It is worthwhile to see
what the exact differences between the Digambara and Svetambara sects of
Jainism are. Literally, the monks of the Digambaras are naked while those
of the Svetambaras wear white clothes. In fact there are no fundamental
doctrinal differences between the two sects. For example, the most
authoritative sacred text of all Jainas is the Tattvarthadhigama-sutra
by Umasvati. However, there are some major as well as minor points on
which the two sects are opposed to each other.
Some Points of
Some of the points of
differences between the Digambaras and Svetambaras are as follows:
Practice of Nudity
Digambaras stress the
practice of nudity as an absolute pre-requisite to the mendicant's path
and to the attainment of salvation. But the Svetambaras assert that the
practice of complete nudity is not essential to attain liberation.
Liberation of Woman
Digambaras believe that a
woman lacks the adamantine body and rigid will necessary to attain moksa,
i.e., liberation: hence she must be reborn as a man before such an
attainment is possible. But the Svetambaras hold the contrary view and
maintain that women are capable in the present life time, of the same
spiritual accomplishments as men.
Food for Omniscient
According to the Digambaras,
once a saint becomes a kevali or Kevala-jnani, that is,
omniscient, he needs no morsel of food. But this view is not acceptable to
Minor points of
Leaving aside the trivial
differences in rituals, customs and manners, the following are some of the
minor points on which the two sects of Digambaras and Svetambaras do not
Embryo of Mahavira
The Svetambaras believe
that Mahavira was born of a Ksatriya lady, Trisala, though conception took
place in the womb of a Brahman lady, Devananda. The change of embryo is
believed to have been effected by God Indra on the eighty-third day after
conception. The Digambaras, however, dismiss the whole episode as
unreliable and absurd.
Marriage of Mahavira
The Svetambaras believe
that Mahavira married Princess Yasoda at a fairly young age and had a
daughter from her by name Anojja or Priyadarsana and that Mahavira led a
full-fledged householder's life till he was thirty, when he became an
ascetic. But the Digambaras deny this assertion altogether.
The Svetambaras consider
Mallinatha, the 19th Tirthankar as a female by name Mall; but the
Digambaras state that Mallinatha was a male.
Idols of Tirthankars
The Svetambara tradition
depicts the idols of Tirthankars as wearing a loin-cloth, bedecked with
jewels and with glass eyes inserted in the marble. But the Digambara
tradition represents the idols of Tirthankars as nude. Unadorned and with
downcast eyes in the contemplative mood.
The Svetambaras believe in
the validity and sacredness of canonical literature, that is, the twelve
angas and sutras, as they exist now. While the Digambaras
hold that the original and genuine texts were lost long ago. The
Digambaras also refuse to accept the achievements of the first council
which met under the leadership of Acharya Sthulabhadra and
consequently the recasting of the angas.
Charitras and Puranas
The Svetambaras use the
term 'Charitra' and the Digambaras make use of the term 'Purana'
for the biographies of great teachers.
Food of Ascetics
The Svetambara monks
collect their food from different houses while the Digambara monks take
food standing and with the help of knotted upturned palms and in one house
only where their sankalpa (preconceived idea) is fulfilled.
Dress of Ascetics
The Svetambara monks wear
white clothes. but the Digambara monks of the ideal nirgrantha type
Possessions of Ascetics
The Svetambara ascetic is
allowed to have fourteen possessions including loin-cloth, shoulder-cloth,
etc. But the Digambara ascetic is allowed only two possessions (viz., a
the pichhi, a peacock-feather whisk-broom) and a kamandalu
(a wooden water-pot).