The Digambara sub-sects
The division of the Jaina religion into two sects was only the beginning of splitting the religious order into various sub-sects. Each of the two great sects, viz., the Digambara sect and the Svetambara sect, got sub-divided into different major and minor sub-sects according to the differences in acknowledging or interpreting the religious texts and in the observance of religious practices. These major and minor sub-sets gradually sprang up for the most part on account of different interpretations the pontiffs put on the canonical texts from time to time and due to revolt or opposition by sections of people against the established religious authorities and the traditional religious rites and rituals.
The Digambara sect, in recent centuries, has been divided into the following sub-sects:
Major sub-sects –
Taranapantha or Samaiyapantha.
The followers of Bisapantha support the Dharma-gurus, that is, religious authorities known as Bhattarakas who are also the heads of Jaina Mathas, that is. religious monasteries. The Bisapanthas, in their temples, worship the idols of Tirthankaras and also the idols of Ksetrapala, Padmavati and other deities. They worship these idols with saffron, flowers, fruits, sweets, scented ‘agarabattis’, i.e., incense sticks, etc. While performing these worships. the Bisapanthis sit on the ground and do not stand. They perform Arati, i.e., waving of lights over the idol, in the temple even at night and distribute prasada, i.e., sweet things offered to the idols. The Bisapantha, according to some, is the original form of the Digambara sect and today practically all Digambara Jainas from Maharashtra, Karnataka and South India and a large number of Digambara Jainas from Rajasthan and Gujarat are the followers of Bisapantha.
Terapantha arose in North India in the year 1683 of the Vikram Era as a revolt against the domination and conduct of the Bhattarakas. i.e. religious authorities, of the Digambara Jainas. As a result in this sub-sect. the Bhattarakas are not much respected. In their temples, the Terapanthis install the idols of Tirthankaras and not of Ksetrapala, Padmavati and other deities. Further. they worship the idols not with flowers, fruits and other green vegetables (known as sachitta things), but with sacred rice called ‘Aksata’,cloves, sandal, almonds, dry coconuts, dates, etc. As a rule they do not perform Arah or distribute Prasada in their temples. Again, while worshipping they stand and do not sit.
From these differences with the Bisapanthis it is clear that the Terapanthis appear to be reformers. They are opposed to various religious practices. As according to them. These are not real Jaina practices. The Terapantha had performed a valuable task of rescuing the Digambaras from the clutches of wayward Bhattarakas and hence the Terapanthis occupy a peculiar position in the Digambara Jaina community. The Terapanthis are more numerous in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
It is pertinent to note that even though the name Terapantha sub-sect appears both among the Digambara and the Svetambara sects. Still the two Terapanthis are entirely different from each other. While the Digambara Terapanthis believe in nudity and idol-worship, the Svetambara Terapanthis are quite opposed to both.
The sub-sect Taranapantha is known after its founder Tarana-Svami or Tarana-tarana-Svami (1448-1515 A.D.). This sub-sect is also called Samaiyapantha because its followers worship Sarnaya, i.e., sacred books and not the idols. Tarana-Svami died at Malharagarh, in former Gwalior State in Madhya Pradesh, and this is the central place of pilgrimage of Taranapanthis.
The Taranapanthis strongly refute idolatry but they have their own temples in which they keep their sacred books for worship. They do not offer articles like fruits and flowers at the time of worship. Besides the sacred books of the Digambaras, they also worship the fourteen sacred books written by their founder Tarana-Svami. Further, Taranapanthis give more importance to spiritual values and the study of sacred literature. That is why we find a complete absence of outward religious practices among them. Moreover, Tarana-Svami; was firmly against the caste-distinctions and in fact threw open the doors of his sub-sect even to Muslims and low-caste people.
These three main traits of the Taranapanthis, namely, (a) the aversion to idol worship, (b) the absence of outward religious practices, and (c) the ban on caste distinctions, were evolved as a revolt against the religious beliefs and practices prevailing in the Digambara Jaina sect, and it appears that Tarana-Svami might have formulated these principles under the direct influence of Islamic doctrines and the teachings of Lonkashaha, the founder of the non-idolatrous Sthanakvasi sub-sect of the Svetambara sect.
The Taranapanthis are few in number and they are mostly confined to Bundelkhand, Malwa area of Madhya Pradesh and Khandesh area of Maharashtra.
The Gumanapantha is not so important and in fact very little is known about it. It is stated that this sub-sect was started by Pandit Gumani Rama or Gumani Rai, who was a son of Pandit Todaramal, a resident of Jaipur in Rajasthan.
According to this Pantha, lighting of candles or lamps in the Jaina temples is strictly prohibited, because it regards this as a violation of the fundamental doctrine of Jaina religion, viz., non-violence. They only visit and view the image in the temples and do not make any offerings to them.
This pantha became famous in the name of shuddha amnaya, that is pure or sacred tradition, because its followers always stressed the purity of conduct and self-discipline and strict adherence to the precepts.
Gumanapantha originated in the 18th. Century A.D. and flourished mainly during that century. It was prevalent in several parts of Rajasthan, and it is found now in some areas of Rajasthan around Jaipur.
The Totapantha came into existence as a result of differences between the Bisapantha and Terapantha sub-sects. Many sincere efforts were made to strike a compromise between the Bisa (i.e. twenty) Pantha and the Tera (i.e.. thirteen) pantha and the outcome was sadhesolaha (i.e., sixteen and a half)-Pantha or ‘Totapantha’. That is why the followers of Sadheso!aha Pantha or Totapantha believe to some extent in the doctrines of Bisapantha and to some extent in those of Terapantha.
The Totapanthis are extremely few in number and are found in some pockets in Madhya Pradesh.
In connection with the account of the major and minor sub-sects prevailing among the Digambara sect, it is worth while to note that in recent years in the Digambara sect a new major sub-sect known as ‘Kanji-pantha’, consisting of the followers of Kanji Swami is being formed and is getting popular especially among the educated sections. Saint Kanji; Swami (from whom the name ‘Kanji-pantha’ is derived), a ‘Svetambara-Sthanakvasi’ by birth, largely succeeded in popularizing the old sacred texts of the great Digambara Jaina saint Acharya Kunda-Kunda of South India. But Kanji Swami’s efforts, while interpreting Acharya Kunda kunda’s writings, to give more prominence to nischaya-naya, that is, realistic point of view, in preference to vyavahara-naya, that is, practical view point, are not approved by the Digambaras in general as they consider that both the view points are of equal importance. However, the influence of Kanjipantha is steadily increasing and Sonagarh town in Gujarat and Jaipur in Rajasthan have become the centers of varied religious activities of the Kanajipanthis.