Jaina history began in the 6th century BC with Vardhamana, who is known as Mahavira ("Great Hero"). Mahavira was the 24th and last Tirthankara (literally, "Ford-maker") of the current age (kalpa) of the world. (Tirthankaras, also called Jinas, are revealers of the Jaina religious path [dharma] who have crossed over life's stream of rebirths and have set the example that all Jainas must follow.) Mahavira was a contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and was born in the same area, the lower Gangetic Plain.

Mahavira, like the Buddha, was the son of a chieftain of the ruling class. At age 30 he renounced his princely status to take up the ascetic life. It is likely that he pursued the discipline of a pre-established ascetic tradition and had a reforming influence on it. His acknowledged status as the 24th Tirthankara (or Jina) means that Jainas perceive him as the last revealer in this cosmic age of the Jaina dharma.

The community appears to have grown quickly--Jaina tradition states that it numbered 14,000 monks and 36,000 nuns at the time of Mahavira's death. From the beginning the community was subject to a number of schismatic movements. Jamali, Mahavira's son-in-law, led the first of seven schisms that occurred during the Jina's lifetime. None of these had a significant effect on the Jaina community. The only schism to have a lasting effect was that between the Svetambaras (Sanskrit literally, "White-robed") and the Digambaras (Sanskrit "Sky-clad"; i.e., naked); this division still exists.

Svetambara Jainism (Sanskrit: "White-robed," or "White-clad"), one of the two principal sects of Jainism, a religion of India. The monks and nuns of the Shvetambara sect wear simple white garments. This is in contrast to the practice followed by the parallel sect, the Digambara, which does not admit women into the ascetic order and whose monks are always nude. The major points of difference between the two concern the question of proper monastic attire and whether or not a soul can attain liberation from a female body (a possibility the Digambaras deny).

The schism that gave rise to the two sects is traditionally said to have taken place following a migration of Jaina monks southward from the Ganges River or from Ujjain to Karnataka during a serious famine in the reign of Candragupta Maurya. Bhadrabahu, the leader of the emigrants, insisted on the observance of nudity, thus following the example set by Mahavira, the last of the Jaina saviours. Sthulabhadra, the leader of the monks who remained behind in the north, allowed the wearing of white garments, possibly as a concession to the hardships and confusion caused by the famine.

The philosophical doctrines of the two groups never significantly differed, and their members have continued to intermarry. Since the northern and southern branches lived at a distance from one another, however, variations in their ritual, mythology, and literature did arise. The most serious issue, the question of whether it was possible for a monk who owned property (e.g., wore clothes) to achieve moksha (spiritual release), led to the division into two sects in AD 80 (according to the Shvetambaras, AD 83). In the 1st c. A.D., we see major changes in the religions and worships of India.

The Jaina's religious goal is the complete perfection and purification of the soul. This can occur only when the soul is in a state of eternal liberation from and non-attachment to corporeal (material) bodies. Liberation of the soul is impeded by the accumulation of karmans, bits of material, generated by a person's actions, that bind themselves to the soul and consequently bind the soul to material bodies through many births; this has the effect of thwarting the full self-realization and freedom of the soul. Many monks starved themselves to death, following the example of Mahavira himself.

Jaina Canon, the sacred texts of Jainism, a religion of India, whose authenticity is disputed between sects. The Svetambara canon consists principally of 45 works divided as follows: (1) 11 Angas, the main texts -- a 12th has been lost for at least 14 centuries; (2) 12 Upangas, or subsidiary texts; (3) 10 Prakirnakas, or assorted texts; (4) 6 Cheda-sutras on the rules of ascetic life; (5) 2 Culika-sutras on cognition and epistemology; and (6) 4 Mula-sutras on miscellaneous topics. Svetambara, however, originally accepted a canon of 71 works said to derive from a 5th-century religious Council of Valabhi.

The Svetambara works cover a variety of topics, including a list of the Tirthankaras, or Jinas (Jaina saviours), exploits and teachings of these figures, and doctrines. Some of the Angas contain supposed dialogues between Mahavira, the most recent Tirthankara, and his followers. Others are said to retain some of the earliest parts of the canon, which appears to have been preserved originally in oral form. The canon is written in the Prakrit dialect (stabilized literary dialect called Ardhamagadhi, Semi-Magadhi, Magadhi being the dialect of the ancient kingdom of Magadha, in present day Bihar), though from the Gupta period (4th-6th century AD) Jaina writers have used Sanskrit for a wider audience.

The Digambara sect disputes the authenticity of the entire Svetambara canon. The Digambara believe that the original is lost but that the substance of Jaina doctrine has been preserved in a variety of religious and philosophic texts written by various leaders and scholars of the Jaina community over the centuries.

It was an agnostic religion. History reveals that many Jains converted into Saivism.

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