Article: Supārśva

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

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Image of the seventh Jina Supārśva in the Shantinatha temple of Somasipadi, Tamil Nadu. This Digambara figure has no ornamentation and is green, the colour the sect gives to him. His emblem of the svastika is clear.

Figure of Supārśva
Image by Ramesh Kumar © French Institute of Pondicherry

Besides the basic information, the sources provide more details on various topics. These are almost infinite and vary depending on the sources. Such information differs between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. Here are only a few instances of extra detail.

All of the princes who become Jinas are carried on a palanquin to the park where they perform the ritual gesture of initiation into monastic lifedīkṣā. The palanquin of Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is named Manoharā. On this occasion, he is accompanied by numerous kings.

He performs a two-day fast. The next day he breaks his fast at the house of King Mahendra in the town of Pāṭalīkhaṇḍa.

Supārśva wanders for nine months as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a śirīṣa tree.

Events, stories and hymns

The life of Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva is not rich in events. In the ninth-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great MenCauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, the chapter about the seventh Jina has a little more than one page.

The 12th-century Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra, is also short.

Even so, there are several sizeable biographies focusing on the seventh Jina. Among them the most famous and most important is the Prakrit Supāsa-nāha-cariya.

Supāsa-nāha-cariya

This colourful manuscript painting of a meditating Jina may be of the seventh Jina Supārśvanatha or Lord Supārśva. In theory he is always depicted with one, five or nine snakehoods. The image's jewellery and open eyes indicate it is of the Śvetāmbara sect

Painting of Supārśva
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

With about 8,700 stanzas in Sanskrit, the Supāsa-nāha-cariya was written in 1142 CE (1199 of the Vikrama era) by the monk Lakṣmaṇa-gaṇi, pupil of Hemacandra-sūri of the Harṣapurīya-gaccha monastic order. The text is divided into three chapters (Chaudhari 1973: 81–82).

The first one narrates at length the previous births of the future seventh Jina as a human being or god. It explains how he gained the category of karma that implies he would become a TīrthaṃkaraTīrthaṃkara-nāma-karman.

The second chapter narrates Supārśva’s birth, marriage and initiation into monastic life.

The third one presents the Jina's attainment of omniscience and is also an extensive exposition of various ascetic practices and postures. It is supplemented with a number of sermons and intervening stories which cover:

  • true doctrine
  • the 12 vows of the lay man and their transgressions
  • all sorts of other subjects.

An illustrated manuscript of this work, covering 443 folios and written in 1422 CE (1479 of the Vikrama era) in Delavada in Mewar, Rajasthan, has 37 lively and colourful paintings (list in Punyavijaya 1956). Some of them are reproduced in Muni Punyavijaya’s article and a few also in the book New Documents of Jaina Painting (Moti Chandra and U. P. Shah 1975).

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Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images

  • Ten Jinas

    Ten Jinas

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

  • Twenty Jinas

    Twenty Jinas

    Wellcome Trust Library. Gamma 3. Unknown author. 1503

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