JAINA TRADITION UPTO MAHAVIRA
1. Tradition of Tirthankaras :
Jainism is the ancient religion of India and during its long and unbroken existence it is promulgated by 24 Great Preachers known as ‘Jinas’ i.e. ‘Conquerors’ or ‘Tirthankaras’ i.e . ‘Fordmakers across the stream of existence’. These 24 Tirthankaras are :
1. Rishabh-natha or Adinatha
9. Pushpadanta or Suvidhi-natha
24. Mahavira or Vardhamana.
Thus the tradition of Tirthankaras begins with Rishabha, the first Tirthankara, and ends with Mahavira, the twentyfourth Tirthankara. Naturally, there is a continuous link among these twenty-four Tirthankaras who flourished in different periods of history in India . It therefore means that the religion first preached by Rishabha in the remote past was preached by the succession of remaining twenty-three Tirthankaras during their life-time for the benefit of living beings. In view of this succession of twenty-four Tirthankaras a well-knit continuity is maintained both in the tenets and practices of Jaina religion. Since Mahavira is the twenty-fourth Tirthankara in this line of Tirthankaras, he, by no means, could be considered as the founder of Jaina religion. Hence Mahavira is not the founder but the promulgator and great preacher of Jaina religion during the sixth century B.C. As Mahavira happens to be the last Tirthankara, he is regarded by the common people as the founder of Jaina religion. It is obvious that this is a misconception. Now it has been an accepted fact by the historians that Mahavira did not found Jaina religion but he preached the religion which was in existence from the remote past.
2.Historicity of the Jaina Tradition:
The Historicity of this Jaina tradition is amply borne one both by literary and archaeological evidences. By the beginning of the 20th century many writers were under the impression that Maiaavira was an imaginary or a legendary figure. Soon they realised that Mahavira was a historical figure but they believed that Malaavira and Gautama Buddha are the two names of the same person, viz. Gautama Buddha. Early researches in the 20th century dispelled this confusion about Mahavira and Gautama Buddha and established a separate and different identity of Mahavira. In this way though Mahavira’s real and independent existence was accepted, still he was regarded as the founder of Jaina religion and as the champion of non-violence who revolted against the violent practices of Brahmanism. The recent researches in historical and indological studies carried out by Western and Oriental Scholars have removed beyond doubt the ideas of former writers about the role of Mahavira and have now conclusively established the fact that Mahavira is not the founder of Jaina religion but the promulgator of Jaina religion which was in prevalence in India, especially in Eastern India from the ancient past. This view is clearly stated by P. C. Roy Chaudhury in his book `Jainism in Bihar’ in the following terms: “A common mistake has been made by some of the recent writers in holding that Jainism was born because of discontent against Erahmanism. This wrong theory originates because these writers have taken Vardhamana Mahavira as thv founder of Jainism. This is not a fact………….. The creed had already originated and spread and Mahavira propagated it within historic times.”
Thus it is now an accepted fact that Mahavira is the Tirthankara or prophet of Jaina religion and that he preached the religion which was promulgated in the 8th Century B.C. by his predecessor Parshvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara. The historicity of Parshvanatha (877-777 B.C.) has been clearly established. Parshvanatha, the son of King Vishvasena and Queen Vamadevi of Kingdom of Kashi, led the life of an ascetic, practised severe penance, obtained omniscience, became a Tirthankara, propagated Jaina religion and attained Nirvana or salvation when he was 100 years of age at Sammet Shikhara, i.e. Parasnatha hill in Hazaribag District of Bihar State. Parshavanatha often gets the epithet `a lovable or genial personality’. His pupils like Kesikumara lived at the time of Mahavira and held minor differences in dogmatic details though the basic religious ideology was fundamentally the same as that of Mahavira. Eminent historians like Vincent Smith, R.C. Majumdar, and R.K. Mookarji regard Parshvanatha as a historical personage and a great preacher of Jaina religion.
The predecessor of Parshvanatha was Nemi-natha or Arishtanemi, the 22nd Tirthankara and the historicity of Nemi-natha like that of Parshvanatha, could be easily established. Nemx-natha was the real cousin of the famous Lord Krishna of Mahabharata as Samudravijaya, the father -of Neini-natha, and Vasudeva, the father of Krishna, were brothers. Nemi-natha possessed a unique personality due to his great compassion towards animals. This is clearly revealed by asignificant incident in his life. While Nemi-natha was proceeding at the head of his wedding procession to the house of his bride, Princess Rajulakumari, the daughter of King Ugrasena, he heard the moans and groans of animals placed in an enclosure for some meat-eaters and instantly decided not to marry at all as his marriage would involve such a slaughter of so many innocent animals. Immediately Nemi-natha renounced his royal title and became an ascetic. Leaving
this renunciation of Nemi-natha, the betrothed princess Rajulakumari or Rajamati also became a nun and entered the ascetic order. Nemi-natha preached religion for several years and finally attained Nirvana on the Mount Girnar, in Junagadha District of Gujrat State. As Nemi-natha renounced the world, he did not take part in the fraternal struggle of Malaabharata like his cousin brother Lord Krishna. Since this Great War of Mahabharata has to be assumed as an historical event and Krishna to be an historical personage, then his cousin brother Nemi-natha is also entitled to have a place in this historical picture There is also an inscriptional evidence to prove the historicity of Nemi-natha. Dr. Pran Nath published in the “Times of India” (dated 19th March 1935) a copperplate grant of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnazzar I (1140 B. C.) found at Prabhaspattan in Gujrat State, which, according to his reading, refers to the Babylonian King having come to Mount Revet to pay homage to Lord Nemi-rlatha.. Dr. Fuherer also declared on the basis of Mathura Jaina antiquities that Nemiriatha was an historical personage (vide Epigraphia Indica, I,and II, 208-210). Further, we find Nemi-natha’s images of the Indo-Scythian period bearing inscriptions mentioning his name. These and many other inscriptions corroborate the historicity of 22nd Tirthankara Nemi-natha.
Among the remaining 21 Tirth,ankaras of the Jaina tradition, there are several references from different sources to the first Tirthankara Rishabhanatha or Adinatha. Thus the tradition of twenty-four Tirthankaras is firmly established among the Jainas and what is really remarkable about this Jaina tradition is the confirmation of it from non-Jaina sources, especially Buddhist and Hindu sources.