- Digambara is one of the two main divisions of the Jain tradition (see JAINISM). It literally means “those wearing the sky as a garment,” a refer-ence to the complete nudity of the monks of this branch. The Digambara Jains, who are relatively few in number, are concentrated in the south of India, while the SHVETAMBARAS (those wearing white garments) are concentrated in the west and north.The Digambaras hold that during a famine in the north around 300 B.C.E., the teacher BHADRAB-AHU led a group of Jain monks southward to Kar-nataka. Years later, when he and his community returned north, they were shocked to find that the community of monks had deviated from the true tradition and had begun to wear white garments. The Digambara Jains believe that all of the origi-nal texts of the Jains, the PURVAS and the ANGAS, were completely lost; any text claimed by the Shvetambaras is at best a corruption of the origi-nal knowledge. (The Shvetambaras also accept that the Purvas have been lost.) Both groups agree that Bhadrabahu was the last to know all the original texts.The oldest Digambara sacred text is Shat-khandagama, “Scripture of six parts,” written in Prakrit. It is said to have been composed by the monk Dharasena (c. second century C.E., who summoned two monks, Pushpadanta and Bhuta-bali, to a cave to record scriptural knowledge that he feared was dwindling away; the pair later put together the Kasayapahuda, “Treatise on passion.” These two texts constitute the earliest and most sacred Digambara scripture. Another very impor-tant text for Digambaras is the Tattvarthasutra, “Aphorisms on the meaning of the constituent aspects of the universe” by the monk Umasvati. This text, coincidentally, is the only Digambara text that is also accepted by the Shvetambaras.It appears that the differences between the two branches of Jain tradition are due to their separate development, rather than to any direct disputa-tion. The most important difference concerns the nudity of Digambara monks. Digambaras under-stand that if a monk is to be truly possessionless and therefore truly detached, he (there are no female monks) must not possess even a garment. Following this rigorous logic Digambara monks were never allowed to carry even begging bowls and were forced to beg only with their hands. Doctrinally, this concept has consequences for the potential of women to become liberated from the cycle of rebirth. Since women cannot take the final step into nudity, Digambaras judge that females cannot reach liberation until born in a male body.Shvetambaras think that women can reach liberation in the female body. In fact Mallinatha, one of the TIRTHANKARAS, enlightened teachers, is understood by the Shvetambaras to be female, and by the Digambaras to be male. This is the only dis-agreement in the lists of Tirthankaras maintained by the two sects.Until this day, there is little interchange between these two divisions of Jains, even though they share most of their doctrines. They have actively contended against each other for control of several important shrines in India, and in cer-tain localities they are not on good terms. Gener-ally, however, where both are present they tolerate each other, although they do not mix in festivals or in other spiritual contexts.Further reading: Paul Dundas, The Jains (London: Routledge, 1992); P. S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purifica-tion (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990); U. K. Jain, Jaina Sects and Schools (Delhi: Concept, 1975).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.