Chakravarti (Sanskrit; cakkavatti) is an ancient Indian term used to refer to an ideal universal ruler who rules ethically and benevolently over the entire world. Such a ruler's reign is called sarvabhauma. It is a bahuvrīhi, figuratively meaning "whose wheels are moving", in the sense of "whose chariot is rolling everywhere without obstruction". It can also be analysed as an 'instrumental bahuvrīhi: "through whom the wheel is moving" in the meaning of "through whom the Dharmachakra ("Wheel of the Dharma) is turning" (most commonly used in Buddhism and Hinduism).
- Chakravala chakravarti, a ruler over all four continents postulated in ancient Indian cosmography
- Dvipa chakravarti, a ruler over only one of four continents
- Pradesa chakravarti, a ruler over only part of a continent.
The first references to a cakravala cakravrtin appear in monuments from the time of the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE), dedicated to Chandragupta Maurya and his grandson Ashoka. It has not been generally used for any other historic figure. In Buddhism, the chakravarti came to be considered the secular counterpart of a buddha. In general, the term applies to temporal as well as spiritual kingship and leadership, particularly in Buddhism and Jainism. In Hinduism, the term generally denotes a powerful ruler whose dominion extended to the entire earth.
- Ikshvaku, the son of Ila of the Suryavanshi lineage after whom India was named as Ilavarta and Eelam. In Hindu mythology he is said to have conquered the world.
- Bharat was the son of the Puru Dynasty. The official name of the Republic of India, Bhārat (भारत) in Hindi and Bhāratam (भारतम्) in Sanskrit is named after him. He was able to conquer the whole Indian subcontinent. Legend holds that he even conquered regions outside of the Subcontinent such as Afghanistan (then referred to as Gandhara) and Tibet (then referred to as Bhūta).
- Shibi, famous in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. He sacrificed his flesh. There have been several dynasties which have claimed heritage from Emperor Shibi's line. The Cholas mentioned him to be of Chola lineage, and referred to him as Sembiyan.
- Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan, a Sangam age Tamil king said in inscriptions to have conquered up to the Himalayas.
During the each motion of the half-cycle of the wheel of time, 63 Śalākāpuruṣa or 63 illustrious men, consisting of the 24 Tīrthaṅkaras and their contemporaries regularly appear. The Jain universal or legendary history is basically a compilation of the deeds of these illustrious men. As per Jain cosmology, out of these 63, twelve are Chakravartis, who are Universal Monarch or World Conquerors. The Jaina Puranas give a list of twelve such Cakravartis who flourished in this Avasarpini. Golden in complexion, they all belonged to the Kasyapa gotra. The mother of a Cakraborty sees some dreams at the time of conception. According to the Adipurana, Bharata's mother saw the sun and the moon, the mount Meru, the lake with swans, earth and the ocean. According to Acharya Hemachandra, Marudevi, mother of Adinath, sees fourteen great dreams. A chakravarti is considered an ideal human being endowed with thirty-two major signs of excellence and many minor signs of excellence.
The list of 12 chakravartis as per Jainism is as follows:
- Bharata, son of Tirthankara Rishabha
- Sagara, ancestor of Bhagiratha as in the Puranas
- Tirthankara Shantinath
- Tirthankara Kunthunath
- Tirthankara Aranath
In Jainism, a chakravarti was characterised by possession of saptaratna, or "seven jewels":
Some lists cite navaratna or "nine jewels" instead, adding "prime minister" and "son".
The Boddhisattva-Cakravarti in Buddhism
The concept of the cakravarti existed in Buddhism as well as in Jainism. The Buddhist Mahāvastu (1.259f) and the Divyāvadāna, as well as the Theravadin Milindapañha, describe the marks of the cakravarti as ruler: uṣṇīṣa , chhatra "parasol", "horn jewel" or vajra, whisk and sandals. These were the marks of the kshatriya. Plastic art of early Mahayana Buddhism illustrates bodhisattvas in a form called uṣṇīṣin "wearing a turban/hair binding", wielding the mudras for "nonviolent cakravarti rule".
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