Of the many ascetic (samaṇa) groups that prospered at the time of Lord Buddha only two have survived as living traditions, the Buddhists and the Jainas, and only Jainas continue in the land of their origin, India.
The picture people have of Jainas simply from reading the Buddhist discourses is about as inadequate as you would get of the Buddhists from the Jaina discourses 🙂
There is a lot to admire about the tradition, especially its very steadfast adherence to non-violence in all aspects of Jaina life, and its very strict application of ascetic living in monastic life.
This documentary follows one young Jaina lady, Nirmala, as she prepares to leave home for the monastic life in the strict Dīgambara sect, forever cutting off ties to her family and past life.
When she ordains the practice is not to shave the head but to pull it out at the roots, something which is then repeated every six months as it grows back.
In Jainism practice women are restricted in their undertaking of the ascetic life, and this has led to an understanding that women cannot attain enlightenment, but must first attain birth as a man.
This is the hope for Nirmala as she goes forth, and follows one monk known as Mahārāj, a Jaina ascetic, whose death through starvation, the final cutting off of attachment, is forecast at the end of the film.
Most of the filming takes place at the Bahubali monolith at Shravanabelagola during the 12-yearly Head-Annointing Ceremony (Mahāmasthakābhisheka), which must have been in 1994.
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