Jain Legend : Jain Dharma ka Maulika Itihasa (1) : Tīrthaṃkara (ford maker) and Kevalīs (omniscient)

Published: 18.03.2016
Updated: 07.04.2016

There is similarity yet difference between Omniscient and Tīrthaṃkara. With destructive karmas annihilated those supreme souls that acquire kevalajñāna (omniscience) are called omniscient. Just like Tīrthaṃkara they too have pure knowledge (kevalajñāna) and pure perception/intuition (kevaladarśana) i.e. both together as omniscience yet they are not called Tīrthaṃkara. The 24 Tīrthaṃkara from Vṛṣabhanātha up to Mahāvīra are arihaṃta omniscient as well as Tīrthaṃkara. The Tīrthaṃkara and omniscient share same qualities of liberation from bondage and knowledge yet are different. Tīrthaṃkara are the reformers of three worlds. They are capable of self-welfare as well as the welfare of others. They are the benefactors of gods, demons, humans, animals and birds. Right from the time of their birth they come with some peculiarities that may not be present in omniscient, e.g. there are 1008 characteristics on their bodies which are not necessarily there on the bodies of the omniscient e.g. they do not have the superlative speech and abundant veneration by kings and gods ascribed to the Tīrthaṃkara. They have four infinites (intuition, knowledge, bliss and energy) but are not accompanied with auspicious phenomena (mahāpratihāryas). The eight auspicious entities (atiśayas) accompanying Tīrthaṃkara are:

  1. Aśoka tree
  2. shower of divine flowers to the accompaniment of music
  3. divine sound (divyadhvani)
  4. the whisks (cāmara)
  5. crystal throne (siṃhāsana)
  6. aura and halo
  7. divine musical pipes and
  8. triple umbrella (chatra).

These are also called pratihārya. Tīrthaṃkara have 34 atiśayas (supernatural elements) and their speech is also one of 35 guṇas (qualities). These atiśayas are not found in simple omniscient.

The power of Tīrthaṃkara

Tīrthaṃkara are rejuvenators and propagators of the tradition hence their energy is infinite right from birth. Their strength is considered to be infinitely superior to that of Narendra (cakravartī) and Surendra. Viśeṣāvaśyaka Bhāṣya and Niryukti elaborate this descriptively; viz. they state that cakravartī has double the strength of Vasudeva and Tīrthaṃkara has infinitely greater strength than that of cakravartī. For example, if Vasudeva, sitting by the well, tied with chains, was pulled powerfully by armies of 16,000 kings he sat amused, eating, and did not move an inch.

Tīrthaṃkara' strength can defeat even the Indras as their bodily strength is accompanied by immeasurable mental strength and unbreakable spiritual force. Even gods and divine beings –devas and devendras–pay obeisance to and serve those Tīrthaṃkara whose minds are immersed in the tradition of ahiṃsā (non-violence), self-control (equanimity) and penance. In this context the legend of Sumeru mountain trembling by the (weight) of the toe of an infant Mahāvīra cannot be called an exaggerated event because for a Tīrthaṃkara's incomparable strength and courage these incidents should be considered ordinary.

Tīrthaṃkara and the Kṣatriya clan

In both praxis and theory conduct and penance and a caste or clan are not always given importance. In this context the question arises as to why were Tīrthaṃkara considered to be born into the Kṣatriya caste? Doesn't this emphasize casteism?

A Brahmin is a practitioner of celibacy, truth, contentment and abiding alms seeker whereas a Kṣatriya is brave, expert of war tactics, brilliant, and effective. In preserving and maintaining religious order along with practice of celibacy, truth, character, etc. along with vigour is essential. A person born in a Brahmin caste is peaceful, of a good character and soft nature, also needs vigour and imposing personality. Propagation of non-violence (ahiṃsā) by a person like a Brahmin is not effective as he lacks bravery. But when a brilliant person from the Kṣatriyas courageously gives up weapons and warfare and royal grandeur and talks of ahiṃsā, certainly it has an impact. The Brahmin's propagation of religion is akin to the compassion of a weak shall not impact common people. This is the reason for the Jain religion – being removed from casteism – believes Tīrthaṃkara to have been born into the Kṣatriya caste.  From Lord Vṛṣabhanātha to Lord Mahāvīra, all the Tīrthaṃkara born into the spotless firmament of the Kṣatriya caste, continuously spread unblemished light across the world and acquired the strength towards liberation cutting through the toughest of karmas.

The Self-reliant practice of austerities by Tīrthaṃkara

Despite being invoked by the gods and divine beings the Tīrthaṃkara are reliant upon themselves for their practice of penance. They do not seek the help of any god, demigod or human beings. Devendra prayed to Lord Mahāvīra, "Lord! Great difficulties and calamities are to befall you. If you permit I wish to rid you of all the difficulties remaining in your service" the Lord replied – "Śakra! One has to cut (the chord of) one's karmas on one's own. Others' help may perhaps delay the fruits of the karmas but do not annihilate them". Tīrthaṃkara snap off their karmas on their own and obtain the status of arihanta. It was with this feeling that the Lord patiently bore the oppression of Śūlapāṇi Yakṣa and in just one night patiently bore 20 kinds of afflictions. What's more he never thought of solving his troubles invoking the Yakṣas - Yakṣiṇīs who remain protectors of the Tīrthaṃkara' place and in times of trouble, protect the Tīrthaṃkara' followers.

With their tough daily practices and lifestyle Tīrthaṃkara showed this world that every individual should be engaged courageously in snapping their karmas. Running away at the time of eating the fruits of karmas is not bravery. It is an act of bravery to bear with the bad fruits courageously keeping good thoughts in the mind to break the chord of karmas. In reality, this is the path to peace.

The Intervals between Tīrthaṃkara

The time between the respective emancipation (Nirvāṇa) of two Tīrthaṃkara is called the interregnum of liberation. There is also the intervening period between the birth of two Tīrthaṃkara and their respective attainment of omniscience (kevalotpatti), but this time-period is indicated with reference to expectant nirvāṇa (ultimate liberation). Pravacana Sāroddhāra and Tiloyapaṇṇatti speak of the intervals from this perspective. In the intervals between Tīrthaṃkaras the contemporary ruling ācāryas and elders keep the religious order (tradition) intact. In the eight intervening period between Vṛṣabhanātha and Suvidhinātha, and the eight intervening periods between Śāṃtinātha and Mahāvīra – in these total 16 interregnums there was no schism in the congregation. But in the seven intervals between Suvidhinātha and Śāṃtinātha the religious order was split up.

It is possible that in that period due to some special political or social reasons Jain religion was under huge trouble. According to the ācāryas the period post-Suvidhinātha and pre-Śāṃtinātha was so harsh that people were afraid of even speaking of the Jain religion. Nobody was ready even to listen to the scriptures. Therefore with no development in the four-fold congregation, the religious order spilt up.

The fact is that barring Dṛṣṭivāda in the interval between Vṛṣabhanātha and Suvidhinātha, the remaining 11 Aṃgas survived but in the intervals between Suvidhinātha and Śāṃtinātha it is believed the entire 12 Aṃgas were also divided. Prior to Śāṃtinātha and Mahāvīra only Dṛṣṭivāda was divided but not the remaining 11 Aṃgas. Thus, in the time of the 24 Tīrthaṃkara from Vṛṣabhanātha and Mahāvīra leaving aside the 7 intervals the religious order carried on. Even though the numbers reduced or increased, the four-fold congregation was never absent. For the tradition of the 11 Aṃgas remained safe. Preserving the scriptures is the means to preserving the religious order.

Thought and Conduct

It is generally observed that even the best of asceties who preach the highest principles (thoughts) do not practice it. But the specialty of the lives of the Tīrthaṃkara is that they preach, propagate and live in keeping with the lofty ideas they present. Their practice is not different or contradictory to the Āgamas.All the same, a common man might have doubts looking at the events in the lives of Tīrthaṃkara in various places. For example some ācāryas have written that when Lord Mahāvīra began to move around after his dīkṣā (initiation), a poor Brahmin accosted him midway, imploring him pitifully. Touched with compassion the Lord tore a part of his – devadūṣya (divine robe). The question may be asked as to how could the Lord himself act in this manner having prohibited a monk from acts such as dāna (giving alms) that arise from attachments of a householder? Tearing a robe and giving is not limited compassion. The Lord has infinite compassion; it is possible that Siddhārtha or some other divine being in service of the Lord might have done this. The ācāryas might have written about something corresponding to that state.

Similarly despite a vow of aparigraha (non-possession) Tīrthaṃkara living amidst adornments such as divine umbrella, cāmara (whisk) can become cause for suspicion in the minds of common people. In reality, the celestial beings themselves make an offering of these adornments in praise of Tīrthaṃkara at the time of their attaining the status of Tīrthaṃkara. This is an obvious example of the devotion and worship of Tīrthaṃkaras by the divine beings because by the time of the divine prayers the Tīrthaṃkara have attained omniscience and have become completely devoid of attachment. Yes, in today's context power-hungry people should not indulge in false imitation of the name and conduct of the Tīrthaṃkara.

Doctrine and Practice

Being unattached and beyond intent (kalpātīta), Tīrthaṃkara are not bound by the obligations of conduct (practice). Yet, Tīrthaṃkara have exhorted us towards the path of liberation in the form of intention (inclination) and conduct and did not show traits of acting against this conduct. Yet ācāryas believe that following the attainment of omniscience the Lord walked at night before arriving at Mahāsena forest for stay. Although there is no distinction between night and day for the omniscient one yet this is against the conduct. According to the commentary on Vṛhatkalpasūtra, in adherence to the norms of conduct the Lord does not allow easily the thirsty and hungry monks to eat or drink despite there being pure water and sesame in the forest. But in Āvaśyakacūrṇi, there is a mention of giving a portion of the torn robe to the Brahmin. One is to seek to understand seriously as to what could be the connection between these.

We can say this with certainty that the Tīrthaṃkara - "jahā vāī tahā kāriyā vi havai" Their conduct is in tune with the preaching's, even if they are determined on their path. Not staying overnight at a place, and after attaining omniscience Mallinātha staying in the commune of female-monks and not of monks prove they do not act contrary to tradition / norms.

The great men of Tīrthaṃkara times

In the times of the 24 Tīrthaṃkara, from Lord Vṛṣabhanātha to Mahāvīra, there came several great men who were worthy of kingdoms but took the path to liberation. Among these, apart from the 24 Tīrthaṃkara, were the 12 cakravartīs, 9 baladevas, and 9 vasudevas, in all 54 great men. Later 9 prativasudevas were added to make the total figure of 63 śalākāpuruṣas.

Bharata cakravartī, who came in the time of Lord Vṛṣabhanātha, was his son. It is now generally held that this country is named after him. Sagara cakravartī in the time of Lord Ajitanātha and Maghavāand Sanatkumāra, respectively, in between the times of Lords Arahnātha and Mallinātha were the others. Lords Śāṃtinātha, Kuṃthunātha and Aranātha were cakravartīs and Tīrthaṃkara as well. The eighth cakravartī Subhūma belonged to the time of the interval between Lords Aranātha and Mallinātha. The ninth cakravartī Padma belonged to the intervening period of Lords Mallinātha and Munisuvratanātha. 10th cakravartī Hariṣeṇa came in the interregnum of Lords Munisuvratanātha and Naminātha while 11th cakravartī Jaya in the intervening period of Lords Naminātha and Ariṣṭanemi. And the 12th cakravartī Brahmadatta came in the middle of Lord Ariṣṭanemi's and Lord Pārśvanātha's times. Among the nine Vasudevas, five such as Tripŗṣṭha, etc. came in the times of five Tīrthaṃkara such as between Lords Śreyāṃsanātha and Mallinātha, Puņḍarīka and Datta, came in the times of Lords Mallinātha and Munisuvratanātha. Lakṣaṇa Vasudeva came in the intervening period of Lords Munisuvratanātha and Naminātha and Śrī kṛṣṇā Vasudeva belonged to the period of Lord Ariṣṭanemi. Just as Vasudevas there are also 11 rudras, 9 nāradas and in some places kāmadevas such as Bāhubalī.

  1. Bhīmāvalī
  2. Jitaśatru
  3. Rudra
  4. Vaiśvānara
  5. Supratiṣṭha
  6. Acala
  7. Puņḍarīka
  8. Ajitadhara
  9. Ajitanābhi
  10. Pīṭha and
  11. Satyaki are the 11 rudras.


  1. Bhīm
  2. Mahābhīm
  3. Rudra
  4. Mahārudra
  5. Kāla
  6. Mahākāla
  7. Durmukha
  8. Naramukha and
  9. Adhomukha are the nine nāradas.

All these are considered splendid and liberating. The first rudra belongs to the time of Lord Vṛṣabhanātha, the second to that of Lord Ajitanātha, third to ninth rudra to that of seven Tīrthaṃkara down from Lord Suvidhinātha, the tenth rudra to the time of Lord Śāṃtinātha and the eleventh to Lord Mahāvīra's times. The last two rudras are considered worthy of hell.

Since the main object of this text is history of religion, there is no detailed elaboration on cakravartīs, baladevas, Vasudevas, etc. Among cakravartī Bharata and Brahmadatta, among Vasudevas Śrī kṛṣṇā and among prativasudevas Jarāsandha are described briefly from a historical perspective. The fourth mahādhikāra of Tiloyapaṇṇatti gives informative material on rudras and nāradas.

Among the kingly followers of Lord Mahāvīra Śreṇika, Kūṇika, Ceṭaka, Udāyana etc. are introduced. Śreṇika was an influential king of Lord Mahāvīra's times. He secured Tīrthaṃkaragotra through service to the royalty. On account of his previous ungainly karmas he shall first experience hell. He made every effort to break from the confinement in hell but in vain. Lastly he understood that his going to hell was inevitable.

Tīrthaṃkara and the Nātha Sect

Apart from Jain literature reference to Tīrthaṃkara can also be found in Vedas, Purāṇas, etc., Vedic and Buddhist texts such as Tripiṭaka, etc. But there we only find Vṛṣabhanātha, Saṃbhava, Supārśva, Ariṣṭanemi, etc. but not the Tīrthaṃkara with the nātha suffix. The same situation exists in Samavāyāṃga, Āvaśyaka and Nandīsūtra. In this context it would be natural to ask since when and with what connotation was the suffix 'nātha' used with names of Tīrthaṃkara.

Literal meaning of nātha is 'Lord'. Each Tīrthaṃkara is the Lord of three worlds and enriched with great qualities. Hence it seems apt and appropriate to use the suffix 'nātha' with their names. Prabhu, Nātha, Deva, Swāmī, etc. are synonymous terms, so the terms Deva, Nātha, Prabhu, and Swāmī have been suffixed to the names of Tīrthaṃkara. For the first time in the Bhagavatī Sūtra, Lord Mahāvīra, and in Āvaśyaka Sūtra the arihantas have been invoked with the adjectives "loganāheṇaṃ", "loganāheṇaṃ", considering them to be Lord of the world, lokanātha. Digambara ācārya of the period of around 4th century AD, Ācārya Yati Vṛṣabha, in his text, Tiloyapaṇṇatti used the term 'nātha' with the Tīrthaṃkara at several places. He also used the term "Īsara", "sāmī" with the names of Tīrthaṃkara. This certainly and indisputably goes to show that by the time of Yati Vṛṣabha the term 'nātha' was used for Tīrthaṃkara in literature. The term 'nātha' for Jain Tīrthaṃkara became so popular that Śaiva Yogī started using the term 'nātha' with his name and as a result, Matsyendranātha, Gorakhanātha, etc. which was part of this tradition became popular as the "nātha sect".

Those from other communities who are totally unaware of the history and importance of Tīrthaṃkara such as Ādinātha, Ajitanātha, etc. can get into the misperception that Gorakhanātha gave rise to Nemanātha, Nemanātha and Pārśvanātha gave rise to Gorakhapaṃthī. Fact is, that Matsyendranātha who is considered the founder of the Nātha sect, is believed to have belonged to the 8th century, whereas the Tīrthaṃkara Lords Neminātha, Pārśvanātha and adherents of the Jain religion belonged to several centuries prior to that. Neminātha was eighty-three thousand years before Pārśvanātha. There is a long time gap between the two. Thus there is no chance for Gorakhanātha turning into Neminātha, Pārśvanātha. Of course, it is possible that Neminātha, Pārśvanātha can turn into Gorakhanātha but if we thought about it even this does not seem to fit because Lord Pārśvanātha came long before Vikramyear 725 whereas according to scholars Gorakhanātha is considered to be the contemporary of Bappārāvala. It is possible that the yogis of the nātha sect were influenced by the extensive propagation of ahiṃsā by Lord Neminātha and the dutiful observance of Lord Pārśvanātha as a result of which the tradition of Neminātha and Pārśvanātha became widespread within the nātha sect. As the famous historian Hajārīprasāda Dvivedī has written in his book "nātha sect". "Cāṃdanātha was probably the first Siddha (liberated) who accepted the Gorakṣamārga (protecting the cows) tradition. Neminātha and Pārśvanātha of this same tradition, also appear to be followers of the Jain Tīrthaṃkara Neminātha and Pārśvanātha. Neminātha and Pārśvanātha certainly predated Gorakhanātha."

Differences in historical assumptions / beliefs

It wouldn't be irrelevant here to reflect upon the problem that if the source of history is the same for all; why then were there differences between different ācāryas in writing history?

The fact is that the entire Jain scriptural tradition was oral passed on from teacher to student. In the process of decay and reaching calmness (in the process of learning and unlearning / in the process of destroying and gaining peace) the student who learns through oral tradition begins to see the same knowledge to a lesser or greater degree depending on the process of how much of the oral knowledge has been absorbed in to a lesser or greater extent. As a result the same subject is assigned in their minds to memory in different forms. This is the state of events that happened in the near past, but when it comes to ancient historical events it is natural to have several differing views. Vagaries of time, difference in memory or perception can also be the cause for differing views and perceptions of a writer and reader. Instead of getting distressed over these differences, readers should feel proud of the fact that on matters of the Tīrthaṃkara' parents, birth place, auspicious star at the time of conception, place, birth star, colour, cognizance, period of initiation, penance after initiation, time of mental training, nirvāṇa, etc. the Śvetāmbara and Digambara traditions are common. Differences on name, place, date, etc. have occurred due to differences in memory or on matters of arithmetic, but that does not make any difference to the original.

In the present text 'Tīrthaṃkara' introductory note, introduction to their lives and where appropriate, points of differences are also shown. There are also some differences that are against the tradition and primarily debatable. For instance, all ācāryas agree that Kṣatriyakuṇḍa was the place of residence of king Siddhārtha, but Ācārya Sīlāṃka believes it to be his resort. Ācārāṃga Sūtra, Kalpasūtra mention Nandīvardhana as the elder brother of Lord Mahāvīra while Ācārya Sīlāṃka mentions him as the younger brother. BhagavatīSūtra mentions the hurling of magical fire by Gośālaka on Sarvānubhūti and Sunakṣatra and of the death of two monks in Samavaśaraṇa, whereas Ācārya Sīlāṃka in his Cauvana mahāpurisa cariyaṃ does not mention the death of any monk by the impact of magical fire hurled at them by Gośālaka. He writes that Lord Mahāvīra, in order to prevent the calamity that would be produced from the magical fire of Gośālaka and Sarvānubhūti, produced cooling power to extinguish it. Unable to bear with its strong power it fell on Gośālaka and started to burn him. Afraid of the extreme flames of the magical fire, Gośālaka fell at Mahāvīra's feet. By virtue of the Lord's compassion, the flames died out. Gośālaka repented his bad deeds as a result of which he obtained a good fire and after death he was reborn as a deva in the Acyuta heaven. There must be some reason for a knowledgeable muni to write something against the traditional dictum. One cannot believe that such a great scholar could write something without forethought. This issue calls for deeper reflection on part of scholars.

Method of propounding in Tīrthaṃkara' times

Despite having the support of gods and divine beings in the times of Tīrthaṃkara, why was Jain religion not widely propounded across countries? What was the method of propounding in the times of the Tīrthaṃkara that even under the rule of the powerful Śrī kṛṣṇā and a flower like the Magadha King Śreṇika, Jain religion was not widely propagated in the country? Why didn't the monks and asceties, powerful kings and followers send forth proselytizers and through officials, obtain the rulers' permission to propagate ahiṃsā and Jain religion? These questions naturally come to mind.

Analysing the situation at that time one realises that in the tradition of Tīrthaṃkara, the basic preaching was that of right thought and adherence to right conduct. The basic objective of their sermon was a change of heart. That is why the Lord imparted true spiritual insight to his audience but never did he insist forcibly nor did he coax people to follow certain vows (observances /restraints). After hearing his sermon if someone voluntarily accepted conduct of monk (monkhood) or śrāvaka-dharma (votary) it would be exclaimed – 'be happy' – that is, that which makes you happy, do not err therein. It was left to the audience to decide as to what should be done after the feeling was aroused. Conduct was more important that propagation.

Jain monks would stay in common places, accept alms from all castes and blameless castes and give instructions to all. Initiation was given to anyone who wished to accept the religion voluntarily after becoming aware. The times were such that in a clean societal environment that people could spontaneously live a religious life. The pier of purity was so tenacious that even people were influenced by it. The method of preaching was to train a particular person in manner that he would be able to make thousands abide devoted to the religion. Situation today is different from those times. Today even in bad nations good people travel and stay there and such bad people are also beginning to live on India's earth. Each influences the other. In this context it is essential to propagate ahiṃsā and truth openly so as to explain to them the difference between what is edible and inedible. Otherwise in times of increasingly violence and meat eating, those religious people with weak minds will be influenced by the bad people and move away from religious conduct and behaviour. Propagation is essential but it has to be in accordance with our culture. Our preaching should only give importance to conduct and should be founded on the principle of change of heart through knowledge. This would be the preaching mode in accordance with the Tīrthaṃkara' tradition and it is only through this can be of benefit to the Jain order.

Today's history writers

It is surprising and regrettable that some scholars write essays filled with misperceptions about Jain religion and Tīrthaṃkara despite there being several evidences of Jain history. Whatever religion or sect historians choose to write about, they should do so after studying authentic texts, in an authentic manner. It is not correct to write on the basis of hearsay, without proper study and reflection.

Even when scriptures prove that Gośālaka accepted to become the disciple of Mahāvīra, to write that Mahāvīra accepted the Acela (without clothes) tradition from Gośālakaka is erroneous, misleading and wrong. Even today some scholars make a useless effort in showing Jain religion to be a branch of the Vedic tradition; this is their serious mistake. We are not only hoping but are fully confident that our knowledgeable historians will be alert in this direction and enlighten the country with the light of referential knowledge through correct introduction of Jainism as a significant religion of India.


Title: Jain Legend: Jain Dharma ka Maulika Itihasa (1)
Acharya Hasti Mala
Shugan C. Jain
Publisher: Samyakjnana Pracaraka Mandala, Jaipur
Edition: 2011
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acyuta
  2. Ahiṃsā
  3. Ajitanātha
  4. Aparigraha
  5. Aranātha
  6. Arihanta
  7. Arihantas
  8. Aura
  9. Aśoka
  10. Bhagavatī Sūtra
  11. Bharata
  12. Bhāṣya
  13. Brahmin
  14. Casteism
  15. Celibacy
  16. Chatra
  17. Cāmara
  18. Deva
  19. Devendra
  20. Digambara
  21. Dāna
  22. Dṛṣṭivāda
  23. Environment
  24. Equanimity
  25. Guṇas
  26. Jainism
  27. Jaya
  28. Karmas
  29. Kevaladarśana
  30. Kevalajñāna
  31. Kāla
  32. Lakṣaṇa
  33. Magadha
  34. Mahāvīra
  35. Mallinātha
  36. Muni
  37. Munisuvratanātha
  38. Naminātha
  39. Neminātha
  40. Nirvāṇa
  41. Niryukti
  42. Non-violence
  43. Nātha
  44. Omniscient
  45. Prabhu
  46. Purāṇas
  47. Pārśvanātha
  48. Siddha
  49. Supārśva
  50. Suvidhinātha
  51. Sūtra
  52. Tīrthaṃkara
  53. Vedas
  54. Vedic
  55. Violence
  56. Vṛṣabhanātha
  57. Yakṣa
  58. Yati
  59. Ācārya
  60. Ācāryas
  61. Āgamas
  62. Āvaśyaka
  63. Āvaśyaka Sūtra
  64. ācāryas
  65. Śreyāṃsanātha
  66. Śreṇika
  67. Śvetāmbara
  68. Śāṃtinātha
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