Jainism preaches spiritual purity and enlightenment through discipline and non-violence towards all living creatures. The aim of Jain life is simple living and non-violence (Ahimsa). Jainism doesn’t have a single founder, but twenty-four Tirthankaras who walked on earth at different period, over thousands of years. The word Tirthankara is combination of words ‘Teertha'(means a crossing place or a ford) and ‘Samsara'(means world), it signifies the founder of a tirtha, which is a fordable passage across the cycle of death and rebirth. According to Jain scripture, a Tirthankara is a rare individual also called Arihant or Jina (victor), the one who has conquered inner enemies such as anger, attachment, pride and greed.
A Tirthankara is not an incarnation of the God, nor founders of the religion, but great omniscient teachers. They were pure souls born as a human, and attained the state of enlightenment as a result of intense practices of penance, equanimity and meditation. The twenty-four Tirthankaras have taken birth over past several thousands of years, and taught Dharma (righteousness as way of life). A Tirthankara appears in the world to show the right path and teach the way to moksha (liberation). As great omniscient teachers, Tirthankaras accomplished enlightenment, the highest spiritual goal of existence, and then serve as a guide and teach others how to achieve it.
According to Jain philosophy, the cycle of time is divided in to two halves. In each half, there are twenty-four Tirthankaras. In the present cosmic age (Hunda Avsarpini), Lord Rishabhdeva is considered as the first Tirthankara and is believed to have laid the foundations of an orderly human society. Lord Mahavira is considered as the last and most prominent of the Tirthankaras. Kalpa Sutra is the religious text containing the life histories of all the 24 Jain Tirthankaras, said to have been composed by saint Bhadrabahu 150 years after the Nirvana of Lord Mahavira. As per some scriptures, the Tirthankaras were born with a symbol appearing as a birth mark on their right toe. The birth mark is observed by Saudharma Indra and this mark is used to identify the Teethankaras. These symbols are found at the center below the images of the Tirthankaras, to recognize that particular Tirthankara.
The 24 Tirthankaras
1. Lord Rishabhdeva: Rishabhdeva, also known as Rishabhanatha, was the first Jain Tirthankara. He is also considered as one of the founders of the Ikshvaku dynasty. According Jain legends, he lived on earth a million years ago. Born in the city of Ayodhya in the third half of the Jain cosmic cycle of time, he renounced his royal life and wandered as an ascetic. He remained without food for a year, and the day he received his first morsel of food is celebrated by Jains as Akshaya Tritiya. He is believed to have left the earthly abode on Ashtapada or Mount Kailash. He is one of the five most worshipped Tirthankaras in Jainism. He is associated with the image of a ‘Bull’.
2. Lord Ajitanatha: Ajitanatha is the second Tirthankara of Jainism. He is said to have been born on the tenth day of the month of Magh. He attained kaivalya (solitude or detachment) under a Sal tree, thus liberating his soul from all its karma. He is associated with the image of an ‘Elephant’.
3. Lord Sambhavanatha: Sambhavanatha was the third Jain Tirthankara in Jainism. Born on the fourteenth day of Margashrisha Shukla month of the Indian calendar, he is said to have possessed three (out of five) knowledges at the time of his birth. Like all Jinas who have conquered their desires and attained liberation, Sambhavanath destroyed his karmas to attain moksha. He is associated with the image of a ‘Horse’.
4. Lord Abhinandananatha: Born on the second day of Margashrisha Shukla month of the Indian calendar, Abhinandananatha attained kaivalya under a Priyangu tree. Temples associated with him are located in the town of Madhuban and Shikharji, in Jharkhand. He is associated with the image of a ‘Monkey’.
5. Lord Sumatinatha: Sumatinatha was the fifth Tirthankara who achieved kaivalya (solitude or detachment) under Sal or Priyangu tree. His birth date is considered to be the eighth day of the Vaisakha Sudi month of the Jain calendar. He achieved liberation from his karmas and became siddha. According to Jain legends, Sumatinath was an Indra in his previous incarnation. Temples dedicated to him are located in Bikaner, Rajasthan. He is associated with the image of a ‘Heron’.
6. Lord Padmaprabha: The term Padmaprabha translates as ‘bright as a lotus’ from Sanskrit. According to Shwetamabara legends, Padmaprabha’s mother was fond of red lotuses (Padma) while she was carrying him in her womb. He was born on the twelfth day of the Kartik Krishna month of the Indian calendar. The child born had a soft pink glow similar to lotus flowers. On the eleventh day of Margashirsh month, he renounced his throne and became an ascetic. He is associated with the image of a ‘Lotus’.
7. Lord Suparshvanatha: Born on twelfth day of Jestha Shukla month, Suparshvanath gave up the worldly life after observing leaves falling from a tree and flowers wilting. A temple in Varanasi dedicated to Suparshvanath has been built to commemorate his birth in the region. He is associated with the image of a ‘Swastika’.
8. Lord Chandraprabha: Chandraprabha was the eight Tirthankara in Jainism. His birth date is considered to be the twelfth day of Posh Krishna month. As a ruler of the Ikshvaku dynasty, he was indifferent to material delights and royal grandeur, thus renouncing his throne within three months of accession. Images of Chandraprabha can be seen in Jain temples of Deogarh, Khajuraho and Sonagiri. He is associated with the image of ‘Crescent Moon’.
9. Lord Pushpadanta: Also known as Suvidhinath, Pushpadanta was the ninth Tirthankara. He was born on the fifth day of Margashirsha Krishna month. He is considered to have re-established the four-fold sangha tradition, originally started by Rishabhdev. He is associated with the image of ‘Makara’ an ‘Alligator’.
10. Lord Shitalanatha: Shitalanath was the tenth Tirthankara according to Jain philosophy. He was born on the twelfth day of Magh Krishna month. Temples dedicated to him are located in the states of Karnataka, West Bengal and Jharkhand. He is associated with the image of ‘Kalpavriksha’.
11. Lord Shreyansanatha: According to Jain philosophy, Shreyansanath was the eleventh Tirthankara. He was born on the twelfth day of the Falgun Krishna month. A temple commemorating his birth is located in Varanasi. He is associated with the image of ‘Rhinoceros’.
12. Lord Vasupujya: Vasupujya was the twelfth Tirthankara according to Jain philosophy. He was born on the fourteenth day of Falgun Krishna month and attained kaivalya gyan on the fourteenth day of Ashadh month. A 31 feet statue, considered as tallest statue of Lord Vasupujya in India, was inaugurated in the year 2012, in Champapur, Bihar at the place where he attained kaivalya and moksha. He is associated with the symbol of ‘Buffalo’.
13. Lord Vimalanatha: Born on the third day of Magh Shukla month, Vimalanatha was the thirteenth Tirthankara according to Jain philosophy. Famous temples associated with him are located in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. He is associated with the image of a ‘Boar’.
14. Lord Anantanatha: Anantanatha was the fourteenth Tirthankara in Jainism. He was born on the thirteenth day of the Vaisakha Krishna month. Anantanath Swami temple is famous temple located in Kerala. He is associated with the image of a ‘Porcupine’ (according to the Digamabars) and ‘Falcon’ (according to the Shwetambars).
15. Lord Dharmanatha: Born on the third day of the Magh Shukla month, Dharmanatha was the fifteenth Tirthankara. A temple dedicated to him is located at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with the image of ‘Vajra’.
16. Lord Shantinatha: Shantinatha, a descendant of Ikshvaku dynasty, took charge of the throne at the age of 25. According to some legends, he ruled for fifty-thousand years before becoming a Jain monk. He is amongst the five prominent Tirthankaras who draw the maximum Jain worshippers across the world. Several pieces of literature like Shantinath Charitra and Shantipurana, that are important from religious and literary perspective, revolve around his teachings. Shantinath Charitra is considered as the oldest example of miniature painting and thus, has been given in the title of ‘global treasure’ by UNESCO. A temple dedicated to him, located in Khajuraho, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shantinatha is associated with the image of a ‘Deer’.
17. Lord Kuntunatha: Kuntunatha was the seventeenth Tirthankara according to Jain philosophy. Born on the fourteenth day of Vaisakha Krishna month in a royal family, he renounced the throne to become a Jain monk. He is associated with the image of a ‘Goat’.
18. Lord Arahnatha: Arahnatha was the eighteenth Tirthankara in Jainism. He was born on the tenth day of Migsar Krishna month. Temples dedicated to him are located in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. He is associated with the image of ‘Fish’ (according to the Digambars) and ‘Nandavarta’ (according to the Swetambaras).
19. Lord Mallinatha: Mallinatha was the nineteenth Tirthankara in Jainism, however there is some debate around the gender of Mallinath. Shwetambara sect believes Mallinath to be a woman named Malli Devi. On the other hand, Digambars believe all twenty-four Tirthankaras to be men. Mallinath is associated with the image of ‘Kalash’.
20. Lord Munisuvrata: The twentieth Tirthankara according to Jain philosophy, Munisuvrata is said to have lived to for over 30000 years and attained moksha. He was born on the fifteenth day of Shraavana Shukla month. He is one of the only two Tirthankaras who did not belong to the Ikshvaku dynasty. He is associated with the image of ‘Tortoise’.
21. Lord Naminatha: Naminatha was the twenty-first Tirthankara according to Jain philosophy. He was born on the 8th day of the Shraavana Krishna month. He attained kaivalya juan under a Bakula tree. He associated with the image of a ‘Blue Water-Lily’.
22. Lord Neminatha: Also known as Arishtanemi, Neminatha was the twenty-second and one of the most worshipped Tirthankaras. Unlike most Tirthankaras who belonged to the Ikshavku dynasty, Neminatha belonged to the Yadu dynasty. He said to have renounced the world on the day of his marriage upon hearing cries of animals being sacrificed for feast. He attained moksha at Mount Girnaar ji in Gujrat, which is an important pilgrimage center for Jains. Neminath-Charitra, a manuscript written on the life of Neminath in 1198-1142 AD, is currently preserved in Khambat. He is associated with the image of a ‘Shankha’ (conch shell).
23. Lord Parshvanatha: Considered as the twenty-third Tirthankara according to Jain philosophy, Parshvanatha is the only Tirthankara to have attained the title of Kalikalkalpataru. He is also acknowledged as a historical figure and the earliest exponent of karma philosophy in the recorded history. Born in Varanasi during 8 – 7 century BCE, he renounced the material life and accepted the ascetic lifestyle. According to Shwetambaras, Parshvanath elucidated the first four monastic principles of Jainism which were later expanded by Mahavira. This claim is, however, contested by Digambaras and forms the basis of difference between the two sects. Several important temples and statues have been dedicated to him. He is associated with the image of a ‘Snake’.
24. Lord Mahavira: Vardhamana Mahvira is considered as the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of Jainism. Born in early 6th century, he was also a contemporary of Gautam Buddha. Teachings of Mahavira include vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, chastity and detachment. Mahavira also propagated the doctrine of ‘anekantavada’ or multiple truths. This concept brings out the tolerant aspect of Jainism and acceptance of plurality in the society. His teachings have been compiled into Jain Agamas, one of the most important Jain texts. He attained moksha in the town of Pawapuri, Bihar. He is associated with the image of a ‘Lion’.
The representation of Tirthankaras is either in Padmasana (a seated lotus position), or in Khadgasana (a standing position). Tirthankaras are not distinguished by their facial features but by their symbols or emblems. The Jain scriptures also mentions the names of the next 24 Tirthankaras who will be born in the ‘utsarpini age’. Jainism, through Tirthankaras, illustrates the age-old importance of a teacher or guide to attain knowledge. It also highlights that the figure of a teacher is timeless and shall remain important in every era.
Contributed by Nandini C., Sameeksha J.
Edited and Published by Team MandirOnline