Sects of Jainism




Ancient History Notes for UPSC

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Prelims: History of India

Mains: Indian culture- Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature, and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Jainism has two main sects, theShvetambaras and the Digambaras. Shvetambara monks wear white clothes, whereas Digambara monks do not wear any clothes at all. Each of Jainism's major sects recognizes its own body of sacred scriptures, though many texts are shared by all.

According to the history of the Jaina religion up to Mahavira, sects, and sub-sects did not exist at that time. Each of the two major sects, the Digambara sect, and the Shvetambara sect, was subdivided into various major and minor sub-sects based on differences in acknowledging or interpreting religious texts and in religious practice.

Two Sects of Jainism

The Jain order has been divided into two major sects: Shvetambara and Digambara. This division occurred mainly due to famine in Magadh, which compelled a group led by Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta Maurya to move to South India (Shravan Belgola) in 298 BC.

  • The leader of the group that stayed back at Magadha was Sthulbhadra.
  • During the 12 years of famine, the group in South India stuck to strict practices, while the group in Magadha adopted a more lax attitude and started wearing white clothes.
  • Later on, further splits occurred among both sections, the most significant of which renounced idol worship entirely and devoted itself to the worship of the scriptures.
    • They were known as Terapanthis among Shvetambaras and Samaiyas among Digambaras. (This sect came into existence about the sixth century CE).

Shvetambara Sect

The Sanskrit term ‘Shvetambara’ means ‘white-clad’ and refers to the white clothing of monks and nuns of this order. The Shvetambaras have preserved many original scriptures. They believe that knowing that the true self consists of freedom from passions, realizing the power of the spiritual practice of non-attachment, and understanding the gradual order of undertaking the practice of the means of liberation, one can very well understand a monk's acceptance of clothing.

  • The only essential point is that when one attains the state of perfect non-attachment, one definitely attains liberation, irrespective of one’s being nude or not. Clothing is not an obstacle to salvation.
  • It is an attachment that acts as an obstacle to salvation.
  • The Shvetambaras also allow women to join the monastic order on the assumption that they will achieve Nirvana.
  • Holy Texts: Agamas (Angas, Anga-bahyas).

Sub-sects of Shvetambara

There are three sub-sects of the ‘Shvetambara’ sect, namely, Sthanakavasi, Murtipujaka, and Terapanthi.

Sub-sects of Shvetambara

- They believe in praying to saints rather than to an idol in a temple.

- Saints wear a muhapatti near their mouth to cover it.

Murtipujaka (Deravasi)

- They keep Tirthankara idols in their temples and worship them.

- Saints do not wear a muhapatti.


- They pray to saints rather than idols in temples, such as Sthanakavasi.

- Terapanthi saints also wear a muhapatti near their mouth to cover it.

Digambara Sect

The literal meaning of the word digambara is sky-clad. The Digambara contend that perfection cannot be reached by anyone who wears clothing. They think that a man should abstain from food and possessions, including clothing, to become a saint. 

  • They also denied women the right to salvation. Women are said to be incapable of salvation because they cannot go without clothes.
  • The Digambaras are adamant that there can be no salvation without nakedness.
  • The Digambaras believe that no original canonical text exists now.

Sub-sects of Digambara

The Digambara sect, in recent centuries, has been divided into the following sub-sects:

Mula Sangh, Bisapantha, Terapantha, Taranapantha or Samaiyapantha, Gumanapantha, and Totapantha.

Sub-sects of Digambara
Mula Sangh

- Associated with Acharya Kundakunda.

- The oldest known from 430 AD.

- Branches: Nandi Gana, Sena Gana, Deva Gana, Simha Gana


- They worship Tirthankaras, Yakshas and Yakshinis.

- Their religious practices include aarti and offerings of flowers, fruits, and prasad offerings.

- Bhattarakas are considered dharma gurus.

- They are concentrated in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Digambar Terapantha

- Worship the idols with ‘ashtadravya’, but replace flowers and fruits with dry substitutes.

- They do not accept Bhattarakas and worship only Tirthankaras.


- The Taranapanthis strongly refute idolatry, but they have their own temples where they keep their sacred books for worship.

- Taranapanthis gives more importance to spiritual values and the study of sacred literature.

Difference between Two Sects of Jainism

The main difference between the two sects of Jainism, i.e., Shvetambara and Digambara, are based on clothing, followers, teachings, literature, etc.

Led byBhadrabahuSthulbhadra
View on Clothing

- They do not wear clothes, as this sect believes in complete nudity.

- Female monks, known as Aryikas, wear unstitched, plain white sarees.

- They wear simple white clothes.
Question on women - They believed that women could not be Tirthankaras and Malli was a man.- They believe that Tirthankaras can be men or women.
Follow the teachings of- Mahavira, that is, “Pancha Mahavratas”, to attain Kaivalya.- Preachings of Parshvanatha, that is, only four restraints (except Brahmacharya).
Follow the Jain literature- Prakrit Suttapahuda of Kundakunda.- Believed in the validity and sacredness of the twelve angas and sutras.
Food for omniscient- When a saint attains the status of kevali or Kevala-jnani, or omniscience, he no longer requires food.- This view is not acceptable to the Shvetambaras.
Idols of Tirthankaras- They represent the idols of Tirthankaras as nude. Unadorned and with downcast eyes in a contemplative mood.- Depicts the idols of Tirthankars as wearing a loin-cloth adorned with jewels and with glass eyes inserted in the marble.

PYQs on Sects of Jainism

Question 1: With reference to the religious practices in India, the "Sthanakvasi" sect belongs to (UPSC Prelims 2018)

  1. Buddhism
  2. Jainism
  3. Vaishnavism
  4. Shaivism

Answer: (b)

Question 2: With reference to the religious history of India, consider the following statements (UPSC Prelims 2017)

  1. Sautrantika and Sammitiya were the sects of Jainism.
  2. Sarvastivadin held that the constituents of phenomena were not wholly momentary but existed forever in a latent form.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (b)

FAQs on Sects of Jainism

What are the two main sects of Jainism?

Jainism has two main sects, the Shvetambaras and the Digambaras. Shvetambara monks wore white clothes, whereas Digambara monks did not wear any clothes at all.

Who were the Shvetambaras?

The Sanskrit term ‘Shvetambara’ means ‘white-clad’ and refers to the white clothing of monks and nuns in this order. They believe that having known that the true self consists in the freedom from passions, having realized the strength of the spiritual practice of non-attachment, and having understood the gradual order of undertaking the practice of the means of liberation, one can very well understand a monk’s acceptance of clothing.

What are the sects of Shvetambara?

The Shvetambara sect has also been split into three main sub-sects: Murtipujaka, Sthanakvasi, and Terapanthi.

What are the subsects of Digambara?

The Digambara sect, in recent centuries, has been divided into the following sub-sects. Major sub-sects are Bisapantha, Terapantha, and Taranapantha, or Samaiyapantha. Minor sub-sects are Gumanapantha and Totapantha.