Article: Śreyāṃsa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa is the 11th 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.

Śreyāṃsa 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 not straightforward. Śreyāṃsa is based on the common Sanskrit word śreyas, meaning ‘better, superior, better’. Hence it has a positive moral connotation.

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

Śreyāṃsa is one of the Jinas whose life is contemporary with a triad of great figures:

  • the Baladeva Acala in Śvetāmbara sources, Vijaya in Digambara sources
  • the Vāsudeva Tripṛṣṭha
  • Aśvagrīva, the Prati-vāsudeva.

Basic information

The 11th Jina, Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa, in the Digambara temple at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. Though the statue is carved in the plain traditional style of the Digambara sect, the shrine and surroundings are colourful and lavishly decorated.

Statue of Śreyāṃsa
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

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 Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa is found on pages 79 to 84 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 1 to 63 in volume III of Johnson's English translation of Hemacandra's work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-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. 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 Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa, the standard biography of Hemacandra does not give any explanation, which is unusual. It is just said that ‘his parents named him Śreyāṃsa on a good day’, underlining the moral meaning of the word śreyāṃsa. In Prakrit, however, the form of the name is Sejjaṃsa. An early Prakrit commentary, the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, devotes half a verse to an explanation of each of the 24 Jinas’ names. It says: ‘he was called Sejjaṃsa because his mother had the pregnancy fancy to climb on a precious bed – sejjā’.

Parents of Śreyāṃsa

Mother

Father

Viṣṇu – Śvetāmbara
Nandā – Digambara

Viṣṇurājā – Śvetāmbara
Vimalavāhana – Digambara

Places

This board recalls the four auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – in the life of Lord Śreyāṃsa, the 11th Jina, that took place nearby. It lists his final incarnation, birth, initiation and omniscience. Śreyāṃsa is closely associated with Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh

Śreyāṃsa's four auspicious events
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

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 Śreyāṃsa

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Siṃhapura or Siṃhapurī

Siṃhapura

Mount Sammeta

Siṃhapura is a part of Hirāmanpur, a small locality in Sarnath, about 30 kilometres from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The 11th Jina is recalled several times across the whole area, as shown by three temples or large images.

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