Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions - ASPECTS OF JAINA RELIGION

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Fore Word



The predecessor of Parsvanatha was Nemi-natha or Arista-nemi, the 22nd Tirthankara whose historicity like that of Parsvanatha, can be easily established. Nemi-natha, according to the Jaina tradition, was the cousin of the Lord Krsna of the Mahabharata fame as 5amudravijaya, the father of Neminatha and Vasudeva, the father of Krsna, were brothers. Nemi-natha was a unique personality due to his great compassion towards animals. This is clearly revealed by a significant incident in his life. While Nemi-natha was proceeding at the head of his wedding procession to the house of his bride, Princess Rajulakumari, the daughter of king Ugrasena of Gujarat, he heard the moans and groans of animals kept in an enclosure for some meat�caters and instantly decided not to marry at all as his marriage would involve a slaughter of so many innocent animals. Immediately Nemi�natha renounced his royal title and became an ascetic. Learning this renunciation of Nemi-natha, the betrothed princess Rajulakumari or Rajamati also became a nun and entered the ascetic order. Nemi�natha after achieving omniscience preached religion for a long time and finally attained nirvana on the Mount Girnar in Junagadh district of Gujarat. Since this great war Mahabharata is a historical event and Krsna is an historical personage, his cousin brother Nemi�natha too occupies a place in this historical picture. There is also an inscriptional evidence to prove the historicity of Nemi-natha. Dr. Fuherer also declared on the basis of Mathura Jaina antiquities that Nemi-natha was an historical personage (vide Epigraphia dnddca, I, 389 and II, 208-210). Further, we find Nemi-natha�s images of the Indo-Scythian period bearing inscriptions mentioning his name. These and many other inscriptions corroborate the historicity of 22nd Tirthanakara Nemi-Natha.

Among the remaining 21 Tirthankaras of the Jaina tradition, there are several references from different sources to the first Tirthankara Rsabhanatha or Adinatha. Thus the tradition of twenty four Tirtharikaras is firmly established among the Jainas and what is really remarkable is that this finds confirmation from non-Jaina sources, especially Buddhist and Hindu sources.


As Mahavira was the senior contemporary of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, it is natural that in the Buddhist literature there should be several references of a personal nature to Mahavira. It is, however, very significant to note that in Buddhist books Mahavira is always described as nigantha Nataputta (Nirgrantha Jnatrputra), i.e. the naked ascetic of the Jnatr clan and never as the founder of Jainism. Further, in the Buddhist literature Jainism is not shown as a new religion but is referred to as an ancient religion. There are ample references in Buddhist books to the Jaina naked ascetics, to the worship of Arhats in Jaina chaityas or temples and to the chatur-yama-dharma (i.e. fourfold religion) of 23rd Tirthanakara Parsvanatha.

Moreover, it is very pertinent to find that the Buddhist literature refers to the Jaina tradition of Tirthankaras and specifically mentions the names of Jaina Tirthankaras like Rsabha-deva, Padma-prabha, Chandra-prabha, Puspa-danta, Vimala-Natha, Dharma-natha and Neminatha. The Dharmottara pradipa, the well-known Buddhist book, mentions Rsabha-deva along with the name of Mahavira or Vardhamana as an Apta or Tirthankara. The Dhammika-sutta of the Amgutara-nikaya speaks of Arista-nemi or Nemi-natha as one of the six Tirthankaras mentioned there. The Buddhist book Manoratha�purani, mentions the names of many lay men and women as followers of the Parsvanatha tradition and among them is the name of Vappa, the uncle of Gautama Buddha. In fact it is mentioned in the Buddhist literature that Gautama Buddha himself practised penance according to the Jaina way before he propounded his new religion.


The Jaina tradition of 24 Tirthankaras seems to have been accepted by the Hindus like the Buddhists, as could be seen from their ancient scriptures. The Hindus, indeed, never disputed the fact that Jainism was founded by Rsabha-deva and placed his time almost at what they conceived to be the commencement of the world. They acknowledged him as a divine person. They gave the same parentage (father Nabhiraja and mother Marudevi) of Rsabha-deva as the Jainas do and they even agree that after the name of Rsabha-deva�s eldest son Bharata this country is known as Bharata-varsa.

In connection with the, question of derivation of the name Bharata�-varsa, it is pertinant to note that as many as three Bharatas had been prominent in ancient India. In Ramayana, there is one prince Bharata, the younger brother of famous king Ramachandra, but considering his limited role, it is nowhere mentioned that after him this country is known as Bharata-varsa. Similarly, another prince Bharata, the son of king Dusyanta from Sakuntala, is known mainly from the most popular drama Sakuntala written by the celebrated poet Ka-lidasa. But as there have been very few references in ancient Indian literature relating to outstanding military and other achievements of this Bharata, it cannot be maintained that this country�s name Bharata-varsa is derived from him. On the contrary, the well-known prince Bharata, the eldest son of the first Jaina Tirthankara Lord Rsabha-natha, is most famous as Chakravartin i.e., Emperor Bharata due to his great military exploits of bringing all kingdoms in India under his rule, and that is why, India is named Bharata-varsa after him. This fact is amply borne out by Bhagavata, Markandeya, Vayu, Brahmanda, Skanda, Visnu and other Hindu puranas. For example, in the Skanda purana (chapter 37) it is specifically stated:

Nabheh putras cha Rsabhah Rsabhad Bharato bhavat

tasya namna tvidam varsam Bharatam cheti kirtyate .

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That is, Rsabha was the son of Nabhi and Rsabha gave birth to son Bharata and after the name of this Bharata, this country is known Bharata-varsa.

In the Rg-veda there are clear references to Rsabha, the 1st Tirthanakara,, and to Aristanemi, the 22nd Tirthanakara. The Yajur�veda also mentions the names of three Tirthanakaras, viz. Rsabha, Ajita-natha and Arista-nemi. Further, the Atharva-veda specifically mentions the sect of Vratyas and this sect signifies Jainas on the ground that the term vratya means the observer of vratas or vows as distinguished from the Hindus at those times. Similarly in the Atharva�veda the term Maha-vratya occurs and it is supposed that this term refers to Rsabhadeva, who could be considered as the great leader of the Vratyas.


From some historic references it can be regarded that Rsabha-deva must be the founder of Jainism. In this connection Dr. Jacobi writes �There is nothing to prove that Parsva was the founder of Jainism. Jaina tradition is unanimous in making Rsabha, the first Tirthankara, as its founder and there may be something historical in the tradition which makes him the first Tirthankara�. There is evidence to show that so far back as the first century B.C. there were people who were worshipping Rsabha-deva. It has been recorded that king Kharavela of Kaliriga in his second invasion of Magadha in 161 B.C. brought back treasures from Magadha and in these treasures there was the idol, known as Agrajina, of the first Jina (Rsabha-deva) which had been carried away from Kaliriga three centuries earlier by king Nanda I. This means that in the 5th century B.C: Rsabha-deva was wor�shipped and his statue was highly valued by his followers. As we get in ancient inscriptions, authentic historical references to the statues of Rsabha-deva it can be asserted that he must have been the founder of Jainism.

Other archaeological evidences belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age in India also lend support to the hoary antiquity of the Jaina tradition and suggest the prevalence of the practice of worship of Rsabha-deva, the 1 st Tirthankara along with the worship of other deities. Many relics from the Indus Valley excavations suggest the prevalence of Jaina religion in that ancient period (3500 to 3000 B.C.)

(i) It is observed that in the Indus Valley civilization there is a great preponderance of pottery figures of female deities over those of male deities and that the figures of male deities are shown naked. In this regard Dr. Earnest Mackay, the renowned Archaeologist in�timately connected with the Indus Valley excavations, mentions that �For some reason which it is difficult to understand, figures of male deities in pottery are distinctly rare. They are entirely nude, in contrast with the female figures, which invariably wear a little clothing; necklaces and bangles, may be worn, but this is by no means always the case�. This fact clearly reveals the traces of Jaina religion among the Indus Valley people as the worship of nude male deities is a very well established practice in Jaina religion.

(ii) For example, we find that the figures of six male deities in nude form. are engraved on one seal and that each figure is shown naked and standing erect in a contemplative mood with both hands keeping close to the body. Since this kayotsarga way (i.e. in standing posture) of practising penance is peculiar only to the Jainas and the figures are of naked ascetics, it can be maintained that these figures represent the Jaina Tirthankaras.

(iii) Again, the figures of male deities in contemplative mood and in sitting posture engraved on the seals resemble the figures of Jaina Tirthankaras because in these the male deities are depicted as having one face only, while, the figures of male deities, supposed to be the prototypes of Lord Siva, are generally depicted as having three faces, three eyes and three horns.

(iv) Moreover, on some seals we find the figure of a bull engraved below the figure of a nude male deity practising penance in the kayotsarga way, i.e. in a standing posture. These figures appear to be the representation of Rsabha-deva, the 1st Jaina Tirthankara, because of the facts that among the Jainas there is an established practice of depicting the lanchhana, i.e. the emblem of each Tirthankara below his idol and that the emblem of Rsabha-deva is a bull.

(v) In addition. the sacred signs of svastika are found engraved on a number of seals. It is pertinent to note that the svastika signs engraved on seal No. 502, 503, 506 and 51,4 exactly resemble the established Jaina and Hindu practices of drawing svastika signs.

(vi) Furthermore, there are some motifs on the seals found in Mohen jo-Daro and it is suggested that these motifs are identical with those found in the ancient Jaina art of Mathura.

From these archeological evidences it can be stated that there was the prevalence of worship of Jaina Tirthankara Rsabha-deva along with the worship of the Hindu God who is considered to be the prototype of Lord Siva in the Indus Valley Civilization. This presence of Jaina tradition in the earliest period of Indian history is supported by many scholars like Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji, Gustav Roth, Prof. A. Chakravarti, Prof. Ram Prasad Chanda, T.N. Ramchandran, Champat Rai Jain, Kamta Prasad Jain and others. Dr. Zimmerman strongly supports this antiquity of Jaina tradition in the following terms. �There is truth in the Jaina idea that their religion goes back to remote antiquity, the antiquity in question being that of the pre-Aryan�. (Vide Zimmerman : The Philosophies of India, p. 60).