jain observance is pratikramana or penitential retreat which is to rid the believer of karma that is gained either knowingly or unknowingly through a person’s daily life.
Art and architecture of temples and places of worship is given special importance. Jain temples in India are some of the most beautiful spaces and monuments to sacred art. Temples are the primary places of worship and their location, construction and maintenance has to be performed carefully and in line with scriptural guidance. Jain temples are very fine, and although Jainism is a small religion, it has attracted many wealthy people who have built lovely temples. Temple design follows symbolic patterns – for example, the mountain is regarded as a spiritual place and most Jain temples are shaped around the symbol of the mountain inviting worshippers to seek height and elevation and remember that wisdom lies away from the crowds and in peaceful serene environments.
There are cities in India with hundreds of Jain temples, and many have symbolic decoration of the highest standard – like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Kolkatta. There are major pilgrimage sites in Gujarat, Jharkhand and Karnataka – Palitana, Samet Shikhar and Shravana Belgola.
Art is seen as a key method of unlocking and expressing divinity and opening divine dialogue. This art can be through architecture, songs and poetry, through creative ritual worship and music, and through stories and literature.
Pilgrimage is given a very high importance in life and well-being and regarding as the key to spiritual elevation. Most sacred pilgrimage sites are in different parts of India and penance and hardship in the act of pilgrimage is encouraged to help focus the mind on the ultimate goal of liberation and salvation. Shatrunjaya in Gujarat, Sammet Shikhar in Jharkhand and Bahubali in Shravana Belgola (Karnataka State) are regarded as some of the most auspicious pilgrimage destinations.
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