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Jain miniature painting of 24 Jain Tirthankaras, Jaipur, c. 1850 Jain 24-Tirthankaras.jpg
Jain miniature painting of 24 Jain Tirthankaras, Jaipur, c.1850
The 24 Tirthankaras forming the tantric meditative syllable Hrim, painting on cloth, Gujarat, c. 1800 The 24 Tirthankaras forming the tantric meditative syllable Hrim.jpg
The 24 Tirthankaras forming the tantric meditative syllable Hrim, painting on cloth, Gujarat, c.1800

In Jainism, a Tirthankara (Sanskrit: tīrthaṅkara; English: literally a 'ford-maker') is a saviour and spiritual teacher of the dharma (righteous path). [1] The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha , [2] which is a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths, the saṃsāra . According to Jains, tirthankaras are the supreme preachers of Dharma, who have conquered the saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, on their own, and made a path for others to follow. [3] After understanding the true nature of the self or soul, the Tīrthaṅkara attains Kevala Gyana (omniscience). Tirthankara provides a bridge for others to follow the new teacher from saṃsāra to moksha (liberation). [4]


In Jain cosmology, the wheel of time is divided in two halves, Utsarpiṇī or ascending time cycle and avasarpiṇī , the descending time cycle (said to be current now). In each half of the cosmic time cycle, exactly twenty-four tirthankaras grace this part of the universe. There have been an infinite number of tirthankaras in the past time periods. [5] The first tirthankara in this present time cycle (Hunda Avsarpini) was Rishabhanatha, who is credited for formulating and organising humans to live in a society harmoniously. The 24th and last tirthankara of the present half-cycle was Mahavira Swami Ji (599 BC–527 BC). [6] [7] [8] History records the existence of Mahavira and his predecessor, Parshvanath, the twenty-third tirthankara. [9]

A tirthankara organises the sangha , a fourfold order of male and female monastics, srāvaka s (male followers) and śrāvikās (female followers). [10]

The tirthankara's 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. 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. [11]

Tīrthaṅkaras are arihants who after attaining kevalajñāna (pure infinite knowledge) [12] 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. [4] 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.


The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha which means a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths (called saṃsāra ). [13] [14] [15] [16] Tirthankaras are variously called "Teaching Gods", "Ford-Makers", "Crossing Makers" and "Makers of the River-Crossing. [17] [16]


Tirthankara images at Siddhachal Caves inside Gwalior Fort. Jain statues, Gwalior.jpg
Tirthankara images at Siddhachal Caves inside Gwalior Fort.

Jain texts propound that a special type of karma , the tīrthaṅkara nama-karma, raises a soul to the supreme status of a Tīrthaṅkara. Tattvartha Sutra , a major Jain text, lists sixteen observances which lead to the bandha (bondage) of this karma: [18]

Panch Kalyanaka

Auspicious dreams seen by a tirthankara's mother during pregnancy Sixteen Symbolic Dreams.jpg
Auspicious dreams seen by a tirthankara's mother during pregnancy

Five auspicious events called Pañca kalyāṇaka mark the life of every tirthankara: [19]

  1. Gārbha kalyāṇaka (conception): When ātman (soul) of a tirthankara comes into his mother's womb. [20]
  2. Janma kalyāṇaka (birth): Birth of a tirthankara. Indra performs a ceremonial bath on tirthankara on Mount Meru. [21] [22]
  3. Tapa kalyāṇaka (renunciation): When a tirthankara renounces all worldly possessions and become an ascetic.
  4. 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.
  5. Nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka (liberation): When a tirthankara leaves his mortal body, it is known as nirvana. It is followed by the final liberation, moksha , after which his souls dwells in Siddhashila .


Samavasarana of Tirthankara Rishabha (Ajmer Jain temple) Lord Risbabhdev in Samosharan on Mount Kailash.jpg
Samavasarana of Tirthankara Rishabha (Ajmer Jain temple)

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. [23] A tirthankara's speech is heard 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. [24]

Tīrthaṅkaras of present cosmic age

Jainism postulates that time has no beginning or end. It moves like the wheel of a cart. The wheel of time is divided in two halves, Utsarpiṇī (ascending half cycle) and Avasarpiṇī (descending half 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. Their clan and families are also among those recorded in legendary stories. Jain canons state that Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara, [13] founded the Ikshvaku dynasty, [25] from which 21 other tirthankaras also rose over time. Two tirthankarasMunisuvrata, the 20th, and Neminatha, the 22nd – belonged to the Harivamsa dynasty. [26]

In Jain tradition, the 20 tirthankaras attained moksha on mount Shikharji, in the present Indian state of Jharkhand. [27] Rishabhanatha attained nirvana on Mount Ashtāpada (Mount Kailash), Neminatha on mount Girnar, 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 Rishabhanatha, Neminatha and Mahavira are said to have attained moksha in the Padmasana (lotus position). [17]


tirthankaras of present, previous and next cosmic ages (72 in total) Altarpiece with multiple Jinas, c. 1500, Norton Simon Museum.JPG
tirthankaras of present, previous and next cosmic ages (72 in total)

Present cosmic age

Jain chaumukha sculpture at LACMA, 6th century Shrine with Four Jinas (Rishabhanatha (Adinatha)), Parshvanatha, Neminatha, and Mahavira) LACMA M.85.55 (1 of 4).jpg
Jain chaumukha sculpture at LACMA, 6th century

In chronological order, the names, emblems and colours of the 24 tirthankaras of this age are mentioned below: [28] [1] [29] [30]

1 Rishabhanatha [31] (Adinatha) Bull Golden
2 Ajitanatha [31] Elephant Golden
3 Sambhavanatha [31] Horse Golden
4 Abhinandananatha [31] Monkey Golden
5 Sumatinatha [31] Flamingo Golden
6 Padmaprabha [31] Padma Red
7 Suparshvanatha [31] Swastika Green
8 Chandraprabha [31] Crescent Moon White
9 Pushpadanta (Suvidhinath) [31] Crocodile or Makara White
10 Shitalanatha [31] Kalpavriksha Golden
11 Shreyanasanatha [31] Rhinoceros Golden
12 Vasupujya [31] Buffalo Red
13 Vimalanatha [31] Boar Golden
14 Anantanatha [31] Porcupine according to the Digambara
Falcon according to the Śvētāmbara
15 Dharmanatha [31] Vajra Golden
16 Shantinatha [31] Antelope or deer Golden
17 Kunthunatha [31] Goat Golden
18 Aranatha [31] Nandavarta or fish Golden
19 Māllīnātha [31] Kalasha Blue
20 Munisuvrata [31] Tortoise Black/Dark Blue
21 Naminatha [31] Blue lotus Golden
22 Neminatha [31] Shankha Black/Dark Blue
23 Parshvanatha [31] Snake Green
24 Mahavira [31] Lion Golden

Next cosmic age

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.

No.NamePrevious human birth
1PadmanabhaKing Shrenika [32]
2SurdevMahavira's uncle Suparshva
3SuparshvaKing Kaunik's son king Udayin
4SvamprabhThe ascetic Potti
5Sarvanubhuti Śrāvaka Dridhayadha
6DevshrutiKartik's Shreshti
7UdaynathShravak Shamkha
8PedhalputraShravak Ananda
9PottilShravak Sunand
10ShatakSharavak Shatak
11SuvratSatyaki of Mahabharata
12Amam Krishna
13ShrinishkashaySatyaki Rudhra
14NishpulakKrishna's brother Balbhadra also known as Balrama
15NirmamShravika Sulsa
16ChitraguptaKrishna's brother's mother Rohini Devi
17SamadhinathRevati Gathapatni
18SamvarnathSharavak Shattilak
19YashodharRishi Dwipayan
20Vijay Karna of Mahabharata
21MalladevNirgranthaputra or Mallanarada
22DevachandraShravak Ambadh
23AnantviryaShravak Amar


Digambara Mahāvīr Swami iconography
Shri Simandhar Swami.jpg
Śvētāmbara Simandhar Swami iconography

A tīrthaṅkara is represented either seated in lotus position (Padmasana) or standing in the meditation Khadgasana ( Kayotsarga ) posture. [33] [34] This latter, which is similar to the military standing at attention is a difficult posture to hold for a long period, and is preferred by Jains because it reduces to the minimum the amount of the body in contact with the earth, and so posing a risk to the sentient creatures living in or on it. If seated, they are usually 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. [1]

Tirthankara images do not have distinctive facial features, clothing or (mostly) hair-styles, and are differentiated on the basis of the symbol or emblem (Lanchhana) belonging to each tirthanakar except Parshvanatha. Statues of Parshvanath have a snake crown on the head. The first Tirthankara Rishabha can be identified by the locks of hair falling on his shoulders. Sometimes Suparshvanath is shown with a small snake-hood. The symbols are marked in the centre or in the corner of the pedestal of the statue. The sects of Jainism Digambara and Svetambara have different depictions of idols. Digambara images are naked without any ornamentation, whereas Svetambara ones are clothed and decorated with temporary ornaments. [35] The images are often marked with Srivatsa on the chest and Tilaka on the forehead. [36] Srivatsa is one of the ashtamangala (auspicious symbols), which sometimes resembles fleur-de-lis, an endless knot, a flower or diamond-shaped symbol. [37]

The bodies of tirthankara statues are exceptionally consistent throughout the over 2,000 years of the historical record. The bodies are rather slight, with very wide shoulders and a narrow waist. Even more than is usual in Indian sculpture, the depiction takes relatively little interest in the accurate depiction of the underlying musculature and bones, but is interested in the modelling of the outer surfaces as broad swelling forms. The ears are extremely elongated, alluding to the heavy earrings the figures wore in their early lives before they took the path to enlightenment, when most were wealthy, if not royal.

Sculptures with four tirthanakars, or their heads, facing in four directions, are not uncommon in early sculpture, but unlike the comparable Hindu images, these represent four different tirthanakars, not four aspects of the same deity. Multiple extra arms are avoided in tirthanakar images, though their attendants or guardians may have them. [38]

In other religions

The first Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha is mentioned in Hindu texts like the Rigveda, [39] Vishnupurana and Bhagwata Purana. [40] The Yajurveda mentions the name of three Tīrthaṅkaras – Ṛiṣhabha, Ajitnātha and Ariṣṭanemi. [41] The Bhāgavata Purāṇa includes legends about the Tirthankaras of Jainism particularly Rishabha. [42] Yoga Vasishta, Chapter 15 of Vairagya Khanda, Sloka 8 gives the saying of Rama:

I am not Rama. I have no desire for material things. Like Jina I want to establish peace within myself. [43]

Champat Rai Jain, a 20th-century Jain writer, claimed that the "Four and Twenty Elders" mentioned in the Book of Revelation (the final book of the Christian Bible) are "Twenty-four Tirthankaras". [44]

See also

Related Research Articles

Jainism, also known as Jain Dharma, is an Indian religion. Jainism traces its spiritual ideas and history through the succession of twenty-four tirthankaras, with the first in the current time cycle being Rishabhadeva, whom the tradition holds to have lived millions of years ago, the twenty-third tirthankara Parshvanatha, whom historians date to the 9th century BCE, and the twenty-fourth tirthankara Mahavira, around 600 BCE. Jainism is considered to be an eternal dharma with the tirthankaras guiding every time cycle of the cosmology. The three main pillars of Jainism are ahiṃsā (non-violence), anekāntavāda (non-absolutism), and aparigraha (asceticism).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mahavira</span> Final tirthankara of Jainism

Mahavira, also known as Vardhamana, was the 24th tirthankara of Jainism. He was the spiritual successor of the 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha. Mahavira was born in the early part of the 6th century BCE into a royal Kshatriya Jain family in ancient India. His mother's name was Trishala and his father's name was Siddhartha. They were lay devotees of Parshvanatha. Mahavira abandoned all worldly possessions at the age of about 30 and left home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, becoming an ascetic. Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities for twelve and a half years, after which he attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for 30 years and attained Moksha (liberation) in the 6th century BCE, although the year varies by sect.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shikharji</span> Jain pilgrimage centre and hill forest in Jharkhand, India

Shikharji, also known as Sammed or Sammet Shikharji, is one of the Holiest pilgrimage sites for Jains, in Giridih district, Jharkhand. It is located on Parasnath hill, the highest mountain in the state of Jharkhand. It is the most important Jain Tirtha, for it is the place where twenty of the twenty-four Jain tirthankaras along with many other monks attained Moksha. It is one of the five principal pilgrimage destinations along with Girnar, Pawapuri, Champapuri, Dilwara, Palitana and Ashtapad Kailash.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parshvanatha</span> 23rd Tirthankara in Jainism

Parshvanatha, also Pārśvanātha, Parshva, Pārśva and Parasnath, was the 23rd of 24 Tirthankaras of Jainism. He is the only Tirthankara who gained the title of Kalīkālkalpataru.

In Jainism, godliness is said to be the inherent quality of every soul. This quality, however, is subdued by the soul's association with karmic matter. All souls who have achieved the natural state of infinite bliss, infinite knowledge, infinite power and infinite perception are regarded as God in Jainism. Jainism rejects the idea of a creator deity responsible for the manifestation, creation, or maintenance of this universe. Instead, souls who have reached Heaven for their merits and deeds influence the Universe for a fixed period until they undergo reincarnation and continue the cycle of enlightenment. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents have always existed. All constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws and "perfect soul".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bahubali</span> Mythical figure in Jainism

Bahubali, a much revered figure among Jains, was the son of Rishabadeva and the brother of Bharata Chakravartin. He is said to have meditated motionless for a 12 years in a standing posture (kayotsarga) and that during this time, climbing plants grew around his legs. After his 12 year of meditation, Bahubali is said to have attained omniscience.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rishabhanatha</span> First Tirthankara of Jainism

Rishabhanatha, also Ṛṣabhadeva, Rishabhadeva, Ṛṣabha or Ikshvaku is the first Tīrthaṅkara of Jainism and establisher of Ikshvaku dynasty. He was the first of twenty-four teachers in the present half-cycle of time in Jain cosmology, and called a "ford maker" because his teachings helped one cross the sea of interminable rebirths and deaths. The legends depict him as having lived millions of years ago. He was the spiritual successor of Sampratti Bhagwan, the last Tirthankar of previous time cycle. He is also known as Ādinātha which translates into "First (Adi) Lord (nātha)", as well as Adishvara, Yugadideva, Prathamarajeshwara, Ikshvaku and Nabheya. Along with Mahavir Swami, Parshvanath, Neminath, and Shantinath, Rishabhanath is one of the five Tirthankaras that attract the most devotional worship among the Jains.

Jain cosmology is the description of the shape and functioning of the Universe (loka) and its constituents according to Jainism. Jain cosmology considers the universe as an uncreated entity that has existed since infinity with neither beginning nor end. Jain texts describe the shape of the universe as similar to a man standing with legs apart and arms resting on his waist. This Universe, according to Jainism, is broad at the top, narrow at the middle and once again becomes broad at the bottom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shantinatha</span> 16th Tirthankara in Jainism in current cycle of Jain cosmology

Śhāntinātha or Śhānti is the sixteenth Tīrthaṅkara of Jainism in the present age. According to traditional accounts, he was born to King Vishvasena and Queen Aćira of the Ikshvaku dynasty in the north Indian city of Hastinapur. His birth date is the thirteenth day of the Jyest Krishna month of the Indian calendar. He was also a Chakravartin and a Kamadeva. He ascended to the throne when he was 25 years old. After over 25,000 years on the throne, he became a Jain monk and started his penance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Neminatha</span> 22nd Jain Tirthankara

Neminātha, also known as Nemi and Ariṣṭanemi, is the twenty-second Tīrthaṅkara of Jainism in the present age. Neminatha lived 81,000 years before the 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanatha. According to traditional accounts, he was born to King Samudravijaya and Queen Shivadevi of the Yadu dynasty in the north Indian city of Sauripura. His birth date was the fifth day of Shravana Shukla of the Jain calendar. Krishna, who was the 9th and last Jain Vasudev, was his first cousin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nabhi</span>

King Nabhi or Nabhi Rai was the 14th or the last Kulakara of avasarpini. He was the father of Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara of present avasarpini. According to Jain text Ādi purāṇa, Nabhirāja lived for 1 crore purva and his height was 525 dhanusha.

Jainism is a religion founded in ancient India. Jains trace their history through twenty-four tirthankara and revere Shree Rishabhnatha Bhagwan as the first tirthankara. The last two tirthankara, the 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha and the 24th tirthankara Mahavira are considered historical figures. According to Jain texts, the 22nd Tirthankara Neminatha lived about 5,000 years ago and was the cousin of Sri Krishna Bhagwaan.

According to the Jain cosmology, the śalākapuruṣa "illustrious or worthy persons" are 63 illustrious beings who appear during each half-time cycle. They are also known as the triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣa. The Jain universal or legendary history is a compilation of the deeds of these illustrious persons. Their life stories are said to be most inspiring.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Digambara</span> One of the two major schools of Jainism

Digambara is one of the two major schools of Jainism, the other being Śvētāmbara (white-clad). The Sanskrit word Digambara means "sky-clad", referring to their traditional monastic practice of neither possessing nor wearing any clothes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jain sculpture</span> Images depicting Tirthankaras (teaching gods)

Jain sculptures or Jain idols are the images depicting Tirthankaras. These images are worshiped by the followers of Jainism. The sculpture can depict any of the twenty-four tirthankaras with images depicting Parshvanatha, Rishabhanatha, or Mahāvīra being more popular. Jain sculptures are an example of Jain art. There is a long history of construction of Jain sculptures. Early examples include Lohanipur Torsos which has been regarded to be from the Maurya period, and images from the Kushan period from Mathura.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jain schools and branches</span> Major schools of thought

Jainism is an Indian religion which is traditionally believed to be propagated by twenty-four spiritual teachers known as tirthankara. Broadly, Jainism is divided into two major schools of thought, Digambara and Svetambara. These are further divided into different sub-sects and traditions. While there are differences in practices, the core philosophy and main principles of each sect is the same.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jain art</span> Works of art associated with Jainism

Jain art refers to religious works of art associated with Jainism. Even though Jainism has spread only in some parts of India, it has made a significant contribution to Indian art and architecture.

Jainism and Hinduism are two ancient Indian religions. There are some similarities and differences between the two religions. Temples, gods, rituals, fasts and other religious components of Jainism are different from those of Hinduism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bharata Chakravartin</span> Mythical king in Jainism

Bharata was the first chakravartin of Avasarpini. He was the eldest son of Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara. He had two sons from his chief-queen Subhadra named Arkakirti and Marichi. He is said to have conquered all the six parts of the world and to have engaged in a fight with Bahubali, his brother, to conquer the last remaining city of the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Avasarpiṇī</span>

Avasarpiṇī is the descending half of the cosmic time cycle in Jainism and the one in which the world is said to be at present. According to Jain texts the Avasarpiṇī is marked by a decline in goodness and religion. The ascending half of the cycle is called utsarpiṇī, which is marked by the ascent of goodness and religion.



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