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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Story

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.

Images

  • Temple to Ādinātha at Ranakpur 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.. Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta
  • Worship of Ṛṣabha In golden colours, this manuscript painting shows Ṛṣabha being worshipped. The first of the 24 Jinas, Ṛṣabha takes the lotus position of meditation. His jewels and ornate headdress show he is a spiritual king, a status underscored by the elephants, parasol and pedestal, standard symbols of royalty in Indian art. Figures sit or stand around him in attitudes of worship.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, 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

Aṣṭāpada

Legendary mountain where Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, was liberated. Mount Kailāsa in the Himalayas is frequently thought to be this mountain.

Bharata

One of the Lands of Action or Karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the Middle World where humans live. Bharata is also the name of the eldest son of the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, who succeeded his father as king.

Caste

Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

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.

Kulakara

'Patriarchs’, who live in the suṣamā-duṣamā period and teach people to adjust to deterioriating conditions in this phase of time. The last of the kulakaras of this time period was Nābhi, the father of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. They vary in number from 7 to 14 or 16 according to the source.

Nun

A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

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.

Śrāvikā

'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.

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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