Idol worshipping in Jainism

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion which has been derived from the word ‘Jina’ or Victor meaning a human being who has conquered his inner enemies of anger, greed, pride, desire, attachment and other passions through self discipline to attain ‘Kevala Jnana’ or pure infinite knowledge. The ‘Kevalin’ then becomes a liberated soul attaining Nirvana or Moksha and attains Godhood according to Jainism. One who is permanently liberated from the infinite cycles of birth and earth then becomes a Siddha. Thus there exists an infinite number of liberated ‘Gods’ and there is no idea of a Creator responsible for creation, maintenance or destruction in the Universe. Jains worship special Arihants called Tirthankars who are teachers helping people on their path to Supreme knowledge and enlightenment. Freeing one’s soul through Right belief, Right conduct and Right action through lifelong practice of the Great Vows or Mahavratas is the main principle and core of Jain religion.

Idol Worship

An idol in religion is a physical object placed in veneration to represent a higher power called ‘God’. The idol helps mankind to focus and pray to attain worldly and spiritual desires. The main object of worship is to focus thoughts and channelize them in the direction of the Deity and his attributes. This develops man’s spiritual nature and helps him to eschew all negative tendencies. The latent power manifested in an idol is also charged by the spiritual vibration of the devotees who meditate there creating a current which helps all those who enter the field where the idol is placed.

In Jainism

Jain worship or Dev Puja is quite unique as the ‘God’ generally worshipped is the idol of the Tirthankar. The Digambar and Shwetambar sects of Jains perform idol worship as aids to help in moving towards the higher goals of life with a prayerful and devotional frame of mind though the ‘Sthanakavasis’ or monks and nuns believe only in higher forms of meditation and prayer and not idol worship. Godliness according to Jainism is the inherent quality of every soul which is perfection. This has been tarnished by Karmic actions performed in millions of lifetimes. Through practices of Right Belief, Right Conduct and Right Knowledge the soul attains perfection and such beings become Tirthankars. They then become perfect objects of worship.

Method of idol worship

The worshipper wears clean white clothes and entering the temple, bows to the shrine with the words ‘Namo Jinanaam’. He then repeats ‘Nisihii’ thrice while circumambulating the idol of the Tirthankar implying that he is relinquishing all his worldly thoughts. The main puja is divided into two parts – Dravya Puja and Bhava Puja.

Dravya Puja

This is the external form of worship with materials. The eight Dravyas or materials used form the Asthaprakari or eight fold Puja. They are –

1.   Jal or pure water – It symbolises cleansing and purifying the heart from all negative passions.

2.   Chandan or sandalwood – It symbolises the cooling of the mind to attain peace. It is also said to symbolise Right knowledge as the main path to attain Nirvana.

3.   Akshata or raw rice – It symbolises the state of non decay and the husk covering the rice is likened to the negative tendencies that are to be shed to attain perfection.

4.   Pushpa or flowers – Generally instead of actual flowers, saffron coloured rice is offered to symbolise Right conduct. It implies that just like flowers, human conduct should spread the fragrance of love and compassion to all beings.

5.   Naivedhya or offerings – Dry coconut shell is offered to symbolise freedom from greed.

6.   Deep or lamp – It symbolises removal of ignorance and lighting the lamp of knowledge in the darkness of the mind.

7.   Dhoop or incense sticks – It symbolises burning of karma.

8.   Phal or fruit – It symbolises liberation.

Chamara (whisk), Pankho (hand fan) and Darpan (mirror) is also used for worship.

Bhava Puja

This puja is done in a ritualistic form of temple prayers called Chaitya Vandana with prayers and rituals in prescribed format as specified in the great religious texts of Jainism.

Special Pujas

Anjana Shalaka – In this Puja, a new icon of a Tirthankar is installed and special prayers are offered with special paste being applied to the eyes of the idol. It then becomes an object of worship.

Snatra Puja – The idol of the Tirthankar is bathed with reverence in this Puja. This is generally performed on all occasions like prior to a regular Puja, opening of a new business, housewarming, birthdays and other special events.

Antaray Karma Puja – In this eight-fold worship mention is made of different people who surmounted their obstacles by performance of the eight pujas.

Panch Kalyanak Puja – The five great events in the life of the Tirthankar is commemorated in this Puja which are conception, birth, renunciation, Nirvana and Moksha.

Pujan

This Puja is a lengthy rite performed by eminent and learned Pujaris during special occasions like opening of a new temple and completion of special penance like Varshitap.

Besides these, there are a number of other Pujas conducted throughout the year.

Arati and Mangala Deevo

This is performed regularly and consists of waving the lamp in a rotational manner in front of the idol.

Conclusion

Idol worship in religion has a deep and esoteric significance. They are not routine monotonous activities but have rich indepth value. Generally objects can be learnt only in relation to their forms. God who is Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent is very difficult to perceive. This is the main concept behind idol worship. In Jainism the idols of Tirthankars are revered and worshipped as role models. They are beings who having crossed the ocean of samsara themselves are models of perfection for others to follow in their path. Emphasis is placed not on an idol granting one’s desires but on emulating the qualities of the Tirthankars and transcending the cycles of birth and death to achieve liberation.