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Parasparopagraho Jīvānām

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Jainism rejects the idea of any creator, mentor or destroyer God. According to Jainism, any enlightened human being who has achieved the state of godliness is considered to be a God. There could be many Gods but the quality or state or consciousness of godliness is only one. Thus, Mahavira was God but he was not the only God, there were many other Gods too. However, the quality of godliness is one and the same in all of them. Thus, Jainism is polytheist,monotheist, nontheist and atheist all at the same time.

Godliness, according to Jainism, is the inherent quality of any soul characterizing infinite bliss, infinite power, infinite knowledge and infinite peace. However, these qualities of a soul are subdued due to Karmas of the soul. One who achieves this state of soul through right belief, right knowledge and right conduct becomes God. This perfection of soul is called Kaivalya or Bodhi. A God thus becomes a liberated soul- liberated of miseries, cycles of rebirth, world, Karmas and finally liberated of body as well. This is called Nirvana or Moksha.

Gods can be thus categorized into embodied gods also known as Tīrthankaras and Arihantas or ordinary Kevalin, and non-embodied formless gods who are called Siddhas. Jainism considers the Devīs and Devas to be demi-goddesses and demi-gods who dwell in heavens owing to meritorious deeds in their past lives. These souls are in heavens for a fixed lifespan and even they have to undergo reincarnation as humans to achieve liberation.


Mahavir 24th and last Tirthankar

Arhatas, also known as Arihantas or Kevalins, are gods in embodied states who ultimately become Siddhas, or liberated souls, at the time of their nirvana. An Arhata is a soul who has destroyed all passions, is totally unattached and without any desire and hence is able to destroy the four ghātiyā karmas and attain kevala Jñāna, or omniscience. Such a soul still has a body and four aghātiyā karmas. An Arhata, at the end of his lifespan, destroys his remaining aghātiyā karma and becomes a Siddha.


Tīrthankaras (also known as Jinas) are Arhatas who are teachers and revivers of the Jain philosophy. There are 24 Tīrthankaras in each time cycle; Mahāvīra was the 24th and last Tīrthankara of the current time cycle. Tīrthankaras are literally the ford makers who have who have shown the way across the ocean of rebirth and transmigration and hence have become a focus of reverence and worship amongst Jains. However it would be a mistake to regard the Tīrthankaras as gods analogous to the gods of Hindu pantheon despite the superficial resemblances in Jain and Hindu way of worship.[1] Tīrthankaras like Arhatas ultimately become Siddhas on liberation. Tīrthankaras, being liberated, are beyond any kind of transactions with the rest of the universe. They are not the beings who exercise any sort of creative activity or who have the capacity or ability to intervene in answers to prayers.


Although the Siddhas (the liberated beings) are formless and without a body, this is how the Jain temples often depict the Siddhas

Ultimately all Arhatas and Tīrthankaras become Siddhas. A Siddha is a soul who is permanently liberated from the transmigratory cycle of birth and death. Such a soul, having realized its true self, is free from all the Karmas and embodiment. They are formless and dwell in Siddhashila (the realm of the liberated beings) at the apex of the universe in infinite bliss, infinite perception, infinite knowledge and infinite energy.

The Acāranga sūtra 1.197 describes Siddhas in this way –

The liberated soul is not long nor small nor round nor triangular nor quadrangular nor circular; it is not black nor blue nor red nor green nor white; neither of good nor bad smell; not bitter nor pungent nor astringent nor sweet; neither rough nor soft; neither heavy nor light; neither cold nor hot; neither harsh nor smooth; it is without body, without resurrection, without contact (of matter), it is not feminine nor masculine nor neuter. The siddha perceives and knows all, yet is beyond comparison. Its essence is without form; there is no condition of the unconditioned. It is not sound, not colour, not smell, not taste, not touch or anything of that kind. Thus I say.” [2]

Siddhahood is the ultimate goal of all souls. There are infinite souls who have become Siddhas and infinite more who will attain this state of liberation. [d] According to Jainism, the Godhood is not a monopoly of some omnipotent and powerful being(s). All souls, with right perception, knowledge and conduct can achieve self-realisation and attain this state.[e] Once achieving this state of infinite bliss and having destroyed all desires, the soul is not concerned with the worldly matters and does not interfere in the working of universe, as any activity or desire to interfere will once again result in influx of karmas and thus loss of liberation.

Jains pray to these passionless Gods not for any favors or rewards but rather pray to the qualities of the God with the objective of destroying the karmas and achieving the Godhood. This is best understood by the term – vandetadgunalabhdhaye i.e. we pray to the attributes of such Gods to acquire such attributes” [f] [3]

Heavenly Beings

Idol of Padmāvatī devī, śāsanadevī of Lord Parshva at Walkeshwar Temple. She is one of the most popular demi-goddess amongst the Jains for material favours from the Gods.

Jainism describes existence of śāsanadevatās and śāsanadevīs, the attendant Gods and Goddesses of Tīrthankaras, who create the samavasarana or the divine preaching assembly of a Tīrthankara. Such heavenly beings are classified as:-

  • Bhavanpatis - Gods dwelling in abodes
  • Vyantaras - Intermediary gods
  • Jyotiskas - Luminaries
  • Vaimānikas - Astral gods

The souls on account of accumulation of meritorious karmas reincarnate in heavens as demi-gods. Although their life span is quite long, after their merit karmas are exhausted, they once again have to reincarnate back into the realms of humans, animals or hells depending on their karmas. As these Gods themselves are not liberated, they have attachments and passions and hence not worthy of worship. Ācārya Hemacandra decries the worship of such Gods –

These Gods tainted with attachment and passion;

having women and weapons by their side, favour some and disfavour some;

such Gods should not be worshipped by those who desire emancipation” [4]

Worship of such gods is considered as mithyātva or wrong belief leading to bondage of karmas. However, many Jains are known to worship to such gods for material gains.

See also


  1. Thrower (1980), p.93
  2. Jacobi (1884)Retrieved on : 25th May 2007
  3. Nayanar (2005b), p.35 Gāthā 1.29
  4. Gopani (1989) , emended
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