Article: Ananta

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is the 14th of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time. The word Jina means 'victor' in Sanskrit. A Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma through practising extreme asceticism and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara or 'ford-maker' in Sanskrit – that is, one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience.

Ananta is not an historical figure. He is not singled out for individual biographies in the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. Treated like most of the other Jinas, he is provided only with basic biographical information. This information is fairly standardised and remains identical throughout later sources except for occasional variations, or confusions, in numbers.

The meaning of his name is straightforward. The Sanskrit word ananta means 'infinite' – in knowledge in particular. Hence it has an extremely positive connotation.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Ananta married princesses. He governed the earth as a king before leaving worldly life for monastic initiation. According to the sect of the Digambaras, none of the Jinas assumed the responsibilities of a householder or king before becoming monks.

Ananta is one of the Jinas whose life is contemporary with a triad of great figures:

  • the Baladeva Suprabha
  • the Vāsudeva Puruṣottama
  • the Prati-vāsudeva Madhu.

Basic information

This manuscript painting depicts ten identical Jinas. Those between Ṛṣabha, the first one, and Nemi, the 22nd, are usually portrayed identically in art. Omniscient, in lotus pose, their jewels and headdresses show they are spiritual kings to Śvetāmbaras.

Ten Jinas
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata about all the 24 Jinas is the final section of the fourth Aṅga, the Samavāyānga-sūtra and the Āvaśyaka-niryukti. Among the earliest Digambara sources is a cosmological work, the Tiloya-paṇṇatti.

The standard Digambara biography of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is found on pages 121 to 127 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 110 to 133 in volume III of Johnson's English translation of Hemacandra's work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra.

The biographical data can be categorised in a standard manner, and includes numbers, which are significant in wider Indian culture. These standard details can also be used to identify individual Jinas in art, since they are usually depicted as stereotyped figures. Pictures or statues of Jinas present them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.

Parents

The important feature of a Jina’s father is that he is a king, from the kṣatriyacaste.

A Jina’s mother has an important role because she gives birth to a future Jina, and in practice a Jina is often called ‘the son of X’. Another reason for her importance is that the names given to the various Jinas are said to originate either in pregnancy-whims or in a dream their mothers had. This dream is specific, and adds to the traditional auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a child who will become a Jina.

In the case of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta, the Āvaśyaka-niryukti indicates that his mother had dreamt of ‘an infinite – that is, very large – garland inlaid with various gems’. The scholar Hemacandra writes that he owes this name to the fact that ‘infinite armies of his enemies had been conquered by his father while he was in the womb’ (Johnson’s translation, volume III, page 113).

Parents of Ananta

Mother

Father

Suyaśas – Śvetāmbara
Jayaśyāmā – Digambara

Siṃhasena

Places

Of the five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – four take place on earth and are associated with a specific village or town in the sources. Archaeological evidence often helps to identify the old names with modern places. Even when it is lacking, there is a tendency to carry out this identification process. Associating auspicious events with certain locations makes these places sacred to Jains, so that they are potential or actual pilgrimage places and temple sites.

Places associated with Ananta

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Ayodhyā

Sahasrāmravana, outside Ayodhyā

Mount Sammeta

A famous Hindu sacred place, Ayodhyā has also Jain connections as it is there that five of the 24 Jinas were born:

This is recorded, for instance, in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri.

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