The term tirthankara in Jainism refers to a saviour who has crossed the samsara or cycle of birth and rebirths and made a path for others to follow. Jain cosmology mentions that the 24 tirthankaras grace this part of the universe in each half of the cosmic time cycle. A tirthaankara teaches dharma, the righteous path,organises sangha with sravakas and sravikas, male and female monastics. There teachings are similar and their blessings are available to all beings. The teachings are found in the Jain canons.
The tirthankaras are arihants or jinas meaning conquerors of one’s inner enemies such as anger, attachment, pride and greed. They attain kevalajnana or pure infinite knowledge. Then they guide others through their darshana or divine vision and deshna or divine speech towards kevalajnana and moksha or liberation.
A tirthankara is usually depicted in the seated padmasana or lotus position and in kayotsarga if depicted in standing posture. One can recognise them through their symbols because they look similar. The two sects of Jainas depict the tirthankaras differently. The Digmabara sect depicts them unclothed while the Svetambara sect depicts them with clothes and some ornaments.
Rishabhanatha, 1st Jaina tirthankara,7-8th century, Uttar Pradesh.
By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17563963
By Gérard Janot – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=610652
The 24 Jaina tirthankaras are Rishabhnatha,bull symbol,Ajitanatha,elephant symbol,Sambhanatha, symbol horse, Abhinandananatha,monkey symbol, Sumatinatha,goose as symbol, Padmaprabha, lotus symbol, Suparshvanatha,swastika, Chandraprabha, moon symbol, Pushpadanta, makara or crocodile symbol, Shitalanatha , srivatsa symbol, Shreyanasanatha, rhinoceros symbol, Vasupujya, buffalo symbol, Vimalanatha, boar symbol, Anantanatha, porcupine or falcon, Dharmanatha, vajra symbol, Shantinatha deer or antelope, Kunthunatha, goat symbol, Aranatha, fish symbol,Mallinatha ,kalasha symbol, Munisuvrata, tortoise as symbol,Naminatha,blue lotus as symbol, Neminatha, conch as symbol, Parshvanatha, snake as symbol and Mahavira with the lion symbol.
Naminatha,Mathura,12th century, Government Museum,Uttar Pradesh.
By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30298466
The statues depicted below are on the Gopachal Hill in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh which were carved around 15-16th century A.D. by the Tomar dynasty rulers. These colossal statues were built during the reign of Tomar Kings :Viramdev, Dungar Singh and Kirti Singh. the front side of the hill has 26 caves having rock cut carvings. The Parshvanatha image is 47 feet in height, present in one of the caves, the Rishabhnatha one is 58 feet tall, outside of the Urvahi Gate,the Suparshvanatha image is 35 feet high in a cave in the padmasana posture. The images have survived in spite of invasions. Parshvanatha is believed to have delivered a deshna or discourse on Gopachal Hill where the Gwalior Fort also stands.
Jain tirthankaras, 15th-16th century,Gwalior,Madhya Pradesh.
As per Jain beliefs time has no beginning and end. The tirthankaras were royal figures and Jaina texts have their past lives’ records. The first tirthankara Rishabhanatha is believed to have founded the Ishkavaku dynasty from which 21 other tirthankaras also rose over time. Two tirthankaras; Munisuvrata, the 20th, and Neminatha, the 22nd belonged to the Harivamsa dynasty.
Mahavira, gold statue.
By Sidparakh (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The 24 Jain tirthankaras, painting,19th century,Jaipur.
See page for author [Public domain ], via Wikimedia Commons
- The peaceful liberators : Jain art from India/Pal, Pratapaditya, Los Angeles : LACMA,1996.
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