The name Digambar means literally 'clothed in the quarters of the sky and
they are called 'sky-clad.' Nudity is the main doctrinal difference between the Shvetambaras and the Digambaras.
The Digambara view on ascetic nakedness was put by Aparajita in the eighth century. The true monk must be completely naked; even a loincloth is a compromise. He must abandon all possessions and be no longer subject to the social considerations of pride and
shame and to obey the vow of ahimsa, non-violence. The naked monk must follow the example of the Jinas, who were naked. As well, he may not use an alms-bowl, but has to use his hands cupped together as a bowl. He can eat only once a day.
There are doctrinal differences with the Shvetambaras over the Jinas. The Digambaras believe that kevalins, perfect saints, such as the Jinas live without food. In fact, the Jina can manifest no worldly activity and no longer has any bodily functions, for if he did his jiva, soul, would then change and he would not be omniscient. The Jinas teach by a magical divine sound. There are also differing accounts of the life of Mahavira. To the Digambaras, the embryo of Mahavira was not removed from the womb of Devananda to that of Trisala, as the Shvetambaras believe, and they do
not follow the Shvetambara account of Mahavira being married and living the life of the householder until he was thirty.
In the Digambara tradition, women cannot gain moksha, liberation, unless they are first reborn as men.
The Digambaras disown the Shvetambara canon, claiming that these texts were gradually lost during the first centuries after the Nirvana, death, of Mahavira. They give canonical status to two Prakrit works, Chapters
on Karman and Chapters on Kasayas (Passion), both of which they claim
were composed on the basis of the lost Drstivada. Of great importance to the Digambaras are the works of Kundakunda, such as Essence of the Doctrine.
Essentially, the difference in doctrine is minor. Both the Shvetambara and Digambara traditions accept the Tattvarthasutra of Umasvati, who in the second century was the first
systematize of Jain philosophy.
The philosophy and ethics which form the foundation of Jainism are exactly the same for both the Shvetambaras and the Digambaras, and the five major vows of ahimsa, non-violence, satya, truth, asteya,
non stealing, aparigraha, non-possession, and brahmacarya, celibacy, are central to their doctrine.
Most Digambaras are image-worshippers, except for the sects of the Terapanthis (Terahapanthis) and the
Taranapanthis. Gumanapanthis and Totapanthis are minor subsects of the Digambaras. They are not very important and very little is known about them. Gumanapantha flourished late in the eighteenth century and is named after its founder Gumana Rama. History There are both Shvetambara and Digambara stories of the origin
of the Digambara sect. The Shvetambara version says the sect started 609 years after the death of Mahavira when a Shvetambara named Shivabhuti initiated himself as a monk after he was angry at being locked out one night by his mother-in-law and subsequently decided to follow the way of Mahavira and threw off his monastic robes. The Digambara version is set in the time of durbhiksha, 'a time when it is difficult to gain alms,' when there was famine and political anarchy in the North. The Digambaras migrated to the South under Bhadrabahu, while those that remained became the backsliding Shvetambaras who took to wearing clothes. The Shvetambaras maintain that Bhadrabahu was at that time in Nepal. Neither version is very old, the Shvetambara story dating from the fifth century CE and the Digambara story from the tenth century CE.
The actual historical situation is more complex. It is likely that the fracture into two major sub-groups on the basis of clothing or nudity took place gradually, judging from archaeological and inscriptional evidence. There was no sudden doctrinal split. Mahavira and his followers were naked monks and the earliest Jina-images are naked. Only in the fifth century CE is there an image of Rishabha wearing a lower garment. Shvetambara images became generally clothed only several centuries later. The name Digambara took some time to become established in use. Until the fourteenth century a sect called the Yapaniyas existed, which shows the original flexibility regarding sectarian affiliation. Yapaniyas were a compromise, wearing clothes only when with lay followers.
The schism appears to have been recognised as early as the first century CE and was certainly established by the time of the Council of Valabhi in 453 or 466 CE. Dundas describes the Council as "The catalyst for the final hardening of boundaries between the Shvetambaras and the
Digambaras" (1992, 43). Only Shvetambaras came to the Council, held on the Kathiawar Peninsula.
Geography played an important part in the schism, with the Digambaras prospering in South India and the Shvetambaras remaining mainly in the North. The Digambaras claim that when they migrated south with Bhadrabahu to
Mysore, Candragupta Maurya, first king of the Maurya dynasty who had become a Jain monk, was with them. They believe that Bhadrabahu
and Candragupta Maurya died the holy death of sallekhana, fasting to death, on hills at Sravana Belgola. There is no evidence of this, but numerous inscriptions in the area from the fifth century CE support a southern migration.
The Digambaras must have held an important position in South India in the early centuries CE. Jain influence is apparent in Dravidian literature, as in the Tamil epic Silapadikkaram, 'Lay of the Anklet.' The Digambaras have an extensive literature of their own, chiefly in Sanskrit, which has a greater antiquity than that of the Shvetambaras, with the exception of the canonical texts of the Shvetambaras. There was often a close relationship between Digambara monks and
kings. In 981 the giant statue of Bahubali was erected at Sravana Belgola in Karnataka by Camundaraya, a general of a king of the Ganga dynasty. The twelth century Hoysala dynasty
supposedly originated through the influence of a Digambara monk. There was a powerful ideal of the righteous Jain king.
In the medieval period the Digambara ascetic community split into various sects. The Mula Sangha, the 'Root Assembly,' descended from Mahavira through Kundakunda, split into four sections called Sena, Deva, Simha, and Nandin.
Then there were rival Digambara sects such as the Dravida Sangha at Madurai which allowed bathing.
The main figure in medieval Digambara Jainism was the bhattaraka, meaning 'learned man' but who in fact was the head of a group of monks in a
matha, monastery, who wore orange robes except when eating or initiating another bhattaraka. Some bhattarakas became king-like figures and there were thirty-six bhattaraka thrones around India. They helped to perpetuate Digambara Jainism. A Rajasthan bhattaraka in the fifteenth
century consecrated a thousand Jina-images to send all over India to replace those destroyed by the Muslims.
With the Hindu Renaissance, Jainism in South India went into retreat. There may have been a terrible persecution of Jains in the eighth century. Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu show the impaling of eight thousand Jains at Madurai. In Karnataka Jains were slaughtered by the Virashaiva movement which started in the
twelfth century, but Jains had important positions in the Vijayanagar empire founded in 1336. Nevertheless, Jainism continued to decline with many Jains converting to Hinduism. Significant numbers only remained in south west India. Jainism hung on tenaciously, exemplified by the erection of great images of Bahubali at Karkala in 1432 and at Venur in 1604.
In the late sixteenth century a reform movement within Digambara Jainism started in Agra, and was forged in the first half of the seventeenth century by Banarsidass and the Adhyatma movement (see Digambara Terapanthis) and his later followers such as Pandita Todarmal of Jaipur. This profoundly affected Digambara society by largely eliminating the crippling excesses of ritualism and awakening the community to a deeper meaning of its faith.
By the nineteenth century the bhattaraka thrones had faded into insignificance, except the oldest ones at Mudbridri and Sravana
Belgola, which are still important and famous, as well as two in Kolhapur.
Today the Digambaras and Shvetambaras flourish independently of each other, except for disputes over the administration of pilgrimage sites which can end in the courts or in violence.
Symbols The holiest Digambara site is Sravana Belgola, where there is the fifty-seven foot high image of Bahubali standing in meditation in the kayotsarga posture, arms away from the side, and with creepers growing round his arms and legs and anthills covering his lower legs to
symbolize the length of time he has been meditating. The Digambaras believe he is the first person in the world to achieve liberation. This was erected in 981 by Camundaraya, a general of a king of the Ganga dynasty, to symbolise the ascetic fighting the spiritual battle. Bahubali was the son of Rishabha, the first Jina, and when he defeated his half-brother Bharata in a duel, he did not take over as king but renounced the throne and took to
meditating in the forest. This is also symbolic of pressures at that time for the Jain warrior between the claims of war and religion.
Since 1398 every ten to fifteen years, depending on astrology, the mastakabhisheka,
head anointment, ceremony takes place, one of the most spectacular in India. Milk, liquid saffron, and other substances in 1,008 pots are poured over the head of Bahubali from a platform by prominent lay people. Today, flowers are also dropped on the statue from a
helicopter. The statue is on the Big Hill. The Little Hill is also an important place of pilgrimage because of generations of Digambara ascetics who have died there by sallekhana, fasting, testified by nisidhi, memorials of stone relief's, pillars, images, and temples. A fissure in the rock is called Bhadrabahu's Cave after the supposed leader of the southern migration. Hero stones of those who died in battle are placed near the memorials of the ascetics.
There are iconographic differences between the Digambara and Shvetambara images. Digambara Jina-images are completely nude and do not show eye-balls. During the dispute over the ownership of Mount Girnar, when the Shvetambaras clothed the naked images, this made their worship impossible for the Digambaras. Rishabha is symbolised by long hair curling elegantly over his shoulders. The Shvetambaras explain his hair by saying that after a long rule as king he renounced the world and started to uproot his hair.
After five handfuls the god Indra saw how beautiful the remaining hair was and requested him to stop. The Digambaras say that originally Rishabha removed all his hair, but as he sat meditating a jata, mat of hair, grew on his head.
The Digambaras do not generally touch the image in a temple and pujas are carried out by a priest called a upadhye, who is a ritual functionary only. From the sixth century both Digambaras and Shvetambaras used the eight substances of perfumed material such as camphor, flowers,
rice, incense, light, sweets, fruit, and water in the most common puja, the eightfold worship of an image. However, Digambara worship is simpler, with flowers and jewellery rarely being used.
The Ganadharavalaya-yantra is a diagrammatic representation of the Purvas and
Angas, sacred texts, used in rituals of propitiation. An example is to be found in a Digambara temple at Mudbridri, South Kanara. Ambika, the most popular yakshi and who represents maternal fertility, is also known to the Digambaras as
Illustrated manuscripts are mainly used by Shvetambaras, though Digambara followers did occasionally commission richly illustrated editions of their most sacred texts. Digambara style is less celebratory and festive, being simpler and more austere. In the Lokapurusha, Cosmic Man, the three worlds are portrayed in distinctly different ways depending on whether they are Shvetambara or Digambara as they follow different iconographic traditions.
The Digambara is less ornate and the Cosmic Man is naked. Adherents Digambaras are found mainly in south west India, in the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. In the 1981 Census there were 939,392 Jains in Maharashtra and 284,508 in Karnataka. No sectarian breakdown of these figures is obtainable but the majority are
Digambaras.Ascetic numbers are low: perhaps as few as 65 full, naked, monks, 60 junior, clothed, monks, and 50 nuns. Ascetic numbers have always been relatively small (Johnson 1994, 74).