The Jain people follow Jainism, an ancient Indian religion founded by Vardhamana Mahavira in the 6th century BCE. Jainism is known for its emphasis on nonviolence, asceticism, and the spiritual quest for self-realization. This essay provides an introductory overview of the beliefs, mythology, and rituals of Jainism, with a focus on deities, their personalities, and stories.


Jainism is based on the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, which extends to all living beings. It teaches that all life forms have a soul, and each soul is potentially divine. The ultimate goal of Jainism is to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, by eliminating karma accumulated over multiple lifetimes. This is achieved through the observance of three essential principles: right faith (samyak darshana), right knowledge (samyak jnana), and right conduct (samyak charitra). The path to liberation involves following the five vows: nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-attachment.


Jain mythology is rooted in the concept of the 24 Tirthankaras, or spiritual teachers who have achieved moksha and guide others on the path to liberation. The Tirthankaras are not considered gods but rather enlightened beings who embody the Jain ideals. The first Tirthankara was Rishabhanatha, and the most recent and significant was Mahavira, who is regarded as the founder of Jainism.


Though the Tirthankaras hold a central role in Jainism, there are several deities, heroes, and mythological creatures that play a vital role in Jain mythology. They are often venerated in rituals and ceremonies.

  • Yakshas and Yakshinis: These are nature spirits associated with the Tirthankaras, serving as their attendants and protectors. Each Tirthankara is associated with a specific Yaksha and Yakshini, who are often depicted in Jain art and temples.

  • Jinas: These are conquerors who have achieved moksha and are free from the cycle of birth and rebirth. They are often depicted in a seated or standing meditative posture, symbolizing their state of spiritual liberation.

  • Bhairav: He is a fierce manifestation of Shiva and is often depicted with multiple arms, carrying various weapons. Though originally a Hindu deity, Bhairav was adopted into Jainism and is venerated for his protective powers.

  • Ambika: She is the mother goddess and the patron deity of childbirth and women. Ambika is often depicted holding her two sons, and she is associated with abundance and prosperity.

  • Harinegameshin: This mythological creature is a guardian deity who protects the teachings of Jainism. Harinegameshin is depicted as a man with the head of a deer and is known for his extraordinary speed.


Rituals in Jainism are designed to purify the soul and reduce negative karma. Some of the most significant rituals include:

  • Pratikramana: This daily ritual involves confession of sins and seeking forgiveness from all living beings. It is an essential practice for spiritual growth and maintaining harmony with the environment.

  • Paryushana: This is an annual eight-day period of fasting, prayer, and reflection observed by Jains. The festival is marked by forgiveness and the recitation of sacred texts, culminating in the ritual of Kshamavani, where Jains seek and offer forgiveness to each other.

  • Samayika: This ritual involves daily meditation and self-reflection, aiming to cultivate equanimity and awareness. Samayika is performed for 48 minutes, during which Jains focus on the present moment and strive to attain a state of spiritual equilibrium.

  • Puja: Jain pujas are acts of veneration and worship, often directed towards the Tirthankaras, deities, or sacred objects. Pujas may involve offerings of flowers, fruits, and other symbolic items, as well as the recitation of prayers or hymns.

  • Pilgrimage: Visiting sacred sites, such as temples and shrines, is an essential aspect of Jainism. The most notable pilgrimage site is the Shatrunjaya hill in Gujarat, which is home to over 900 Jain temples. Pilgrimages serve as a means of spiritual purification and an opportunity to connect with the divine.

Unique Beliefs

Jainism possesses several unique beliefs that distinguish it from other Indian religions:

  • Anekantavada: This is the doctrine of non-absolutism or the belief in the multiplicity of viewpoints. It asserts that reality is complex and multifaceted, and no single perspective can capture its entirety. Anekantavada encourages tolerance, open-mindedness, and a willingness to engage in dialogue.

  • Syadvada: Stemming from Anekantavada, Syadvada is the theory of conditional predication. It highlights the limitations of human knowledge and emphasizes that all statements are conditional and context-dependent. This belief fosters intellectual humility and encourages Jains to avoid dogmatism.

  • Karma: While the concept of karma is common in Indian religions, Jainism offers a unique perspective. In Jainism, karma is understood as a physical substance that clings to the soul, influencing its future incarnations. The accumulation of karma can be reduced through ethical conduct, meditation, and ascetic practices.