Article: Ananta

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

More details

Besides the basic information, the sources provide more details on various topics. These are almost infinite and vary depending on the sources. Such information differs between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. Here are only a few instances of extra detail.

All of the princes who become Jinas are carried on a palanquin to the park where they perform the ritual gesture of initiation into monastic lifedīkṣā. The palanquin of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is named Sāgaradattā. On this occasion, he is accompanied by numerous kings.

He performs a two-day fast. The next day he breaks his fast at the house of Vijaya in the town of Vardhamānapura. In Digambara sources he does this at the house of a king called Viśākha.

Ananta wanders for three years as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a tree of the aśoka variety.

Events, stories and hymns

Image of the 14th Jina, Anantanātha or Lord Ananta, in a temple dedicated to him in Tamil Nadu. The bear, which is this Jina’s emblem in the Digambara tradition, is shown on the pedestal. Typically of a Digambara Jina, he is serene, naked with closed eyes

Statue of Ananta
Image by Ramesh Kumar © Jain Sites in Tamilnadu

The life of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is almost eventless. In the 9th-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great Men – Cauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, the chapter about the 14th Jina is hardly more than one page.

The 12th-century Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra, has become the standard Śvetāmbara version of the Jinas' lives. This text gives Ananta's life more substance because the story of the triad of Suprabha, Puruṣottama and Madhu is inserted within the general frame of the story and told at length. As usual with such triads, it is a tale of war and fighting. The two main enemies are the Vāsudeva Puruṣottama and the Prati-vāsudeva Madhu, whose hatred continues from their previous births.

There are several sizeable biographies focusing on the 14th Jina. One famous example is Janna's epic poem Ananta-purāṇa, written in 1230 in Kannara. Another is Nemicandra-sūri's 1159 Prakrit poem, the Aṇanta-jiṇa-cariya. In 9,610 stanzas, it supplements the tale with:

  • numerous descriptions
  • maxims and proverbs
  • stories illustrating the results of karmas and various aspects of the Jain teachings and practice, with one set of eight stories, for instance, centred on the eight kinds of worship – pūjā – to the Jinas
  • accounts of the two previous births of Ananta
  • an explanation in the final stanzas of how the author was inspired by the devotion of a Jain couple.

Ananta is mainly praised alongside other Jinas in hymns dedicated to the 24 Jinas. One instance is the devotional song dedicated to this Jina in the Gujarati set of hymns composed by Yaśovijaya in the 17th century. This example can be found among the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia.

Temples and images

Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through various sculptures of him alone or in a group (Shah 1987: 150), such as the figures in caves 8 and 9 at Khanda-giri in Orissa. Metal images showing Ananta alone or with other Jinas are also available in temples and museums.

An early episode in the Jain tradition is associated with an image of this Jina in Kalinga, modern-day Orissa. It is said that in 150 BCE King Kharavela fought against the Nandas, a rival dynasty, recapturing the image of Ananta they had taken from his ancestors (Shantinath Dibbad in Hegewald 2011: 64).

Temples dedicated to Ananta are found all over in India, although they are not that numerous. There is one in Ayodhyā, the place connected with this Jina (ground plan in Hegewald 2009: 368 fig. 93).

For reasons as yet unknown, this Jina is particularly popular in Karnataka. Several temples – basadis – feature his image as the main idol, such as the Anantanātha temples in:

  • Laskshmeshvar, also called the Hale Basti (basic layout in Hegewald 2009: 524).
  • Melage or Melige, in Shimoga district, which was built by Ddvarajannpati and his wife Kompamnianm.

Anantanātha temples continue to be built. The Varadur temple, completed in 1978 in Wayanad, Kerala, is one instance among several.

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