Article: Supārśva

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Dates and numbers

The five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – are traditionally associated with a specific date. This is given according to the system of the Indian calendar:

  • month
  • fortnight
  • day in the fortnight.

Astrological considerations also play a role here and the texts normally mention the constellations when an auspicious event takes place.

Dates associated with Supārśva

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

eighth day of the dark half of Bhādrapada – Śvetāmbara
sixth day of the bright half of Bhādrapada – Digambara

12th day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha

13th day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha – Śvetāmbara
12th day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha – Digambara

sixth day of the dark half of Phālguna

seventh day of the dark half of Phālguna

The dates associated with these events are potential or actual dates of commemoration. These may be marked in festivals, which determine the Jain religious calendar.

There may be variations in the dates in different sources, Śvetāmbara on one side, Digambara on the other. But there are also cases of differences within the same sectarian tradition.

There are also other numbers connected with the life of this Jina.

Other numbers associated with Supārśva

Height

Total lifespan

200 bows

2,000,000 pūrvas

Monastic and lay communities

A Jina is not an enlightened being who exists alone after reaching omniscience. After perfect knowledge comes general preaching – samavasaraṇa. This sermon, which is attended by all, is reported in the scriptures as resulting in large numbers of listeners being inspired. Many turn to religious life, becoming monks or nuns, while many others make the vows that lay peopleśrāvaka and śrāvikā – can follow in their everyday lives. Furthermore, the Jina’s teachings are preserved and passed on by his chief disciples – the gaṇadharas. This is why a Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara, meaning ‘ford-maker’ or ‘founder of a community’.

Each Jina establishes a 'fourfold community', led by the chief disciples. Made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women, the fourfold community follows the principles the Jina has set out in his preaching. How members follow the religious teachings vary according to whether they remain householders or become initiated into mendicancy. Individual figures relating to each Jina are thus important.

Supārśva's fourfold community

Chief disciples

Monks

Nuns

Lay men

Lay women

95, led by Vidarbha – Śvetāmbara
95, led by Bala – Digambara

300,000

430,000 led by Somā or Sumanā – Śvetāmbara
330,000 led by Mīnā – Digambara

257,000

493,000

Identification and association with snakes

A temple image in Tamil Nadu of the 24 Jinas featuring larger figures of Pārśva and Supārśva in the centre. The seventh Jina Supārśva and the 23rd Jina Pārśva are often depicted similarly in art, with both having snakeheads sheltering their heads.

Pārśva and Supārśva and the other Jinas
Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

All Jinas have individual emblemslāñchanas – and colours that help to identify them in artwork. They also have attendant deities known as yakṣa and yakṣī, who often appear flanking them in art.

Colour, symbol, yakṣa and yakṣī of Supārśva

Colour

Emblem

Yakṣa

Yakṣī

gold – Śvetāmbara
greenish – Digambara

svastika

Mātanga – Śvetāmbara
Varanandin – Digambara

Śāntadevī – Śvetāmbara
Kālī – Digambara

Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is also one of the few Jinas whose iconography is distinctive, as he is often – but not always – shown with snakehoods above his head. This association with snakes is stated, for instance, in the standard biography of this Jina as narrated by Hemacandra in the Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra. It is said to go back to the time when the Jina-to-be was an embryo:

The Queen [dreamed she] saw herself asleep on a couch of serpents which had one hood, five hoods, and nine hoods

Johnson’s translation, volume II, page 308

In the account of this Jina’s general preaching following his attainment of omniscience – the samavasaraṇa – the god Śakra creates snakes over Supārśva's head that are reminiscent of those his mother saw in her dream. This is narrated as something which then became characteristic of all samavasaraṇas.

The antiquity of this association, however, is unknown. No reference to it is found either in early sources or in another Śvetāmbara biography of this Jina, the Cauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya, written in the ninth century by Śīlānka. Nor is there a mention in the Digambara version in Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa. It is likely that this association, which is so important in the case of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, was carried over to Supārśva because of the similarity of their names.

In theory, the snakes are shown above the head for Supārśva, and behind the body for Pārśva, but this distinction is far from being observed everywhere. In many cases it is thus difficult to distinguish between depictions of the two Jinas when there are no personal emblems or inscriptions.

The number of snakehoods is theoretically different for both, namely:

  • Supārśva – one, five or nine
  • Pārśva – three or seven.

But, again, this principle is not followed strictly in available images. For instance there are Pārśva images with five snakehoods and Supārśva images with no snakehood at all.

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