A question on Jain temples

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at FLEVOLAND.XS4ALL.NL
Sun May 24 00:00:40 UTC 1998

Replies to msg 23 May 98: indology at listserv.liv.ac.uk (Palaniappa)

 PC> In the worshipping rituals of Jain temples of South India,
 PC> were there any intermediaries like brahmin priests? Who
 PC> administered these temples? Lay persons or monks or other
 PC> intermediaries?

These questions should be answered with the most Jaina of answers: "yes and no".

Monks are sannyaasins and therefore cannot have any official links with institutions like temples. They can visit temples, can be guests of honour there, can give lectures in temples, but cannot take part in the administration.

In the course of time, a certain class of persons developed within the Jaina community in South India (I am now speaking about the living practice in Karnataka and southern Maharashtra) who were considered ritual specialists, and in time these people assumed what we can call brahminical traits: they considered themselves a separate section of the community, did not intermarry with other Jainas, etc. etc. (The origins of this group are not quite clear: whether they were converted brahmins or non-brahmins who imitated brahmins, or both. But it is one of the things about which I constantly question people, so give me some more time and I may come up with a definite answer.) This class of people is called by various names in different regions. Vaidika brahmins look down upon them as inferior and phony, but in lifestyle, learning and traditional functions in the community they are hardly distinguishable from the Vaidikas. But of course the Jainas are not 'Vaidika', and they find th!
e study of the Vedas useless.

The official position of these priests is more a matter of tradition than of doctrine. They are highly respected for their specialistic knowledge, but do not hold any exclusive right or authority in religious matters.

Temples are generally administered by boards of trustees who are Jaina laypeople. As a rule, each Digambara temple (and all the older, indigenous Jaina temples in South India are Digambara) has a more or less formal association with one of the nine still active ma.thas, and the ma.thaadhipati has an important say in critical decisions (e.g., appointing new priests).

Robert Zydenbos
zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl

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