Although Jainism is still largely unknown in the Deep South, informal groups of Jains began gathering in Atlanta around 1977, and in the early 1990s a Jain Society was formed. A few years later the group bought four acres of property in Norcross to build the first Jain temple in metropolitan Atlanta. In Augusta, Jains share a temple with the Hindu community.
Jainism began in northeast India during the sixth century B.C. It was founded by a man known as Mahavira, or "Great Hero," who is regarded as the last of the master teachers known as Tirthankaras. Jainism takes its name from the word jinas, which means "conquerors" and refers to victory over the cycles of life. The ultimate goal of the soul is moksha, or liberation. Adherents believe that Jainism dates from time immemorial and is based on the teachings of twenty-four Tirthankaras.
Jains do not believe in a supreme being. They believe that all creatures have souls, and they place great value on good deeds toward animals, including insects, as well as toward human beings. Jains are vegetarians, and because of their reverence for plant life, strict Jains eat only what they believe is required for sustenance. Jainism accepts the idea of seven levels of heaven and seven levels of hell but considers these levels to be temporary stations for the soul between lives.
The main features inside Jain temples are images of the Tirthankaras. Worship services consist of the recitation of a prayer expressing salutation; the ritual bathing of the statues; and the offering of prescribed substances, including water, rice, flowers, and incense. Some Jains practice daily worship at home.