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Background and beliefs: Although precise origins are unknown, most believers come from the Gujarat and Rajasthan areas of India. Jains are followers of the Jinas or Tirthankaras (Spiritual Victors) - an ancient line of teachers said to possess infinite knowledge and to have attained perfect purity. Their teachings are embodied in the Shruta, Agamas and Siddhanta scriptures. The principal belief is ahimsa - the avoidance (where possible) of physical or mental harm to any living being, however tiny. Life and life-forms are said to have no beginning; instead, souls transmigrate to different life-forms according to their karma. By leading a holy life, followers can be freed from the cycle of attracting "karmic matter" and rebirth. The true path to this freedom is to become a mendicant (living from alms), supplanting the lay believer's vows of strict vegetarianism with those of celibacy and the relinquishment of all possessions.

Leaders: Jainism embodies five stages of spiritual development. Tirthankas occupy the highest level, followed by Siddhas (liberated souls) and spiritual leaders (teachers, nuns and monks). The fourth level includes those who instruct monks and nuns, and the fifth ordinary Jain monks. On a local level, each Jain community has an elected leader.

Places: The main UK temple is in Leicester. Both the main pilgrimage sites are in India: at Palitana in the west, and Smetsekhar monastery, near Calcutta, where 20 of the 24 monks have attained moksha, a state comparable to the Buddhist nirvana.

Community profile: The UK Jain community numbers about 25,000 people. Many Jains live in and around London and in Leicester, and there are communities in Coventry, Luton, Manchester, Northampton and Wellingborough.

Important dates: April 20: Mahavira Jayanti - celebrating the birthday of their last great teacher. September 11-20: Paryushana Parva - festival where Jains emulate the lifestyle of their leaders.

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