Jain Tirthankaras

Vardhamana Mahavira

by Jayaram V

The concept of thirthankara is peculiar to Jainism. A tirthankara is a religious teacher who has been freed from the bonds of karma and crossed the world of transmigrations. Through his teachings and personal example, he makes it his central objective to help mankind achieve nirvana or salvation.

Jain tradition recognizes 24 Tirthankaras who propagated the religion during their existence upon earth, after receiving enlightenment through severe austerities and ascetic practices. The last of the Tirthankaras was Vardhamana Mahavira who succeeded Parsvanatha, the 23rd thirthankara, and made Jainism popular in the Indian subcontinent by reviving many of its ancient traditions and practices. The Tirthankaras constitute the Jain pantheon.

Although Jainism is an atheistic religion, followers of Jainism worship the statues, icons, images and symbols of the Tirthankaras in temples and homes seeking their blessings and intervention for liberation.

A thirthankara is not a god, but an enlightened and perfect being who has been rendered by his previous karma to be a source of knowledge and enlightenment to others. He is higher than the gods of Jainism.

The Tirthankaras appear in certain periods of human history to redeem people from the cycle of births and deaths by teaching them the doctrine of Jainism. Followers of Jainism believe that in each artha kalpa (half time cycle) 24 Tirthankaras manifest upon earth.

Tirthankara

The Tirthankaras manifest not only upon earth, but in several other worlds that exists in different parts of the universe. The Digambara Jains believe that all the Tirthankaras who were born in this time cycle are men, while the Svetambaras believe that of the 19th thirthankara was a woman named Mallinath.

Some of the Tirthankaras such as Mahavira,Parsvanath and Rishabhanath are confirmed historical personalities. In their icons the Tirthankaras are usually depicted as either seated in lotus position or standing.

The Digamabaras depict them without clothes while the Svetambaras show them decorated with clothes and ornaments. Parsvanatha, the 23rd thirthankara is usually shown in the company of snakes or overshadowed by a snake hood.

Rishabhanatha

Rishabha, also known popularly as Adinath, was believed to be a historical person, born to King Nabhi Raja and Queen Marudevi at Ayodhya in the Ikshvaku clan. P. C. Roychoudary puts the date of Risabha at the end of Stone Age and beginning of the agriculture age. Some historians like Ramprasad Chandra, John Marshall, suggested that Rishabhanatha was known to Indus valley people and worshipped by them.

According to Jain legends, Rishabh existed in prehistoric times before the development of human civilization. As the first knowledgeable person, he said to have taught the mankind agriculture, animal husbandry, art, architecture, music, dance, criminal justice and many other branches of knowledge and arts and crafts.

With the blessings of his father Nabhiraja, he assumed the responsibilities of a king and introduced a social order based on virtues and profession, dividing the society into merchants, warriors and workers, a system that was subsequently adopted by the vedic people with suitable modifications. Vinita or Ayodhya was his capital.

He had several sons, of whom the eldest was Bharata who became the first emperor of ancient India. Bahubali was his another son, whose mammoth statue now stands at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka and worshipped by millions of Jains. Some Hindu Puranas mention the name of Rishabhanath. According to the Bhagavata purana, Rishabha was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Ajitnatha

Ajitnatha, the second Jain Tirthankara, was born to King Jitashatru Raja and Queen Vijaya at Ayodhya in the same Ikshvaku clan in which Rishabha and Lord Rama were born. He received enlightenment after performing severe austerities under the guidance of Arindam Suri. One of his brother's name was Sagara, who according to some, was the father of sage Bhagiratha who was responsible for the descent of the Ganges on to the earth through his penances.

The list of the 24 Tirthankaras with their associated details are shown below.1

TirthankarHeavenBirthplace;
Consecration
ParentsComplexSymbolTreeAttendant
spirits
Male disciple;
Female disciple
I. Lord Rishabha (Adinath)SarvarthasiddhaVinittanagari;
Purimatala
Nabhiraja
by Marudeva
goldenbull or oxVata (banyan)Gomukha and
Chakresvari
Pundarika;
Brahmi
II. AjitnathVijayavimanaAyodhya;
Sammet Shikharji
Jita['s]atru
by Vijayamata
goldenelephant['S]ala
(Shorea robusta)
Mahayaksha and
Ajitabala;
or Rohi[n.]i
Simhassena;
Phalgu
III. SambhavanathUvarimagraivekaSavathi;
Sravasti
Jitari
by Senamata
goldenhorsePrayala
(Buchanania latifolia)
Trimukha and
Duritari;
or Prajnapti
Charu;
Syama
IV. AbhinandannathJayantavimanaAyodhya;
Sammet Shikharji
Sambararaja
by Siddhartha
goldenmonkeyPriyangu
(Panicum italicum)
Nayaka and
Kalika; or
Yakshesvara and
Vajrasrinkhala
Vajranabha;
Ajita
V. SumatinathJayantavimanaAyodhya;
Sammet Shikharji
Megharaja
by Mangala
goldencurlew or
red goose
SalaTumburu and
Mahakali; or
Purushadatta
Charama;
Kasyapi
VI. PadmaprabhaUvarimagraivekaKausambi;
Sammet Shikharji
Sridhara
by Susima
redlotusChhatraKusuma and
Syama; or
Manovega
or Manogupti
Pradyotana;
Rati
VII. SuparshvanathMadhyamagraivekaVaranasi;
Sammet Shikharji
Pratish[t.]haraja
by P[r.]ithvi
golden
or emerald
swastikaSirisha
(Acacia sirisha)
Matanga
and Santa; or
Varanandi
and Kali
Vidirbha;
Soma
VIII. ChandraprabhaVijayantaChandrapura;
Sammet Shikharji
Mahasenaraja
by Lakshmana
whitemoonNagaVijaya and
Bhrikuti; or
Syama or Vijaya
and Jvalamalini
Dinna;
Sumana
IX. PushpadantaAnatadevalokaKanandinagari;
Sammet Shikharji
Sugrivaraja
by Ramarani
whiteCrocodileSaliAjita and
Sutaraka;
or Mahakali
Varahaka;
Varuni
X. SheetalnathAchyutadevalokaBhadrapura or Bhadilapura;
Sammet Shikharji
Dridharatha-raja
by Nanda
goldenKalpavriksha or
ficus religiosa
PriyanguBrahma and
Asoka; or
Manavi
Nanda;
Sujasa
XI. ShreyansanathAchyutadevalokaSimhapuri;
Sammet Shikharji
Vishnuraja
by Vishna
goldenrhinocerosTandukaYakshet and
Manavi; or
Isvara and
Gauri
Kasyapa;
Dharani
XII. VasupujyaPranatadevalokaChampapuri;
Sammet Shikharji
Vasupujya
by Jaya
ruddyfemale buffaloPatala
(Bignonia suaveolens)
Kumara and
Chanda; or
Gandhari
Subhuma;
Dharani
XIII. VimalnathMahasaradevalokaKampilyapura;
Sammet Shikharji
Kritavarmaraja
by Syama
goldenpigJambu
(Eugenia jambolana)
Shanmukha and
Vidita; or
Vairo[t.]i)
Mandara;
Dhara
XIV. AnantnathPranatadevalokaAyodhya;
Sammet Shikharji
Simhasena
by Suyasah
or Sujasa
goldenporcupineAsoka
(Jonesia asoka)
Patala and
Ankusa; or
Anantamati
Jasa ;
Padma
XV. DharmanathVijayavimanaRatnapuri;
Sammet Shikharji
Bhanuraja
by Suvrita
goldenvajraDadhiparna
(Clitoria ternatea)
Kinnara and
Kandarpa;
or Manasi
Arishta;
Arthasiva
XVI. ShantinathSarvarthasiddhaGajapura or Hastinapuri;
Sammet Shikharji
Visvasena
by Achira
goldendeerNandi
(Cedrela toona)
Garuda and
Nirvani; or
Kimpurusha and
Mahamanasi
Chakrayuddha;
Suchi
XVII. KunthunathSarvarthasiddhaGajapura;
Sammet Shikharji
Suraraja
by Srirani
goldengoatBhilakaGandharva and
Bala; or
Vijaya
Samba;
Damini
XVIII. AranathSarvarthasiddhaGajapura;
Sammet Shikharji
Sudarsana
by Devirani
goldenfish or
Pisces
Amba
(Mango)
Yaksheta and
Dhana; or
Kendra and
Ajita
Kumbha;
Rakshita
XIX. MallinathJayantadevalokaMathura;
Sammet Shikharji
Kumbharaja
by Prabhavati
bluejar or KalasaAsokaKubera and
Dharanapriya;
or Aparajita
Abhikshaka;
Bandhumati
XX. MunisuvrataAparajita-devalokaRajagriha;
Sammet Shikharji
Sumitraraja
by Padmavati
blacktortoiseChampaka
(Michelia champaka)
Varuna and
Naradatta; or
Bahurupini
Malli;
Pushpavati
XXI. Nami NathaPranatadevalokaMathura;
Sammet Shikharji
Vijayaraja
by Viprarani
yellow;
or emerald
blue water-lily or blue lotusBakula
(Mimusops elengi)
Bhrikuti and
Gandhari; or
Chamundi
Subha;
Anila
XXII. NeminathaAparajitaSauripura and Ujjinta (Ujjain);
Mount Girnar (Girnarji)
3
by Senamata
blackconchVetasaGomedha and
Ambika; or
Sarvahna and
Kushmandini
Varadatta;
Yakshadinna
XXIII. ParshvaPranatadevalokaVaranasi;
Sammet Shikharji
Asvasenaraja
by Vamadevi
bluesnakeDhataki
(Grislea tomentosa)
Parsvayaksha or
Dharanendra
and Padmavati
Aryadinna;
Pushpachu[d.]a
XXIV. MahaviraPranatadevalokaKundagrama or Chitrakuta;
Rijupaluka
Siddhartharaja,
Sreyansa or
Yasasvin
by Trisala
Vidchadinna
or Priyakarini
yellowlionteakMatamga and
Siddhayika
Indrabhuti;
Chandrabala

Suggestions for Further Reading

1. The table showing Jain Tirthankaras was adopted with some modifications from Wikipedia

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