In Jainism, the Tirthankara ("Fordmaker") (also Tirthankara) refer to twenty four enlightened spiritual masters who are believed to have achieved perfect knowledge through asceticism. They are also known as Jina ("Victors") for totally conquering anger, pride, deceit, and desire.
The Tirthankara provide the highest model of spiritual conduct in the Jain religion and communal devotional practice often involves veneration of these figures. Their teachings have been compiled in the Jain scriptures known as the Ägams, also called the Jain Shrut.
Jainism is renowned throughout the world for its exemplary devotion to the practice of ahimsa (non-violence), which was embodied by the Tirthankara. The next Tirthankara will be born at the beginning of the third era of the next (ascending) half cycle of time, in approximately 81,500 years.
According to Jain cosmology, human existence is very ancient compared to most other religious calendars; consequently, it is believed that the various Tirthankaras have existed over billions of years in order to teach humanity in different epochs. Jainism states that time has no beginning or end. It moves like the wheel of a cart. There have been an infinite number of time cycles before our present era and there will be an infinite number of time cycles after this age. Twenty four Tirthankars are born in each half cycle of time (that is forty eight in each full cycle), in this part of the universe. In our current (descending) half cycle of time, the first Tirthankar Rishabh Dev, lived billions of years ago and attained liberation ('moksh' or 'nirvan') towards the end of the third era. The twenty-fourth and last Tirthankar was Mahavir Swami (599-527 B.C.E.), whose existence is a historically accepted fact. The most recent Tirthankara, known as Mahavira, is sometimes incorrectly called the founder of Jainism. At the end of his human life-span, each Tirthankara achieves liberation ('moksh' or 'nirvan'), ending the cycle of infinite births and deaths.
Depictions of the Tirthankaras are almost always represented as 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. Alternatively they may be represented standing in the meditation Khadgasana (Kayotsarga) posture. This is similar to the military standing at attention and is a difficult posture to hold for a long period. It has the attraction to Jains that 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.
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. Only two are represented differently: that of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third, who has snake-hoods over him, and Suparsva, the seventh, who the Digambarashas depict with a smaller group of snake-hoods.
Digambara representations are nude, while those of the Svetambaras are clothed and decorated with crowns and ornaments. They are further distinguished from one another in representations by their attendant Yakshas and Yakshinis, as well as by their associated chihnas (cognizances) carved on the cushions of their thrones.
Twenty-one of the Tirthakaras are said to have attained Moksha in the Kayotsarga posture; Rishabha, Nemi; and Mahavira on the padmasana (lotus throne).
Although Tirthankara statues are worshiped in Jain temples, they are not seen as gods. Jainism does not believe in the existence of God in the sense of a creator. Moreover, while gods are beings superior to humans, they are, nevertheless, not fully enlightened.
The Digambara sect of Jainism believes that all twenty four Tirthankars were men but Svetambara sect claims that the nineteenth Tirthankar, Malli Nath, was a woman.
All but two of the Tirthankaras are ascribed to the Ikshvaku family (or Kula or Kul, which in Sanskrit means "heart community" or "intentional/chosen community/family"). Munisuvrata, the twentieth, and Neminatha, the twenty-second, were of the Harivamsa race.
All but Rishabha received diksha (consecration) and jnana (complete enlightenment of all knowledge) at their native places. Rishabha became a Kevalin at Purimatala, Nemi at Girnar, and Mahavira at the Rijupaluka river. Twenty Tirthankaras died or obtained moksha (deliverance in bliss) on Sameta Sikhara. However Rishabha, the first, achieved nirvana on the Kailasa Mountain of the Himalayas; Vasupujya died at Champapuri in north Bengal; Neminatha on Mount Girnar; and Mahavira, the last, at Pavapur.
Narration Chart of 24 Tirathankars
The following particulars for each Arhat are given below:
|I. Lord Rishabha (Adinath)||Sarvarthasiddha||Vinittanagari;
|golden||bull or ox||500 dhanusha
|Vata (banyan)||Gomukha and
|golden||elephant||450 dhanusha||7,200,000 purva||['S]ala
|golden||horse||400 dhanusha||6,000,000 purva||Prayala
|golden||monkey||350 dhanusha||5,000,000 purva||Priyangu
|300 dhanusha||4,000,000 purva||Sala||Tumburu and
|red||lotus||250 dhanusha||3,000,000 purva||Chhatra||Kusuma and
|swastika||200 dhanusha||2,000,000 purva||Sirisha
and Santa; or
|white||moon||150 dhanusha||1,000,000 purva||Naga||Vijaya and
Syama or Vijaya
|white||Crocodile||100 dhanusha||200,000 purva||Sali||Ajita and
|X. Sheetalnath||Achyutadevaloka||Bhadrapura or Bhadilapura;
|90 dhanusha||100,000 purva||Priyangu||Brahma and
|golden||rhinoceros||80 dhanusha||8,400,000 common years||Tanduka||Yakshet and
|ruddy||female buffalo||70 dhanusha||7,200,000 years||Patala
|golden||pig||60 dhanusha||6,000,000 years||Jambu
|golden||porcupine||50 dhanusha||3,000,000 years||Asoka
|golden||vajra||45 dhanusha||1,000,000 years||Dadhiparna
|XVI. Shantinath||Sarvarthasiddha||Gajapura or Hastinapuri;
|golden||deer||40 dhanusha||100,000 years||Nandi
|golden||goat||35 dhanusha||95,000 years||Bhilaka||Gandharva and
|30 dhanusha||84,000 years||Amba
|blue||jar or Kalasa||25 dhanusha||55,000 years||Asoka||Kubera and
|black||tortoise||20 dhanusha||30,000 years||Champaka
|XXI. Nami Natha||Pranatadevaloka||Mathura;
|blue water-lily or blue lotus||15 dhanusha||10,000 years||Bakula
|XXII. Neminatha||Aparajita||Sauripura and Ujjinta (Ujjain);
Mount Girnar (Girnarji)
|black||conch||ten dhanusha||1,000 years||Vetasa||Gomedha and
|blue||snake||nine hands or cubits||100 years||Dhataki
|XXIV. Mahavira||Pranatadevaloka||Kundagrama or Chitrakuta;
|yellow||lion||seven hands or cubits||72 years||teak||Matamga and
- Jains do not see Mahavira as the founder of their religion but as the twenty-fourth Tirthankara in a long history of spiritual masters.
- Dundas, Paul. The Jains (Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices). Routledge; 2 edition, 2002. ISBN 978-0415266055
- Jain, Jyotindra and Eberhard Fischer, Jaina Iconography: The Tirthankara in Jaina Sculptures, Art and Rituals. Brill Academic Publishers, 1997. ISBN 978-9004052604
- Shah, Bharat S. An Introduction to Jainism. BookSurge Publishing, 2002. ISBN 978-0962367472
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