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Nigganthas are those who are free from bonds. The word refers to a pre-Jaina order of monks. This group was founded by Parsva about 200 years before Mahavira, the last Tirthankara of Jainism.

Buddhist traditions indicate it as a rival sect. Mahavira appears in the tradition of this sect as one who, on leaving his home to become an ascetic at the age of thirty, follow the practices of Nigganthas. This term was later used for the members of the order which he founded. Seven Svetambara and one Digambara sects are found in this order.

A Niggantha is defined as one who is free from all bonds (sources of suffering), all granthis (knots) and all palibandhas (obstructions). These bonds are attachments and inner passions like desire and hatred.

A Niggantha is one who is free from all bonds by virtue of attaining his gatatta (destiny), by virtue of his being one whose heart is under yatatta (command), and by virtue of being one whose heart is thitatta (fixed and steadfast).

Emperor Ashoka classified the Nigganthas as one of the five major ‘religions’ of his time, as indicated in his Pillar Edict seven (Delhi, Topra) and Varahamihira’s writings. Digha Nikaya (a Buddhist work) classifies Nigganthas under the color red – those who wore (at least ) a strip of loin cloth.

Nigganthas are now better known as Jainas (or Arhats), a secondary formation of Jina (the conqueror). A Tirthankara is also known as Jina or Niggantha, eg., Nigganthaputta identified with Mahavira.