Jainism, traditionally known as Jaina dharma, is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings and emphasises spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life. Practitioners believe that non-violence and self-control are the means by which they can obtain liberation. Currently, Jainism is divided into two major sects — Digambara and Śvētāmbara.
The word Jainism is derived from a Sanskrit verb Jin which means to conquer. It refers to a battle with the passions and bodily pleasures that the jaina ascetics undertake. Those who win this battle are termed as Jina (conqueror). The term Jaina is therefore used to refer to laymen and ascetics of this tradition alike.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Jains traditionally trace their history through a succession of twenty-four propagators of their faith known as tirthankara with Ādinātha as the first tirthankara and Mahāvīra as the last of the current era. For long periods of time Jainism was the state religion of Indian kingdoms and widely adopted in the Indian subcontinent. The religion has been in decline since the 8th century CE due to the growth, and oppression by the followers, of Hinduism and Islam.
Jainism is a religious minority in India, with 4.2 million adherents, and there are small but notable immigrant communities in Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and the United States. Jains have the highest degree of literacy of any religious community in India (94.1 percent), and their manuscript libraries are the oldest in the country.