Tirthankars

The statue of Gomateshwara of Digambar tradition in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka is the tallest monolith of its kind in the worldLike other Indian religions, knowledge of the truth (dharma) is considered to have declined and revived cyclically throughout history. Those who rediscover dharma are called Tirthankar. The literal meaning of Tirthankar is 'Ford-builder', or God. Like Buddhism, the purpose of Jain dharma is to undo the negative effects of karma through mental and physical purification. This process leads to liberation accompanied by a great natural inner peace.

Having purified one's soul of karmic impurities, a tirthankar is considered omniscient, and a role model. Identified as god, these individuals are called Bhagavan, (Bhagavan Rishabha, Bhagavan Parshva, etc.). There have been 24 Tirthankars in what the Jains call the 'Present age'. The last two Tirthankars: Parsva and Mahavir, the 23rd and 24th respectively are historical figures whose existence is recorded. It is possible for every man to attain the highest state. Tirthankars take the place of God in the Jain philosophy. Tirthankara ("Fordmaker") is a human who achieves enlightenment (perfect knowledge), through asceticism. A Tirthankar becomes a Jina (after totally conquering anger, pride, deceit, desire, etc.). A Tirthankar is the founder of a "Tirth", a Jain community which acts as a "Ford" across the "river of human misery". After achieving enlightenment, a Tirthankar shows others the path to enlightenment. The Tirthankar's religious teachings form the Jain canons. The inner knowledge of all Tirthankars is perfect and identical in every respect, for the teachings of one Tirthankar do not contradict those of another. However, the degree of elaboration varies according to the spiritual advancement and purity of humans during that period. The higher the spiritual advancement and purity of mind, the lower the elaboration required. At the end of his human life-span, a Tirthankar achieves Liberation ('Moksh' or 'Nirvan'), ending the cycle of infinite births and deaths.

Neminath or Aristanemi, who preceded Lord Parshvanath, was a cousin of Krishna. He was son of Samudravijaya and grandson of Andhakavrsni of Sauryapura.  Krishna had negotiated the wedding of Neminath with Rajimati, the daughter of Ugrasena of Dvaraka. Neminath attained emancipation on the summit of Mount Raivata (Girnar).  There is a mention of Neminath in several Vedic canonical books. The king named Nebuchadnazzar was living in the 10th century B. C. It indicates that even in the tenth century B.C. there was the worship of the temple of Neminath.

The historicity of Lord Parshvanath has been unanimously accepted.  He preceded Lord Mahavir by 25O years.  He was the son of King Asvasena and Queen Vama of Varanasi. At the age of thirty he renounced the world and became an ascetic.  He practiced austerities for eighty three days. On the eighty fourth day he obtained Omniscience. Lord Parshvanath preached his doctrines for seventy years. At the age of one hundred he attained Liberation on the summit of Mount Sammed (Parsnath Hills). The four vows preached by Lord Parshvanath are:  not to kill, not to lie, not to steal, and not to own property.

Lord Mahavir was the twenty fourth, i.e., the last Tirthankar. According to the tradition of the Shvetämbar Jains, the Nirvän of Lord Mahavir  took place 470 years before the beginning of the Vikrama Era. The tradition of the Digambar Jains maintains that Lord Mahavir attained Nirvän 605 years before the beginning of the Saka Era. By either mode of calculation the date comes to 527 B.C. Since the Lord attained emancipation at the age of 72, his birth must have been around 599 B.C. This makes Lord  Mahavir slightly elder contemporary of Buddha who probably lived about 567-487 B.C. Lord  Mahavir was the head of an excellent community of 14,000 monks, 36,000 nuns, 159,00O male lay votaries and 318,OOO female lay votaries.  The four groups designated as monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen constitute the four fold order (Tirtha) of Jainism. Of the eleven Principle Disciples (Ganadharas) of Lord Mahavir, only two, viz., Gautam Swami and Sudharma Swami survived him.  After twenty years of Nirvän of Lord Mahavir, Sudharma Swami also attained emancipation.  He was the last of the eleven gandharas to die. Jambu Swami, the last omniscient, was his pupil.  He attained salvation after sixty four years of the Nirvän of Lord Mahavir. There were both types of monks, viz., sachelaka (with clothes) and Achelaka (without clothes), in the order of Lord Mahavir.  Both types of these groups were present together up to several centuries after Nirvän of Lord Mahavir.

Keval-Jnani, Shrut Kevali & Das-Purvi Ächäryas:
Keval-Jnanis are those who have eradicated four soul defiling karmas and attained the perfect knowledge.
Shrut-kevalis are those who know all 14 Purvas and 12 Ang-Pravishtha-Agams.
Das-Purvis are those who knew the first ten Purvas and 11 Ang-Pravishtha-Agams.

a) Who is a Tirthankar?
A tirthankara is one who establishes Jain organization after conquering both love and hatred. He shows a fine path to the living beings of the world to be free from ignorance, misery and moha (Worldly happiness)

b) What do Tirthankars do?
The 24 Tirthankars are considered to be the creator of Jain religion. They are divine elements of Jainism. They have attained all the achievement of ultimate nature including the ultimate knowledge after making vigorous efforts. Their principles are for betterment and welfare of others. Their path is to provide total fearless life and that of non-violence and to distribute love and friendship. Their vision of life is very wide and they have no insistence for anything. Their way of life is for giving up possessive passion and being free from the karmas.

c) Why there are 24 Tirthankars only?
The answer to this question can be perhaps available from the 87th stanza of “Yashstilakchulikc” scripture written by Acharya Somdev Suri. He observes:
'There are indefinite number of Grahas (Planets) – Nakshatras – Stars (Heavenly elements in the sky). But their numbers are shown to be limited by the rule of nature. In the present era of Utsarpini time-span, there are 24 times only when these heavenly elements are positioned in the best location. This is a certainty. Therefore there are only 24 Tirthankars, only not a one less not a one more.

d) Current Period Tirthankars:
1. Rishabhanath/Adinath (India was named Bharat after Eldest son of Tirthankar Adinath i.e Bharat )
2. Ajitanath
3. Sambhavanath
4. Abhinandananath
5. Sumatinath
6. Padmaprabhu
7. Supaarshvanath
8. Chandraprabhu
9. Pushpadant
10. Shitalnath
11. Shreyaamshnath
12. Vaasupujya
13. Vimalanath
14. Anantanath
15. Dharmanath
16. Shantinath
17. Kunthunath
18. Aarhanath
19. Mallinath
20. Munisuvrata
21. Namimanth
22. Neminath
23. Parshvanath
24. Vardhaman Mahavir