Illustrated Tirthankar Charitra
Shri Amar Muni
Parshvanath Bhagavan – 23
Bhagavan Parshvanath was born about 380 years before the Nirvana of Bhagavan or in the 10th century BC.
Like other Tirthankars, important events of earlier incarnations of the being that became Bhagavan Parshvanath are available in Jain scriptures. Study of these incidents reveals that amnesty and compassion played a major part in his life and progress toward purity of soul. In every incarnation his rival, Kamath, continued to torture him and he continued to forgive and forget.
Kamath and Marubhuti
The soul that was to be Bhagavan Parshvanath was inspired to take the direction of purity in its birth as Marubhuti. He was born to the wife of Purohit Vishabhuti living in Potanpur city. His elder brother was Kamath. As Kamath was cruel, conceited, and a debauch, in spite of being the elder son it was Marubhuti who succeeded his father on the post of Rajpurohit (the director of ritual ceremonies of the king and state). Attracted toward the beautiful wife of Marubhuti, Vasundhara, Kamath seduced her. When Kamath’s wife came to know about the affair, she tried to dissuade him in vain and told Marubhuti about it. Marubhuti made a secret inquiry and conveyed everything in detail to the king. Kamath was exiled by the king. He became a mendicant and started doing rigorous penance.
After sometime Marubhuti felt that it was because of his report that Kamath was insulted and thrown out of the state; as such he should go and beg forgiveness from his elder brother. Marubhuti went into the jungle near Kamath and bowed before him seeking his pardon. Instead of getting pacified, Kamath was over powered by the desire of vengeance. He picked up a large stone and hit Marubhuti on the head.
Marubhuti died on the spot.
The King Elephant
The soul of Marubhuti was reborn as an elephant in the forests of Vindhyachal. It became the leader of the herd. One day when an ascetic was standing in meditation in the Vindhyachal area, the king elephant came near him. The memory of its past life precipitated and it became a follower of the ascetic and turned mellow and detached. One day the elephant rushed into and stationed itself in the middle of a pond in order to save himself from a forest fire. The being that was Kamath had taken birth as a serpent of the Kurkut species. When it saw the elephant, the serpent recognized it as its enemy from the earlier birth. The serpent landed on the head of the elephant and stung it. The elephant equally tolerated the pain and died peacefully.
In his third birth the being that was Marubhuti reincarnated as a god in the Sahasrar dimension. From there it descended and was born as prince Kiranveg in Mahavideh area. He furthered his progress towards purity by becoming an ascetic and was killed once again by the Kamath, now born as a snake. His next birth was as a god in the Achyut Kalpa dimension. From there he came to Mahavidh area as king Vajranabh. Kamath was born as a Bhil aborigine who shot Vajranabh, who had become an ascetic now, with an arrow. Reincarnating in the Madhyam Graiveyak dimension of gods, the being that was to be Parshvanath enjoyed the fruits of his pious Karma.
In his eighth birth this being was born in the royal family of Puranpur in the Mahavideh area. After ascending the throne Suvarnbahu conquered six continents and became a Chakravarti. In later part of his life he became an ascetic and did purest of meditations to earn Tirthakar-nam-and-gotra-karma. During this birth also, this being was killed by its old enemy Kamath who was born as a fierce lion. From here this being went to the Pranat dimension of gods.
Descending from the Pranat dimension of gods, the being that was Marubhuti came into the womb of Vama Devi, wife of King Ashvasen of Varanasi. On the tenth day of the dark half of the month of Paush Vama Devi gave birth to a son. At the time of his naming ceremony king Ashvasen announced that during her pregnancy Vama Devi one night saw a snake slithering on the bed near his flank. She woke him up and saved him from the impending danger. As such, he was naming the new born as Parshva (flank).
Prince Parshva was very handsome and intelligent. His fame reached Kushasthalpur and princess Prabhavatti, daughter of king Prasenjit, determined to become his wife. Before a proposal for marriage could be sent the king of Kalinga lay a seize of Kushasthalpur and sought the hand of Prabhavati in marriage. King Prasenjit, aware of the might of Yavanraj sent a messenger to Varanasi for help. King Ashvasen got irritated at the misconduct of Yavanraj and command the army in this battle. Pshvasen was well aware of the ability and prowess of prince Parshva; he accepted proposal without any hesitation.
Before the prince started for the battle field the king of gods sent a divine and air worthy chariot for Parshva. After reaching the battle field the and prior to giving the orders to attack, Parshva sent a message to Yavanraj that now Prasenjit was under the protection of king Ashvasen, and as such he should break his seize of Kushasthalpur or face the great army of Varanasi and divine powers of Parshva. Although the youthful Yavanraj and some of his younger ministers were provoked, a senior minister informed him that the king of gods himself sided Parshva. He not only had divine powers but also the flying chariot of Indra. To fight Parshva was to embrace certain defeat. Yavanraj accepted the advice of the senior minister and surrendered before prince Parshva without a fight. He offered rich gifts to Parshva and became a friend of Prasenjit.
Victorious Parshva Kumar returned to Varanasi. King Prasenjit also came to Varanasi with his daughter Prabhavati and requested king Ashvasen to marry Parshva Kumar with Prabhavati. Parshva was averse to the bond of marriage. However, his parents persuaded him and he could not hurt their feelings. He was married to Prabhavati but led a simple and detached life.
One day prince Parshva was enjoying a view of the town from the balcony of his palace. When he saw groups of men and women, carrying items for worship, passing by, he asked out of curiosity if it was some day of religious ceremonies. His attendants informed him that some mendicant named Kamath is doing a harsh penance named Panchagni Tap (five fire penance). The citizens are going to pay homage to him with all these presents. Prince Parshva also proceeded to witness this strange scene. As he was endowed with three levels of knowledge since birth, Parshva perceived everything worth knowing about this person at once. This was the same being that had been nurturing an intense feeling of vengeance for him for many births. After completing his age in the hell he was born in a poor family. Driven by hunger and poverty he had become a mendicant and was influencing the ignorant masses with his harsh but ill conceived penance.
When prince Parshva came near the mendicant he saw that some logs of wood were burning all around the mendicant. Inside one of the logs was a pair of serpents, writhing in pain due to the intense heat of the burning flames. Moved by a feeling of compassion the prince said to the mendicant, “Burning a five sensed being in fire, what sort of self improvement do you strive for?” The mendicant replied angrily, “Prince! You are a child; go and enjoy your princely games. It is mendicants like me who know about religion not you. How can you claim that some being is burning in the fire around me?”
All the efforts to persuade him that a pair of serpents was burning in the fire went in vain. Parshva then ordered his attendants to draw the specific log aside and split it. As soon as the attendants did that, a pair of serpents, partially scorched, fell on the ground writhing in pain. Realizing that they were about to die, prince Parshva said to them that they should not be annoyed with the ignorant mendicant and should remain equanimous during the last moments of their lives. He also recited the Namokar Mantra. As a result of equanimous thoughts and hearing the Namokar Mantra, after death the pair was born as the king and queen of the gods of the Nag Kumar clan (Dharanendra and Padmavati).
The mendicant became angry and kept on adding more fuel to the fire of vengeance. After death he reincarnated as the evil god Meghmali.
This incident inspired Parshva Kumar to step on the right path and show the path to the masses misled by such ignorant hypocrites. While he was contemplating this, he one day went to garden and chanced to see some frescoes about the incidents of life of Bhagavan Arishtanemi. These vivid paintings pushed him to the decision of becoming an ascetic. He sought permission of his father and started the year long charity. On the eleventh day of the dark half of the month of Paush he became an ascetic under an Ashok tree.
One day Parshva-muni was standing in meditation in Kaushamv jungle. God Dharanendra arrived there to pay homage. When he saw scorching sun rays falling on the meditating ascetic, he covered Parshva-muni with canopy of snake hoods. It is said that this area later became famous as Ahichhatra.
One day Parshva-muni was standing in meditation under a banyan tree in an Ashram outside a village. The evil god Meghamali, the Kamath of earlier birth, through his evil powers became aware of this. Driven by the animosity of earlier births, Meghamali arrived at the spot where Parshva-muni his extremely loud and fearsome laughter. When Parshva-muni remained unmoved, Meghmali inflicted pain on him by attacking in the form of various animals. Parshva-muni tolerated all these afflictions with equanimity. Meghamli’s anger reached its peak.
Now he created dark and dense clouds in the skies. The sky was completely covered by dark rain-bearing clouds. With fearsome rumbling and thunder and lightening it started raining heavily. Meghamali caused so much rain that it flooded the whole area. Parshva-muni tolerated the torment of this torrential rain like the Meru mountain. The water level rose and it reached the tip of Parshvanath’s nose. He was still unmoved in his meditation. At this peak of the affliction, the throne of god Dharanendra trembled. He came to know about the incident through his divine powers and reached the spot with Padmavati. One of these snake-gods created a platform under the feet of Parshva-muni and the other a canopy of its multiple hoods over hid head. Dharanendra admonished Meghamali who then fell at the feet of Parshva-muni and sought his forgiveness.
After eighty three days of penance and spiritual practices Parshva-muni came to Ashrampad garden in Varanasi and stood in meditation under a Dharanendra tree. With fast increasing purity he attained omniscience on the fourth day of the dark half of the month of Chaitra. The gods created the divine pavilion. Bhagavan Parshvanath gave his first discourse on the form of religion. He propagated the four dimensional religion(Ahimsa, truth, non-stealing and non-possession) for upliftment of the soul.
Inspired by the discourse of Bhagavan Parshvanath, many members of his family including his father Ashvasen, mother Vama Devi, and wife Prabhavati took Diksha from him. Many other princes and scholars including the famous Vedic scholar Shubhdatta also took Diksha after hearing to his discourse. Bhagavan Parshvanath established the four pronged religious organization. He had eight chief disciples with Shubgdatta being the first and most senior.
Although no detailed mention is available about the areas visited by Bhagavan Parshvanath, it can be surmised from various incidents and related stories that he covered a considerably wide area of the subcontinent. It appears that he visited Kashi-kaushal (Uttar Pradesh), Nepal, Bang (Bengal), Kalinga (Orissa), Anga (Magadh), Vidarbh, Konkan, Saurashtra etc. Among his followers were Shakya Kings, rulers of Magadh (grandfather and father of king Shrenik) and many others.
In Jain scriptures there is a mention of an incident of Bhagavan Parshvanath’s period that has not been much talked about. It is the initiation of 206 old spinsters in his ascetic organization. At different times many old spinsters from merchant families from a number of towns took Kiksha into Bhagavan Parshvanath’s organization and indulged in spiritual practices. But due to some faults in minor codes of discipline and death before doing required corrective self-analysis they reincarnated as queens of lesser gods like Chamarendra, Balindra, Vyantarendra etc. At the time of Bhagavan Mahavir’s divine pavilion creation they came for the Darshan (paying homage in person) and displayed their divine glamour and grandeur just like the sun god. What to talk of the common audience when even Ganadhar Gautam became spellbound at this heavenly display. When Gautam asked Bhagavan Mahavir about these goddesses he explained these goddesses acquired these unique divine powers as a result of their practices of penance and discipline when they were the old-spinster ascetics in Bhagavan Parshvanath’s order.
All these references indicate that even during the period of Bhagavan Mahavir the faith and devotion for Bhagavan Parshvanath was wide spread. The masses strongly believed that remembering the name of Bhagavan Parshvanath was the panacea for all troubles as well as the means of success. This was the reason that in Bhagavan Mahavir’s time Bhagavan Parshvanath was popularly known as “Purushadaniya”.
Many scholars are of the opinion that the Chaturyam Dharm (the four dimensional religion) was the leading and prominent religion in whole of India during that period. The Buddha also got initiated into this school in the early part of his spiritual life. Later he evolved and propagated his eight pronged religion out of this only.
Bhagavan Parshvanath was a householder for thirty years and then an ascetic for seventy years. When he was 100 years old he got liberated on the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Shravan at Sammetshikhar.
It is believed that the time span between the Nirvana of Bhagavan Parshvanath and Bhagavan Mahavir’s launching of his own school was about 250 years. There is a mention of four prominent leaders of Bhagavan Parshvanath’s school:
1. Ganadhar Shubhdatta (Shumbh)
2. Arya Haridatta
3. Acharya Samudra Suri
4. Arya Keshi Shraman
The last one is believed to have existed between 166 to 250 years after the Nirvana of Bhagavan Parshvanath. Arya Keshi Shraman was a forceful Acharya. The staunch non-believer king Pradeshi became a highly devoted Jain Shravak under his influence only. There were nine groups of five hundred ascetics each, in the large religious organization headed by Keshi-muni. These groups worked in far fling areas like Tailang (Andhra), Konkan and Maharashtra. He himself wandered in the Magadh area with one thousand ascetics.