Jain conception, the world has neither beginning in time nor any end. The
world and the Jain Church exist eternally. The Jains liken time to a wheel
with twelve spokes. The Wheel is going round and round since time began
and will go on doing so for all time. At any moment half the wheel is
descending. The descending half of the wheel is called Avasarpini, and the
ascending half is called Utsarpini. We are living in the Avasarpini half
or the descending half of the Time Wheel when the human life and manners
are becoming worse year by year. Each of these halves is divided in to
Aras (spokes) or Ages. The Aras in the Avasarpini are the following:
Name of the Age Duration
1. Susama Susama
Four crore crore
Three crore crore
3. Susama Dusama
Two crore crore
4. Dusama susama
One crore crore
less 42,000 ordinary
6. Dusama Dusama
Sagaropama or "comparable to ocean" is a number too large to express in
The same Ages occur in the Utsarpini period but in the reverse order.
In the first Age, in the Susama susama Age, man lived Three palyas or
palyopamas a long period not to be expressed in a definite number of years
(one crore-crone palyas make one "comparable to ocean years). The Nirvana
of Rishabha the first Tirthankara occurred 3 years and 8 1/2 months before
the end of the third Age. The other 23 Tirthankara were born in the fourth
age. Mahavira the last of the Tirthankara died 3 years and 8 1/2 months
before the beginning of the fifth age which began in 527 BC We are thus
living in the fifth, that is, the Dusama Age.
The mythical history of Jainism starts from a period near about the end of
the third Age, i.e., the Susama Dusama Age. In this period the first of
the sixty-three supermen of the Jain mythology, Rishabhanatha, appeared.
The other sixty-two supermen appeared in the fourth, i.e., Dusama-susama
Age. The Svetambaras call these supermen Shalakapursha, while the
Digambaras call them Lakshana-purusha.1 Mahavira was the last of the
Both the Svetambaras and the Digambaras have written a number of works
giving the lives2 of these sixty-three persons. One of the most famous of
these works is the Trishashti- shalakapurusha- charitra by Hemachandra.
Generally speaking, there is not much difference in the versions of the
lives given by the two sects. In fact the notable differences occur in the
case of the two Tirthankara Malli and Mahavira only. In all other cases
the two sects are in agreement about the mythology of their religion.
The sixty-three supermen were the following:
In addition to these sixty-three supermen there were some kulagaras or
legislators. They all arrived in the third Age. The first Tirthankara
Rishabha was also the last of the kulagaras. The kulagaras were the
persons who first introduced punishment in the world. These, however,
consisted in not more than admonition, warning and reprimands hakkara,
makkara and dhikkara.3 A kulagara was something like Manu, the legislator
of the Hindus.
Among the Baladevas and Vasudevas, the most interesting are Balaram and
Krishna (Kanha in Prakrit). They appeared at the time of Nemi, the 22nd
Tirthankara. In fact Krishna was Nemi's cousin, We get here the Jain
version of the Mahabharat The Story of the Kauravas and Pandavas and the
descendants of Krishna and Balaram is described. The Kauravas and Pandavas
are converted to the Jain religions. Finally the Pandavas also become
ascetics and like Nemi, attain Nirvana.4 One interesting point is that the
main battle here is not the one described in the Hindu Mahabharat.
Krishna, the Vasudeva, fights a battle with Jarasandha, the Prativasudeva,
and kills him. This is the main battle in the Jain version. In this battle
between Krishna and Jarasandha, the Pandavas take the side of Jarasandha.
In fact, the main story in this Jain version is the life of Krishna, and
this is nearly the same here as given in the Bhagavati Purana of the
Hindus. Even otherwise the Krishna is the only Vasudeva who plays some
part in the Jain canonical works- Antakriddasah and Jnatadharma Katha.
The Jain version of the Ramyan is given in Padmacaritras or Padma -
Puranas. Padma is actually the Jain name of Ram and his story in the Jain
version differs in many particulars from that of Valmiki.
Hemachandra in this Trishashti-shalakapurusha- charitra gives the legend
of Ram in detail. According to him, Dasharath, king of Saketa had four
queens: Aparajita, Sumitra, Suprabha ad Kaikeyi. These four queens had
four sons. Aparajita's son was Padma, and he became known by the same name
of Ram also. Sumitra's son was Narayana: he became to be known by another
name, Lakshmana. Kaikeyi's son was Bharata and Suprabha's son was
Sita was the daughter of Janak. She had a twin brother Bhamandala who was
kidnapped while still an infant. Once Janak was attacked by barbarians.
Ram was sent to help Janak, and he easily repulsed the enemies. Janak was
delighted and wanted Ram to marry his daughter Sita.
Dasharath had married Kaikeyi in a svayanvara festival where she had
selected him as her husband out of the many kings who had attended the
festival. The other kings who were rejected attacked Dasharath. In the
battle that ensued, Kaikeyi had acted as the charioteer of Dasharath. She
did her job so skillfully that Dasharath had promised her any boon that
she desired. She had said that she would ask for her boon on a suitable
When Dasharath became old he wanted to abdicate and become a beggar. When
Kaikeyi heard this she demanded her boon, and this was that her son
Bharata should take over the kingdom as Dasharath's successor. Ram readily
agreed to this proposal but said that if he stayed on in the capital,
Bharata would not accept the throne. He therefore thought that he should
leave the capital and live in the forest. Sita and Lakshmana accompanied
him. The rest of the legend is more or less the same as in Valmiki's
Ramyan There is, however, an important difference. It is Lakshmana and not
Ram who actually kills Ravana. In the Jain system therefore it is Lakshman
who is Vasudeva, Ram is Baladev, and Ravana is Prativasudeva.
There is another and perhaps an older version of the Jain Ramyan. This
version is given in the 14th Chapter of Sanghadasa'a Vasudevahindi and
also in the Uttarapurana of Gunabhadracarya. This version is not popular
and is in fact not known to the Svetambaras at all. The story in brief is
as follows: Dasharath was a king of Varanasi. Ram was his son by his queen
Subala, and Lakshman by Kaikeyi. Sita was born to Mandodari, wife of
Ravana, but since there was a prophecy that she would be the cause of her
father's death, Ravana had sent her through a servant to be buried alive
in Mithila. She was accidentally discovered by the king Janak when was
plowing the field, and brought up as his daughter. When Sita grew up,
Janak performed a yajna where Ram and lakshman were invited. Janak was
impressed by Ram's personality and he gave his daughter Sita to him in
marriage. Ravana had not been invited to this yajna, and when he heard
that Sita was a beautiful girl, he decided to abduct her. There is no
mention in this version of the Ramyan of the exile of Ram. Ravana in fact
abducts Sita from Citrakuta near Varanasi. Ram recovers her by killing
Ravana in Lanka. Therefore Ram and Lakshman come home and rule over their
All the Chakravartins have more or less similar careers. Their lives are
spent in obtaining the fourteen imperial crown treasures or jewels. After
long reigns, they perform the act of purging known as apurva-karma obtain
kevala knowledge and enter Nirvana. The first of the Chakravartins was
Bharata, son of the first Tirthankara Rishabha.
Rishabha's name occurs in the Hindu Visnu-purana and Bhagavat Purana also.
It is stated there that the emperor Rishabha handed over his empire to his
son Bharata and went to the forest where he practiced severe penance and
died. He was nude at the time of his death. (This suggests that the Purana
story might have come originally from the Jain sources) From the time
Rishabha gave away his empire to his son Bharatta, they started calling
this country Bharata- Varsa. Formerly this country was called Himavarsa.
Name of no other Tirthankara is mentioned in the Hindu religious
The detailed lives of the twenty four Tirthankara were given in the
various Caritras and Puranas written in the later part of the first
millennium AD the earlier books such as the Kelp Sutra of the Svetambaras
give little details about most of them. In fact the Kalpa Sutra gives some
particulars only about the lives of Parshva, Arishtanemi and Rishabha in a
stereotyped manner. It gives the life of Mahavira in some detail, and so
far as the other twenty Tirthankara were concerned, mentions only the
periods when they appeared.
There is some uniformity in the lives of the Tirthankaras. All of them
were born of Kshatriya mothers and lived princely lives before they
renounced the world, and nearly all of them attained Nirvana in the
Sammeta mountain (Parasnatha) in Bihar. There were only four exceptions in
regard to the place of Nirvana. The place of Nirvana of the following four
Tirthankaras were as below:
1. Rishabha in Kailasa
12. Vasupujja in Champa
22. Arishtanemi on the Girnar Hills
24. Mahavira in Pava
The twenty-third Tirthankara Parshvanatha is said to have died 250 years
before Mahavira, while Parshva's predecessor Arishtanemi is said to have
died 84,000 years before Mahavira's Nirvana. Naminatha died 5,00,000 years
before Arishtanemi and Munisuvrata 1,00,000 year before Naminatha. The
intervals go on lengthening until they reach astronomical periods.
It thus goes without saying that all the Tirthankaras, except Parshva and
Mahavira are mythical figures. We thus need not discuss their lives given
in the various Puranas and Charitras. It will, however, be clear from what
has been stated above that the Jains have a philosophy of history (i.e.
the theory of the wheel of time) and this is distinct from the philosophy
of history of any other people. Also the Jains throughout the last fifteen
hundred years or so, have taken great delight in writings about the
history of their Church up to Mahavira. In fact the Digambaras have
practically ignored the history of their church after Mahavira. Except for
some pattavalis, which gives the names of their successive Patriarchs, the
Digambaras section of the Church has no other history after Mahavira. For
Jain sources of the history of the Church after Mahavira we have therefore
to depend on the Svetambaras works only.
1. Schurbing, The Doctrine of Jains p. 23.
2. The Digambaras call these lives Purana whereas Svetambaras call them
3. Schubring op. cit. p.20
4. Winternitz, A History of India Literature Vol. II, p.495
5. A reference to the Chakravartins possessing 14 is found in the Hindu
Vishnu Purana also. Of these 14 Jewels, 7 are inanimate, viz. Cakra
(wheel), rath (chariot), khanga (sword), charm (shield), dhvaja (flag),
nidhi (treasury), and 7 are animate, viz. wife, priest, commander of the
army, charioteers foot soldiers, troops mounted on horses, and troops
mounted on elephants. Other books give other lists.
6. Bk.2. ch.1
7. The term "Aristameni", which occurs sometimes in the Vedic literature,
for instance, in Rigveda X. 178.1, is not the name of any person.