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In Jainism, a tirthankara (Sanskrit tīrthaṅkara) is an omniscient teacher who preaches the dharma (righteous path). Tīrthaṅkara literally means a "ford-maker", the one who builds a ford across the ocean of rebirth and transmigration. Tirthankara is a person who has conquered saṃsāra (the cycle of death and rebirth), and provide a bridge for others to follow them from saṃsāra to moksha (liberation).:126
According to Jain texts, in each half of the cosmic time cycle, exactly twenty-four tirthankaras are born in this part of the universe. The first tirthankara was Rishabha, who is credited for formulating and organising humans to live in a society harmoniously. The 24th and last tirthankara of present half-cycle was Mahavira (599-527 BC). History records the existence of Mahavira and his predecessor, Parshvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara. A tirthankara organises the sangha, a fourfold order of male and female monastics, srāvakas (male followers) and śrāvikās (female followers). The tirthankaras' teachings form the basis for the Jain canons. The inner knowledge of tirthankara is believed to be perfect and identical in every respect and their teachings do not contradict one another. However, the degree of elaboration varies according to the spiritual advancement and purity of the society during their period of leadership. The higher the spiritual advancement and purity of mind of the society, the lower the elaboration required.
While tirthankaras are documented and revered by Jains, their grace is said to be available to all living beings, regardless of religious orientation.
Tīrthaṅkaras are arihants who after attaining kevalajñāna (pure infinite knowledge) preach the true dharma. An Arihant is also called Jina (victor), that is one who has conquered inner enemies such as anger, attachment, pride and greed. They dwell exclusively within the realm of their Soul, and are entirely free of kashayas, inner passions, and personal desires. As a result of this, unlimited siddhis, or spiritual powers, are readily available to them – which they use exclusively for the spiritual elevation of living beings. Through darśana, divine vision, and deshna, divine speech, they help others in attaining kevalajñana, and moksha (final liberation) to anyone seeking it sincerely.
Jain texts mention about a special type of karma, the tīrthaṅkara name-karma. Bondage (bandh) of which destines a soul to be born as a tirthankara. Tattvartha Sutra, a major Jain text, list sixteen observances that lead to the bandh of this karma:
- Purity of right faith
- Observance of vows and supplementary vows without transgressions
- Ceaseless pursuit of knowledge
- Perpetual fear of the cycle of existence
- Giving gifts (charity)
- Practising austerities according to one’s capacity
- Removal of obstacles that threaten the equanimity of ascetics
- Serving the meritorious by warding off evil or suffering
- Devotion to omniscient lords, chief preceptors, preceptors, and the scriptures
- Practice of the six essential daily duties
- Propagation of the teachings of the omniscient
- Fervent affection for one’s brethren following the same path.
Five auspicious events called, Pañca kalyāṇaka marks the life of every tirthankara:
- Gārbha kalyāṇaka (conception): When ātman (soul) of a tirthankara comes into his mother's womb.
- Janma kalyāṇaka (birth): Birth of a tirthankara. Indra performs a ceremonial bath on tirthankara on Mount Meru.
- Dīkṣā kalyāṇaka (renunciation): When a tirthankara renounces all worldly possessions and become an ascetic.
- Jñāna kalyāṇaka: The event when a tirthankara attains kevalajñāna (infinite knowledge). A samavasarana (divine preaching hall) is erected from where he delivers sermons and restores sangha after that.
- Nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka (liberation): When a tirthankara leaves his mortal body, it is known as nirvana. It is followed by the final liberation, moksha. Their souls dwells in Siddhashila after that.
After attaining kevalajñāna, 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. A tirthankara's speech is intercepted 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.
Tīrthaṅkaras of present cosmic age
Jainism postulates that time has no beginning or end. It moves like the wheel of a cart. In Jain tradition the tirthankaras were royal in their final lives, and Jain texts record details of their previous lives. Their clan and families are also among those recorded in very early, or legendary, Hindu history. Twenty two tirthankaras belonged to the Ikshvaku dynasty. Two tirthankaras - Munisuvrata, the twentieth, and Neminatha, the twenty-second - belonged to the Hari dynasty. Jain canons state that Rishabha, the first tirthankara, founded the Ikshvaku dynasty.
In Jain tradition, the twenty tirthankaras achieved siddha status on mount Shikharji. Rishabha attained nirvana on Mount Kailash, Vasupujya at Champapuri in North Bengal, Neminatha on mount Girnar in Gujarat, and Mahavira, the last tirthankara, at Pawapuri, near modern Patna. Twenty-one of the tirthankaras are said to have attained moksha in the kayotsarga "standing meditation" posture, while Rishabha, Neminatha and Mahavira are said to have attained moksha in the lotus position.
List of the 24 tirthankaras
Present cosmic age
|1||Rishabha (Adinatha)||Bull||Golden||500 dhanuṣa|
|8||Chandraprabha||Crescent Moon||White||150 dhanuṣa|
|9||Pushpadanta||Crocodile or Makara||White||100 dhanuṣa|
|14||Anantanatha||Porcupine according to the Digambara
Falcon according to the Śvētāmbara
|16||Shantinatha||Antelope or deer||Golden||40 dhanuṣa|
|18||Aranatha||Nandyavarta or fish||Golden||30 dhanuṣa|
|21||Naminatha||Blue lotus||Golden||15 dhanuṣa|
Next cosmic age
In Jain cosmology, the wheel of time is divided in two halves, Utsarpiṇī or ascending time cycle and avasarpiṇī, the descending time cycle. 24 tirthankaras are born in each half of this cycle. The 24 tirthankaras of the present age (avasarpinī) are the ones listed above. The names of the next 24, which will be born in utsarpinī age are as follows. [Mentioned in the parentheses is one of the (previous human birth) of that soul.]
- Padmanabha (King Shrenik)
- Surdev (Mahavira's uncle Suparshva)
- Suparshva (King Kaunik's son king Udayi)
- Svamprabh (The ascetic Pottil)
- Sarvanubhuti (Sravaka Dridhayadha)
- Devshruti (Kartik's Shreshti)
- Udaynath (Shravak Shamkha)
- Pedhalputra (Shravak Ananda)
- Pottil (Shravak Sunand)
- Shatak (Sharavak Shatak)
- Munivrat (Krishna's mother Devaki)
- Amam (Krishna)
- Shrinishkashay (Satyaki Rudhra)
- Nishpulak (Krishna's brother Balbhadra also known as Balrama)
- Nirmam (Shravika Sulsa)
- Chitragupt (Krishna's brother's mother Rohini Devi)
- Samadhinath (Revati Gathapatni)
- Samvarnath (Sharavak Shattilak)
- Yashodhar (Rishi Dwipayan)
- Vijay (Karna of Mahabharata)
- Malyadev (Nirgranthaputra or Mallanarada)
- Devachandra (Shravak Ambadh)
- Anantvirya (Shravak Amar)
- Shribhadrakar (Shanak)
A tīrthaṅkara is represented either seated in yoga posture or standing in the Kayotsarga posture. Usually they are depicted seated with their legs crossed in front, the toes of one foot resting close upon the knee of the other, and the right hand lying over the left in the lap.
Image of Tirthankara Rishabha (Photo:Ajmer Jain Temple)
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