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Jain miniature painting of 24 Jain Tirthankaras, Jaipur, c. 1850
The 24 Tirthankaras forming the tantric meditative syllable Hrim, painting on cloth, Gujarat, c. 1800

In Jainism, a tirthankara (Sanskrit tīrthaṅkara) is a saviour and spiritual teacher of the dharma (righteous path).[1] The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha, which is a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths, the saṃsāra. According to Jains, a tirthankara is a rare individual who has conquered the saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, on his own and made a path for others to follow. After understanding the true nature of the Self or soul, the Tīrthaṅkara attains Kevala Jnana (omniscience) and refounds Jainism. Tirthankara provides a bridge for others to follow the new teacher from saṃsāra to moksha (liberation).[2][1][3]

According to Jain cosmology, in each half of the cosmic time cycle, exactly twenty-four tirthankaras grace this part of the universe. The first tirthankara was Rishabhanatha, who is credited for formulating and organising humans to live in a society harmoniously. The 24th and last tirthankara of present half-cycle was Mahavira (599-527 BC).[3][4] History records the existence of Mahavira and his predecessor, Parshvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara.[5]

A tirthankara organises the sangha, a fourfold order of male and female monastics, srāvakas (male followers) and śrāvikās (female followers).[6]

The tirthankara's teachings form the basis for the Jain canons. The inner knowledge of tirthankara is believed to be perfect and identical in every respect and their teachings do not contradict one another. However, the degree of elaboration varies according to the spiritual advancement and purity of the society during their period of leadership. The higher the spiritual advancement and purity of mind of the society, the lower the elaboration required.

While tirthankaras are documented and revered by Jains, their grace is said to be available to all living beings, regardless of religious orientation.[7]

Tīrthaṅkaras are arihants who after attaining kevalajñāna (pure infinite knowledge)[8] preach the true dharma. An Arihant is also called Jina (victor), that is one who has conquered inner enemies such as anger, attachment, pride and greed.[2] They dwell exclusively within the realm of their Soul, and are entirely free of kashayas, inner passions, and personal desires. As a result of this, unlimited siddhis, or spiritual powers, are readily available to them – which they use exclusively for the spiritual elevation of living beings. Through darśana, divine vision, and deshna, divine speech, they help others in attaining kevalajñana, and moksha (final liberation) to anyone seeking it sincerely.


Tirthankara images at Gwalior Fort
Rishabhanatha, the first Tirthankara

The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha which means a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths (called saṃsāra).[9][10][11][12] Tirthankaras are variously called "Teaching Gods", "Ford-Makers", "Crossing Makers" and "Makers of the River-Crossing.[13][12]


Jain texts propound that a special type of karma, the tīrthaṅkara nama-karma, raises a soul to the supreme status of a Tīrthaṅkara. Tattvartha Sutra, a major Jain text, list down sixteen observances which lead to the bandha (bondage) of this karma-[14]

  • Purity of right faith
  • Reverence
  • Observance of vows and supplementary vows without transgressions
  • Ceaseless pursuit of knowledge
  • Perpetual fear of the cycle of existence
  • Giving gifts (charity)
  • Practising austerities according to one’s capacity
  • Removal of obstacles that threaten the equanimity of ascetics
  • Serving the meritorious by warding off evil or suffering
  • Devotion to omniscient lords, chief preceptors, preceptors, and the scriptures
  • Practice of the six essential daily duties
  • Propagation of the teachings of the omniscient
  • Fervent affection for one’s brethren following the same path.

Panch Kalyanaka[edit]

Main article: Panch Kalyanaka
Auspicious dreams seen by a tirthankara's mother during pregnancy

Five auspicious events called, Pañca kalyāṇaka marks the life of every tirthankara:[15]

  1. Gārbha kalyāṇaka (conception): When ātman (soul) of a tirthankara comes into his mother's womb.[16]
  2. Janma kalyāṇaka (birth): Birth of a tirthankara. Indra performs a ceremonial bath on tirthankara on Mount Meru.[17][18]
  3. Dīkṣā kalyāṇaka (renunciation): When a tirthankara renounces all worldly possessions and become an ascetic.
  4. Jñāna kalyāṇaka: The event when a tirthankara attains kevalajñāna (infinite knowledge). A samavasarana (divine preaching hall) is erected from where he delivers sermons and restores sangha after that.
  5. Nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka (liberation): When a tirthankara leaves his mortal body, it is known as nirvana. It is followed by the final liberation, moksha. Their souls dwells in Siddhashila after that.


Main article: Samavasarana
Samavasarana of a tirthankara

After attaining kevalajñāna, a tirthankara preaches the path to liberation in the samavasarana. According to Jain texts, the heavenly pavilion is erected by devas (heavenly beings) where devas, humans and animals assemble to hear the tirthankara.[19] A tirthankara's speech is intercepted by all humans and animals in their own language. It is believed that during this speech, there is no unhappiness for miles around the site.[20]

Tīrthaṅkaras of present cosmic age[edit]

Jainism postulates that time has no beginning or end. It moves like the wheel of a cart. In Jain tradition the tirthankaras were royal in their final lives, and Jain texts record details of their previous lives. Their clan and families are also among those recorded in very early, or legendary, Hindu history. Jain canons state that Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara,[9] founded the Ikshvaku dynasty,[21] from which 21 other tirthankaras also rose over time. Two tirthankaras - Munisuvrata, the 20th, and Neminatha, the 22nd - belonged to the Harivamsa dynasty.[22]

In Jain tradition, the 20 tirthankaras attained moksha on mount Shikharji, in the present Indian state of Jharkhand. Rishabhanatha attained nirvana on Mount Kailash, presently located in Tibet, close to Indian border, Vasupujya at Champapuri in North Bengal, Neminatha on mount Girnar, Gujarat, and Mahavira, the last tirthankara, at Pawapuri, near modern Patna. Twenty-one of the tirthankaras are said to have attained moksha in the kayotsarga (standing meditation posture), while Rishabhanatha, Neminatha and Mahavira are said to have attained moksha in the Padmasana (lotus position).[13]

List of the 24 tirthankaras[edit]

Present cosmic age[edit]

Jain chaumukha sculpture at LACMA, 6th century
Famous idol of Mahavir Swami at Shri Mahavirji
The tirthankara Naminatha, 12th century, Government Museum, Mathura

In chronological order, the names, emblems and colours of the 24 tirthankaras of this age are mentioned below:[23][1][24][25] Dhanuṣa means "bow" and hatha means "hands".[citation needed]

No. Name Symbol Colour Height
1 Rishabhanatha (Adinatha) Bull Golden 500 dhanuṣa
2 Ajitanatha Elephant Golden 450 dhanuṣa
3 Sambhavanatha Horse Golden 400 dhanuṣa
4 Abhinandananatha Monkey Golden 350 dhanuṣa
5 Sumatinatha Goose Golden 300 dhanuṣa
6 Padmaprabha Padma Red 250 dhanuṣa
7 Suparshvanatha Swastika Golden 200 dhanuṣa
8 Chandraprabha Crescent Moon White 150 dhanuṣa
9 Pushpadanta Crocodile or Makara White 100 dhanuṣa
10 Shitalanatha Shrivatsa Golden 90 dhanuṣa
11 Shreyanasanatha Rhinoceros Golden 80 dhanuṣa
12 Vasupujya Buffalo Red 70 dhanusa
13 Vimalanatha Boar Golden 60 dhanusa
14 Anantanatha Porcupine according to the Digambara
Falcon according to the Śvētāmbara
Golden 50 dhanuṣa
15 Dharmanatha Vajra Golden 45 dhanuṣa
16 Shantinatha Antelope or deer Golden 40 dhanuṣa
17 Kunthunatha Goat Golden 35 dhanuṣa
18 Aranatha Nandyavarta or fish Golden 30 dhanuṣa
19 Māllīnātha Kalasha Blue 25 dhanuṣa
20 Munisuvrata Tortoise Black 20 dhanuṣa
21 Naminatha Blue lotus Golden 15 dhanuṣa
22 Neminatha Shankha Black 10 dhanuṣa
23 Parshvanatha Snake Blue 9 hath
24 Mahavira Lion Golden 7 hath

Next cosmic age[edit]

In Jain cosmology, the wheel of time is divided in two halves, Utsarpiṇī or ascending time cycle and avasarpiṇī, the descending time cycle. 24 tirthankaras are born in each half of this cycle. The 24 tirthankaras of the present age (avasarpinī) are the ones listed above. The names of the next 24, which will be born in utsarpinī age are as follows.[citation needed] [Mentioned in the parentheses is one of the (previous human birth) of that soul.]

  1. Padmanabha (King Shrenika)[26]
  2. Surdev (Mahavira's uncle Suparshva)
  3. Suparshva (King Kaunik's son king Udayin)
  4. Svamprabh (The ascetic Pottil)
  5. Sarvanubhuti (Śrāvaka Dridhayadha)
  6. Devshruti (Kartik's Shreshti)
  7. Udaynath (Shravak Shamkha)
  8. Pedhalputra (Shravak Ananda)
  9. Pottil (Shravak Sunand)
  10. Shatak (Sharavak Shatak)
  11. Munivrat (Krishna's mother Devaki)
  12. Amam (Krishna)
  13. Shrinishkashay (Satyaki Rudhra)
  14. Nishpulak (Krishna's brother Balbhadra also known as Balrama)
  15. Nirmam (Shravika Sulsa)
  16. Chitragupta (Krishna's brother's mother Rohini Devi)
  17. Samadhinath (Revati Gathapatni)
  18. Samvarnath (Sharavak Shattilak)
  19. Yashodhar (Rishi Dwipayan)
  20. Vijay (Karna of Mahabharata)
  21. Malyadev (Nirgranthaputra or Mallanarada)
  22. Devachandra (Shravak Ambadh)
  23. Anantvirya (Shravak Amar)
  24. Shribhadrakar (Shanak)


A tīrthaṅkara is represented either seated in lotus position (Padmasana) or standing in the meditation (Kayotsarga) posture.[27] Usually they are depicted seated with their legs crossed in front, the toes of one foot resting close upon the knee of the other, and the right hand lying over the left in the lap.[1] Tirthanakar idols looks similar and are differentiated on the basis of symbol or emblem (Lanchhana) belonging to each tirthanakar except Parshvanatha, statues of Parshvanath have snake crown on head. The first Tirthankara Rishabha can be identified with locks of hair falling on his shoulders. Sometimes Suparshvanath is shown with small snake-hood. The symbols are marked in centre or in the corner of the pedestal of statue. Both sects of Jainism Digambara and Svetambara depiction of idols is different. Digambara images are naked without any beautification whereas Svetambara ones are clothed and decorated with temporary ornaments.[28] They are often marked with Srivatsa on the chest and Tilaka on fore head.[29] Srivatsa is one of the ashtamangala (auspicious symbol). It can look somewhat like a fleur-de-lis, an endless knot, a flower or diamond-shaped symbol.[30]

In other religions[edit]

The first Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha is mentioned in Hindu texts like Rigveda,[31] Vishnupurana and Bhagwata Purana.[32] The Yajurveda mentions the name of three Tīrthaṅkaras - Ṛiṣhabha, Ajitnātha and Ariṣṭanemi.[33] The Bhāgavata Purāṇa includes legends about the Tirthankaras of Jainism particularly Rishabha.[34] Champat Rai Jain, a 20th-century Jain writer claimed that the "Four and Twenty Elders" mentioned in the Christian Bible are "Twenty-four Tirthankaras".[35]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Britannica Tirthankar Definition, Encyclopædia Britannica 
  2. ^ a b Sangave 2006, p. 16.
  3. ^ a b Taliaferro & Marty 2010, p. 286.
  4. ^ Sanghvi, Vir (14 September 2013), Rude Travel: Down The Sages, Hindustan Times 
  5. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 182-183.
  6. ^ Balcerowicz 2009, p. 17.
  7. ^ Flügel, P. (2010). The Jaina Cult of Relic Stūpas. Numen: International Review For The History Of Religions, 57(3/4), 389-504. doi:10.1163/156852710X501351
  8. ^ Sangave 2006, p. 164.
  9. ^ a b Upinder Singh 2016, p. 313.
  10. ^ Balcerowicz 2009, p. 16.
  11. ^ Sangave 2006, p. 169-170.
  12. ^ a b Champat Rai Jain 1930, p. 3.
  13. ^ a b Zimmer 1953, p. 212.
  14. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 91.
  15. ^ Cort 2001, p. 110.
  16. ^ "HereNow4U.net :: Glossary/Index - Terms - Eastern Terms - Chyavana Kalyanak", HereNow4u: Portal on Jainism and next level consciousness 
  17. ^ Wiley 2009, p. 200.
  18. ^ Wiley 2009, p. 246.
  19. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 200.
  20. ^ Pramansagar 2008, p. 39-43.
  21. ^ Natubhai Shah 2004, p. 15.
  22. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 151.
  23. ^ Doniger 1999, p. 550.
  24. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 181-208.
  25. ^ Tirthankara (EMBLEMS OR SYMBOLS) pdf
  26. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 276.
  27. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 209-210.
  28. ^ Cort 2010.
  29. ^ Red sandstone figure of a tirthankara
  30. ^ Jain & Fischer 1978, p. 15, 31.
  31. ^ George 2008, p. 318.
  32. ^ Rao 2007, p. 13.
  33. ^ Dr. K. R. Shah 2011, p. 9.
  34. ^ Ravi Gupta and Kenneth Valpey (2013), The Bhagavata Purana, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231149990, pages 151-155
  35. ^ Champat Rai Jain 1930, p. 78.