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.

Images

  • Image of a Jina This painting from a manuscript shows a Jina sitting in the lotus position of meditation. His jewels show he is a spiritual king, a status underscored by the parasol and pedestal, common emblems of royalty in Indian art. Jinas are always depicted in a very stylised way in art so they are hard to tell apart. In this case the Jina's dark skin indicates he may be Nemi, the 22nd Jina.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Emblem of Śreyāṃsa The Digambara emblem of the 11th Jina, the rhinoceros is found at the foot of the gigantic image of Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. Each Jina has an emblem – lāñchana – identifying him in art, which is usually found on the pedestal on which he stands or sits.. Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Further Reading

Jaina Iconography
Jyotindra Jain
and Eberhard Fischer
Iconography of Religions – Indian Religions series; volume 13: 12 and 13
Institute of Religious Iconography, State University of Groningen; E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1978

Full details

Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; New Delhi, India; 1987

Full details

Glossary

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.

Dhyāna

Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Kāyotsarga

'Absence of concern for the body'. This commonly refers to a standing or sitting posture of deep meditation. In the standing position the eyes are concentrated on the tip of the nose and the arms hang loosely by the body. The individual remains unaffected by whatever happens around him.

Monk

A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

Nudity

The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.

Padmāsana

Said to resemble the petals of a lotus, the lotus position involves sitting cross-legged with each foot on the opposite thigh. The soles face upwards while the knees rest on the ground. This posture is associated with meditation. Jinas and other enlightened figures are often depicted in this pose.

Prākrit

A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.

Śvetāmbara

'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Tilaka

A mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for religious reasons. It symbolises the third eye, which is associated with spiritual enlightement and meditation. Historically, only deities, priests, ascetics and worshippers wore tilakas. It is usually a paste or powder made of sandalwood, ashes, coloured powder (kumkum) or clay and may be applied in various lines, dots and U shapes.

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