Jainism (pronounced /ˈdʒeɪnɪzəm/) is an ancient religion of India that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice rely mainly on self-effort to progress the soul up the spiritual ladder to divine consciousness. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called Jina (Conqueror or Victor).
Jainism is also referred to as Shraman (self-reliant) Dharma or the religion of Nirgantha (who does not have attachments and aversions) by ancient texts. It is referred to in Kannada ಜೈನಧರ್ಮ, Hindi जैनधर्म (Jain Dharma) and in Tamil சமணம்(Samanam).
Jainism, which its followers consider to have always existed, is believed by historians to have arisen between the ninth and the sixth century BC. The earliest of the enlightened ascetic leaders of Jainism (Tirthankaras) that can be dated historically are Parshva (9th century BC) and Mahavira (6th century BC). Some have speculated that the religion may have its roots in much earlier times, reflecting native spirituality from before the Indo-Aryan migration into India. In the modern world, it is a small but influential religious minority with as many as 4.2 million followers in India, and successful growing immigrant communities in North America, Western Europe, the Far East, Australia and elsewhere.
Jains successfully sustained this ancient religion to this era and have significantly influenced and contributed to ethical, political and economic spheres in India. Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy in India; Jain libraries are the oldest in the country. Tamil Jains and Kannada/Tulu Jains who are native to their region residing in places Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and some parts of Kerala respectively early since 1st century BC are distinguishable in some of their routines and practices from North Indian Jains, but the core philosophies and belief systems are the same for both cultures.