Jain Temples and Customs

Jains are people who follow Jainism, and they pray at places known as Jain temples. The temples that are in Gujarat and in Southern Rajasthan are known as Derasar. Temples or shrines in Karnataka are known as Basadi. In Sanskrit, the word Vasati is used, to imply an institution which includes scholars that live in places attached to the shrines.

Jain temples have distinctive appearances. The ones in North India look rather different to the ones that are located in South India, and the ones in West India differ again. Some temples follow the Shikar-bandhi style, which features a dome. Some follow the Ghar style, which does not have the dome, and is more of a ‘house temple.

The shikar-bandhi temples boast marble pillars, and have beautiful demi-god carvings. The Derasar also has a carving of the main deity, which is called the mulnayak. The main part of the temple, or the Gambhara, is where there is a God idol carved of stone. It is forbidden to enter the Gambhara without bathing and then donning special worship clothes, or ‘puja’.

Some Jain temples are more than 100 years old and are known as pilgrimage centers. These are often termed Tirtha. There is often a pillar constructed in the front of the Jain temples, which has four stone figures of the main god from that temple. These are called ‘Moortis’. Each pillar faces in a different direction (North, South, East, and West).

People who visit a temple are asked to bathe and wear freshly washed clothes. The clothes that one wears inside the temple must not have been worn while the person ate food or visited a washroom. It is permitted to drink water while wearing the clothes. It is forbidden to take leather items into the temple, and footwear (including socks) is also forbidden. It is not allowed to chew gum or eat mints inside the temple, or to put anything inside your mouth. Visitors are asked to be as silent as possible, and to turn off their mobile phones.

The traditional customs of worship and idols should be followed. These vary between Jain sects, so visitors should ask what the particular worship customs are, and do their best to abide by them and to respect the wishes of the Jains in the area. If in doubt, it is best to remain silent and simply wait for guidance from a Jain.