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Sallekhana (also sallekhanā, Santhara, Samadhi-marana, Sanyasana-marana) is the last vow prescribed by the Jain ethical code of conduct. The vow of sallekhana is observed by the Jain ascetics and lay votaries at the end of their life by gradually reducing the intake of food and liquids. Sallekhana is allowed when normal life according to religion is not possible due to old age, incurable disease or when a person is nearing his end. It is a highly respected practice among the members of the Jain community. According to Jain texts, sallekhana leads to ahimsā (non-violence or non-injury), as a person observing sallekhana subjugates the passions, which are the root cause of hiṃsā (injury or violence). In 2015, the Rajasthan High Court banned the practice, calling it suicide. On 31 August 2015, the Supreme Court of India stayed the decision of the Rajasthan High Court and lifted the ban on sallekhana.



Sallekhana is made up from two words sal (meaning 'properly') and lekhana, which means to thin out. Properly thinning out of the passions and the body is sallekhana. Sallekhana is prescribed both for householders (śrāvakas) and ascetics. In Jainism, both ascetics and householders have to follow five fundamental vows (vratas). Ascetics must observe complete abstinence and their vows are thus called mahavratas (major vows); the vows of the laity (who observe partial abstinence) are called anuvratas (minor vows). Jain ethical code also prescribes seven supplementary vows, which include three guņa vratas and four śikşā vratas.

An ascetic or householder who has observed all the vows prescribed to shed the karmas, takes the vow of sallekhana at the end of his life. According to the Jain text, Purushartha Siddhyupaya, "sallekhana enable a householder to carry with him his wealth of piety". sallekhana is treated as a supplementary to the twelve vows taken by Jains. However, some Jain Acharyas such as Kundakunda, Devasena, Padmanandin and Vasunandin have included it under the last vow, śikşā-vrata.

The vow of sallekhana is often explained with a famous analogy:

sallekhana is divided into two:

  • Kashaya sallekhana (slenderising of passions) or abhayantra (internal)
  • Kaya sallekhana (slenderising the body) or bāhya (external)
  • Conditions

    According to Tattvartha Sutra (a compendium of Jain principles): "A householder willingly or voluntary adopts sallekhana when death is very near." According to famous Jain text, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra, the sallekhana can be observed only "on the arrival of unavoidable calamity, distress, senescence and disease."


    The duration of the practice could be up to twelve years or more. Sixth part of the Jain text, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra is on sallekhana and its procedure. The procedure expounded is as follows—

    Giving up solid food by degrees, one should take to milk and whey, then giving them up, to hot or spiced water. [Subsequently] giving up hot water also, and observing fasting with full determination, he should give up his body, trying in every possible way to keep in mind the pancha-namaskara mantra (Namokar Mantra).

    Jain texts mention five transgressions of the vow of sallekhana:-

  • desire to live
  • desire to die
  • recollection of affection for friends
  • recollection of the pleasures enjoyed
  • longing for the enjoyment of pleasures in future
  • Due to the prolonged nature of sallekhana, the individual is given ample time to reflect on his or her life. The purpose is to purge old karmas and prevent the creation of new ones. The vow of Sallekhana can not be taken by a lay person on his own without being permitted by a monk.

    In practice

    In around 300 BC, Chandragupta Maurya (founder of the Maurya Empire) undertook sallekhana atop Chandragiri Hill, Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa, Karnataka. Chandragupta basadi at Shravanabelagola (a chief seat of the Jains) marks the place where the saint Chandragupta died. The Doddahundi nishidhi inscription, a hero stone from Doddahundi, 18 km from Tirumakudalu Narasipura in the Mysore district, Karnataka state, India. It has an undated old Kannada language inscription which historians J. F. Fleet, I. K. Sarma and E.P. Rice have dated by context to 840 or 869 C.E. The hero stone has a unique depiction in frieze of the ritual death (sallekhana and samadhi) of the Western Ganga Dynasty king Ereganga Nitimarga I (r. 853-869). The memorial was raised by the king's son Satyavakya. Such nishidhi's (memorial spot) were raised in medieval India in honor of important Jain personalities who ended their life voluntarily after following severe ritual vow.

    Acharya Shantisagar, a highly revered Digambara monk of the modern India took Sallekana on 18 August 1955 because of inability to walk without help and weak eye-sight. He died on 18 September 1955.

    According to a survey conducted in 2006, on an average 200 Jains practice sallekhana until death each year in India. Statistically, sallekhana is undertaken both by men and women of all economic classes and among the educationally forward Jains. Statistically it is done by more women than men. It has been argued that Sallekhana serves as a means of coercing widows and elderly relatives into taking their own lives, but that is a rare case. In both the writings of Jain scriptures and the general views of many followers of Jainism, due to the degree of self-actualisation and spiritual strength required by those who undertake the ritual, Sallekhana is considered to be a display of utmost piety, purification and expiation. In 1999, Acharya Vidyanand, a prominent Digambara monk took a twelve year long vow of sallekhana.

    Comparison with suicide

    Jain texts make a clear distinction between the sallekhana vow and suicide. According to Jain text, Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya:

    "When death is imminent, the vow of sallekhana is observed by progressively slenderizing the body and the passions. Since the person observing sallekhana is devoid of all passions like attachment, it is not suicide.

    In the practice of sallekhana, it is viewed that death is "welcomed" through a peaceful, tranquil process that provides peace of mind and sufficient closure for the adherent, their family and/or community.

    In both the writings of Jain Agamas and the general views of many followers of Jainism, due to the degree of self-actualisation and spiritual strength required by those who undertake the ritual, sallekhana is considered to be a display of utmost piety, purification and expiation.

    In his book, sallekhana is Not Suicide, Justice T. K. Tukol wrote:

    My studies of Jurisprudence, the Indian Penal Code and of criminal cases decided by me had convinced that the vow of sallekhana as propounded in the Jaina scriptures is not suicide.

    According to Champat Rai Jain, "Soul is a simple substance and as such immortal. Death is for compunds whose dissolution is termed disintegration and death when it has reference to a living orgainism, that is a compound of spirit and matter. By dying in the proper way will is developed, and it is a great asset for the future life of the soul, which, as a simple substance, will survive the bodily dissolution and death. The true idea of sallekhana is only this that when death does appear at last one should know how to die, that is one should die like a man, not like a beast, bellowing and panting and making vain efforts to avoid the unavoidable!".

    According to advocate, Suhrith parthasarathy, "sallekhana is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death, but is rather a practice intrinsic to a person's ethical choice to live with dignity until death".


    In India, suicide remains a crime under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. The police are allowed to arrest people attempting a hunger strike where there is danger, and to force-feed the person and charge them.

    In 2006, human rights activist Nikhil Soni and his lawyer Madhav Mishra filed a Public Interest Litigation with the Rajasthan High Court. The PIL claimed that sallekhana should be considered to be suicide under the Indian legal statute. They argued that Article 21 of the Indian constitution only guarantees the right to life, but not to death. The petition extends to those who facilitate individuals taking the vow of with aiding and abetting an act of suicide. In response, the Jain community argued that it is a violation of the Indian Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom. It was argued that sallekhana serves as a means of coercing widows and elderly relatives into taking their own lives.

    This landmark case sparked debate in India, where national bioethical guidelines have been in place since 1980.

    In August 2015, the Rajasthan High Court stated that the practice is not an essential tenet of Jainism and banned the practice making it punishable under section 306 (Abetment of suicide) and 309 (Attempt to commit suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.

    On 24 August 2015, members of the Jain community held a peaceful nationwide protest against the ban on Santhara. Protests were held in various states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi etc. Silent march were carried out in various cities.

    On 31 August 2015, Supreme Court of India stayed the decision of Rajasthan High Court and lifted the ban on santhara. The Special Leave Petition brought before the Supreme Court of India was filed by Akhil Bharat Varshiya Digambar Jain Parishad. Supreme court considered Santhara as a component of non-violence ('ahimsa').

    Other religions

    There are similar practices in other religions like Prayopavesa in Hinduism, and Sokushinbutsu in Buddhism.


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  • References

    Sallekhana Wikipedia

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