|1st Jain Tirthankara|
Ṛṣabha sculpture excavated in Khajuraho
Rishabha also known as Adinatha (The first protector), Adishvara and Adeshvara (Primal Lord) is the traditional founder of Jainism. He was the first of the twenty-four tīrthaṅkara. According to the legends, he belonged to the Ikshvaku dynasty of ancient Ayodhya. Rishabha is also known as Rikhava and is sometimes called Rishabha of Kosala.
Rishabha is a legendary figure. Historians are of the opinion that the legends might be surrounding a real person, however the evidence is not conclusive. Since 4th or 3rd century BCE, Rishabha is widely worshiped as the founder and the first tirthankara of Jainism.
Jains traditionally trace their history through a succession of twenty-four propagators of faith known as tirthankara. These tirthankara have legendary accounts of their life. Pārśva, is the earliest tirthankara 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 history of India is not enough to say whether Pārśva decisively founded the Jain religion or not. In this regard, Herman 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 of the contemporary historians are of the opinion that there exists some link between the first Jain Tirthankar Rishabha and the Indus valley civilization. According to Gyan Swarup Gupta, the various seals unearthed from Indus Valley Civilization contain incidents from the life of Rishabha. Based on the evidences, Gupta writes that Rishabha was an important mythical deity in the Indus valley civilization. Some of the seals unearthed at Mohenjodaro portrays a person with three or possibly four faces. Jain iconography frequently depicts its Tirthankaras with four faces, symbolizing their presence in all four directions. In addition, depictions of a bull appear repeatedly in the artifacts of the Indus Valley. The abundant use of the bull image in the Indus Valley civilization indicates a link with Rishabha, whose companion animal is the bull. Based on archeological and literary evidence. P. C. Roychoudary puts the date of Rishabha at the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Agriculture age. Rankin points out that the archaeological evidence suggests a community quite similar to the kingdom of Rishabha at 7000 BCE. Ram Prasad Chanda, who supervised Indus Valley Civilisation excavations, states that:
Not only the seated deities on some of the Indus seals are in Yoga posture and bear witness to the prevalence of Yoga in the Indus Valley Civilisation in that remote age, the standing deities on the seals also show Kayotsarga (a standing or sitting posture of meditation) position. The Kayotsarga posture is peculiarly Jain. It is a posture not of sitting but of standing. In the Adi Purana Book XV III, the Kayotsarga posture is described in connection with the penance of Rishabha.
In the Veda, he finds references specifically in the Rigveda and the Taitriya Aryanyaka. Various vedic sages paid reverence to Rishabha and called him "Lord of Lords". He is mentioned as Kesi, the head of Vatrasana Shramana in the Rigveda, which is further elaborated in the Bhagavata Purana (c. 8th century CE). There is a metaphorical reference to Rishabha in the Vratyakhanda of Arthaveda. However, these mention of Rishabha in Veda have multiple interpretations. There is no conclusive evidence of him being the founder of Jainism in the vedic literature. He was, however worshiped as the first Tirthankara and the founder of Jainism from the 4th or 3rd century BCE.
Srinivasan is of the opinion that:
There is mention of Rishabha in Hindu scriptures. Scriptures like Bhagavata Purana, Markandaya Purana, Vayu Purana, Brahamanda Purana, Skanda Purana and Vishnu Purana specifically mention the name of Rishabha. He is often thought of as a manifestation of the god Shiva. The Bhagavata Purana states that
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).
Adipurana, a Kannada language text by the poet Adikavi Pampa (fl. 941 CE), written in Champu style, a mix of prose and verse and spread over in sixteen cantos, deals with the ten lives of Rishabha and his two sons. The life of Rishabha is also given in Mahapurana of Jinasena. This is one of the important jaina scripture.
Rishabha was born to Nabhi Raja and Marudevi at Ayodhya before the 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, plastic and visual arts, the art of lovemaking, singing and dancing. He taught people how to extract sugarcane juice. The name Ikshvaku dynasti came from the word Ikhsu (sugarcane) due to this event. His kingdom was kind and gentle and he is credited for transforming a tribal society into an orderly one. He does not have a warrior aspect. This is in contrast to other legendary figures of Indian history who were great warriors. Rishabha is known for advocating non-violence. He was one of the greatest initiator 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 is 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 lesser 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 dancer's 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(5,92,70,40,00,00,00,000;where 1 purva equals to 84*8400000) . His preachings were recorded into 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 bull in his sculptures. His paintings usually depicts various important events of his legend. Some of these includes the mythological God Indra marking his forehead and his marriage. 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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