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According to the Jain cosmology, Salakapurusas (illustrious or worthy persons), also known as trisastisalakapurusa (63 illustrious persons) are 63 illustrious beings who appear during each half-time cycle. The Jain universal or legendary history is a compilation of the deeds of these illustrious persons. They are 24 Tīrthaṅkaras (ford makers), 12 Cakravartīs (universal monarchs, emperors of six continents), 9 Baladevas (gentle heroes), 9 Vāsudevas (violent heroes) and 9 Prativāsudevas (anti-heroes). According to Jainism, time is beginningless and eternal. The Kālacakra, the cosmic wheel of time, rotates ceaselessly. The wheel of time is divided into two half-rotations, Utsarpiṇī or ascending time cycle and Avasarpiṇī, the descending time cycle, occurring continuously after each other. Utsarpiṇī is a period of progressive prosperity and happiness where the time spans and ages are at an increasing scale, while Avsarpiṇī is a period of increasing sorrow and immorality with decline in time spans of the epochs. During each such time cycle, these 63 illustrious persons appear and establish the religion and order in society. According to Jain cosmology, since time is eternal, infinite kalacakras have elapsed and will occur in future and hence infinite sets of these 63 illustrious persons have appeared, and will appear, to establish order and religion in their respective eras.
Origin and Etymology 
The word salakapurusa is often translated as illustrious persons or worthy persons or mighty persons. It is derived from the Sanskrit compound of words salaka and purusa. "Purusa" means person, but "salaka" is of ambiguous etymology in this context. The primary meaning of the word salaka (Sanskrit: Śalākā, Pali: salākā, Prakrit: salāgā, salāyā) is "stick". In the Buddhist context it meant a ticket consisting of wooden sticks meant for voting or to distribute food; but in Jain context it was used to mean a stick and also a measurement and when combined with "purusa" to denote great heroes. According to 11th century Jain author, monk Acharya Hemachandra, these persons are called salaka as they have been specially marked among men. This emphasised that the names of the salakapurusas were underlined or specially significant due to their deeds. John Cort also quotes another author, S. D. Parekh, who emphasises the root meaning of voting sticks and concludes that a salakapurusa is a great person, as his greatness has been accepted by general public.
The tradition of salakapurusas or Jain universal history started with the biographies of the Tirthankaras. Kalpasutra gives the names and brief biographies of only tirthankaras. It does not use the word salakapurusas or mention them by name, but does say that the categories of Arihants, Chakravartins, Balaramas and Vasudevas are always born in royal families, thus foreshadowing 54 of the 63 salakapurusas. Furthermore, Jaini traces the origin of list of Baladeva and Vasudeva to the Jinacharitra (lives of the Jinas) by Bhadrabahu (3–4th century BCE).
There was no agreement in the initial texts as to the number of salakapurusas, and prativasudevas were often left out of the list of Jain heroes. Much of the raw material of the universal history can be found in the Jain Agamas (earliest Svetambara canonical literature some of which dates to 4th century BCE).
The following texts chronicle the deeds of the salakapurusas:
- Kalpasutra – Devoted mainly to stories of Rishabha, Neminatha, Parsva and Mahavira. It names other tirthankaras and also mentions the categories of Chakravartins, Baldeva and Vasudeva without giving individual names.
- Samavayanga Sutra – This text gives description of sixty-three and fifty-four salakapurusas in different places.
- Satkhandagama (1st century) – This gives a description of Jain universal history in a rudimentary form.
- Paumacarya by Vimalasuri (2nd century) – This is the Jain version of Ramayana. The story of Rama the eighth Baladeva is narrated within the context of 63 salakapurusas. The later texts were influenced by Paumacarya.
- Tiloya Panatti by Yativrisabha (7th century) – This text gives descriptions of other Jain heroes i.e. 9 Naradas, 11 Rudras and 24 Kamadevas, but specifically states that there are only 63 salakapurusas.
- Cauppanamahapurisacariya by Silanka (9th century) – This narrates the deeds of fifty-four great heroes.
- Adipurana by Jinasena and Gunabhadra (10th century) – This text is also known as Trisastilaksanamahapurana (The great purana describing 63 great heroes). By this time the number of heroes had come to be fixed at 63.
- Trisastisalakapurusacaritra by Hemacandra (11th century) – The deeds of 63 illustrious persons, and one of the most popular text of Jain universal history.
- Kahavali by Bhadresvara (13th century) — This text raised the number of salakapurusa to 72 by adding 9 Naradas.
All traditions of Jainism now agree to the figure of 63 salakapurusas. However, the number of persons is 60 as three persons (Shantinath, Kunthunath and Aranath) were Chakravartins who later on became Tirthankaras.
Tīrthankaras (also known as Jinas) are Arhatas who are teachers and revivers of the Jain philosophy. There are 24 Tīrthankaras in each half time cycle; Mahāvīra was the 24th and last Tīrthankara of the current descending time cycle and Rishabha was the first Tirthankara. Tīrthankaras are literally "the ford makers", who have shown the way to cross the ocean of rebirth and transmigration and hence have become a focus of reverence and worship amongst Jains. The Tirthankara provides all creatures with the means to liberate the soul from the confines of the body and to rise towards bliss, enlightenment and release from the eternal cycle of rebirth. He advocates continence, truth, non-violence, simplicity and purity for those who seek liberation. Tīrthankaras ultimately become Siddhas on liberation.
The twenty four Tīrthankaras of this descending time cycle are:
- Rishabha or Adinatha
A Chakravarti (Universal Monarch) is the emperor of the world, lord of the material realm. Though he possesses worldly power, he often finds his ambitions dwarfed by the enormity of the cosmos. Jain purunas give a list of 12 Chakravartins who flourished in this descending time cycle. Golden in complexion, they all belonged to Kasyapa gotra. One of the greatest Chakravartis mentioned in Jain scriptures is Bharata in whose memory India came to be known as "Bharata-varsha". After conquering the whole world, King Bharata, brimming with pride, sought to inscribe his great feat on the slopes of Mount Meru. To his great dismay, he found the names of many other kings carved on Meru. Like him, they too had conquered the world. He was not the first man to do so. He was not the last. There were many before him, there were many after him. Bharata, humbled by the experience, returned to his kingdom to do his duty, aware that his actions were not unique and that his existence was not special. The names of the twelve Chakravartins as per Jain Texts are:
- Bharata - Tirthankara Rishabha's son.
- Sagara - Ancestor of Bhagiratha as per Hindu puranas.
- Shantinatha - (also a Tirthankara)
- Kunthunatha - (also a Tirthankara)
- Aranatha - (also a Tirthankara)
Triad of Baladeva, Vasudeva and Prativasudeva 
In every half time cycle, there are 9 sets of Baladevas (gentle heroes), Vāsudevas (violent heroes) and Prativāsudevas (anti-heroes). Certain Digambara texts refer to them as Balabhadra, Narayana and Pratinarayana respectively. Padmanabh Jaini notes that, unlike in the Hindu Puranas, the names Baladeva and Vasudeva are not restricted to Balarama and Krishna in Jain puranas. Instead they serve as names of two distinct classes of mighty half brothers, who appear nine times in each half of the time cycles of the Jain cosmology and jointly rule half the earth as half-chakravarti. Ultimately Prativasudeva is killed by Vasudeva for his unrighteousness and immorality. Jaini traces the origin of this list of brothers to the Jinacaritra (lives of the Jinas) by Bhadrabahu swami (3-4th century BCE). Jain Ramayana is based on the stories of Rama, Lakshmana and Ravana who are the eighth Baladeva, Vasudeva, and Prativasudeva respectively. Similarly Jain Mahabharata is based on the stories of Balarama, Krishna and Jarasandha, who are the ninth and the last set of Baladeva, Vasudeva, and Prativasudeva. However, the main battle is not the Mahabharata, but the fight between Krishna and Jarasandha who is killed by Krishna.
According to Jain texts, Vasudevas are generally of dark complexion and wear yellow garments. There are seven weapons and symbols of Vasudeva, namely: conch, discus (sudarsana cakra), club, bow, sword, jewel (kaustubha mani) and a garland of flowers (vanamala). Baladevas, half-brothers of Vasudevas, are described as fair in complexion and wear garments of dark blue and have a banner of palm tree. Their symbols or weapons are: bow, plough, pestle and arrow. The two brothers are inseparable and they jointly rule three continents as half-Chakravarti. Although Vasudeva is the mightier of the two, Baladeva is depicted as superior for his non-violent ways and he achieves liberation. Out of nine Baladevas, eight attain liberation and the last one goes to heaven. On the other hand, Vasudevas go to hell on account of their violent exploits, even if they were is to uphold righteousness.
The list of Baladeva, Vasudeva and Prativasudeva are:
|No.||Baladeva / Balabhadra||Vasudeva/ Narayana||Prativasudeva/ Pratinarayana|
|2||Vijaya||Dvipushta (or prishtha)||Taraka|
|5||Sudarsana||Nara (Purusha) simha||Madhukatiabha|
Out of the above five classes of illustrious persons, Tirthankaras are placed at the top. They establish the religion and attain liberation. The Chakravarti attain liberation if they renounce their kingdom, or else go to hell if they indulge in sensual pleasures. Next in rank are Baladevas who are gentle heroes and devout laymen, who attain liberation corresponding to Tirthankaras. Vasudevas are also devout Jain laymen and ultimately attain liberation, but are first reborn in hell because of their violent actions. The mother of a Tirthankara and Chakravarti sees 14 dreams (16 dreams in some traditions) when the embryo enters her womb. The mother of a Vasusdeva sees seven dreams, while that of a Baladeva sees only four dreams. The mother of a Prati-vasudeva sees no dreams.
Certain Jain texts also depict the comparative powers of Salakapurusas in the following manner:
- A bull is as powerful as 12 warriors.
- A horse is as powerful as 10 bulls.
- A buffalo is as powerful as 12 horses.
- An elephant is as powerful as 15 buffalos.
- A lion with mane is as powerful as 500 elephants.
- An octoped (Astapada mythical eight limbed animal) is as powerful as 2,000 maned lions.
- A Baldev is as powerful as 1 million octopeds.
- A Vasudev is as powerful as 2 Baldevs. (A Prati-vasudeva is slightly less powerful that a Vasudeva)
- A Chakravarti is as powerful as 2 Vasudevs.
- A king of serpent gods is as powerful as 100,000 Chakravartis.
- An Indra is as powerful as 10 million kings of serpent gods.
- The power of innumerable Indras is insignificant as compared to that of the small finger of a Tirthankar.
Other important classes 
In Jain universal history, other than these 63 Salakapurusa, there are other classes of people who, though not depicted as salakapurusas, are important enough to be mentioned separately. They are:
- 9 Naradas (Bhima, Mahabhima, Rudra, Maharudra, Kala, Mahakala, Durmukha, Narakamukha, Adhomukha)
- 11 Rudras (Bhimabali, Jitasatru, Rudra, Visvanala, Supratishtha, Achala, Pundarika, Jitadhara, Jitanabhi, Pitha, Satyaki)
- 24 Kamdevas (Bahubali, Prajapati, Sridhara, Prasenacandra, Candravarna, Agniyukta, Sanatkumara, Vatsaraja, Kanakaprabha, Meghaprabha, Santinatha, Kunthu-natha, Arahanatha, Vijayaraja, Srichandra, Nalaraja (male figure of the mythological couple Nalraja and Queen Damyanti), Hanumant, Baliraja, Vasudeva, Pradyumna, Nagakumata, Jivamdhara, Jambusvami)
- 24 Fathers of the Tirthankaras (For list refer Tirthankara Table)
- 24 Mothers of the Tirthankaras. (For list refer Tirthankara Table)
- 14 Kulakaras (Pratisvati, Sammati, Kshemamkara, Kshemamdhara, Simamkare, Simamdhara, Vimalavahana, Chakshushment, Yasasvin, Abhichandra, Candrabha, Merudeve, Prasenachandra, Nabhinarendra)
- Pattanaik, Devdutt (2009-08-18). "63 worthy beings". Mid-day. Retrieved 2011-04-29.
- Jaini, Padmanabh (2000) p.377—378
- Dundas, Paul; John Hinnels ed. (2002) p.12
- Kothari, Dr. P. Ajay (2000) p. 90—91
- Kapadia, H.R. (1941) p.65
- Cort, John (1997) p. 1357
- Cort, John (1997) p. 1358
- Jaini, Padmanabh (2000) p. 377
- John cort p.1356—57
- Shah, Umakant Premchand (1987) p. 72
- Jaini, J.L. (1940) Appendix III
- Jaini, Padmanabh (1998) p.305
- Shah, Umakant Premchand (1987) p. 74–75
- Shah, Umakant Premchand (1987) p. 73–76
- Cort, John (1997) p. 1360
- Muni Nagraj. p. 203
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