Inspired by “Nine Lives: In search of the sacred in modern India” by William Dalrymple and various monographs, published by Jain monks and nuns, photographer Pooja Jain captures the world of Jain nuns in Rajasthan.
Coming from a literary tradition written in Pakrit and Sanskrit that talks about the world of renunciation, Pooja Jain, intrigued by the lives of Jain nuns in India, and debates surrounding world renunciation, wanted to explore ascetic life beyond the white robes, shaved heads and barefoot commuting. “My curiosity brought me between these nuns finding convincing answers to why renunciation brings so much peace to these nuns life and what inspired them to accept renunciation. During my brief conversation with nuns, I started documenting potential visual moments and interesting imagery. As a photographer, I feel a huge responsibility to be fair and make correct observation. I travelled to parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to document the same. I have tried to capture the nun’s lives with greater sensibilities. Most of the images have a kind of mystery which makes it even more mysterious”.
Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Similar to Budhhism in many aspects, the Jain religion is much more ancient, demanding and ascetic in nature. The word ‘Jain’ derives from jina, meaning spiritual conqueror. Jains traditionally have a succession of twenty four spiritual teachers known as tirthankaras, who discovered how to escape eternal cycle of birth and death. Among them, Mahavira – a prince of Magadha, born in sixth century B.C — was the central figure. As practitioners of Jain asceticism, monks and nuns are detached from social and worldly activities and do not take any part in those activities. Instead, they spend their time spiritually uplifting their souls and guiding householders on how to uplift their souls. Before becoming Jain nuns, women practitioners must go through a formal transition known as diksha. After going through diksha – a process where they pluck out every strand of their hair, leave their family and belongings and learn how to fast and meditate – they change their names and cannot go back to being who they were. New expectations are set for them. Never again must they use a vehicle, must walk everywhere barefoot, take food only once a day, do not use Western medicine, abstain from emotions, never to hurt any living creature, must not react to attacks, must not beg, cry, complain, demand or feel superiority.
Capturing community companionship, renouncement and liberation as part and parcel of the Jain nuns’ lives in her photographic series, Pooja Jain, searches for ‘satisfying answers for difficult questions concerning validation of asceticism in modern times from nuns, who have disconnected themselves from this world leaving no room for communication’.
A nun a bird in the sky
conquered passions, cravings,
feelings desire to taste the banned,
let the hair down and hold his hand
A nun a stream of water
sacrificed the abode, the folks,
the touch of father, brother,
husband and a son
the trips to mall, movies,
night club and all that fun
A nun a child out of the cradle
joy a leaf in the wind,
away from the stationary tree,
looking back it smiles and
– Pooja Jain
Pooja Jain is an independent, freelance photographer based in Mumbai. She studied at Sir JJ School of Arts, and was selected for the young Asian Photographers Workshop at the 7th Angkor Photography Festival. Following a scholarship at Oslo University, she exhibited work at the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography VII, and recently at the second edition of the Delhi Photo Festival 2013.