Parshvanatha, according to the tradition, was born in Varanasi
as son of King Asvasena from the famous Iksvaku family and his wife Varna. He was called purisadaniya that means beloved of men. This title signifies that Parshvanath must have been an amiable individuality and most popular among the Jains. After a carefree youth spent in the grand-palace of his father, he was touched at the age of 30 by the unsteadiness of all that was worldly, and he renounced the world and his friends and became an ascetic. He obtained the redeeming knowledge in a short time and dedicated himself immediately to the propagation of the truth found by him. When he had attained the age of 100, he climbed the Sameta Sikhara in Bihar
(which is now called Parasnath hills after him), where he went into Nirvana
after refusing to take any food or water for a month. It cannot, of course, be resolved whether and how these biographical facts given by Jainas in their holy book in the midst of a colourful circle of legends, correspond to the historical facts.
The main tenets of Parshvanatha`s doctrine, according to the accounts of Jainas, were as follows: The whole, uncreated and imperishable universe is filled up in its three sections, the upper world of gods, the middle world of human beings, animals and plants and the nether world of demons and other beings in hell, with an endless number of eternal, indestructible individual souls. These souls (Jiva
) as such are purely spiritual, incorporeal and blissful; they possess infinite knowledge, unlimited power, external moral perfection and they have the same position. But in the case of most of them, the qualifies inherent to the Jivas from their nature are not developed; most of the souls in the world are rather clothed with the bodies of more or less long-lived beings, with the bodies of gods, human beings, animals, plants and the beings in hell. They are subject to the vicissitudes of joys and sorrows, their knowledge, their power and their normal condition is imperfect, and an inescapable destiny elevates them to the heights of life, gives them pleasure, power and wealth or throws them down to the of depths of misery, servitude and poverty.
A complete transformation of the characteristics of the souls or more correctly, a complete enshrouding of their natural qualities is a consequence of their combination with a different, alien element-with the matter. Subtle material objects invisible to the eye, constantly force their way into the souls, provide them with different types of bodies and organs, restrict them in their knowledge, volition and action and let them taste sometimes sweet joys and sometimes bitter sorrows. The inescapable causality of retribution of Karma
, the ceaseless play of life and death, the stream of existence with its high and low tides of fortune and misfortune, in fact, the whole world process itself is, according to Parshvantha, nothing else, but a consequence of a fatal combination of the two heterogeneous substances, mind and matter. From times without any beginning, every corporeal soul moves material atoms through its thoughts, words and actions in its realm. These atoms become Karma in it; they adhere to it and they do not leave till they have exerted their more or less harmful influence and till others, the new ones replace them.
According to Parshvanatha the souls remain infected with material objects till they yield themselves to their desires without any restraint and till they attract and assimilate them again and again by their unbridled action. Soiling of the soul by material objects which are metamorphosed into the Karma can only be stopped by hindering the inflow of new material objects into the souls and by destroying and expelling the matter present in them. This is only possible by complete control of all thinking and action and by transformation in the whole conduct of life. The doors of the five senses should not any more be carelessly left open to external influences; thinking should be subjected to stricter norms; the four passions: anger, pride, deceit and greed, are to be suppressed; and the will-to-live proliferating in the heart like a poisonous plant has to be completely uprooted. Observance of the four rules assists one in realizing this goal. They are the foundation of Parshvanatha`s ethics. These rules forbid a believer from injuring a living being, from speaking false-door, from acquiring things which were not given and from possessing property. The last includes also prohibition of sexual intercourse. Parshvanatha`s four precepts can not be carried out strictly by people who lead a mundane life; the presupposition for their complete observance is world-renunciation. The three precious stones of right knowledge, right belief and right conduct dazzle with full lustre on the one who has destroyed all the earthly desires. Devoted unflinchingly to strict austerities, pious man should meditate on the real nature of the soul till all his doubts are resolved in a pious contemplation, till he recognizes the real nature of the sprit in its unstained purity. When the fire of every passion is extinguished by the water from the cloud of knowledge, then the soul does not take up new matter, it wipes out the Karma which is not materialized in it when all the Karma burdening the soul is destroyed without any trace, when all the matter filling and surrounding it has disappeared, then the soul shines in its infinite splendour; it is then redeemed. Unburdened by all matter, it ascends the summit of the world to rest in the abode of the blissful in eternal omniscience and imperishable joy, as if on an island which is far-removed from urging waves of the ocean of Samsara.
The doctrines of the tradition which Parshvanatha proclaims in his sermons are generally the basic doctrines of views ascribed to Parshvanatha by the later reports were really his own. But it is quite possible that the system of the later period, in its fundamental principles, can be traced back to Parshvanatha. For, the theories at the basis of the Jaina-faith have as such a trace of primitive antiquity. It clearly points out to a period of origin which preceded a period of complicated concepts as they were present in Buddhism and in the classical philosophies of Brahmanism.
Lord Parshvanath is always symbolized with the hood of a snake shading his head. The Yaksha Dharanendra and the Yakshi Padmavati are often shown adjoining him. There was a popular story representing this.
Parshvanatha is symbolized in `Padmasana
` (lotus) posture in Jain canonical literature. He is represented in `padmasana` posture with both palms and feet, with auspicious lotus marks on them, placed upward. He is portrayed as having blue-black complexion, which is the colour of the cosmos. The seven-hooded serpent Shesha with an umbrella-like unfurling its hoods over the deity, represented elements of the earth and the ocean and has hence a similar body colour. Parshvanatha is depicted as wearing a gem studded crown and other ornaments. He has a golden throne as a seat and a rich covering above.
Parsva had won over, according to the Kalpasutra
, a following of thousands for his doctrine: 1,64,000 men and 3,27,000 women joined him as lay disciples by acknowledging that his principles were true, and followed these as far as it was possible for the people leading a mundane life. But 16,000 men and 38,000 women tried to practise his ascetic ethics with all its consequences and formed the monk- and the nun-orders.