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Idol of Rishabha, the first Tirthankara of present cosmic age

In Jainism, a tirthankara (Sanskrit tīrthaṅkara) is an omniscient teacher who preaches the dharma (righteous path). Tīrthaṅkara literally means a "ford-maker", the one who builds a ford across the ocean of rebirth and transmigration.[1][2] Tirthankara is a person who has conquered saṃsāra (the cycle of death and rebirth), and provide a bridge for others to follow them from saṃsāra to moksha (liberation).[3][4]:126

According to Jain Agamas, that which helps one to cross saṃsāra is a tīrtha ("ford") and the rare individual who makes that tirth i.e. refounds Jainism is a ‘’tīrthaṅkara’’ "ford-maker".[5][6]


According to Jain texts, in each half of the cosmic time cycle, exactly twenty-four tirthankaras are born in this part of the universe. The first tirthankara was Rishabha, 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).[4][7] History records the existence of Mahavira and his predecessor, Parshvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara.[8] A tirthankara organises the sangha, a fourfold order of male and female monastics, srāvakas (male followers) and śrāvikās (female followers).[9] The tirthankaras' 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.[10]

Tīrthaṅkaras are arihants who after attaining kevalajñāna (pure infinite knowledge)[11] 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.[5] 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.

Tīrthaṅkara name-karma[edit]

Jain texts mention about a special type of karma, the tīrthaṅkara name-karma. Bondage (bandh) of which destines a soul to be born as a tirthankara. Tattvartha Sutra, a major Jain text, list sixteen observances that lead to the bandh of this karma:[12]

  • 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:

  1. Gārbha kalyāṇaka (conception): When ātman (soul) of a tirthankara comes into his mother's womb.[13]
  2. Janma kalyāṇaka (birth): Birth of a tirthankara. Indra performs a ceremonial bath on tirthankara on Mount Meru.[14]
  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.[15] 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.[16]

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. Twenty two tirthankaras belonged to the Ikshvaku dynasty. Two tirthankaras - Munisuvrata, the twentieth, and Neminatha, the twenty-second - belonged to the Hari dynasty.[17] Jain canons state that Rishabha, the first tirthankara, founded the Ikshvaku dynasty.

In Jain tradition, the twenty tirthankaras achieved siddha status on mount Shikharji. Rishabha attained nirvana on Mount Kailash, Vasupujya at Champapuri in North Bengal, Neminatha on mount Girnar in 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 Rishabha, Neminatha and Mahavira are said to have attained moksha in the lotus position.

List of the 24 tirthankaras[edit]

Present cosmic age[edit]

The tirthankara Neminatha, 12th century, Government Museum, Mathura

In chronological order, the names, emblems and colours of the 24 tirthankaras of this age are mentioned below:[3][18][19] Dhanuṣa means "bow" and hatha means "hands".

No. Name Symbol Colour Height
1 Rishabha (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 hatha
24 Mahavira Lion Golden 7 hatha

Next cosmic age[edit]

As per 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. [Mentioned in the parentheses is one of the (previous human birth) of that soul.]

  1. Padmanabha (King Shrenik)[20]
  2. Surdev (Mahavira's uncle Suparshva)
  3. Suparshva (King Kaunik's son king Udayi)
  4. Svamprabh (The ascetic Pottil)
  5. Sarvanubhuti (Sravaka 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. Chitragupt (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 yoga posture or standing in the Kayotsarga posture.[21] 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.[3]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Balcerowicz 2009, p. 16.
  2. ^ Sangave 2001, p. 169-170.
  3. ^ a b c "Britannica Tirthankar Definition". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved April 1, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Taliaferro, Charles and Marty, Elsa J. (2010). A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion. A&C Black. p. 286. ISBN 1441111972. 
  5. ^ a b Sangave 2001, p. 16.
  6. ^ Sangave, Vilas Adinath (2001). Facets of Jainology: Selected Research Papers on Jain Society, Religion, and Culture. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. ISBN 978-81-7154-839-2. 
  7. ^ Vir Sanghvi. "Rude Travel: Down The Sages". Hindustan Times. 
  8. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 182-183.
  9. ^ Balcerowicz 2009, p. 17.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Sangave 2001, p. 164.
  12. ^ Jain 2011, p. 91.
  13. ^ "HereNow4U.net :: Glossary/Index - Terms - Eastern Terms - Chyavana Kalyanak". HereNow4u: Portal on Jainism and next level consciousness. 
  14. ^ Wiley, Kristi L. (2009). The A to Z of Jainism. Scarecrow Press. pp. 200, 246. ISBN 9780810868212. 
  15. ^ Jain 2015, p. 200.
  16. ^ Pramansagar 2008, p. 39-43.
  17. ^ Jain 2015, p. 151.
  18. ^ Jain 2015, p. 181-208.
  19. ^ Tirthankara (EMBLEMS OR SYMBOLS) pdf
  20. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 276.
  21. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 209-210.