The Four-fold Order (Chaturvidh Sangh)
For the perpetuance and protection of the Jain religion, as well as to ensure its accessibility to all, Bhagwan Mahavira established the four-fold order. The four constituents of this order are monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen - serving as the four fundamental supporting pillars of the religious organisation, their responsibility being to maintain its vibrancy. In order to firmly establish the glory of the four-fold order, He Himself saluted it with the words, 'namo titthasa'.

Bhagwan Mahavira had eleven gandhars (chief disciples). Nine gandhars attained liberation during His lifetime, while the other two - Gautamswami and Sudharmaswami, survived Him. The responsibility of piloting and protecting the four-fold order fell on the shoulders of Sudharmaswami, the fifth main disciple of Bhagwan Mahavira. The genealogy of Bhagwan Mahavira, therefore, starts with Him as the first and the foremost leader of the four-fold order.

Jambuswami, a disciple of Sudharmaswami, was the last kevali (omniscient) of this era. After Jambuswami, the responsibility of leading the four-fold order was borne by the great shrutkevalis (monks who had mastered the scriptures), brilliant acharyas (illustrious torchbearers) and others. This ensured the continuity of the four-fold order, and this lineage has been uninterruptedly sustained from Bhagwan Mahavira to the present day.

The Scriptures (Agams)
Universal love was the gospel that Bhagwan Mahavira preached – spreading the message of liberation and eternal happiness. He made religion simple and natural, freed it from complexities. His teachings were compiled and transmitted to posterity in the form of Agams (Jain canons) by the gandhars (chief disciples). Today, in all, 45 Agams are available. These canonical texts serve as the guiding light for aspirants along the path of self-realisation. They are instrumental in liberating souls from the miseries of the cycles of birth and death.

The Eleven Angas: Acharanga Sutra, Sutrakratanga Sutra, Sthananga Sutra, Samavayanga Sutra, Vyakhya Prajnaptyanga or Bhagavati Sutra, Jnata Dharma Kathanga Sutra, Upasaka Dashanga Sutra, Antah Kruddashanga Sutra, Anuttaraupa Patika Dashanga Sutra, Prashna Vyakrananga Sutra, Vipakasutranga

Twelve Upangas: Aupapatika Sutra, Raja Prashniya Sutra, Jivabhigama Sutra, Prajnapana Sutra, Surya Prajnapti Sutra, Chandra Prajnapti Sutra, Jambudveepa Prajnapti Sutra, Nirayarvali Sutra, Kalpa Vatansika Sutra, Pushpika Sutra, Pushpa Chulika Sutra, Vrushnidasha Sutra

Ten Prakirnas: Chatuh Sharana, Aatura Pratyakhyana, Bhakta Parijna, Sanstaraka, Tandulavaitalika, Chandra Vedhyaka, Devendra Stava, Gani Vidya, Mahapratyakhyana, Veerastava

Six Chheda Sutras: Nisheetha Sutra, Mahanisheetha Sutra, Vyavahara Sutra, Dasha Shruta Skandha Sutra or Acharadasas, Panch Kalpa Sutra, Bruhat Kalpa Sutra

Four Mool-Sutras: Avashyaka Sutra, Dasha Vaikalika Sutra, Uttaradhyayana Sutra, Ogha Niryukti or Pinda Niryukti Sutra

Two Chulika Sutras: Nandi Sutra, Anuyogadvara Sutra

Main sects (Sampraday)
In the past 2500 years, since the nirvan of Bhagwan Mahavira, Jainism has had an impressive genealogy, creating a rich legacy of eminent leaders and a powerful organisation which guarded its integrity and maintained its significance for posterity. The great personages leading the four-fold order have glorified the Jain tradition, raising it to a lofty position and propagating it far and wide.

Since Bhagwan Mahavira's times, to the present day, several sects have emerged in Jainism – Shwetambar (White clad) and Digambar (Sky clad) being the two main sects. In due course, the Shwetambar sect was further divided into three sub-sects: (a) Murtipujaks (Idol worshippers) (b) Sthanakvasis (Non idol worshippers) and (c) Terapanthis.

In the present times, these three sects and the Digambars, together constitute the four main sects of Jainism.

Shwetambar (White clad):
(a) Murtipujak (Idol worshippers): As the name suggests, this sect believes in idol worship of Bhagwan. Faithfully accepting and respecting the 45 Agams, followers of this sect believe in equality of men and women when it comes to worship and spiritual endeavours. The monks of this sect don white clothes.

(b) Sthanakvasi (Non idol worshippers): Amongst the Shwetambars, there were some who did not believe in idol-worship. A separate sect called Sthankvasi was created in V.S. 1508, founded by Lonkashah. Out of the 45 Agams he accepted only those 32 Agams which did not have any reference to idol worship.

(c) Terapanthi: About 200 years after the Sthanakvasi sect was formed, some followers bifurcated into a separate sect, called Terapanth. Believed to have been founded by Sadhu Bhikamji, Terapanthis differ from the Sthanakavasis in their views on the principles of mercy and charity.

(Sky clad):

As the name suggests, they are sky-clad, that is, the monks of this sect refrain from all possessions, even clothes. Followers of this sect do not accept any of the Agams of the Shwetambars and believe that women cannot attain liberation.

Like a banyan tree, the Jain religious organisation has expanded into various branches, units and groups over the decades, each having a separate identity within one grand organisation.

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