Article: Emblems of the 24 Jinas

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

The 24 Jinas that appear in each cycle of time are always represented in a very stylised way in artwork. Therefore pictures and statues of individual Jinas are very hard to identify because they appear identical.

Each Jina has an emblem that is frequently included in pictures or sculptures so he can be recognised. This is referred to by the Sanskrit word lāñchana. This convention does not seem to have been known in early Jainism, so perhaps it was influenced by the Hindu environment, where each god has an identifying vehicle or emblem.

Identifying Jinas

This manuscript painting shows a Jina in the lotus position of meditation. His jewels, the parasol and pedestal show he is a spiritual king. His dark skin indicates he may be Nemi, the 22nd Jina.

Image of a Jina
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In works of art Jinas are usually very hard to tell apart because they are depicted in a very idealised style. Thus the individual emblems are crucial to identifying a Jina.

Even so, one Jina is easy to recognise. The 23rd Jina, Pārsvanātha or Lord Pārsva, is usually depicted wearing a snake-hood. The number of snake-hoods he wears varies between seven and nine, although seven is the most common number.

There are also specific identifying signs for the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, and the seventh one, Supārśvanātha or Lord Supārśva. Ṛṣabha has long locks of hair falling on his shoulders while Supārśva has snake-hoods above the head, smaller than those of Pārsva.

Mallinātha or Lord Malli, the 19th Jina, is problematic, because she is considered to be a woman in the Śvetāmbara tradition.

In addition, sometimes a Jina’s body is painted in his individual colour, which can help in identifying him. Some variations are due to the fact that the Indian word nīla refers to 'dark', which can mean dark blue or black, or sometimes even green.

Typical representations of Jinas

The Digambara emblem of the 11th Jina, the rhinoceros is found at the foot of the image of Lord Śreyāṃsa in Sarnath. Each Jina has an emblem – lāñchana – identifying him in art, which is usually found on the pedestal on which he stands or sits.

Emblem of Śreyāṃsa
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

A Jina is always shown in meditation in one of two positions. He commonly stands in the kāyotsarga posture of 'rejection of the body', which indicates that he is so deep in meditation he is indifferent to his surroundings. The other main meditation pose in which Jinas are shown is the lotus position.

A Jina in art may also have a kind of tilaka on his forehead and an endless knot on his chest.

Among the Śvetāmbaras, the Jina is thought of as a spiritual king and is often depicted with ornaments and pictured seated on a throne. Otherwise he wears only a loincloth or perhaps the simple white robe of a monk.

In the Digambara Jain tradition, the Jinas are always represented entirely naked and without any ornamentation.

There are also small differences in the emblem of a Jina between the two sects. The emblem of an individual Jina can usually be seen on the cloth on which he sits, on the foot of his throne or in a corner of the pedestal on which he stands. It is commonly quite small.

Colours and emblems of the 24 Jinas in Śvetāmbara and Digambara sects

Jina

Colour

Śvetāmbara emblem

Digambara emblem

1

Ṛṣabha

gold

bull

bull

2

Ajita

gold

elephant

elephant

3

Saṃbhava

gold

horse

horse

4

Abhinandana

gold

monkey

monkey

5

Sumati

gold

crane – krauñca-bird

crane – krauñca- or koka-bird

6

Padmaprabha

red

red lotus

red lotus

7

Supārśva

gold or emerald

svastika

labyrinth – nandyāvarta – or svastika

8

Candraprabha

white

crescent moon

crescent moon

9

Puṣpadanta

white

crocodile – makara

crocodile or crab

10

Śītala

gold

endless knot – śrīvatsa

endless knot or wishing-tree – kalpavṛkṣa

11

Śreyāṃsa

gold

rhinoceros

rhinoceros

12

Vāsupūjya

red

buffalo

buffalo

13

Vimala

gold

boar

boar

14

Ananta

gold

falcon

bear

15

Dharma

gold

thunderbolt – vajra

thunderbolt – vajra

16

Śānti

gold

deer

deer

17

Kunthu

gold

goat

goat

18

Ara

gold

labyrinth – nandyāvarta

fish, flower

19

Malli

blue

water pot – kalaśa

water pot – kalaśa

20

Munisuvrata

black

tortoise

tortoise

21

Nami

black, yellow or emerald

blue lotus

blue lotus

22

Nemi

blue or black

conch

conch

23

Pārśva

green

snake – cobra

snake – cobra

24

Mahāvīra

yellow

lion

lion

Adapted from the table ‘Tirthankaras’ Cognizances’ on page 247, Appendix of Historical Dictionary of Jainism. Kristi L. Wiley. The Scarecrow Press, Inc.. Lanham, Maryland. 2004.

In art the emblems do not appear before the 5th century CE. In texts the full lists are even later, showing that there might have been a considerable gap between this concept’s starting to appear and the time it was codified. The standard list of the Śvetāmbaras is found in the Abhidhānacintāmaṇi, a dictionary of synonyms written by Hemacandra in the 12th century. The Digambaras often refer to the list in the Tiloyapannatti, one of their treatises on the Jain universe written in Prakrit. They give the fairly early date of the 6th century to this work, but this is a matter of controversy.

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