Article: Dharma

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma is the 15th 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.

Dharma 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, a feature not shared by all the Jinas’ names. Dharma means 'law' in Sanskrit and is often used as a synonym for 'religion' or 'the path of religion'. Thus Dharmanātha means ‘Lord of the Dharma’ in Sanskrit.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Dharma 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 or king before becoming monks.

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

  • the Baladeva Sudarśana
  • Puruṣasiṃha the Vāsudeva
  • Niśumbha the Prati-vāsudeva.

Basic information

This 18th-century statue of a Jina from the Deccan has no emblem – lāñchana – to identify him. The emblem is usually on the central panel of his pedestal. With characteristics such as closed eyes, nudity and a very plain style, this figure is Digambara.

Jina statue
Image by Sailko © CC BY-SA 3.0

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 Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma is found on pages 128 to 137 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in both Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 134 to 162 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.

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 Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma, it is reported in Śvetāmbara sources that his mother showed a special inclination towards religious duties – dharma – during this period.

Parents of Dharma

Mother

Father

Suvratā – Śvetāmbara
Suprabhā – Digambara

Bhānu

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 Dharma

Birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Ratnapura

Vaprakāñcana in Ratnapura

Mount Sammeta

In the modern-day state of Uttar Pradesh, Ratnapura or Ratnapurī is a small place 24 kilometres to the west of Ayodhya, near Ronahi and Sohaval railway station in the Faizabad district. It is a sacred site because it is the scene of the birth, initiation and omniscience of Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma.

The 14th-century Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri devotes one section of his work on Jain sacred places – the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – to Ratnapura. He reports the existence of a temple dedicated to this Jina, along with an image of a nāga. He also tells of worship to Dharma being performed with offerings of milk and shouts of ‘Dharmarāja’ or 'King Dharma'.

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