Article: Vimala

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Vimalanātha or Lord Vimala is the 13th 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.

Vimala 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. Vimala means ‘pure’ in Sanskrit. Hence it has an extremely positive connotation.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Vimala 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.

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

  • the Baladeva Bhadra in Śvetāmbara sources, Dharma in Digambara sources
  • the Vāsudeva Svayambhū
  • the Prati-vāsudeva Meraka in Śvetāmbara sources, Madhu in Digambara sources.

Basic information

Though the endless knot – śrīvatsa – on his chest marks him as a Jina, this partial figure cannot be identified as a particular one of the 24 Jinas. Dating from the 3rd century, this statue has a serene half-smile while the ornate nimbus behind him emphas

Partial image of a Jina
Image by British Museum © Trustees of the British Museum

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 Vimalanātha or Lord Vimala is found on pages 97 to 120 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra's Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 92 to 109 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 ‘Vimala’, it is said in Śvetāmbara sources that his mother’s body and intellect were ‘pure’ – vimala – during her pregnancy.

Parents of Vimala

Mother

Father

Śyāmā or Somā – Śvetāmbara
Jayaśyāmā – Digambara

Kṛtavarman

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 Vimala

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Kāmpīlya

Sahasrāmravana, outside Kāmpīlya

Mount Sammeta

Now a village, Kāmpilya used to be an important capital in ancient India. It is located in the district of Farrukabad in Uttar Pradesh, ten kilometres away from Kayamganj railway station. Its existence and connection with this Jina are recorded and praised in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri. He devotes section 25 of his collection to it. According to him, the place was known as 'Five Auspicious Events'. He lists them as being:

As both the Śvetāmbaras and the Digambaras associate the location with Vimalanātha or Lord Vimala, both sects have temples here dedicated to this Jina.

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Related Manuscripts

  • Section on Mahāvīra

    Section on Mahāvīra

    British Library. Or. 13341. Unknown author

  • Text

    Text

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IS. 83-1963. Unknown author. 15th century

Related Manuscript Images

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