Article: Ara

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Aranātha or Lord Ara is the 18th 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.

Ara 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.

This Jina’s name is not among those which refer to a specific quality. The word ara means a spoke of a wheel.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Ara married princesses and 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 before becoming a monk. However, both Śvetāmbaras and  Digambaras believe that three of the 24 Jinas were universal emperors – Cakravartins – before they left worldly life. Ara is the seventh of 12 universal emperors in each half-cycle of time.

Basic information

Part of the stone figure of a Jina carved in typical Digambara style. This tenth-century idol from southern India portrays a Jina in the kāyotsarga pose. This standing posture involves such deep meditation that one is unaware of the physical world.

Unidentified Jina
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata of 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 Aranātha or Lord Ara is found on pages 218 to 232 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 11 to 36 in volume III of Johnson's English translation of Hemacandra's work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣa-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.

Jina and Cakravartin

According to both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras, there are three Jinas who were universal emperors before they left worldly life to become monks. They are the:

  • 16th Jina, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti
  • 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu
  • 18th Jina Aranātha or Lord Ara.

In their lives as lay men, after these three men succeeded their fathers as kings the disc-shaped jewel – cakra – appeared in front of them. It led them to conquer all regions in turn so that they became Cakravartins – universal emperors. In each half-cycle of time there are 12 Cakrvartins. Ara is the seventh Cakravartin in the present era. The eighth Cakravartin, Subhūma, is regarded as his contemporary. Then the men renounced worldly glory to be initiated as monks and later became Jinas.

Parents

This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbaras, she has 14 dreams while the Digambaras say 16. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, minus the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun.

Dreams of an expectant mother
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

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, at least in Śvetāmbara sources. 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 Aranātha or Lord Ara, it is said in Śvetāmbara sources that during pregnancy his mother had seen a spoke of a wheel – ara – in a dream.

Parents of Ara

Mother

Father

Devī – Śvetāmbara
Mitrasenā – Digambara

Sudarśana

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Related Manuscripts

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