Jainism is well known as a radically ascetic strategy for achieving liberation from the world''s bondage. It is less well known as a system of religious belief and practice embedded in social life. This article will examine Jainism as a symbolism of social identity. At the center of my inquiry is a puzzling cultural fact, the seemingly paradoxical claim by many nonviolent Jains to be descended from warlike Rājpūts. Despite its extreme emphasis on ascetic withdrawal from the world, Jainism is, as I hope to show, deeply implicated in the worldly identity of certain social groups and even can function as a kind of origin myth for these groups. Understanding how this is possible requires a considerable departure from the usual perspective on Jainism. The ascetic is normally the center of attention in Jain studies. This article, however, will give equal attention to a figure less frequently considered. This is the warrior-king.

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