Article: Ṛṣabha

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha is the first of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time. There are many versions of his name but he is commonly called Ādinātha – First Lord. The name Ṛṣabha means ‘bull’.

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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Dedicated to the first Jina, Ṛṣabha or Ādinātha, the main temple at Ranakpur in Rajasthan was begun in the 14th century. Still unfinished, it is famous for its intricate carvings and its roughly 1400 pillars.

Temple to Ādinātha at Ranakpur
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

There is no historical evidence of the existence of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, but he is credited with setting up the customs and institutions of society. These include the caste system, marriage, farming, crafts, reading, writing and mathematics.

Tradition holds that Ṛṣabha was born in Ayodhyā, son of the patriarch Nābhi and his queen, Marudevī. Ṛṣabha is said to have achieved liberation on Mount Aṣṭāpada, also known as Mount Kailāsa.

Ṛṣabha had many children and when he renounced the householder life to become the first mendicant his eldest son Bharata succeeded him as king. Ṛṣabha divided parts of his kingdom among his other sons, including Bāhubali. His daughters Brāhmī and Sundarī became the first nun and the first lay woman and are counted among the sol satī.

Images of Ṛṣabha

In golden colours, this manuscript painting shows Ṛṣabha. The first of the 24 Jinas, Ṛṣabha takes the lotus position of meditation. His jewels and headdress show he is a spiritual king, stressed by royal symbols, such as the elephant and parasol.

Worship of Ṛṣabha
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Ṛṣabha’s symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. Unusually in depictions of Jinas, statues and paintings of Ṛṣabha often show long locks of hair falling on his shoulders that help identify him.

Like all Jinas, Ṛṣabha has a pair of spiritual attendants, often shown in art. His yakṣa is Gomukha and his yakṣī is Cakreśvarī.

Related Manuscripts

  • Sketch of a Jina

    Sketch of a Jina

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

  • Text


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

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