Parshvanatha

Parshvanatha
23rd Jain Tirthankara
Statue of a cross-legged Parshvanatha
Image of Tīrthankara Parshvanatha (Victoria and Albert Museum, 6th–7th Century)
Venerated inJainism
PredecessorNeminatha
SuccessorMahavira
SymbolSnake[1]
Height9 cubits (13.5 feet) [2]
Age100 years
TreeAshok
ColorGreen
Personal information
Bornc. 8th–7th century BC[3]
Died
Parents
  • Ashvasena (father)
  • Vamadevi (mother)

Parshvanatha (Pārśvanātha), also known as Parshva (Pārśva) and Paras, was the 23rd of 24 tirthankaras (ford-makers or propagators of dharma) of Jainism. He is one of the earliest tirthankaras who are acknowledged as historical figures. He was the earliest exponent of Karma philosophy in recorded history. The Jain sources place him between the 9th and 8th centuries BC whereas historians point out that he lived in the 8th or 7th century BC (around 877 BC).[4] Parshvanatha was born 350 years before Mahavira. He was the spiritual successor of 22nd tirthankara Neminath. He is popularly seen as a propagator and reviver of Jainism. Parshvanatha attained moksha on Mount Sammeta (Madhuban, Jharkhand) in the Ganges basin, an important Jain pilgrimage site. His iconography is notable for the serpent hood over his head, and his worship often includes Dharanendra and Padmavati (Jainism's serpent god and goddess).

According to Jain texts, Parshvanatha was born in Banaras (Varanasi), India. Renouncing worldly life, he founded an ascetic community. Texts of the two major Jain sects (Digambaras and Śvētāmbaras) differ on the teachings of Parshvanatha and Mahavira, and this is a foundation of the dispute between the two sects. The Digambaras believe that there was no difference between the teachings of Parshvanatha and Mahavira. According to the Śvētāmbaras, Mahavira expanded Parshvanatha's first four restraints with his ideas on ahimsa (non-violence) and added the fifth monastic vow (celibacy). Parshvanatha did not require celibacy, and allowed monks to wear simple outer garments. Śvētāmbara texts, such as section 2.15 of the Acharanga Sutra, say that Mahavira's parents were followers of Parshvanatha (linking Mahavira to a preexisting theology as a reformer of Jain mendicant tradition).

Historicity

Parshvanatha is the earliest Jain tirthankara who is generally acknowledged as a historical figure.[5][6][7] According to Paul Dundas, Jain texts such as section 31 of Isibhasiyam provide circumstantial evidence that he lived in ancient India.[8] Historians such as Hermann Jacobi have accepted him as a historical figure because his Chaturyama Dharma (Four Vows) are mentioned in Buddhist texts.[9]

Despite the accepted historicity, some historical claims (such as the link between him and Mahavira, whether Mahavira renounced in the ascetic tradition of Parshvanatha and other biographical details) have led to different scholarly conclusions.[10] He is claimed in Jain texts to have been 13.5 feet (4.1 m) tall.[2]

Parshvanatha's biography is legendary, with Jain texts saying that he preceded Mahavira by about 250 years and that he lived 100 years.[11][3] Mahavira is dated to c. 599 – c. 527 BC in the Jain tradition, and Parshvanatha is dated to c. 872 – c. 772 BC.[11][12][13] According to Dundas, historians outside the Jain tradition date Mahavira as contemporaneous with the Buddha in the 5th century BC and, based on the 250-year gap, date Parshvanatha to the 8th or 7th century BC.[3]

Doubts about Parshvanatha's historicity are supported by the oldest Jain texts, which present Mahavira with sporadic mentions of ancient ascetics and teachers without specific names (such as sections 1.4.1 and 1.6.3 of the Acaranga Sutra).[14] The earliest layer of Jain literature on cosmology and universal history pivots around two jinas: the Adinatha (Rishabhanatha) and Mahavira. Stories of Parshvanatha and Neminatha appear in later Jain texts, with the Kalpa Sūtra the first known text. However, these texts present the tirthankaras with unusual, non-human physical dimensions; the characters lack individuality or depth, and the brief descriptions of three tirthankaras are largely modeled on Mahavira.[15] Their bodies are celestial, like deva. The Kalpa Sūtra is the most ancient known Jain text with the 24 tirthankaras, but it lists 20; three, including Parshvanatha, have brief descriptions compared with Mahavira.[15][16] Early archaeological finds, such as the statues and reliefs near Mathura, lack iconography such as lions or serpents (possibly because these symbols evolved later).[15][17]