Article: Śītala

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Śītalanātha or Lord Śītala is the tenth of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time. 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.

Śītala is not an historical figure. He is not singled out for individual biographies in the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. Treated like most of the other Jinas, he is provided only with basic biographical information. This information is fairly standardised and remains identical throughout later sources except for occasional variations, or confusions, in numbers.

The meaning of his name is straightforward. Śītala is the Sanskrit term for ‘cool’ temperature. It has a positive connotation as it refers to the ideas of appeasement or serenity.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Śītala married princesses and governed the earth as a king before leaving worldly life for monastic initiation. According to the sect of the Digambaras, none of the Jinas assumed the responsibilities of a householder or king before becoming monks.

Basic information

This 19th-century temple in Kolkata is a Śvetāmbara temple dedicated to the tenth Jina, Śītalanātha or Lord Śītala.

Śītalanātha Temple
Image by pm107uk – Paul © CC BY-NC 2.0

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata of all the 24 Jinas is the final section of the fourth Aṅga, the Samavāyānga-sūtra and the Āvaśyaka-niryukti. Among the earliest Digambara sources is a cosmological work, the Tiloya-paṇṇatti.

The standard Digambara biography of Śītalanātha or Lord Śītala is found on pages 71 to 75 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 337 to 346 in volume II of Johnson's English translation of Hemacandra's work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣa-caritra.

The biographical data can be categorised in a standard manner, and includes numbers, which are significant in wider Indian culture. These standard details can also be used to identify individual Jinas in art, since they are usually depicted as stereotyped figures. Pictures or statues of Jinas present them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.

Parents

The important feature of a Jina’s father is that he is a king, from the kṣatriyacaste.

A Jina’s mother has an important role because she gives birth to a future Jina, and in practice a Jina is often called ‘the son of X’. Another reason for her importance is that the names given to the various Jinas are said to originate either in pregnancy-whims or in a dream their mothers had, at least in Śvetāmbara sources. This dream is specific, and adds to the traditional auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a child who will become a Jina.

In the case of ‘Śītala’, which means ‘cool’, Śvetāmbara sources state that this name was given to him for reasons that are not connected with dreams or fancies during pregnancy. Hemacandra relates that when he was in the womb his mother’s touch cooled his father’s hot body (Johnson’s translation of Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣacarita, volume II, page 340).

Parents of Śītala

Mother

Father

Nandā – Śvetāmbara
Sunandā – Digambara

Dṛḍharatha

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 Śītala

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Bhadrilapura

Sahasrāmravana

Mount Sammeta

Bhadrilapura is identified by some Jains as modern Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh (Shah 1987: 146). There is a shrine dedicated to Śītalanātha or Lord Śītala.

The existence of Bhadrila and its connection with this Jina are recorded in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri. He also recognises the town of Prayāga – modern Allahabad – in Uttar Pradesh, as a sacred place associated with the tenth Jina. These places appear in a list of those where a Jina was born, all of them praised as destinations for pilgrimage.

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Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images

  • Hymn to Śītala

    Hymn to Śītala

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

  • Ten Jinas

    Ten Jinas

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IS 46-1959. Unknown author. Late 15th to 16th centuries

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