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Jainism: An Ancient Tradition Thriving in the Modern World

Jainism, an ancient religion that predates history, is believed to have originated in the Ganges basin of eastern India around the 7th–5th century BCE. It is a path of spiritual purity achieved through a disciplined life of nonviolence and truthfulness. The religion’s name, derived from the Sanskrit verb ‘ji’, meaning ‘to conquer’, reflects the Jain belief in conquering passions and desires to attain enlightenment.

Official symbol of Jainism, known as the Jain Prateek Chihna | Photo by Wikipedia

Jainism: A Legacy of Nonviolence and Spiritual Purity

  1. Origins and Tirthankaras:
    • Jainism’s origins are somewhat obscure, but Jains consider their religion eternal. They revere Rishabhanatha as the first Tirthankara (spiritual teacher) in the present cosmic cycle. Rishabhanatha lived for an astonishing 8,400,000 years ago.
    • The 22nd Tirthankara, Neminatha, is believed to have lived about 5,000 years ago and was the cousin of Krishna.
    • The last two historical Tirthankaras are Parshvanatha (23rd) and Mahavira (24th), who lived around the 9th–8th century BCE and 599–527 BCE, respectively.
  2. Schism and Sects:
    • Jainism split into two main sects: Digambara and Śvētāmbara. This division likely began around the 3rd century BCE and was complete by the 5th century CE.
    • These sects were further subdivided into sub-sects like Sthānakavāsī and Terapanthis.
    • Many historic Jain temples, still standing today, were built during the 1st millennium CE.
  3. Challenges and Persecution:
    • After the 12th century, Jainism faced persecution during Muslim rule. However, Akbar stood out for his religious tolerance and support for Jainism, even temporarily banning animal killing during the Jain festival of Dasa Lakshana.
    • Jainism rejects the concept of a creator and founder, emphasizing self-discipline, nonviolence, and compassion.
  4. Core Beliefs:
    • Ahimsa (noninjury to all living things) is Jainism’s central tenet.
    • Jains strive to reduce harm to plants, animals, and all living beings.
    • The path to enlightenment involves rigorous ascetic practices and conquering inner passions.

Jainism, with its ancient wisdom, continues to be an integral part of Indian culture, emphasizing compassion and reverence for life. Its legacy endures, inspiring seekers on the path to enlightenment.

Global Devotees: A Community of Over Six Million 

Jainism has more than six million followers worldwide, with the majority residing in India. Despite its ancient origins, Jainism’s message of peace and self-discipline resonates with people across the globe, leading to vibrant communities in various countries.

Jain Population by Country | Photo by World Population Review

Here is a list of the top 10 countries with the largest Jain populations, along with a brief description of their Jain communities:

  1. India: Home to the vast majority of Jains, estimates suggest there are between three and four million followers, making up less than 0.5% of the country’s population. Jainism has deep historical roots in India, with revered figures like Lord Mahavira leading the way. The religion emphasizes nonviolence, truthfulness, and self-discipline, and its followers contribute significantly to India’s cultural and spiritual heritage.
  2. United States: With over 79,000 Jains, the US has the second-largest Jain population. The religion grew in popularity in the 1970s, and today there is a significant center in New York City. Jains in the US actively participate in community events, religious gatherings, and educational programs.
  3. Kenya: Over 68,000 Jains reside in Kenya, primarily in Nairobi and Mombasa. The Jain community in Kenya has a rich history, dating back to the early 20th century. They have established temples, schools, and charitable organizations, contributing to the local society.
  4. United Kingdom: Nearly 17,000 Jains live in the UK, contributing to a vibrant community. The UK Jain community actively engages in religious festivals, cultural events, and interfaith dialogues. Their presence adds to the multicultural fabric of the country.
  5. Canada: Approximately 12,101 people follow Jainism in Canada, rounding out the top five countries. Canadian Jains maintain their traditions while actively participating in local communities. Temples and cultural centres provide a sense of belonging and spiritual nourishment.
  6. Tanzania: Home to 9,002 followers, Tanzania’s Jain community is active and engaged. They organize religious ceremonies, celebrate festivals, and promote Jain values within their families and beyond.
  7. Nepal: With 6,800 followers, Nepal has a small but significant Jain presence. Jainism has historical ties to Nepal, and its followers continue to uphold its principles. The Jain community contributes to Nepal’s religious diversity.
  8. Uganda: 2,663 Jains live in Uganda, maintaining their traditions and practices. Despite being a minority, Ugandan Jains actively participate in social welfare activities and promote peace and compassion.
Brass idol of Parshvanatha from the 8th century, Ethnological Museum of Berlin | Photo by Wikipedia

9. Burma (Present day Myanmar): There are 2,398 Jains in Burma, a testament to the religion’s reach. Burmese Jains have faced challenges over the years, but their resilience and commitment to Jain values remain strong.

10. Malaysia: Completing the list, Malaysia has 2,052 Jain followers. The Malaysian Jain community celebrates festivals, conducts religious discourses, and fosters a sense of unity among its members.

Jainism’s core teachings of nonviolence, non-absolutism, and non-possessiveness resonate with many around the world, leading to the formation of communities that practice these principles in various forms. Despite being a minority in every country they reside in, Jains have established a global footprint, demonstrating the enduring appeal of their ancient faith.


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