|22nd Jain Tirthankara|
Image of Neminatha at a Jain temple in Bateshwar, Uttar Pradesh
|Height||10 bows (98 feet)|
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Neminatha is the twenty-second Tirthankara (ford-maker) in Jainism. He is also known simply as Nemi, or as Aristanemi which is an epithet of the sun-chariot. Along with Mahavira, Parshvanatha and Rishabhanatha, Neminatha is one of the four Tirthankaras that attract the most devotional worship among the Jains.
According to Jain beliefs, Neminatha lived 84,000 years before the 23rd Tirthankara, Parshvanatha. He is one of the 24 Tirthankaras in Jain theology, in the avasarpini cycle of Jain cosmology. He is a legendary figure, who lived for 1,000 years, and was the youngest son of King Samudravijaya and Queen Shivadevi. He is believed in Jainism to be the cousin of the Hindu god Krishna, and his iconography includes the same conch as found with the Hindu god Vishnu. He was born at Sauripura (Dvaraka) in the Yadu lineage, like Krishna. His birth date is the 5th day of Shravana Shukla in the Hindu calendar. He herded cattle and became fond of animals. According to Jain mythology, on his wedding day Neminatha heard the cries of animals being killed for the marriage feast, and moved by the sorrow he renounced the world – a scene found in many Jain artwork. He attained moksha on Girnar Hills near Junagadh, a pilgrimage center for Jains.
The name Neminatha consists of two Sanskrit words, Nemi which means "rim, felly of a wheel" or alternatively "thunderbolt", and Natha which means "lord, patron, protector". According to the Jain text Uttarapurana, as well as the explanation of Hemachandra, it was the ancient Indian deity Indra who named the 22nd Tirthankara as Neminatha, because he viewed the Jina as the "rim of the wheel of dharma". In Svetambara Jain texts, his name Aristanemi came from a dream his mother had when he was in the womb, where she saw a "wheel of Arista jewels". His full name was Aristanemi which is an epithet of the sun-chariot.
Biography in Jain tradition
Neminatha was the twenty-second tirthankara (ford-maker) of the avasarpini (present descending cycle of Jain cosmology). According to Jain beliefs, he lived 84,000 years before the 23rd Tirthankara, Parshvanatha. He was the youngest son of King Samudravijaya and Queen Shivadevi. He was born at Sauripura (Dvaraka) in the Yadu lineage, grew up in cattle herding family and grew fond of animals. Jain legends place him in the Girnar-Kathiawad (in Saurashtra region of modern-day Gujarat). His birth date is the 5th day of Shravana Shukla in the Hindu calendar.
Neminatha was born with a dark-blue skin complexion, very handsome but a shy young man. Jains consider Neminatha to be the son of Samudravijaya, brother of Hindu god Krishna's father Vasudeva, therefore the cousin of Krishna. He is mentioned as the cousin of Krishna in the Jain Puranas, and Trishashti-salaka-purusha-charitra. On being taunted by Satyabhama, the wife of Krishna, Neminatha blew Panchajanya, the mighty conch of Krishna. According to Jain texts, no one could lift Vishnu's conch except Krishna, let alone blow it. After this event, Jain Puranas state that Krishna decided to test Neminatha's strength and challenged him for a friendly duel. Neminatha, being a Tirthankara, defeated Krishna without any effort. In the war between Krishna and Jarasandha, Neminatha participated alongside Krishna.
According to Long, the Jain legends state that Neminatha taught Krishna the knowledge that he shared with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, a historic reason that has led Jains to accept, read and cite the Bhagavad Gita as a spiritually important text, celebrate Krishna related festivals and intermingle with Hindus as spiritual cousins.
It is further mentioned that Neminatha's marriage was arranged with Rajulakumari or Rajimati, the daughter of King Ugrasena of Dvaraka. According to Jain legends, Neminatha heard animal cries as they were being slaughtered for the marriage feast. Taken over by sorrow and distress at the sight, he gave up the desire of getting married, renounced his worldly life, became a monk, and went to Mount Girnar to lead a mendicant's life. His bride-to-be followed him, became a nun and joined the ascetic order. According to Kalpasutras, he led an ascetic life there by eating only once every three days, meditated for 55 days, and then obtained omniscience on Mount Raivataka, under a Mahavenu tree. After a life of about 1,000 years, he is said to have attained moksha (nirvana) on Mount Girnar. Of these 1,000 years, he spent 300 years as a bachelor, 54 days as an ascetic monk and 700 years as an omniscient being.
Unlike the last two Tirthankaras, historians consider Neminatha and all other Tirthankaras to be legendary characters.
- The Jain traditions about Neminatha or Arishtanemi is incorporated in the Harivamsa Purana of Jinasena.
- A palm leaf manuscript on the life of Neminatha, named Neminatha-Charitra, was written in 1198-1142 AD. It is now preserved in Shantinatha Bhandara, Khambhat.
- Rajul's love for Neminatha is described in the Rajal-Barahmasa (an early 14th-century poem of Vijayachandrasuri).
- The conch incident is given in Kalpa Sūtra.
- The separation of Rajula and Neminatha was a popular theme among Jain poets who composed Gujarati fagus, a poetry genre. Some examples are Neminatha Fagu (1344) by Rajshekhar, Neminatha Fagu (1375) by Jayashekhar and Rangasagara Neminatha Fagu (1400) by Somsundar. A poem Neminatha Chatushpadika (1269) by Vinaychandra depicted the same story.
Neminatha is believed in the Jain tradition to be Krishna's cousin and has the same dark-bluish colored skin. Painting depicting his life stories generally identify him as dark colored. His iconographic identifier is a conch carved or stamped below his statues. Sometimes, as with Vishnu's iconography, a chakra is also shown near him, as in the 6th-century sculpture found at the archaeological site near Padhavali (Madhya Pradesh). Artworks showing Neminatha sometimes include Ambika yakshi, but her color varies from golden to greenish to dark-blue, by region.
Neminath Sculpture, National Museum, New Delhi, 11th Century
Image at Maharaja Chhatrasal Museum, 12th century
Neminath idol, Government Museum, Mathura, 12th Century
- Girnar Jain temples
- Tirumalai (Jain complex)
- Arahanthgiri Jain Math
- Atishaya Kshetra Lunwa Jain Temple
- Dilwara Temples
- Bhand Dewal, Arang
Chavundaraya Basadi in Shravanabelagola
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