Lord Rishabha-The First Tirthankar


Lord Rishabha-The First Tirthankar

Lord Rishabha-The First Tirthankar

Lord Rishabha is the first among the 24 Tirthankaras mentioned in the history of Jainism. He was not only the source of Jain religion, but had designed and established the system and structure of the society as well.

Lord Rishabha was born in the 'yogalik kala'. In this era, the standard of living and status was equal to all. There was neither ruler nor anyone was ruled over. All enjoyed the fruits of bountiful nature. The population was limited, each couple gave birth to only two children, a boy and a girl. In their childhood these children stayed with each other as brother and sister and in their youth they got married and became husband and wife. Towards the end of their lives, the woman conceived and gave birth to one son and a daughter and the couple then died. By leading a carefree life, the population remained healthy and strong, and their society continued for thousands of years,

With the passage of time this ideal social state started getting disordered. Until this happened people were free from any sense of possessiveness as they lacked nothing, but with time the power of kalpavriksha (wish-fulfilling trees, which provided them with all they needed) started deteriorating. This led to social discontent.

Everyone started indulging in hoarding and trying to snatch each other's share. Chaos prevailed everywhere. A penal code became a necessity.

This state of anarchy led the yaugalikas to make an attempt and resolve the social disorder. A man by the name of "Vimalvahan" was selected as "Kulkar" (the head of community). He evolved the "Haakar" mode of punishment. Under it, if anybody committed a crime, a word "haa" was uttered and this would suffice to reprimand him. But this system could not cope with all the problems. The "Maakara" (which means "Don't do this!") and then the "Dhikkaar" (which means "Oh shame, you did this!") systems of punishment were proposed, but they too failed to set things right. After Vimalvahan, Nabhi, the father of Rishabha became the seventh and the last Kulkaral. But he too was unable to solve the problems of the people.

While all three conventional penal codes of the Kulkaras failed, people lost faith in the forest culture of Yaugalika age. Due to the paucity of essential things, people grew restless. Many problems occurred, but they could find no way out of their impasse. Some responsible people with foresight among the Yugals, troubled by the deteriorating conditions, approached Rishabha and requested him to advise them what to do. Rishabha visualized the problem of this transition period. With his extrasensory perception, Rishabha was able to find the solution in a new social system. Rishabha said, "Now a formal governing machinery headed by a capable ruler must be established to control the situation."

The Yugals did not know the rights and duties of a king, so Rishabha explained the social system for the first time to them. They then requested him to govern the people because he had the knowledge and the capability. Rishabha revered his father and nominated his name for the kingship. But Nabhi being a novice and unfamiliar with such a system denied this position. He in turn suggested that the people crown Rishabha himself as their ruler. Rishabha finally accepted, and the people made him their ruler. Under his leadership, villages and townships developed. Some people moved from their rural setting homes to the burgeoning urban centres. For public safety, law and order, Rishabha established a permanent protection force. Later on Rishabha appointed his eldest son Bharat as his successor.

Beginning of marriage ceremony

On one occasion, parents of new-born infants placed them under a tree and by chance a fruit fell on the head of the male child and killed him. It was the first premature death of that era. After some time, the girl's (Sunanda) parents also died and she remained alone. The other Yugals looked at the lonely girl with surprise. Nabhi accepted her as the wife of Rishabha, who by that time had grown into a young man. Rishabha wedded Sunanda and his own sister Sumangala, and thereby initiated the marriage system. After this, the formal marriage system came into being and the Yogalika era, gradually deteriorated.

Innovative doors of knowledge and livelihood

In the age of the kulkar, people ate only fruits and flowers but now they were not able to meet the needs of the ever-increasing population. The forest-dwelling people who had begun to live in houses and started farming did not know about cooking. They started to eat raw food but it was indigestible, so they went to Rishabha to ask him for a solution. Rishabha with his extrasensory powers knew the solution. He had to teach them cooking but awaited the advent of fire. Fire could not be produced without the rubbing of two opposite dry objects but the particles of wood had not solidified enough. With the passage of time the particles started becoming dry too, and for the first time fire came into being. Rishabha taught the people the way of production, use of fire and to cook food. The advent of fire opened new areas for development. In addition, Rishabha taught the seventy-two arts to his elder sons through which living can be made comfortable, eighteen scripts to his daughter Brahmi and mathematics to Sundari (his second daughter).


After establishing social and political norms successfully for years, and having reigned he now looked forward to achieve the ultimate goal of life. Rishabha moved forward to renounce the world and be initiated as a monk. The people were apprehensive about their future, but rishabha was determined to renounce his household life. He left his home and as a symbol of renunciation, he began to pluck his hair. When all his hair except the middle of his head was plucked out, Indra (the chief of Gods) appeared and requested him to let his hair remain as it looked beautiful. So he did. Rishabha became a monk with four thousand other people but since Rishabha kept silence and fasted for many months, the other monks were puzzled and left his company.


Rishabha was the first monk of this time cycle. People were ignorant of giving alms to monks. Wherever he went, they offered him jewels, horses, elephants etc., but nobody gave him food. Thus he spent twelve months remaining without food and water until he reached Hastinapur. Rishabha was on his usual round for alms. Shreyans, the great grandson of Rishabha had a dream that he was pouring milk over Mount Meru. Next morning, while contemplating the dream, he saw his grandfather Rishabha on the highway.

With the help of extra-sensory perception, Shreyans knew that he was in search of food. He came out of his palace to give alms to him. Shreyans thought he had surplus pots of fresh sugarcane juice. He requested lord to come to his palace and accept the juice. Rishabha cupped his hands in order to take the juice. This was the first alm he received after a whole year. Thus Rishabha was the first monk to receive alms and Shreyans was the first donor. After this incident people came to know about alms. This was the day of Vaishakha Shukla Tritiya (the third day of bright half of a lunar month according to Indian calendar). It became akshaya (indestructible) and is known as Akshya Tritiya.

Finally he went to Mount Kailasa where he practiced penance. There he attained omniscience (i.e infinity knowledge) and preached the gospel of ahimsa and truth. After preaching his religious doctrine, he attained emancipation.

After Rishabha, there have been 23 arhats (Tirthankars) in Jain tradition of this era:

2) Arhat Ajitprabhu               14) ArhatAnanta            

3) Arhat Sambhava                15) Arhat Dharmanatha              

4) Arhat Abhinandana          16) Arhat Shantinath                   

5) Arhat Sumati                       17) Arhat Kunthu          

6) ArhatPadma                     18) ArhatAranath            

7) Arhat Suparshva                19) Arhat Malli                

8) Arhat Chandraprabha      20) Arhat Munisuvrat                 

9) Arhat Suvidhi                      21) Arhat Nami               

10) Arhat Shitala                     22) Arhat Nemi              

11) Arhat Shreyansha           23) Arhat Parshva         

12) Arhat Vasupujya              24) Shraman Bhagawan Mahavira         

13) Arhat Vimal 

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