Cross-culture Understanding Santhara: Fasting Until Die

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India is a country in South Asia, which is rich for its culture and spirituality. This country is in the second position with the most population in the world. The density of India makes a lot of diversity that arises in society, especially Indian culture. The existing culture is strongly influenced by the existence of religion. Nevertheless, that could happen as India is the birthplace of three big religions there, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. This factor causes in India, religions cover people’s life start from birth until death. Spirituality has an impact towards culture of a country, and this also happens in India since the old time. Not only those three religions, Sikhism also has the most followers in India. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism in India become has been influenced all the culture in India and counted as old religion there. Those four religions are rooted on dharma and karma as their belief systems.

Dharma and karma are life goals and as belief systems for most people there. Dharma is following the path of righteousness and adhering to social and religious law (Lonsdale, 2011). Our attitudes, works or duties, social life should do by following dharma as the truth for us for having a good life. Karma is the law of cause and effect (Lonsdale, 2011). In doing dharma, people would follow or not the path and law of life that has been given for people to obey. Things that done by people will not just stop, there will be an effect or we call it as karma. When people did good deeds or follow the law, and one will get good karma. On the other hand, bad karma will be given to one who did not obey or follow the law. In instance, good and bad karma will affect on someone’s rebirth or its effect will occur on the next life.

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For Jains, karma is not responsible for one’s present birth, family, health countenance, and wealth, but also it is likened to a form of subtle matter that obscures the purity of soul (Howard, 2017). Karma should be someone’s responsibility and people take it with them. There are eight kinds of karma, and one of those is Vedaniya, those which lead to experience of pain or pleasure (Bhavan, 1997). In Jainism, this karma might be happen after fasting. Jains believe in fasting as the way to empty their body and soul in purifying souls from bad karma or reduce it until pure. The pain in fasting food and drink has a contribution as implication of a good dharma for people to do. In Jainism fasting, people could fast in the variation ways, but the most extreme is santhara.

Swazo states “santhara” (also called “sallekhana”) performed by members of the “Shvetambara group” in the Jain religion, santhara a matter of “giving up the body,” involving “a fast unto death,” commenced after taking a vow (2015). Santhara or sallekhana is a religious practice conducted by Jainism to fast by reducing food and drink and people in extended to purifying their soul and may do this after taking a vow. People’s life is precious and by conducting santhara in reducing food and water intake also means as an act of not to do any harm. This embodies undertaking extreme steps such as the refusal of food and water to avoid killing anything, even microbes (Choudhary & Singh, 2016). In doing santhara, people should meditate and put their focus all together along with mantra.

With the meditation of the five salutation mantras (pancanamaskara-mantra), he should avoid the five transgressions: (1) a feeling that it would have been better if death would come a little later; (2) wishing for a speedy death; (3) entertaining fear as to how he would bear the pangs of death; (4) remembering friends and relatives at the time of death; (5) wishing for a particular kind of fruit as a result of penance. The basic concept underlying the vow is that, man who is the master of his own destiny should face death in such a way so as to prevent the influx of new Karmas, even at the last moment of his life and at the same time liberate the soul from the bondage of Karmas that may be clinging to it then. (Choudhary & Singh, 2016)

This religious tradition still exists in India. Today there are more than 4 million Jains there. By an estimate, 300 Jains die every year across India due to such fasts and their deaths are usually celebrated publicly in the community (Choudhary & Singh, 2016). Unbelieveable, that not a small number of people still do santhara in this era, which shows how Indians are strongly believe on it. Other than the excitement of people, the government of India concerns to against santhara in Jainism for some reasons.

First, the judgment delivered by the Rajasthan High Court in Nikhil Soni v. Union of India held that Santhara/Sallekhana was not an “essential religious practice” of Jainism and there was no mention of such practice in Jain scriptures or religious texts (Choudhary & Singh, 2016). The government believes this tradition does not have any evidence which proof that Jains should fast until death in order to get good karma or purify soul. Second, the Rajasthan High Court in the judgment equated the practice of Santhara to an act of voluntary suicide (Choudhary & Singh, 2016). This concern about santhara as a suicide or a holy death is needed to be argued, especially nowadays human right has become a concern for all counties all over the world. Jains believe they do it as they have right to die in holy way and they do it also with some considerations to take this vow. Nowadays, the government termed this as a criminal and equal as suicide.

Even though the government against it, Jains still stand firm on with belief. In 2015, shops and establishments in the city run by members belonging to Jain community were closed to protest against the ban on 'Santhara' (fast unto death) by the Rajasthan High Court (India Times, 2015). There was about 500 Jain community members went down the street and shaved their heads as a protest the government to ban their religious practice. Until today, the government still has not make the final decision for this and Jains still do this practice.


  1. Bhavan, B. V. (1997). The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions. Delhi: Motilal banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.
  2. Choudhary, N., & Singh, D. (2016). Practise & Belief of Santhara: Right to Die. Christ University Law Journal , 49-62.
  3. Howard, V. R. (2017). Dharma: The Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh Traditions of India. London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.
  4. India Times. (27 August, 2015). Jains down shutters to protest against the ban on Santhara . Retrieved 24 February, 2019, from The Economic Times:
  5. Lonsdale, A. (2011). Simple Guide to Attending Hindu Ceremonies. London: Kuperard.
  6. Swazo, N. K. (2015). Santhara between Law and Morality: India's Dilemma About a Jain Practice. Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics , 100-104.
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