Sallekhana (IAST: sallekhanā), also known as Samlehna, Santhara,
Samadhi-marana or Sanyasana-marana; is a supplementary vow to the
ethical code of conduct of Jainism. It is the religious practice of
voluntarily fasting to death by gradually reducing the intake of food
and liquids. It is viewed in
Jainism as the thinning of human
passions and the body, and another means of destroying
rebirth-influencing karma by withdrawing all physical and mental
activities. It is not considered as a suicide by Jain scholars
because it is not an act of passion, nor does it deploy poisons or
weapons. After the sallekhana vow, the ritual preparation and
practice can extend into years.
Sallekhana is a vow available to both for Jain ascetics and
householders. Historic evidence such as nishidhi engravings suggest
sallekhana was observed by both men and women, including queens, in
Jain history. However, in the modern era, death through sallekhana
has been a relatively uncommon event.
There is debate about the practice from a right to life and a freedom
of religion viewpoint. In 2015, the
Rajasthan High Court
Rajasthan High Court banned the
practice, considering it suicide. Later that year, the Supreme Court
of India stayed the decision of the
Rajasthan High Court
Rajasthan High Court and lifted
the ban on Sallekhana.
1 The vow
2 Conditions and procedure
3.1 In texts
3.3 In modern times
4 Comparison with suicide and legality
5 Other Indian religions
6 See also
9 External links
See also: Ethics of Jainism
There are Five Great vows prescribed to followers of Jainism; Ahimsa
Satya (not lying),
Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacharya
Aparigraha (non-possession). A further seven
supplementary vows are also prescribed, which include three Gunavratas
(merit vows) and four Shiksha vratas (disciplinary vows). The three
Gunavratas are: Digvrata (limited movements, limiting one's area of
activity), Bhogopabhogaparimana (limiting use of consumable and
non-consumable things), and Anartha-dandaviramana (abstain from
purposeless sins). The Shikshavratas include:
Samayika (vow to
meditate and concentrate for limited periods), Desavrata (limiting
movement and space of activity for limited periods), Prosadhopavāsa
(fasting for limited periods), and Atithi-samvibhag (offering food to
Sallekhana is treated as a supplementary to these twelve vows.
However, some Jain teachers such as Kundakunda, Devasena, Padmanandin,
and Vasunandin have included it under Shikshavratas.
Sallekhana (Sanskrit: Sallikhita) means to properly 'thin out', 'scour
out' or 'slender' the passions and the body through gradually
abstaining from food and drink.
Sallekhana is divided into two
Sallekhana (slenderising of passions) or
Sallekhana (internal slendering) and Kaya Sallekhana
(slenderising the body) or Bahya
Sallekhana (external slendering).
It is described as "facing death voluntarily through fasting".
According to Jain texts,
Sallekhana leads to Ahimsa (non-violence or
non-injury), as a person observing
Sallekhana subjugates the passions,
which are the root cause of Himsa (injury or violence).
Conditions and procedure
Sallekhana as expounded in the Jain text, Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra
Sallekhana is prescribed for both householders and ascetics,
Jain texts describe conditions when it is appropriate. It
should not be observed by a householder without guidance of a Jain
Sallekhana is always voluntary, undertaken after public declaration,
and never assisted with any chemicals or tools. The fasting causes
thinning away of body by withdrawing by choice food and water to
oneself. As death is imminent, the individual stops all food and
water, with full knowledge of colleagues and spiritual counsellor.
In some cases, Jains with terminal illness undertake sallekhana, and
in these cases they ask for permission from their spiritual
counsellor.[note 1] For a successful sallekhana, the death must be
with "pure means", voluntary, planned, undertaken with calmness, peace
and joy where the person accepts to scour out the body and focuses his
or her mind on spiritual matters.
Sallekhana differs from other forms of ritual deaths recognized in
Jainism as appropriate. The other situations consider ritual death
to be better for a mendicant than breaking his or her Five Great vows
(Mahavrata). For example, celibacy is one of the Five vows, and
ritual death is considered better than being raped or seduced or if
the mendicant community would be defamed. A ritual death under these
circumstances by consuming poison is believed to be better and allows
for an auspicious rebirth.
The duration of the practice can vary from a few days to years.
The sixth part of the
Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra describes
Sallekhana and its procedure 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.
Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra (127–128)
Jain texts mention five transgressions (Atichara) of the vow: the
desire to be reborn as a human, the desire to be reborn as a divinity,
the desire to continue living, the desire to die quickly, and the
desire to live a sensual life in the next life. Other transgressions
include: recollection of affection for friends, recollection of the
pleasures enjoyed, and longing for the enjoyment of pleasures in the
Svetambara Jain text Acharanga Sutra, dated to about 3rd
or 2nd century BCE, describes three forms of Sallekhana: the
Bhaktapratyakhyana, the Ingita-marana, and the Padapopagamana. In
Bhaktapratyakhyana, the person who wants to observe the vow selects an
isolated place where he lies on a bed made of straw, does not move his
limbs, and avoids food and drink until he dies. In Ingita-marana, the
person sleeps on bare ground. He can sit, stand, walk, or move, but
avoids food until he dies. In Padapopagamana, a person stands "like a
tree" without food and drink until he dies.
Another variation of
Sallekhana is Itvara which consists of
voluntarily restricting oneself in a limited space and then fasting to
An inscription (No.130) in memory of Vinayadevasena who observed
Sallekhana. 7th century Kannada script. Found at Shravanbelgola,
Doddahundi nishidhi inscription
Doddahundi nishidhi inscription was raised in honor of Western Ganga
King Nitimarga I in 869 CE who observed Sallekhana.
The chamber for the ascetics to observe
Sallekhana at Udayagiri hills,
Acharanga Sutra (c. 5th century BCE – c. 1st century
BCE) describes three forms of the practice. Early Svetambara[note 2]
text Shravakaprajnapti notes that the practice is not limited to
ascetics. The Bhagavati Sūtra (2.1) also describes
great detail, as it was observed by Skanda Katyayana, an ascetic of
Mahavira. The 4th century text Ratnakaranda śrāvakācāra, and the
Svetambara text Nava-pada-prakarana, also provide detailed
descriptions. The Nava-pada-prakarana mentions seventeen methods of
"voluntarily chosen death", of which it approves only three as
consistent with the teachings of Jainism. The practice is also
mentioned in the 2nd century CE Sangam era poem Sirupanchamoolam.
The Panchashaka makes only a cursory mention of the practice and it is
not described in Dharmabindu – both texts by
Haribhadra (c. 5th
century). In the 9th century text "Ādi purāṇa" by
three forms are described. Yashastilaka by Somadeva (10th century)
also describes the practice. Other writers like Vaddaradhane (10th
century) and Lalitaghate also describe the Padapopagamana, one of its
Hemchandra (c. 11th century) describes it in a short passage
despite his detailed coverage of the observances of householders
According to Tattvartha Sutra, "a householder willingly or voluntary
Sallekhana when death is very near." According to the
medieval era Jain text, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya, both the ascetics
and the householder should "court voluntarily death at the end of
life", thinking that only sallekhana is a pious death. The
Silappadikaram (Epic of the Anklet) by the Jain prince-turned-monk,
Ilango Adigal, mentions
Sallekhana by the Jain nun, Kaundi Adigal.
In South India, especially Karnataka, a memorial stone or footprint is
erected to commemorate the death of person who observed Sallekhana.
This is known as Nishidhi, Nishidige or Nishadiga. The term is derived
from the Sanskrit root Sid or Sad which means "to attain" or "waste
These Nishidhis detail the names, dates, the duration of the vow, and
other austerities performed by the person who observed the vow. The
earliest Nishidhis (6th to 8th century) mostly have an inscription on
the rock without any symbols. This style continued until the 10th
century when footprints were added alongside the inscription. After
the 11th century, Nishidhis are inscribed on slabs or pillars with
panels and symbols. These slabs or pillars were frequently erected in
mandapas (pillared pavilions), near basadi (temples), or sometimes as
an inscription on the door frame or pillars of the temple.
Shravanabelgola in Karnataka, ninety-three Nishidhis are found
ranging from circa 6th century to the 19th century. Fifty-four of them
belong to the period circa 6th to the 8th century. It is believed that
a large number of Nishidhis at
Shravanabelgola follow the earlier
tradition. Several inscriptions after 600 CE record that Chandragupta
Maurya (c. 300 BCE) and his teacher
Bhadrabahu observed the vow atop
Chandragiri Hill at Sharavnabelagola. Historians such as R. K.
Mookerji consider the accounts unproven, but
An undated inscription in old
Kannada script is found on the Nishidhi
from Doddahundi near
Tirumakudalu Narasipura in Karnataka. Historians
such as J. F. Fleet, I. K. Sarma, and E.P. Rice have dated it to 840
or 869 CE by its textual context. The memorial stone has a unique
depiction in frieze of the ritual death (Sallekhana) of King Ereganga
Nitimarga I (r. 853–869) of the Western Ganga Dynasty. It was
raised by the king's son Satyavakya. In Shravanabelgola, the
Kuge Brahmadeva pillar has a Nishidhi commemorating Marasimha, another
Western Ganga king. An inscription on the pillar in front of
Basadi commemorates Indraraja, the grandson of the
Rashtrakuta King Krishna III, who died in 982 after observing the
The inscriptions in
South India suggest sallekhana was originally an
ascetic practice which later extended to Jain householders. Its
importance as an ideal death in the spiritual life of householders
ceased by about the 12th century. The practice was revived in 1955 by
Digambara monk Acharya Santisagara.
In modern times
Sallekhana is a respected practice in the Jain community. It has
not been a "practical or general goal" among
Svetambara Jains for many
years. It was revived among
Digambara monks. In 1955, Acharya
Digambara monk took the vow because of his inability to
walk without help and his weak eye-sight. In 1999, Acharya
Digambara monk, took a twelve-year-long vow.
Between 1800 and 1992, at least 37 instances of
recorded in Jain literature. There were 260 and 90 recorded Sallekhana
Digambara Jains respectively between 1993
and 2003. According to Jitendra Shah, the Director of L D Institute of
Indology in Ahmedabad, an average of about 240 Jains practice
Sallekhana each year in India. Most of them are not recorded or
Sallekhana is undertaken both by men and
women of all economic classes and among the educationally forward
Jains. It is observed more often by women than men.
Comparison with suicide and legality
Jain texts make a clear distinction between the
suicide. Its dualistic theology differentiates between soul and
matter. Soul is reborn in the Jain belief based on accumulated karma,
how one dies contributes to the karma accumulation, and a pious death
reduces the negative karmic attachments. The preparation
for sallekhana must begin early, much before the approach of death,
and when death is imminent, the vow of
Sallekhana is observed by
progressively slenderising the body and the passions.
The comparison of
Sallekhana with suicide is debated since the early
time of Jainism. The early Buddhist Tamil epic Kundalakesi compared it
to suicide. It is refuted in the contemporary
Tamil Jain literature
such as in Neelakesi.
Sallekhana is not suicide:
It is argued that it is suicide, since there is voluntary severance of
life etc. No, it is not suicide, as there is no passion. Without
attachment etc, there is no passion in this undertaking. A person who
kills himself by means of poison, weapon etc, swayed by attachment,
aversion or infatuation, commits suicide. But he who practices holy
death is free from desire, anger and delusion. Hence it is not
suicide. — S. A. Jain
Champat Rai Jain, a Jainist scholar wrote in 1934:
Soul is a simple substance and as such immortal.
Death is for
compounds whose dissolution is termed disintegration and death when it
has reference to a living organism, 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
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
Modern era Indian activists have questioned this rationale, calling
the voluntary choice of death as an evil similar to sati, and have
attempted to legislate and judicially act against this religious
custom. Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950, guarantees
the right to life to all persons within the territory of India and its
states. In Gian Kaur vs The State Of Punjab, the state high court
ruled, "... 'right to life' is a natural right embodied in Article 21
but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and,
therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of right to
Nikhil Soni vs Union of India (2006), a case filed in the Rajasthan
High Court, citing the Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union Of India
case related to euthanasia, and the Gian Kaur case, argued, "No person
has a right to take his own life consciously, as the right to life
does not include the right to end the life voluntarily." So the
Sallekhana as a suicide and thus punishable under
Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide). The case also
extended to those who helped facilitate the deaths of individuals
observing Sallekhana, finding they were culpable under Section 306
(abetment of suicide) with aiding and abetting an act of suicide. It
was also argued that
Sallekhana "serves as a means of coercing widows
and elderly relatives into taking their own lives". An attempt
to commit suicide was a crime under Section 309 of the Indian Penal
In response, the
Jain community argued that prohibiting the practice
is a violation of their freedom of religion, a fundamental right
guaranteed by Article 15 and Article 25 of the Constitution of
India. The book
Sallekhana Is Not
Suicide by former
T. K. Tukol
T. K. Tukol was widely cited in the court which opined
Sallekhana as propounded in the Jaina scriptures is not
Rajasthan High Court
Rajasthan High Court stated that "[The Constitution] does not
permit nor include under Article 21 the right to take one's own life,
nor can it include the right to take life as an essential religious
practice under Article 25 of the Constitution". It further added that
it is not established that
Sallekhana is an essential practise of
Jainism and therefor not covered by Article 25 (1). So the High Court
banned the practice in August 2015 making it punishable under Sections
306 (abetment of suicide) and 309 (attempt to commit suicide).
Members of the
Jain community held nationwide protest marches against
the ban on Sallekhana.
Advocate Suhrith Parthasarathy criticised the judgement of the High
Court and wrote, "
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." He also pointed out
that the Supreme Court in the Gian Kaur case explicitly recognises the
right to live with human dignity within the ambit of right to life. He
further cited that the Supreme Court wrote in the said case, "[The
right to life] may include the right of a dying man to also die with
dignity when his life is ebbing out. But the right to die with dignity
at the end of life is not to be confused or equated with the right to
die an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life."
On 31 August 2015, the Supreme Court admitted the petition by Akhil
Bharat Varshiya Digambar Jain Parishad and granted leave. It stayed
the decision of the High Court and lifted the ban on the
In April 2017, the Indian parliament decriminalised suicide by passing
the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.
Other Indian religions
There are similar practices in other religions like
Sokushinbutsu in Buddhism.
The ancient and medieval scholars of
Indian religions discussed
suicide, and a person's right to voluntarily choose death.
broadly disapproved and discouraged by Buddhist, Hindu and Jaina
Satapatha Brahmana of Hinduism, for example, in
section 10.2.6 discusses the nature of cyclic life and rebirth, and
concludes that "therefore, one should not depart before one's natural
lifespan", states David Brick, an Indologist at the Yale
University. However, for those who have renounced the world
(sannyasi, sadhu, yati, bhikshu), the Indian texts discuss when ritual
choice of death is appropriate and what means of voluntarily ending
one's life are appropriate. The
Sannyasa Upanishads, for example,
discuss many methods of religious death, such as slowing then stopping
consumption of foods and drinks to death (similar to sallekhana),
walking into a river and drowning, entering fire, path of the heroes,
and the Great Journey.[note 3]
Scholars disagree whether "voluntary religious death" discussed in
Indian religions is or is not same as other forms of
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sallekhana.
Death in Jainism
^ According to Somasundaram,
Sallekhana is allowed in
normal religious life is not possible because of old age, extreme
calamities, famine, incurable disease or when a person is nearing
Digambara are two major sects of Jainism. See Jain
schools and branches.
^ The heroic path is explained as dying in a just battle on the side
of dharma (right, good), and equivalent. The Great Journey is walking
north without eating till one dies of exhaustion. A similar
practise known as Vadakirutthal (literally facing north) was prevalent
Sangam period in Tamilnadu. It is mentioned in Tamil anthologies
such as in Puranaanooru.
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Public Radio (2015)
John E. Cort
Champat Rai Jain
Jeffery D. Long
Digambar Jain Mahasabha
Vishwa Jain Sangathan
Dynasties and empires
Statue of Ahimsa
Jain terms and concepts
List of Jains
List of Jain temples
List of Jain ascetics
List of Digambar Jain ascetics
Topics List (index)
Monks & nuns
Temporal lobe necrosis
Programmed cell death
Immunogenic cell death
Ischemic cell death
Death by natural causes
Medical definition of death
Causes of death by rate
Expressions related to death
People by cause of death
Preventable causes of death
Notable deaths by year
TV actors who died during production
Gompertz–Makeham law of mortality
Maternal mortality in fiction
Burial at sea
Beating heart cadaver
Taboo on the dead
Cause of death
Declared death in absentia
Prohibition of death
Right to die
Death and culture
Personification of death
Death from laughter
Festival of the Dead
Fascination with death
Museum of Death
The Order of the Good Death