Ṛṣabha sculpture excavated in Khajuraho
Rishabha, also known as Adinatha, is the traditional founder of Jainism. He was the first of the twenty-four tīrthaṅkaras or "ford-makers", teachers who established the Jain teachings. According to legends, he belonged to the Ikshvaku dynasty of ancient Ayodhya. His son was believed to be the first chakravartin. Rishabha is also known as Rikhava and is sometimes called Rishabha of Kosala.
Jains traditionally trace their history through a succession of twenty-four propagators of faith known as tīrthaṅkara. These tīrthaṅkara have legendary accounts of their life. Pārśva, is the earliest tīrthaṅkara who can be reliably dated; he lived in the 9th century BCE. Tradition says that Mahāvīra's parents followed his teachings. However, the current knowledge about the history of India is not enough to say whether Pārśva decisively founded the Jain religion or not. In this regard, Hermann Jacobi, a noted indologist, writes:
There is nothing to prove that Parshva was the founder of Jainism. Jain tradition is unanimous in making Rishabha, the first Tirthankara, as its founder and there may be something historical in the tradition which makes him the first Tirthankara.
Some contemporary historians are of the opinion that there exists some link between Rishabha and the Indus Valley Civilization. However, these mentions of Rishabha in the Vedas have multiple interpretations. There is no conclusive evidence of him founding Jainism in Vedic literature. Rishabha was, however, worshiped as the first tīrthaṅkara and the founder of Jainism from the 4th or 3rd century BCE.
The eighth incarnation was King Rishabha, son of King Nabhi and his wife Merudevi. In this incarnation the Lord showed the path of perfection, which is followed by those who have fully controlled their senses and who are honored by all orders of life.—Srimad Bhagavatam 1.3.13
In the Skanda Purana (chapter 37) it is stated that "Rishabha was the son of Nabhi, and Rishabha had a son named Bharata, and after the name of this Bharata, this country is known as Bharata-varsha."
Rishabha also finds mention in Buddhist literature. It speaks of several jaina tirthankara which includes Rishabha along with Padmaprabha, Chandraprabha, Pushpadanta, Vimalnatha, Dharmanatha and Neminatha. A Buddhist scripture named Dharmottarapradipa mentions Rishabha as an Apta (Tirthankara).
The Ādi purāṇa, a 10th-century Kannada language text by the poet Adikavi Pampa (fl. 941 CE), written in Champu style, a mix of prose and verse and spread over sixteen cantos, deals with the ten lives of Rishabha and his two sons. The life of Rishabha is also given in Mahapurana of Jinasena.
Rishabha was born to Nabhi Raja and Marudevi at Ayodhya before human civilization was much developed. People were primitive and illiterate and he taught them agriculture, tending of animals, cooking, poetry, painting, sculpture and similar arts. He introduced karma-bhumi (the age of action). The institution of marriage, ceremony of cremating the dead and festivals in honour of gods like Indra and Naga came into existence. He introduced a total of seventy-two sciences which includes arithmetic, the plastic and visual arts, the art of lovemaking, singing and dancing. He taught people how to extract sugarcane juice. The name for the Ikshvaku dynasty comes from the word ikhsu (sugarcane) because of this event. His kingdom was kind and gentle and he is credited with transforming a tribal society into an orderly one. Like any Tirthankara and other legendary figures of Indian history (who were great warriors), he too was a great warrior with great strength and body. However, he never needed to show his warrior aspect. Rishabha is known for advocating non-violence. He was one of the greatest initiators of human progress.
Rishabha had two wives. One of them was Sunanda and the other is given different names, Yasaswati, Nanda and Sumangala, in different texts. He had one hundred sons and two daughters. Among these, Sunanda was the mother of Bahubali and Sundari whereas Sumangala was the mother of Bharat and Brahmi. Bharata, Rishabha's eldest son, was a chakravartin who later attained moksha and hence is worshipped as a siddha by the Jains. India was named 'Bhāratavarsha' or Bhārata after him.
Rishabha gave his kingdom to his two sons Bharata and Bahubali. Bharata received the northern half of his kingdom with Ayodhya as the capital whereas Bahubali received the southern half with the city Podanapur. He then became an ascetic. His aim was to cause less harm to others and keep no possessions. Some of the scriptures mention that a nymph named Nilanjana was sent by Indra for the purpose of awakening Rishabha to renounce the world. Nilanjana was one of the favorite dancers of Rishabha. Indra staged the dancer's sudden death in order to awaken Rishabha and make him preach Jainism. The sudden fatal death of Nilanjana gave Rishabha a desire for renunciation. Rishabha was the first human to attain enlightenment. He traveled far and wide and preached Jainism. He had his first alms as an ascetic in the town of Hastinapur. Jains celebrate this event on the third day of bright fortnight of the month Vaishaka. While traveling, he came across a mountain named Ashtapada, which is famously known as mount Kailash. Gods created a divine preaching hall known as samavasarana at this mountain for Rishabha. He attained liberation on Mount Kailasa at the age of 84 lakh purva (5,927,040,000,000,000; where one purva equals 84*8,400,000). His preachings were recorded in fourteen scriptures known as Purva.
Rishabha is usually depicted in lotus position or kayotsarga, a standing posture of meditation. The distinguishing mark of Rishabha is his long locks of hair which fall on his shoulders and an image of a bull in his sculptures. His paintings usually depict various important events of his legend. Some of these include his marriage and the Hindu god Indra marking his forehead. He is shown presenting a bowl to his followers and teaching them the art of pottery, painting a house, weaving textile. The visit of his mother Marudevi is also shown extensively in painting.
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