Bhagwan Rishabhdev, also known as Adinath, was the first Tirthankar of the third era of this current time cycle. He was also the first King of the third era. His symbol (laanchhan) is of a bull. Gomukh Dev is His Shaasan Dev and Chakreshwari Devi is His Shaasan Devi! He had taken 12 births before He became a Tirthankar. He was born in the Yuglik era as the son of Kulkar Nabhi and Marudevi due to which He is called mata Marudevi na nand (son). He was married to Sunanda and Sumangala and had 100 sons and 2 daughters. He attained Absolute Knowledge (Keval-Gnan) and gave Deshna to His thousands of followers.
Let’s now go through the life stories of the Lord’s 12 previous births, prior to His birth as Tirthankar Bhagwan Rishabhdev.
The first birth was as Dhanna Seth in the kingdom of King Prasanna Chandra in the Mahavideh Kshetra. Dhanna Seth was a big business man. He offered alms and other services to many ascetics.
Once, for business purpose, he was going to Vasantpur. On the way, some Jain monks asked whether they could travel with him. He took them along with him and served them heartily all the way. He helped them settle in a suitable place, ideal for the monks and left for his business work. He then became so busy in his business that he completely forgot about the monks. Suddenly one day, he recalled about having brought the Jain monks along with him.
He immediately went to them, repented for his mistakes and served them heartily then. During this time, Dhanna Seth got Samyak Drashti, the first milestone to Absolute Knowledge, after which he dedicated his remaining life to religion, helping others and severe penance. He lived as a Shravak.
His next birth was as a Yugal (twins) in the third era (third aara as per the Jainism time cycle) in the Bharat Kshetra.
The period from the first era to the third era of the current time cycle in Bharat Kshetra is called Yuglik. In the Yuglik period, humans were born as twins, one male and one female. Each twin pair or Yugal lived as brother and sister until maturity and thereafter lived as husband and wife upon reaching adulthood. They lived a happy and contented life and died a natural death together. During this period, there was no tension, no pain and people never worried about food.
His third birth was as a Dev in the heaven.
The fourth birth of Bhagwan Rishabhdev was as a human. He was born to King Satbal and Queen Swayamprabha as Mahabal. He was also known as Vidhyadhar, as he was skillful. His parents then became monks and Mahabal took charge of the throne.
One of the ministers in his kingdom named Swayambhut was kind hearted, religious and lived with the goal of liberation. The other ministers of the kingdom were all engrossed in enjoying life to the fullest and Mahabal was more influenced by them and became one of them.
Once in the kingdom, Swayambhut told the King that what He was doing was not right. He should not spend his life like this. All this is temporary. However, Mahabal said that he is still young and should enjoy his life by indulging in all pleasures of life.
One day one of the Jain monks who had Avadhi Gyan told Swayambhut not to worry about Mahabal, as he was going to make a big name but had a very short life span of just one month in this life. Swayambhut then informed the King that he is going to live only for a month.
Hearing this he got worried that what shall he do now. However, Swayambhut explained to him that if one does penance before death even for a day with sincerity then still one can achieve liberation. Mahabal then did severe penance, got involved in religion, and completely changed his lifestyle.
His fifth birth was in the heaven as Lalitanang Dev. He was attached to Devi Swayamprabha. They spend their entire life happily together.
His sixth birth was in human form in the Mahavideh Kshetra as Vajrajang. He was born to Queen Laxmidevi and King Suvarnajang. During the same time, Shrimati, who was Swayamprabha in her previous birth, was born to King Vajrasen and Queen Gunvati in the Purva Mahavideh Kshetra.
Once Shrimati along with her friends went to see the Jain monks who had attained Absolute Knowledge (Keval-Gnan). Just upon seeing those monks, Jatismaran Gyan manifested in her due to which she could see her previous births. She realised that she was married to Lalitanang Dev and wanted to marry him again in this birth. She then asked a painter to paint her memories of the previous birth and kept them a huge exhibition. Vajrajang also came to that exhibition.
Seeing those pictures, he could recollect his previous birth. They both met each other and were able to tally their previous birth. Shrimati and Vajrajang then got married. Then, King Vajrasen goes to the jungle in search of Self-realization. Vajrajang and Shrimati were living happily together and ran the kingdom well.
One night, Vajrajang decided to take Diksha and hand over the kingdom to his son. Meanwhile, his son thinks that his father is not giving him the kingdom. Therefore, to take revenge for not getting the kingdom in his hands, the son killed his parents the same night.
In the seventh birth, they both take birth as Yugal, lived together and died together too.
Their eighth birth was as a Dev in the heaven.
The ninth birth of Bhagwan Rishabhdev or Adinath was as a human in a Vaid family. He was named Jivanand. He learned all vaidik skills from His father. Once a monk who was too weak due to severe penance visited Jivanand Vaid. Jivanand took care of the monk and freed him from all the pain.
Due to selfless care taken for the weak monk, Jivanand took birth in the heaven. This was the Tenth birth of the Lord.
His eleventh incarnation was as a Chakravarti King named Vajranabh in the Mahavideh Kshetra. As King Vajranabh, he supported poor and desolate masses. Keshav was his brother. Keshav was Swayamprabha (female) in his previous birth. His other friends from his previous birth were born as his brothers in this life and were very attached to each other.
His father then renounced the kingdom and handed the throne to Vajranabh. He soon was known as the most victorious King in all the six khands. This is how he became Chakravati. He then handed the khands to his friends and kept his brother Keshav as his Sarthi. After many years of public service, Vajranabh renounced the world and became an ascetic. His friends, and the Sarthi too, took Diksha.
As a result of his unprecedented spiritual practices including religious studies, penance, tolerance and meditation; he earned the Tirthankar-naam-and-gotra-karma. His only intent was to help others get free from all worldly pain and suffering and attain liberation.
These pious deeds (intention and selfless service) resulted in Lord reincarnating as a Dev in the celestial world. This was his twelfth birth before being born as the first Tirthankar of the current time cycle on the Earth.
Bhagwan Rishabhdev was born in Bharat Kshetra in the Ayodhya to King Nabhi who was a Kulkar and mother Marudevi. Marudevi dreamt of 14 auspicious objects and informed Kulkar Nabhi. She had seen these dreams very clearly, which means a Tirthankar will be born. If not clear, it indicates that a Chakravati will be born. The celestial beings informed Kulkar Nabhi that Marudevi is going to give birth to a Tirthankar.
All the celestial beings were happy and used to be there with the mother to serve her happily. They asked many spiritual questions on topics related to Samyak Darshan, Panchparmeshtis and Soul. They also asked questions such as when can a birth be considered successful and when can a lady be considered the greatest of all to Marudevi, which were very difficult to answer. However, she was able to answer all the questions as a Tirthankar was in her womb. The lady from whose womb a Tirthankar is born is considered the greatest of all.
At the time of his birth, all celestial beings were present and the birth ceremony was celebrated with great joy and happiness. After the salutations, the mother was put to sleep and the beings placed a dummy kid besides her. The celestial beings then took baby Rishabhdev to the Meru mountain. There, all Gods ceremoniously performed the post-birth anointing rituals. This ceremony, popularly known as Janma-kalyanaka, of a Tirthankar, is unparalleled in this world. He then grew up in the Kingdom with all the lavish pleasures.
He, being a Tirthankar, had Mati, Shruti and Avadhi Gyan right from the birth. So, He did not take time in learning any new skills. Bhagwan Rishabhdev, during his childhood, learned all the skills. His father then requested Him to get married. Even though He was not that interested but just to fulfill his father’s wish, He agreed.
Lord Rishabhdev’s twin was Sumangala. As this was a Yuglik era during which twins used to marry upon adulthood, Lord Rishabhdev got married to Sumangala in a ceremony arranged by the celestial beings. He also got married to Sunanda whose twin sibling had died in an accident. This marked the beginning of the marriage system what we know today. Prince Rishabh led a happy married life.
In due course, Sumangala gave birth to twins, son Bharat and daughter Brahmi. Later, she gave birth to 98 more sons. Sunanda also gave birth to twins, son Bahubali and daughter Sundari. Before the birth of Bharat, Sumangala had 14 dreams (unclear). This indicated that Bharat was a Chakravati.
Since this was a Yuglik era, people lived a simple life and were contented in their life. So, a system of kingdom and its King was not required. However, gradually, during the second half of the third era, people started seeing faults of others and had disputes. This required a King who could handle their disputes. So, Kulkar Nabhi requested Prince Rishabhkumar to rule the kingdom. This is how Rishabhkumar was the first King of the third era.
Gradually, there was scarcity of fruits and vegetables due to which people started eating raw grains like wheat and rice. They did not know the system of cooking the grains. The raw food affected their health. So, they went to Rishabhkumar for help. He then taught them how to use fire to cook food. He also taught other skills like farming and various businesses.
Having set up a system of law and order for prevention of crime, King Rishabhdev made a plan for his people to become self-sufficient in the worldly activities. For the welfare of people, He trained them in asi (art of government / military occupation), masi (business/trading) and krishi (farming). He also gave them the knowledge of various crafts.
Soon, the people began to become civilized. Slowly, He reorganized the system to run the kingdom smoothly. He even introduced the system of women education. He taught alphabets and Math to His daughters, Brahmi and Sundari who were intelligent and powerful. He gave them good education.
Bhagwan Rishabhdev continued to impart knowledge for thousands of years. Seeing this, the celestial beings got worried. They wanted the Lord to divert His attention and help the people achieve the knowledge of the Self.
Once, while He was watching a dance, the dancer suddenly died. Rishabhdev became very disturbed by this incident. He started pondering over the incident and realized that every phenomenon and every situation in the universe undergoes changes and that no situation stays forever. He developed complete detachment for everything that is impermanent and ephemeral and He decided to spend His life in the search of lasting happiness.
This reminded Him of his goal of taking crores of people to Moksha. He felt that He should transfer all his responsibilities to His sons and proceed towards liberation through spiritual practices. He also desired to reach the state of Omniscience and consequently show the path of disciplined life and spiritual practices to others as well.
Following the stream of His thoughts, Rishabhdev divided the area of His rule between His 100 sons. Bharat was given the state of Ayodhya and Bahubali was given another big state. The other 98 sons took Diksha from Rishabhdev. Even His daughter Sundari took Diksha. Other 4000 kings of His kingdom too took Diksha. One of His sons became His Gandhar (Chief disciple).
After becoming an ascetic, Rishabhdev took the vow of total silence and started wandering, accompanied by other ascetics. He started wandering in the jungle and practiced severe penance. He neither ate food not consumed water.
His followers used to eat fruits and vegetables and were unable to understand how to do sadhana like Rishabhdev. They even tried to ask Rishabhdev about the same. However, as Rishabhdev was totally silent (Maun Vrat), He did not answer at all. They could not take off their hair from their head like Rishabhdev. They started residing in an Ashram. Rishabhdev continued this severe penance for a year.
After a year, He decided to break His fast (Parnu). However, people during that time did not have any knowledge of Parnu. Bahubali's grandson Shreyansh realized that Bhagwan Rishabhdev had been wandering around without food and water due to the prevailing ignorance of the people regarding ascetic norms. So, he offered sugarcane juice to Lord Rishabhdev to Break His fast. In memory of this incident, the Jains specifically celebrate it as the breakfast day after the penance of Varshi Tap (one meal and fast on alternate days for one year). He then broke His silence.
When Rishabhdev attained Omniscience, the whole world was filled with a soothing glow for a moment. Numerous Gods descended from heavens to pay their respect to the Tirthankar. They also created the Samavasaran, the divine pavilion.
After attaining Absolute Knowledge, Bhagwan Rishabhdev started giving divine discourses to people (Deshna). The celestial Gods arranged the Samavasaran in which one could see Lord Rishabhdev from all four directions. All kinds of people – the poor, the rich and the Kings used to sit in this Samavasaran.
At the time of Samavasaran, there was no scarcity of food and there was no illness until 5000 yojan. Even animals like cat, lion and goat used to sit in the Samavasaran together without any fear and used to understand the language of Rishabhdev Bhagwan. This was how the influence of Lord Rishabhdev’s speech was. The divine speech is in the form of Deshna. Many achieved Absolute Knowledge just by seeing Him.
Even King Bharat, along with his grandmother Marudevi and other brothers, went to this divine assembly by riding on elephants. Marudevi had lost her vision due to the pain of living without her son. Her sons and celestial beings described the aura of Rishabhdev to her. Marudevi was relieved and felt happy hearing all this.
This triggered the flow of spontaneous joy in the heart of Marudevi. This mundane joy slowly turned into the ultimate bliss and she acquired Omniscience. This is considered as one of the 10th wonders in the spiritual world that Marudevi, despite being a woman, attained Omniscience. She became the first to attain liberation in the third era.
On the other hand, Lord Rishabhdev continued giving Deshna. Bahubali and Bharat were advised to continue to fulfill their responsibilities towards the kingdom and family. He asked Bharat to follow Shravak Dharma, gave him Samyak Drashti and explained to him the Akram Vignan to attain Absolute Knowledge in this birth. Then, Bharat Chakravati continued to carry on to fulfill his responsibilities.
Once, he was sitting in his make-up room full of glass. He then realized that all these ornaments and jewelry have no importance and he attained Absolute Knowledge by just sitting in this room.
Rishabhdev’s other son Bahubali was very egoistic. He was very strong and powerful despite not being a Chakravati. Once when he was in the battle of war against King Bharat to acquire the six states, he realized that what he was doing was wrong. When trying to hit Bharat, he takes off his own hair from the head and walks away from there.
He was not ready to go to Rishabhdev, thinking that he would look small in front of his 98 other young brothers, as they had already taken Diksha from Rishabhdev before him. He then decided to attain Absolute Knowledge on his own. So, he started wandering in the jungle and did severe penance but did not achieve Absolute Knowledge as he was still living with the ego.
Then, when Rishabhdev saw this, He asked His daughters to make Bahubali understand that what he is doing is wrong. The sisters went to Bahubali and asked him to come down the elephant (ego). Initially, Bahubali did not understand but then he realized that he is sitting on the seat of ego. So, he decided to go to Rishabhdev. The moment he takes steps to meet Rishabhdev, he attains Absolute Knowledge.
Rishabhdev continued with His preaching for a long time. His first chief disciple was Rishabhsen who was the eldest son of King Bharat and the head of the Lord’s other 84 disciples (Gandhars). When the Lord realised that all his pending karmas are getting over, He went to the Ashtapad Mountain. Here, too, the celestial beings arranged the Samavasaran so that the Lord could give his last Deshna. From this mountain, Bhagwan Rishabhdev along with thousands of ascetics, attained Nirvan.