Article: Nemi

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

Neminātha or Lord Nemi is the 22nd of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time. He is also called Ariṣṭanemi.

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. 

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Story and images

This manuscript painting shows a Jina in the lotus position of meditation. His jewels, the parasol and pedestal show he is a spiritual king. His dark skin indicates he may be Nemi, the 22nd Jina.

Image of a Jina
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

There is no historical evidence of Nemi’s existence but traditional writings recount his life as following the usual career of a Jina. Tradition holds that he was born in Śaurīpura or Dvārakā and achieved liberation on Mount Girnār.

Nemi’s symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem is a conch. Jains believe that he is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣṇa. In religious art Nemi is often shown with blue skin, similarly to how Kṛṣṇa is depicted in Hindu art.

Like all Jinas, Nemi has a pair of spiritual attendants, often shown in art. His yakṣa is Gomedha and his yakṣī is Ambikā, who is also a powerful goddess in her own right.

Nemi's renunciation

This manuscript painting shows Prince Nemi’s renunciation in two parts. First he visits his fiancée Princess Rājīmatī and then he flees the scene, upset by the distress of the animals about to be killed for his wedding feast

Nemi's renunciation
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

The account of Nemi’s renunciation is very well known in Jain tradition. From a young age Prince Nemi has wanted to renounce the householder life to become an ascetic. After much persuasion from his family and friends he overcomes his reluctance to marry and is betrothed to Princess Rājimatī.

On his way to the palace of his future in-laws, Nemi sees lots of animals penned up, ready to be killed to feed the wedding guests. He is deeply troubled and repulsed. He decides to pull out of the marriage and renounce worldly life immediately.

This episode underscores the Jain disavowal of violence and the importance of vegetarianism. The notion of doing no harm is a central part of Jain belief and includes avoiding hurting or killing animals where possible.

Related Manuscripts

  • Sketch of a Jina

    Sketch of a Jina

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

  • Text

    Text

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IM 161-1914. Unknown author. 16th century

Related Manuscript Images

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