Jainism is one of the oldest religions of world. It believes in a universe without beginning, without end and without creator.
Rishabhdev, the first Tirthankar, is mentioned in Rig Veda, the oldest scripture of Hinduism believed to be at least 5000 years old. The last of the 24 Tirthankars of this cycle of time was Lord Mahavira. Jainism became prominent religion in India at the time of Mahavira , who was born in about 599 B.C. in the town of Vyshali, (in the present day Bihar) in a royal family. At the age of 30 years Mahavira decided to leave his palace. For twelve years he practiced asceticism and meditated and ultimately started preaching.
Around 80 A. D. the Jainism was divided into two sects. The Svetambara or “white clad” and The Digambara or “sky clad”. The Svetambara are more liberal in their interpretation of Mahavirals teaching regarding nudity and allow their monks to wear a white garment. Women are also allowed in their religion and monasteries accepting the possibility that they may find salvation. The Digambara are more traditionalists. They adhere to the old ideals that require their monks to go about naked. The Digambara sect believes that women have no chance of achieving salvation until they are reborn as men.
Ahimsa (Non-violence) is the basic philosophy of Jainism. Anekantvad (Non-absolutism) Syadvad (Relativity of truth) and Karma theory form the basis of Jain philosophy. The scriptures of Jainism are Agana (precepts) or Siddhantas- (treatises). Jain code of conduct includes: Ahimsa (non violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and Brahmacharya (chastity). These are very similar to the Buddhist code of conduct.
Jainism does not believe in God as the creator of universe. The objective of Jainism is to make every effort for Moksha or Liberation from unending cycles of birth, death and re-birth and become a ‘Jina’. For Jains the Jina is God. Every human being and every living being has the potential to become Jina or God. Jainism never became a dominant religion in India but always had a peaceful co-existence with Hinduism and Buddhism.
There are about 4 million followers of Jainism in India, predominantly present in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and also in Delhi, U.P, Karnataka & Madhya Pradesh.