- Shvetambara is one of the two branches of JAINISM. The name, which means “one who wears white gar-ments,” refers to the fact that its monks may wear clothing, as opposed to the DIGAMBARA monks, who are required to be nude. The Shvetambaras prevail among the Jains of northern and western India.There is little doubt that MAHAVIRA, the great leader and promulgator of the Jain tradition, was a naked ascetic, as were his early followers, but the scriptures that are recognized by the Shvetambaras do not require nudity. The Shvetambaras accept the extant version of the early Jain scriptures, the ANGAS, and they follow, study, and preach its teachings. The Digambaras believe the authentic versions have been lost. The only text mutually accepted by both Shvetambaras and Digambaras is the TATTVARTHA SUTRA.Shvetambaras also believe that women may attain liberation. Because women are not allowed to be naked ascetics, Digambaras believe that they cannot reach the level of detachment needed to become liberated; a woman must be reborn in a male body to reach liberation. Shvetambaras believe that Mallinatha, one of the 24 TIRTHANKARAS (saints) of our half-era (avasarpini), was a woman.In general Digambaras (who predominate in southern India) and Shvetambaras are in nearly complete doctrinal agreement, but their com-munities developed separately and do not share festivals or sacred events. The Shvetambaras cel-ebrate their major festival Paryushan around the recitation of the Kalpa Sutra. In the past, the two communities have fought bitterly over control of certain shrines, but in general they live in comity in places where they overlap.Further reading: Paul Dundas, The Jains (London: Rout-ledge, 1992); Uttam Kamal Jain, Jaina Sects and Schools (Delhi: Concept, 1975); P. S. Jaini, The Jaina Path of Purification (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.