Tirthankara

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Image of Rishabhanatha (first tirthankara)

In Jainism, a tirthankara (Sanskrit tīrthaṅkara) is an all knowing Teaching God who teaches the path to liberation from the cycle of births and deaths, called saṃsāra. According to Jains, over time, Jain teachings are gradually forgotten. Then, a rare individual is born who at some point in his life renounces the world to conquer the saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, on his own. After Tirthankara attains Kevala Jnana (omniscience) he refounds Jainism. Tirthankara provides a bridge for others to follow him from saṃsāra (worldy existence) to moksha (liberation).[1][2][3]

According to Jains, exactly twenty-four tirthankaras grace this part of the universe in each half of the Jain time cycle. The first tirthankara was Rishabhanatha, who is said to have taught men various arts and professions including agriculture. The 24th and last tirthankara of present half-cycle was Mahavira (599-527 BC).[3][4] His predecessor, Parshvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara was a historical figure.[5]

The teachings tirthankara are compiled as scriptures called Agamas. All tirthankaras teach same philosophy and ethics and their teachings do not contradict. While tirthankaras are worshiped by Jains, there grace is said to be available for all living beings, regardless of religious orientation.[6]

Tirthankaras are called Jina (victor), which means one who has conquered inner enemies such as anger, attachment, pride and greed.[1] They are entirely free of all passions, and personal likes and dislikes. After attaining omniscience, they are free from eighteen imperfections like hunger, thirst, sleeep etc.

Meaning[change | change source]

Tirthankara images at Gwalior Fort

The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha which means a fordable passage across the sea of repeated births and deaths (called saṃsāra).[7][8][9][10] Tirthankaras are also called "Teaching Gods", "Ford-Makers", "Crossing Makers" and "Makers of the River-Crossing.[11][10]

Tirthankara[change | change source]

The tīrthaṅkara nama-karma, a special type of karma is mentioned in the Jain texts. Bondage of this karma raises a soul to the supreme status of a Tīrthaṅkara. Tattvartha Sutra, a major Jain text, list down sixteen observances which lead to the influx of this karma-[12]

Panch Kalyanaka[change | change source]

Auspicious dreams seen by a tirthankara's mother during pregnancy

Five auspicious events called, Pañca kalyāṇaka happen in the life of every tirthankara:[13]

  1. Gārbha kalyāṇaka (conception): When soul of the tirthankara comes into his mother's womb.[14]
  2. Janma kalyāṇaka (birth): Birth of a tirthankara. Indra, the head of celestial beings performs a ritual on tirthankara on Mount Meru.[15][16]
  3. Dīkṣā kalyāṇaka (renunciation): When a tirthankara renounces all worldly possessions and become an ascetic.
  4. Jñāna kalyāṇaka: The event when a tirthankara attains omniscience and becomes all knowing. After this celestial beings erect a divine preaching hall called samavasarana from where he delivers sermons.
  5. Nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka (liberation): When a tirthankara leaves his mortal body, it is known as nirvana. It is followed by the final liberation, moksha. Their soul goes to Siddhashila (topmost part of the Universe as per Jains) forever where they enjoy everlating happiness.

Samavasarana[change | change source]

Samavasarana of a tirthankara

After attaining omniscience, a tirthankara preaches the path to liberation in the samavasarana. According to Jain texts, the heavenly pavilion is erected by devas (heavenly beings) where devas, humans and animals assemble to hear the tirthankara.[17] A tirthankara's speech is listened by all humans and animals in their own language. It is believed that during this speech, there is no unhappiness for miles around the site.[18]

Tīrthaṅkaras of present cosmic age[change | change source]

Jainism teaches that time has no beginning or end. It moves like the wheel of a cart. Jains divide the time cycle in two halves, Utsarpiṇī or ascending time cycle and avasarpiṇī, the descending time cycle. 24 tirthankaras are born in each half of this cycle. In Jain tradition the tirthankaras were royal in their final lives, and Jain texts record details of their previous lives.  [19]

Twenty-one of the tirthankaras are said to have attained moksha in the kayotsarga (standing meditation posture), while Rishabhanatha, Neminatha and Mahavira are said to have attained moksha in the Padmasana (lotus position).[source?]

List of the 24 tirthankaras[change | change source]

Present cosmic age[change | change source]

Image of tirthankara Neminatha, 12th century, Government Museum, Mathura

In chronological order, the names, emblems and colours of the 24 tirthankaras of this age are mentioned below:[2][20][21] Dhanuṣa means "bow" and hatha means "hands".[source?]

No. Name Symbol Colour Height
1 Rishabhanatha (Adinatha) Bull Golden 500 dhanuṣa
2 Ajitanatha Elephant Golden 450 dhanuṣa
3 Sambhavanatha Horse Golden 400 dhanuṣa
4 Abhinandananatha Monkey Golden 350 dhanuṣa
5 Sumatinatha Goose Golden 300 dhanuṣa
6 Padmaprabha Padma Red 250 dhanuṣa
7 Suparshvanatha Swastika Golden 200 dhanuṣa
8 Chandraprabha Crescent Moon White 150 dhanuṣa
9 Pushpadanta Crocodile or Makara White 100 dhanuṣa
10 Shitalanatha Shrivatsa Golden 90 dhanuṣa
11 Shreyanasanatha Rhinoceros Golden 80 dhanuṣa
12 Vasupujya Buffalo Red 70 dhanusa
13 Vimalanatha Boar Golden 60 dhanusa
14 Anantanatha Porcupine according to the Digambara

Falcon according to the Śvētāmbara

Golden 50 dhanuṣa
15 Dharmanatha Vajra Golden 45 dhanuṣa
16 Shantinatha Antelope or deer Golden 40 dhanuṣa
17 Kunthunatha Goat Golden 35 dhanuṣa
18 Aranatha Nandyavarta or fish Golden 30 dhanuṣa
19 Māllīnātha Kalasha Blue 25 dhanuṣa
20 Munisuvrata Tortoise Black 20 dhanuṣa
21 Naminatha Blue lotus Golden 15 dhanuṣa
22 Neminatha Shankha Black 10 dhanuṣa
23 Parshvanatha Snake Blue 9 hatha
24 Mahavira Lion Golden 7 hatha

Gallery[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Sangave 2006, p. 16.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Britannica Tirthankar Definition, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  3. 3.0 3.1 Taliaferro & Marty 2010, p. 286.
  4. Sanghvi, Vir (14 September 2013), Rude Travel: Down The Sages, Hindustan Times More than one of |author-link= and |authorlink= specified (help)
  5. Zimmer 1953, p. 182-183.
  6. Flügel, P. (2010).
  7. Upinder Singh 2016, p. 313.
  8. Balcerowicz 2009, p. 16.
  9. Sangave 2006, p. 169-170.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Champat Rai Jain 1930, p. 3.
  11. Zimmer 1953, p. 212.
  12. Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 91.
  13. Cort 2001, p. 110.
  14. "HereNow4U.net :: Glossary/Index - Terms - Eastern Terms - Chyavana Kalyanak", HereNow4u: Portal on Jainism and next level consciousness
  15. Wiley 2009, p. 200.
  16. Wiley 2009, p. 246.
  17. Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 200.
  18. Pramansagar 2008, p. 39-43.
  19. Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 151.
  20. Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 181-208.
  21. Tirthankara (EMBLEMS OR SYMBOLS) pdf

References[change | change source]