Article: Kunthu

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is the 17th 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.

Kunthu 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 not straightforward and has been interpreted differently in traditional sources. The word itself has no clear etymology and may be of non-Sanskrit origin.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Kunthu 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. Kunthu is the sixth of 12 universal emperors in each half-cycle of time.

Basic information

The main image of Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu in Karandai temple, Tamil Nadu, one of the oldest temples dedicated to him. A Digambara statue, the 17th Jina is nude with downcast eyes and plainly carved. Born in Hastinapur, this Jina was a cakravartin

Statue of Kunthu
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

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 Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is found on pages 97 to 120 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 1 to 10 in volume IV 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 the Jinas present them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.

Jina and Cakravartin

This manuscript painting in a Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna shows the 14 magical jewels – ratna – of a 'universal ruler' – cakravartin. He uses these to conquer his enemies and become a universal monarch. The first panel depicts the cakravartin and a servant

14 magical jewels
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

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

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 grow up to become a Jina.

In the case of ‘Kunthu’, Śvetāmbara sources say that he was so named because his mother had seen a heap of jewels called ‘kunthu’ in a dream. Even so the meaning of kunthu is far from clear. The commentary on the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, for instance, understands it as meaning ‘staying on the earth’, analysing it as being formed of:

  • ku – earth
  • thu from the Sanskrit root sthā – ‘to stand, to stay, to be’
Parents of Kunthu

Mother

Father

Śrī – Śvetāmbara
Śrīkāntā – Digambara

Śūra – Śvetāmbara
Śūrasena – Digambara

EXT:contentbrowse Processing Watermark

Related Manuscripts

  • Section on Mahāvīra

    Section on Mahāvīra

    British Library. Or. 13341. Unknown author

  • Text

    Text

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IM 7-1931. Unknown author. Circa 1490

Related Manuscript Images

  • Twenty Jinas

    Twenty Jinas

    Wellcome Trust Library. Gamma 3. Unknown author. 1503

  • Hymn to Kunthu

    Hymn to Kunthu

    British Library. Or. 13623. Yaśo-vijaya. 1733

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