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.

Images

  • Image of a Jina This painting from a manuscript shows a Jina sitting in the lotus position of meditation. His jewels show he is a spiritual king, a status underscored by the parasol and pedestal, common emblems of royalty in Indian art. Jinas are always depicted in a very stylised way in art so they are hard to tell apart. In this case the Jina's dark skin indicates he may be Nemi, the 22nd Jina.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Nemi's renunciation This manuscript painting depicts Prince Nemi’s renunciation in two parts. The top shows the prince visiting his fiancée, Princess Rājīmatī. Below, Nemi hurries away from pens of animals, his charioteer urging the horse onwards. Deeply upset by the distress of the animals that are to be killed for his wedding feast, Nemi flees the scene and decides to become a monk instead. This episode underscores the central importance of the notion of doing no harm, which includes avoiding hurting or killing animals where possible.. Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Further Reading

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

Glossary

Conch

Emblem of the 22nd Jina Neminātha. It is also associated with his cousin, the Hindu deity Kṛṣṇa. He received it from Susthita, the god presiding over the island of Gautama-dvīpa, in exchange for the worship and fast he had undertaken. The conch is used as a musical instrument to summon warriors before a battle. Though Kṛṣṇa’s conch is very heavy, the young Prince Nemi could meet the challenge of lifting it.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

Hindu

Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Kṛṣṇa

One of the best-known avatars of the deity Viṣṇu the preserver, Kṛṣṇa is one of the principal Hindu gods. Since his name means ' dark blue', 'dark' or 'black' in Sanskrit, he is usually depicted with blue or black skin. Often shown as a boy or young man playing a flute, Kṛṣṇa is a hero of the Indian epic, Mahābhārata, and protagonist of the Bhagavad Gītā. Jains believe he is the cousin of Lord Nemi, the 22nd Jina.

Mokṣa

The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.

Renunciation

Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.

Sāgāra

Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.

Vegetarianism

In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.

Yakṣa

The male attendant of a Jina, one of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.

Yakṣī

The female attendant of a Jina, also called yakṣinī. One of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.

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