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Pārśva or Pārśvanātha (c. 877–777 BCE) was the twenty-third Tirthankara of Jainism. He is the earliest Jain leader for whom there is reasonable evidence of having been a historical figure.
Pārśva was the son of King Aśvasena and Queen Vāmā of Varanasi. He belonged to the Ikśvaku dynasty. He lived as formal prince of Varanasi and at the age of thirty, he renounced the world to become a monk. He meditated for eighty-four days before attaining Kevala Jnana. He achieved mokṣa at the age of one hundred atop Shikharji, which is known today as "the Parasnath Hills" after him. Pārśva was called purisādāṇīya "beloved of men", a name which shows that he must have been a genial personality. He remains beloved among Jains.
When he was a prince he saved a serpent that had been trapped in a log in an ascetic’s fire. The snake, later reborn as Dharana, the lord of the underworld kingdom of the nāgas, sheltered Pārśva from a storm sent by a demon.
According to the Kalpasutra, Pārśva had 164,000 male and 327,000 female lay followers and 16,000 men and 38,000 female monks. He had eight chief disciples known as ganadharas. They were Śubhadatta, Āryaghoṣa, Vasiṣṭha, Brahmacāri, Soma, Śrīdhara, Vīrabhadra and Yaśas. After his death, the gandhara Śubhadatta became the head of the monastic order. He was then succeeded by Haridatta, Āryasamudra and Keśī.
Keśī is believed to have been born about 166 to 250 years after the death of Pārśva. He met the ganadhara of Mahavira, Indrabhuti Gautama. Their discussion about the apparent differences between the teachings of the two tirthankaras is recorded in Jain texts.
Pārśva is the most popular object of Jain devotion. He is closely associated with compassion, although he is free from the world of rebirth like all tirthankaras and therefore unable to aid his devotees personally. Jainism teaches that people have to help themselves to achieve mokṣa.
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