Article: Kunthu

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Places

Seeing thousands of pilgrims each year, Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara – in north-eastern India is one of the holiest places for Jains. Auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – connected with many Jinas occurred here, including the liberation of 20 Jinas

Peaks of Mount Sammeta
Image by CaptVijay © public domain

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 Kunthu

Last incarnation and birthplace

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Hastināpura

Sahasrāmravana

Mount Sammeta

Hastināpura or Hastinapur is located 37 kilometres from Meerut, in Uttar Pradesh. Today a large village, it is a place of high antiquity, a site of prehistoric culture and the capital town of the Pāṇḍava lineage, famous from the Mahābhārata epics. Its importance as a Jain sacred place comes from its association with several Jinas. It is the birth place of the three Jinas who are also Cakravartins:

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

It is also the place where the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, is said to have broken his year-long fast when Prince Śreyāṃsa gave him sugar-cane juice. This first alms-giving event is commemorated during the Akṣaya-tṛtīyā festival.

The sites of the old temple dedicated to Kunthu and the other two Jinas born there are today marked by holy footprints – pādukās – in the remote countryside. Those of Kunthu were restored in 1917.

In today’s Hastinapur, the main Śvetāmbara temple is dedicated to Śānti. The main temple image of Śānti is flanked by Kunthu and Ara on the right and left respectively. Thus the three Jinas traditionally connected with the locality are shown together.

Literary evidence

There is a lot of literary evidence from the 13th century onwards showing that the place was a favourite pilgrimage destination for Jains who wanted to pay homage to Aranātha or Lord Ara and the two other Jinas born there. Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti, Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu and Ara form a group and are often mentioned together.

A record dated 1318 CE (1375 of the Vikrama era) mentions a collective pilgrimage led by the Śvetāmbara mendicant Jinacandra-sūri, of the Kharatara-gaccha. The pilgrims recited hymns for the three Jinas which Jinacandra-sūri had composed specially.

Another one datable to 1333 CE records how the pontiff Jinaprabha-sūri of the Kharatara-gaccha placed newly made images of Śānti, Kunthu and Ara in temples there.

In the same year Jinaprabha-sūri composed a praise of this place after a temple pilgrimage, and devotes two pieces to it in his collection on Jain sacred places, the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa (number 16 and number 50; translated in Balbir 1990: 186–187). He starts with homage to the three Jinas Śānti, Kunthu and Ara. He states that four auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – in their lives took place in this locality, and then lists all the dates connected with the auspicious events of their lives.

In his 1641 autobiography called the Ardha-kathānaka, the Jain merchant poet Banārasīdās narrates how he was in a group of people who undertook a pilgrimage in 1618 to perform worship of Śānti, Kunthu and Ara. On this occasion he produced a poem of praise for the three Jinas, mentioning their names, their parents’ names, their size and their respective emblems:

He composed a poem for the teachers Śānti, Kunthu, Ara. May Banārasī recite it with heart and devotion: ‘Glory to King Viśvasena, to the monarch Śūrasena, to King Sudarśana. Acirā, Śrī, Devī sing the praises of these masters. Their sons have the emblems of the antelope, of the goat, of the nandyāvarta. Their bodies measure 40, 35 and 30 bows. They have a golden complexion[.]

Ardhakathānaka, verses 582 to 583

English translation based on Petit 2011 (page 117)

Dates and numbers

Worship of the 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is shown in this 19th-century painting. Found in a temple in Mysore, Karnataka, the colourful picture includes the Jina's emblem – lāñchana – of the goat, which helps to identify him in art.

Worship of Kunthu
Image by Anishshah19 © public domain

The five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – are traditionally associated with a specific date. This is given according to the system of the Indian calendar:

  • month
  • fortnight
  • day in the fortnight.

Astrological considerations also play a role here and the texts normally mention the constellations when an auspicious event takes place.

The dates associated with these events are potential or actual dates of commemoration. These may be marked in festivals, which determine the Jain religious calendar.

There may be variations in the dates in different sources, Śvetāmbara on one side, Digambara on the other. But there are also cases of differences within the same sectarian tradition.

Dates associated with Kunthu

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

  • 9th day of the dark half of Śrāvaṇa, or bright half – Śvetāmbara
  • 10th day of the dark half of Śrāvaṇa – Digambara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Caitra or Vaiśākha – Śvetāmbara
  • 1st day of the bright half of Vaiśākha – Digambara
  • 5th day of the black half of Vaiśākha – Śvetāmbara
  • 1st day of the bright half of Vaiśākha – Digambara

3rd day of the bright half of Caitra

  • 1st day of the dark half of Caitra – Śvetāmbara
  • 1st day of the bright half of Vaiśākha – Digambara

The dates of all events except emancipation are recorded, for instance, in the above-mentioned composition by the 14th-century Śvetāmbara monk, Jinaprabha-sūri (Balbir 1990: 187).

There are also other numbers connected with the life of this Jina.

Other numbers associated with Kunthu

Height

Total lifespan

35 bows

95,000 years

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Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images

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