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Exploring the Significance of Jainism and Hinduism in India’s Religious History

Religion has always played a significant role in shaping the cultural and social landscape of India. Among the many faiths that emerged from this region, Jainism and Hinduism stand out for their ancient roots and unique perspectives on life.

In this article, we explore the origins, beliefs, and practices of both religions and examine the factors that led to their evolution over time. From Jainism’s protest against Hinduism to Hinduism’s complex caste system, we delve into the main aspects of these religions to help readers understand their significance in the context of India’s religious history.


Definition and Purpose

Jainism, a philosophical tradition that originated in India more than two millennia ago, emerged as a protest against some of the prevailing beliefs and practices of Hinduism. The core philosophy of Jainism focuses on the concept of non-absolutism or Anekantavada, which recognizes that the truth is multifaceted and depends on one’s perspective.

The religion’s primary purpose is to assist its followers in achieving ultimate liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth or Samsara. Jainism emphasizes self-control and spiritual discipline as the means to achieve this goal.

Origin and Beliefs

Jainism’s origin can be traced back to the 6th or 5th century BCE, when it emerged as an alternative to Brahmanism’s rigid Vedic ritualism. Followers of Jainism are referred to as Jains and are guided by the teachings of 24 Tirthankaras, who are believed to have attained enlightenment and liberation from Samsara.

The religion’s key belief is that all living beings, including plants, animals, and humans, possess a soul or Atma, which can attain liberation from Samsara through the attainment of Kevala Jnana. Jains divide the cosmos into two fundamental categories: life (Jiva) and non-life (Ajiva).

Life refers to sentient or animate beings who possess a soul, and non-life refers to insentient or inanimate entities that lack a soul. Jains practice a strict code of conduct that emphasizes non-violence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), non-possession (Aparigraha), and celibacy (Brahmacharya).

Asceticism, charity, and monasticism are essential to the religion’s practice.

Concepts of Gods and Tirthankara

Jainism does not recognize a deity in the conventional sense. Instead, it focuses on the concept of Tirthankaras, who are regarded as the religion’s spiritual guides and teachers.

The Tirthankaras are not considered gods or divine beings but are believed to have attained enlightenment and liberation from Samsara. The Jain doctrine also recognizes celestial beings or Devas, who inhabit the upper realms of existence and are considered to be superior to humans.

However, Devas are still subject to Samsara and are not capable of ultimate liberation.

Decline of Jainism

Jainism’s decline began in the 8th century AD, coinciding with the rise of the Advaita doctrine propagated by Adi Sankaracarya. The Advaita philosophy rejected Jainism’s non-dualistic worldview and emphasized the sole existence of the Absolute or Brahman.

The predominance of Vaishnavism and Shaivism, two sects of Hinduism that adopted Jainism’s basic tenets, also contributed to Jainism’s decline. Moreover, the mass murder of Jain monks by Mauryan Emperor Bindusara’s son, Ashoka, in the 3rd century BCE, dealt a significant blow to Jainism’s monastic traditions.

Today, Jainism remains a minority religion in India, although it has a significant following abroad.


Definition and Purpose

Hinduism, the world’s third-largest religion, is the principal religion of India and has no single founder or authoritative text. Instead, it is a collection of diverse traditions and practices that vary regionally and theologically.

The fundamental purpose of the religion is to help humans achieve ultimate liberation or Moksha, which can be attained through karma, devotion, or knowledge.

Beliefs and Gods

Hinduism’s core beliefs revolve around the concepts of reincarnation (Samsara), karma, and the soul’s transmigration. According to Hinduism, one’s deeds in previous lives determine one’s current state of existence, which can range from human to animal to plant to mineral.

Hindus also believe in multiple gods and goddesses, each with their unique attributes and traits. Three primary deities considered the Trimurti are Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer or transformer.

Changes in Hinduism

Hinduism has undergone significant changes over time, including the influence of Buddhism and Jainism. The caste system, which became prevalent during the medieval period, also played a role in shaping Hinduism’s development.

The caste system divides society into four main Varnas or social classes, with the Brahmans, the enlightened ones, as the privileged class. Subsidiary cults or Bhakti movements, which emerged between the 6th and 10th centuries, shifted the focus of Hindu worship from elaborate Vedic rituals to personal devotion.

Basic Principle of Hinduism

The basic principle of Hinduism revolves around the concept of Varnasrama Dharmas, which prescribes a set of duties or Dharma based on one’s caste and stage of life. The four Varnas – Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras – are further divided into numerous subcategories, with each segment performing specific roles and responsibilities.

Brahmacharya or celibacy, one of the Ashramas or stages of life, is considered essential to achieving spiritual liberation or Moksha.


Jainism and Hinduism both encompasses ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions that have significantly shaped the cultural milieu of India. While Jainism emerged as a protest against certain aspects of Hinduism, Hinduism evolved over time and became a diverse collection of traditions and practices.

Through an understanding of these two religions, readers can better grasp India’s complex and diverse religious history.

Similarities of Jainism and Hinduism

Jainism and Hinduism share many similarities, including their point of origin, concepts of soul or Atma, and beliefs in karma, reincarnation, and ultimate liberation (Moksha).

Point of Origin

Both Jainism and Hinduism have their roots in ancient India, with evidence of their existence dating back more than two millennia. Both religions have undergone significant changes over time and have influenced other faiths such as Buddhism and Sikhism.

Existence of Atma or the Soul

Jainism and Hinduism share the belief in the existence of the soul or Atma, which is considered immortal and eternal. The soul is believed to transmigrate from one body to another after death, depending on one’s karma or actions.

Concepts of Karma, Reincarnation, and Moksha

Karma, reincarnation, and Moksha are central to both religions. Karma refers to the notion that every action has a consequence and that one’s past deeds determine one’s future life.

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul transmigrates from one body to another after death, depending on one’s karma. Both Jainism and Hinduism share the ultimate goal of achieving liberation or Moksha from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (Samsara).

Differences between Jainism and Hinduism

Although Jainism and Hinduism share similarities, there are significant differences between these two religions. These differences include the number of followers, belief in a creator, animal sacrifices, concept of Moksha, karma, universe, and human life.

Number of Followers

Jainism is a minority religion, with only a few million followers primarily in India, while Hinduism is the third-largest religion globally, with more than a billion followers worldwide.

Belief in a Creator

Hinduism is polytheistic and recognizes multiple gods and goddesses, including Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. There is also a belief in a supreme being or almighty God known as Brahman.

In contrast, Jainism is non-theistic and does not recognize a creator god. Instead, Jains believe in the existence of powerful beings like Tirthankaras and celestial beings, but they are not considered divine or all-powerful.

Animal Sacrifices

Jainism places significant importance on non-violence or Ahimsa. As such, Jains do not practice animal sacrifices and abstain from consuming meat.

In contrast, Hinduism has allowed animal sacrifices in the past, although it has decreased significantly in modern times.

Concept of Moksha

Jainism and Hinduism differ in their concepts of Moksha. In Jainism, liberation is achieved through the attainment of Siddhabhumi, a state of pure consciousness in which the soul is liberated from all karmic bonds and becomes eternally enlightened.

In contrast, Hinduism has different views of Moksha, with some believing that it entails merging with the eternal soul or Brahman, while others believe in a separate realm of Vaikunthdham, where the soul attains everlasting stay after being released from Samsara.

Concept of Karma

Although both religions believe in karma, they differ in their understanding of this concept. In Jainism, karma is seen as a physical force comprising particles that attach to the soul and prevent its liberation.

In contrast, Hinduism views karma as an unseen power or force generated by one’s actions in the temporal world, which determines one’s future life.

Concept of Universe

Jainism and Hinduism differ in their views on the nature of the universe. In Jainism, there is no belief in a creator god, and the universe is seen as more powerful than the creator.

In comparison, Hinduism recognizes a supreme being or Brahman as the creator of the universe.

Human Life

Jainism and Hinduism differ in their concepts of human life. Jainism recognizes no divisions based on caste or social status and encourages its followers to lead a life of non-possession and restraint.

In contrast, Hinduism recognizes four main Varnas or social classes, with Brahmans, who are responsible for religious and spiritual matters, considered the privileged class. Human life is viewed as an opportunity to fulfill one’s Dharma or duty based on one’s caste and stage of life.


Despite sharing some similarities, Jainism and Hinduism differ significantly in their beliefs and practices. These differences have been shaped by their distinct historical and cultural contexts and illustrate the diversity and complexity of religious thought in India.

By understanding these differences, we can gain a greater appreciation for the richness and diversity of India’s religious heritage. In conclusion, Jainism and Hinduism are two of India’s most ancient religions that share several similarities, including their point of origin, belief in the soul’s existence, and pursuit of liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth.

On the other hand, they differ significantly in various aspects such as the number of followers, belief in the creator, concept of Moksha, karma, human life, and the universe. Understanding these differences provides insight into India’s diverse religious heritage, its traditions, and practices that continue to shape the country’s spiritual culture.

Overall, exploring the similarities and differences between Jainism and Hinduism allows us to gain a greater appreciation for the complexity and diversity of religious thought in India and the world.

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