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jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir

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(Chapter 4 continued)

It is interesting that all the 24 Tirthankars, who preached total non-violence in thought, conduct and expression were born in the warrior class (Kshatriyas) in royal ruling families in the lap of luxury and surrounded by all trappings of power, wealth and command. Yet they chose to forsake them in a spirit of total renunciation to seek true enlightenment.Cosmic Parshwanath 18th Century AD, Jodhpur (Rajasthan)

Jain scriptures give vivid life details of all the Tirthankaras including incidents from their previous birth, their royal parentage, significant events of their lives, birth, marriage, renunciation, enlightenment and finally nirvana. Each Tirthankar has a distinct name, color, symbol or emblem (lanchana) by which he is identified. It is also clear that all the Tirthankars hailed from north India, particularly from the region that is presently Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The units of time being different in Jain texts from the ones used presently (days, months, years etc.), it is difficult to ascertain the precise time period of each Tirthankar in terms of presently prevalent time measurements. However, through collation of data renowned scholars have been able to determine definitive time frame for two or three Tirthankaras, notably Arishtnemi, the 22nd Tirthankar, Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankara, and ofcourse Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankara. Mahavir lived from 599 BCE- 527 BCE, and achieved Nirvana at the age of 72. His predecessor Parshvanath is slated to have lived from 877 BCE-777 BCE. It was the erudite German Jain scholar Hermann Jacobi who established the historical authenticity of Lord Parshvanath, who lived 250 years prior to Lord Mahavir. The royal ancestors of both Mahavir and Gautam Buddha were followers of Parshvanath.

Jain literature vividly describes how various Tirthankars traveled far and wide on foot to spread the Jain doctrine. The proof of it is found in the many surviving ancient Jain temples all over India with ancient beautifully and delicately sculptured images of various Tirthankars together with their identifying symbols. The symbols are mostly other living beings or natural elements, and go to establish the outlook of the Tirthankars towards oneness of all life, and the divine interdependence between humans, other living beings and forces of nature.

The following table concerning the 24 Tirthankars is very illuminating in terms of their birth place, place of Nirvana, respective emblem and the number of Ganadhars (principal disciples), who carried forward their teachings to the successive generations in the well-set Shrut tradition.

S. No.

Name

Emblem

Birth place

Nirvana place

Ganadhars

1.

Rishabhnath

Bull

Ayodhya

Ashtapad

84

2.

Ajitnath

Elephant

Ayodhya

Samet Shikhar

90

3.

Sambhavanath

Horse

Shravasti

Samet Shikhar

105

4.

Abhinandannath

Monkey

Ayodhya

Samet Shikhar

103

5.

Sumatinath

Ruddy Goose

Ayodhya

Samet Shikhar

116

6.

Padmaprabhu

Red lotus

Kaushambi

Samet Shikhar

111

7.

Suparshvanath

Swastika

Varanasi

Samet Shikhar

95

8.

Chandraprabhu

Crescent moon

Chandrapuri

Samet Shikhar

93

9.

Pushpadanta

Crocodile

Kakandi

Samet Shikhar

88

10.

Shitalnath

Shrivatsa tree

Bhadrikapuri

Samet Shikhar

81

11.

Shreyansnath

Rhinoceros

Simhapuri

Samet Shikhar

77

12.

Vasupujya Swami

Buffalo

Champapuri

Champapuri

66

S. No.

Name

Emblem

Birth place

Nirvana place

Ganadhars

13.

Vimalnath

Boar

Kampilya

Samet Shikhar

55

14.

Anantnath

Bear or hawk

Ayodhya

Samet Shikhar

50

15.

Dharmanath

Thunderbolt

Ratnapuri

Samet Shikhar

43

16.

Shantinath

Deer

Hastinapur

Samet Shikhar

36

17.

Kuntunath

Male goat

Hastinapur

Samet Shikhar

35

18.

Aranath

Fish

Hastinapur

Samet Shikhar

30

19.

Mallinath

Water pot

Mithila

Samet Shikhar

28

20.

Muni Suvrat Swami

Tortoise

Rajgrahi

Samet Shikhar

18

21.

Nami nath

Blue lotus

Mithila

Samet Shikhar

17

22.

Neminath (Arishtanemi)

Conch

Dwarka

Mount Girnar

11

23.

Parshvanath

Serpent

Kashi

Samet Shikhar

10

24.

Mahavir Swami

Lion

Kshatriyakund

Pava Puri

11

Jains celebrate with elaborate ritual five major events from the life of a Tirthankar. They are (i) the Garbha kalyanak ( Conception event), (ii) the Janma kalyanak (Birth event), (iii) Diksha kalyanak (Initiation event), (iv) Kevaljnan kalyanak (Omnicience event), and (v) Nirvan kalyanak (salvation event). Of the 24 Tirthankaras, Rishabhnath, Shantinath, Neminath, Parshvanasth and Mahavir are the most extensively idolized and the most widely worshipped Tirthankaras.

Digambar tradition holds that women cannot become Tirthankar, since they cannot fully take to absolute Aparigraha mahavrat in view of the need to cover the body. As has been narrated before, Digambar ascetics are sky clad, and so are the idols of all Tirthankars. Shwetambar tradition interprets the Aparigraha mahavrata in a relatively flexible manner. Their monks wear the minimum cloth pieces in white primarily to cover their bodies and not as any form of attachment or possessiveness. In keeping with this they maintain that Mallinath, the 19th Tirthankar was a lady.

Jain literature also prominently mentions the widely-held belief that all the mothers of various Tirthankars had 16 (Digambar tradition) and 14 (Shwetambar tradition) dreams after conception indicative of the great soul which was going to be born as reflected in the auspicious signs. Thus Mahavir’s mother saw in her dream a white elephant, a white bull, a white lion, Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi sitting on a lotus throne, two fragrant garlands, full moon, sun, two golden pots, two fish (Digambar list) or flag (Shwetambar list), lotus pond, ocean, jewel-studded throne (Digambar list), celestial plane, cobra (Digambar list), pile of precious stones, and fire without smoke.

Once again these dreams also link symbolically human destiny intertwined with other living beings, auspicious natural objects and items of prosperity. The dream signs also indicate that the new-born would be as strong as an elephant, as ernest as a bull, as powerful as a lion, graceful like the lotus and other flowers, deep as an ocean, and auspicious as a golden pot

It is interesting that out of the 24 Tirthankaras, as many as 20 attained nirvan at Sammed Shikhar in Bihar, which has become one of the most prominent places of Jain pilgrimage. Jain Tirthankars traveled on foot all over the country. The existence of ancient Jain temples with their idols in north, east and west and south India testify to this. Jain art and architecture belonging to different periods of history is found in almost all parts of India and testifies to the widespread prevalence of Jain religion throughout India, In particular the states of Bihar, U.P., Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh abound in places of pilgrimage associated with Tirthankars.

(to be continued)

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