Jadabharata is a story about Bharata, son of Rishabha, first Tirthankara and founder of Jainism in the present half time cycle. The story appears in the second section of the Vishnu Purana and the fifth canto of the Bhagavata Purana. Stories related to the life of Bharata also appears in Jain texts, like Adipurana, a 10th-century Kannada text by Jain 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 the first tirthankara, Rishabha, also known as Adinath, and his two sons, Bharata and Bahubali.
According to Hindu scriptures, Bharata was born in the Solar Dynasty, in the line of Manu Svayambhuva, the eldest of a hundred sons of a saintly king by the name of Rishabha Deva (First Tirthankara), who ruled over the earth.
Life As A King
When Rishabha Deva became old he entrusted the rule of his kingdom to Bharata and retired to the forest to perform tapas. According to Bhagavata purana, Bharata on assuming rule married a girl named Panchajani and five sons were born to them. Bharata ruled the earth for a long time in a just manner. He performed a number of yagas, worshipped God in the prescribed manner and did many dharmic acts. Thus, he earned much merit. At the forest he stayed in the hermitage of the Rishi Pulaha on the banks of Gandaki river and by means of his austerities became a great sage. When Bharata in turn became old, he divided his kingdom among his five sons and, following his father, went to the forest to perform tapas.
Bharata smitten by love for a deer
One day while offering prayers to the Sun God on the river bank, he saw a lone and heavily pregnant doe coming to quench its thirst in the river. Hardly had it touched the water when the forest echoed with the roar of a lion. The doe became terror-stricken and it just leaped into the water without even quenching its thirst and tried to ford it in a bid to escape to the other side of the river. Shocked by fear and overcome by the effort to negotiate the current, the doe gave birth to a young deer midstream. Without even being aware of it, the doe reached the other bank where it died of exhaustion. The royal sage who saw it all, was moved by compassion at the sight of the motherless infant deer being carried away by the river. He picked the young deer, took it to his ashrama and fed it with tender grass and protected it from wild beasts. Soon he grew very fond of it. In course of time the sage became so attached to it that he could not part from it even for a short while. He feared all sorts of harms to his pet and prayed for their removal. He forgot that he was a sage and behaved like a foolish householder doting over his child. In the end he died with thoughts of the deer in his mind.
Bharata's next birth
That sage was born as a deer in his next birth. The Vedic scriptures say that a man will be born in his next birth as that thing about which he was thinking most at the time of his death. Therefore wise men advise people to think of Supreme Personality of Godhead (Krishna, or any other Vishnu avatara) so that it will become a habit and thus after death achieve God's abode. As a result of his tapas and merits and having almost reached perfection the deer that was Bharata, could remember its past by the Lord's grace.
It regretted: "How foolish of me to have forgotten my tapas and become attached to an animal? And now I suffer for it, being born an animal. I shall not repeat the mistake." Saying this the deer left its mother and began living in the vicinity of a Rishi's ashrama spending all its time thinking of God. When death approached, the deer entered the water of a river and standing there, gave up its body.
Bharata, reborn as a Jada
In the next birth the deer was born as the son of a pious Brahmana. The past tapas and mistakes lingered in the child's mind and so he did not want to commit the same mistake. As a child Bharata in his third birth did not show any attachment to his family. He did not even speak. People therefore called him Jada or a dunce. Hence the name Jada Bharata.
His father however gave him the sacred thread and tried to teach him the Vedas. Bharata did not make much headway in it. The old father died and his brothers gave him up as an idiot. Bharata was now a ripe jnani. He ate whatever food was offered to him, good or bad. He dressed scantily and roamed as an avadhuta. He, however, had a well-built body. So people made him do all sorts of work which he did, like a bull, without caring for reward or appreciation.
One day some robbers caught him in a field. They took him to a Kali temple to offer him as a human sacrifice to Kali. Bharata did not resist. The robber chief lifted the sword to cut the sage's head. At that time Goddess Kali, enraged, burst out of her image and snatching the sword from the robber, killed the robber and danced wildly.
Encounter with Rahugana
On another occasion, the servants of the king Rahugana of Sauvira Kingdom were looking for a man to help them carry the king's palanquin. They took Jada Bharata and made him one of the four to carry the palanquin. The king was going to Sage Kapila's hermitage on the banks of the river Ikshumati to gain spiritual knowledge. Bharata being a jnani or realised soul, did not want to hurt even worms and insects while carrying the palanquin. He walked slowly while the other bearers walked fast. The result was that the palanquin did not move smoothly. When scolded, the other bearers naturally blamed Bharata for this difficulty.
Whenever he saw insects on the ground he jumped above them and that made the palanquin jerk violently. The king who was riding bumped his head as a result.
"What is wrong?" Asked the king angrily, "Haven’t you borne the palanquin only for a little while? How is it that you are tired? Can’t you bear a little burden? You look quite strong to me."
Bharata’s answer was this. "Who am I and who are you? What you have seen is only my body and your body. I am not my body and nor are you your body. Our atmans or souls are what we really are. My atman is not strong or tired, nor is it carrying your palanquin upon its shoulders."
The king was struck by the reply. He stepped down from the palanquin and falling at the feet of Jada Bharata asked him to forgive him for his ignorance and teach him the sacred knowledge. Then Jada Bharata revealing himself taught him the nature of self. He told him the truth about the atman, which is never destroyed and takes up different bodies from one life to another. This is the jivatman. In addition, there is the paramatman, which is the same as God and is everywhere. To understand that the jivatman is the servant of the paramatman is what is called mukti. He also narrated the story of Ribhu to explain this philosophy. The sage ended: "A man becomes liberated when he severs all attachment through wisdom, keeps the company of great souls and sings and listens to the praise of God!"
According to stories in Jain texts, Bharata was the eldest of a hundred sons of Rishabha. After developing a desire for renunciation, Rishabha gave his kingdom to Bharata and Bahubali. Bharata was a Chakravatin king and possessed immense wealth. His horses, elephants, and chariots were in millions. He was the first law-giver of the current half-cycle. Bharata is said to have brought Brahmana varna into being. This 'Brahmana' class was very different from present Brahmana class. He is said to have possessed clairvoyance. He taught men the science of predicting the occurrence of certain events by means of some 'signs'. Like all chakravatins, Bharata also often found his ambitions dwarfed by the vastness of the cosmos. Therefore, he is said to have become a jain monk and attained moksha.
Some Jain temples contain idols of Bharata as a Jain monk, including one at Shravanabelagola. The Irinjalakuda (Koodalmanickam) Bharata temple is Kerala was originally a Jain temple dedicated to Bharata as the main deity.
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- Bhagavata Purana