Jain miniature painting of 24 Jain Tirthankaras, Jaipur, c. 1850
The 24 Tirthankaras forming the tantric meditative syllable Hrim, painting on cloth, Gujarat, c. 1800

In Jainism, a Tirthankara (IAST: tīrthaṅkara; lit.'ford-maker') is a saviour and supreme spiritual teacher of the dharma (righteous path).[1] The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha,[2] a fordable passage across saṃsāra, the sea of interminable birth and death. According to Jains, tirthankaras are the supreme preachers of dharma, who have conquered saṃsāra on their own and made a path for others to follow.[3] After understanding the true nature of the self or soul, the Tīrthaṅkara attains kevala jnana (omniscience). A Tirthankara provides a bridge for others to follow them from saṃsāra to moksha (liberation).[4]

In Jain cosmology, the wheel of time is divided into two halves, Utsarpiṇī, the ascending time cycle, and avasarpiṇī, the descending time cycle (said to be current now). In each half of the cycle, exactly 24 tirthankaras grace this part of the universe. There have been infinitely many tirthankaras in the past.[5] The first tirthankara in the present cycle (Hunda Avsarpini) was Rishabhanatha, who is credited with formulating and organising humans to live in a society harmoniously. The 24th and last tirthankara of the present half-cycle was Mahavira (599 BC–527 BC).[6][7][8] History records the existence of Mahavira and his predecessor, Parshvanatha, the 23rd tirthankara.[9]

A tirthankara organises the sangha, a fourfold order of male and female monastics, srāvakas (male followers) and śrāvikās (female followers).[10]

The tirthankara's teachings form the basis for the Jain canons. The inner knowledge of tirthankara is believed to be perfect and identical in every respect, and their teachings contain no contradictions. The degree of elaboration varies according to society's spiritual advancement and purity during their period of leadership. The higher the level of society's spiritual advancement and purity of mind, the lower the elaboration required.

While Jains document and revere tirthankaras, their grace is said to be available to all living beings regardless of religion.[11]

Tīrthaṅkaras are arihants who, after attaining kevala jñāna (pure infinite knowledge),[12] preach the dharma. An Arihant is also called Jina (victor), one who has conquered inner enemies such as anger, attachment, pride, and greed.[4] They dwell exclusively within the realm of their soul and are entirely free of kashayas, inner passions, and personal desires. As a result of this, unlimited siddhis, or spiritual powers, are readily available to them, which they use exclusively for living beings' spiritual elevation. Through darśana, divine vision, and deshna, divine speech, they help others attain kevalajñana and moksha (final liberation).


The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha, a fordable passage across saṃsāra, the sea of interminable births and deaths.[13][14][15][16] Tirthankaras are variously called "Teaching Gods", "Ford-Makers", "Crossing Makers", and "Makers of the River-Crossing.[17][16]


Tirthankara images at Siddhachal Caves inside Gwalior Fort.

Jain texts propound that a special type of karma, the tīrthaṅkara nama-karma, raises a soul to the supreme status of a Tīrthaṅkara. The Tattvartha Sutra, a major Jain text, lists 16 observances that lead to the bandha (bondage) of this karma:[18]

Panch Kalyanaka

Auspicious dreams seen by a tirthankara's mother during pregnancy

Main article: Panch Kalyanaka

Five auspicious events called Pañca kalyāṇaka mark every tirthankara's life:[19]

  1. Gārbha kalyāṇaka (conception): When a tirthankara's ātman (soul) comes into his mother's womb.[20]
  2. Janma kalyāṇaka (birth): Birth of a tirthankara. Indra performs a ceremonial bath on tirthankara on Mount Meru.[21][22]
  3. Diksha kalyāṇaka (renunciation): When a tirthankara renounces all worldly possessions and become an ascetic.
  4. Keval Gyan kalyāṇaka (omniscience): When a tirthankara attains kevalajñāna (infinite knowledge). A samavasarana (divine preaching hall) is erected from where they deliver sermons and establish 'tirth (chaturvidh sangha) after that.
  5. Nirvāṇa/Moksha kalyāṇaka (liberation): When a tirthankara leaves their mortal body, it is known as nirvana. It is followed by the final liberation, moksha, after which their soul resides in Siddhashila.


Samavasarana of Tirthankara Rishabha (Ajmer Jain temple)

Main article: Samavasarana

After attaining kevalajñāna, the tirthankara preaches the path to liberation in the samavasarana. According to Jain texts, devas (heavenly beings) erect the heavenly pavilion where devas, humans, and animals assemble to hear the tirthankara.[23] A samavasarana is a three-level structure. The lowest level, made of rajat (silver), is the parking space for vehicles. The second is the svarna (gold) level. All animals reside in the svarna level, while the highest level, made of precious gems, is reserved for various important figures, such as kings and their families, the devas and the ascetics. Humans and animals hear a tirthankara's speech in their language. It is believed that during this speech, there is no unhappiness for miles around the site.[24]

Tīrthaṅkaras of the present cosmic age

Jainism postulates that time has no beginning or end. It moves like the wheel of a cart. The wheel of time is divided into two halves, Utsarpiṇī (ascending half cycle) and Avasarpiṇī (descending half cycle). 24 tirthankaras are born in each half of this cycle. In Jain tradition, the tirthankaras were royal in their final lives, and Jain texts record details of those lives. Their clan and families are also among those recorded in legendary stories. According to Jain canons, Rishabhanatha, the first tirthankara,[13] founded the Ikshvaku dynasty,[25] from which 21 other tirthankaras rose over time. Two tirthankarasMunisuvrata, the 20th, and Neminatha, the 22nd – belonged to the Harivamsa dynasty.[26]

In Jain tradition, the 20 tirthankaras attained moksha on Mount Shikharji, in the present Indian state of Jharkhand.[27] Rishabhanatha attained nirvana on Mount Ashtāpada (Mount Kailash), Vasupujya in Champapuri, Bihar, Neminatha on Mount Girnar, Gujarat, and Mahavira, the last tirthankara, at Pawapuri, near modern Patna. Twenty-one of the tirthankaras are said to have attained moksha in the kayotsarga (standing meditation posture), while Rishabhanatha, Neminatha, and Mahavira are said to have done so in the Padmasana (lotus position).[17]


tirthankaras of present, previous and next cosmic ages (72 in total)

Present cosmic age

Main article: List of Tirthankaras

Jain chaumukha sculpture at LACMA, 6th century

In chronological order, the names, emblems and colours of the 24 tirthankaras of this age are:[1][28][29][30]

No. Name Emblem Colour
1 Rishabhanatha[31] (Adinatha) Bull Golden
2 Ajitanatha[31] Elephant Golden
3 Sambhavanatha[31] Horse Golden
4 Abhinandananatha[31] Monkey Golden
5 Sumatinatha[31] Flamingo Golden
6 Padmaprabha[31] Padma Red
7 Suparshvanatha[31] Swastika Green
8 Chandraprabha[31] Crescent Moon White
9 Pushpadanta (Suvidhinath)[31] Crocodile or Makara White
10 Shitalanatha[31] Kalpavriksha Golden
11 Shreyanasanatha[31] Rhinoceros Golden
12 Vasupujya[31] Buffalo Red
13 Vimalanatha[31] Boar Golden
14 Anantanatha[31] Porcupine according to the Digambara
Falcon according to the Śvētāmbara
15 Dharmanatha[31] Vajra Golden
16 Shantinatha[31] Antelope or deer Golden
17 Kunthunatha[31] Goat Golden
18 Aranatha[31] Nandavarta or fish Golden
19 Māllīnātha[31] Kalasha Blue
20 Munisuvrata[31] Tortoise Black/Dark Blue
21 Naminatha[31] Blue lotus Golden
22 Neminatha[31] Shankha Black/Dark Blue
23 Parshvanatha[31] Snake Green
24 Mahavira[31] Lion Golden

Next cosmic age

The next 24 tirthankaras, who will be born in utsarpinī age, are:

No. Name Previous human birth
1 Padmanabha King Shrenika[32]
2 Surdev Mahavira's uncle Suparshva
3 Suparshva King Kaunik's son king Udayin
4 Svamprabh The ascetic Pottil
5 Sarvanubhuti Śrāvaka Dridhayadha
6 Devshruti Kartik's Shreshti
7 Udaynath Shravak Shamkha
8 Pedhalputra Shravak Ananda
9 Pottil Shravak Sunand
10 Shatak Sharavak Shatak
11 Suvrat Satyaki of Mahabharata
12 Amam Krishna
13 Shrinishkashay Satyaki Rudhra
14 Nishpulak Krishna's brother Balbhadra also known as Balrama
15 Nirmam Shravika Sulsa
16 Chitragupta Krishna's brother's mother Rohini Devi
17 Samadhinath Revati Gathapatni
18 Samvarnath Sharavak Shattilak
19 Yashodhar Rishi Dwipayan
20 Vijay Karna of Mahabharata
21 Malladev Nirgranthaputra or Mallanarada
22 Devachandra Shravak Ambadh
23 Anantvirya Shravak Amar
24 Bhadrakat Swati


Digambara Mahāvīr Swami iconography
Śvētāmbara Simandhar Swami iconography

A tīrthaṅkara is represented either in the lotus position (Padmasana) or in the meditation Khadgasana (Kayotsarga) posture.[33][34] The latter, which is similar to the military standing at attention, is a difficult posture to hold for long and is preferred by Jains because it minimizes the amount of the body in contact with the earth, and thus the risk to sentient creatures living in or on it. If seated, they are usually depicted seated with their legs crossed in front, the toes of one foot resting upon the knee of the other leg, and the right hand lying over the left in the lap.[1]

Tirthankara images have no distinctive facial features, clothing, or (mostly) hairstyles, and are differentiated based on the symbol or emblem (Lanchhana) belonging to each tirthanakara except Parshvanatha. Statues of Parshvanatha have a snake crown. The first Tirthankara, Rishabha, is identifiable by the locks of hair falling on his shoulders. Sometimes Suparshvanath is shown with a small snake-hood. The symbols are marked in the centre or the corner of the statue's pedestal. The Jain sects Digambara and Svetambara have different depictions of idols. Digambara images are naked without any ornamentation, whereas Svetambara ones are clothed and decorated with temporary ornaments.[35] The images are often marked with Srivatsa on the chest and Tilaka on the forehead.[36] Srivatsa is one of the ashtamangala (auspicious symbols), which sometimes resembles fleur-de-lis, an endless knot, a flower, or a diamond-shaped symbol.[37]

The bodies of tirthankara statues are exceptionally consistent throughout the over 2,000 years of the historical record's. The bodies are rather slight, with very wide shoulders and a narrow waist. Even more than is usual in Indian sculpture, the depiction takes relatively little interest in accurate depiction of musculature and bones but is interested in modeling outer surfaces as broad swelling forms. The ears are extremely elongated, alluding to the heavy earrings the figures wore in their early lives before they took the path to enlightenment, when most were wealthy, if not royal.

Sculptures with four heads are not uncommon in early sculpture, but unlike the comparable Hindu images, these represent four different tirthanakaras, not four aspects of the same deity. Multiple extra arms are avoided in tirthanakara images, though their attendants or guardians may have them.[38]

In other religions

See also: Rishabha (Hinduism) and Paranath Avtar

The first Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha is mentioned in Hindu texts like the Rigveda,[39] Vishnupurana, and Bhagwata Purana.[40] The Yajurveda mentions the name of three Tīrthaṅkaras: Ṛiṣhabha, Ajitnātha and Ariṣṭanemi.[41] The Bhāgavata Purāṇa includes legends about the Tirthankaras, particularly Rishabha.[42] Yoga Vasishta, Chapter 15 of Vairagya Khanda, Sloka 8, gives the saying of Rama:

I am not Rama. I have no desire for material things. Like Jina I want to establish peace within myself.[43]

Champat Rai Jain, a 20th-century Jain writer, claimed that the "Four and Twenty Elders" mentioned in the Book of Revelation (the final book of the Christian Bible) are "Twenty-four Tirthankaras".[44]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Britannica Tirthankar Definition, Encyclopædia Britannica, archived from the original on 20 March 2020, retrieved 5 February 2012
  2. ^ Babb 1996, p. 5.
  3. ^ "Tirthankara | Definition, Names, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  4. ^ a b Sangave 2006, p. 16.
  5. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 20.
  6. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 19.
  7. ^ Taliaferro & Marty 2010, p. 286.
  8. ^ Sanghvi, Vir (14 September 2013), Rude Travel: Down The Sages, Hindustan Times, archived from the original on 18 May 2015
  9. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 182-183.
  10. ^ Balcerowicz 2009, p. 17.
  11. ^ Flügel 2010.
  12. ^ Sangave 2006, p. 164.
  13. ^ a b Upinder Singh 2016, p. 313.
  14. ^ Balcerowicz 2009, p. 16.
  15. ^ Sangave 2006, p. 169-170.
  16. ^ a b Champat Rai Jain 1930, p. 3.
  17. ^ a b Zimmer 1953, p. 212.
  18. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2011, p. 91.
  19. ^ Cort 2001, p. 110.
  20. ^ "HereNow4U.net :: Glossary/Index – Terms – Eastern Terms – Chyavana Kalyanak", HereNow4u: Portal on Jainism and next level consciousness, archived from the original on 14 March 2013, retrieved 22 April 2015
  21. ^ Wiley 2009, p. 200.
  22. ^ Wiley 2009, p. 246.
  23. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 200.
  24. ^ Pramansagar 2008, p. 39-43.
  25. ^ Natubhai Shah 2004, p. 15.
  26. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 151.
  27. ^ Osho 2016, p. 4.
  28. ^ Doniger 1999, p. 550.
  29. ^ Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 181-208.
  30. ^ "Tirthankara (EMBLEMS OR SYMBOLS) pdf" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 July 2015.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "Name". jainworld.com. Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  32. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 276.
  33. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 209-210.
  34. ^ Umakant P. Shah 1987, p. 79.
  35. ^ Cort 2010.
  36. ^ "Red sandstone figure of a tirthankara". Archived from the original on 19 October 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  37. ^ Jain & Fischer 1978, p. 15, 31.
  38. ^ Srinivasan, Doris, Many Heads, Arms, and Eyes: Origin, Meaning, and Form of Multiplicity in Indian Art, pp. 329-330, 1997, BRILL, ISBN 9004107584, 9789004107588, google books Archived 5 April 2023 at the Wayback Machine
  39. ^ George 2008, p. 318.
  40. ^ Rao 2007, p. 13.
  41. ^ Dr. K. R. Shah 2011, p. 9.
  42. ^ Ravi Gupta and Kenneth Valpey (2013), The Bhagavata Purana, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231149990, pages 151–155
  43. ^ "Great Men's View on Jainism". Jainism Literature Center. Archived from the original on 11 February 2021. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  44. ^ Champat Rai Jain 1930, p. 78.