Article: Ananta

Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is the 14th of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time. The word Jina means ‘victor’ in Sanskrit. A Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma through practising extreme asceticism and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara or ‘ford-maker’ in Sanskrit – that is, one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience.

Ananta is not an historical figure. He is not singled out for individual biographies in the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. Treated like most of the other Jinas, he is provided only with basic biographical information. This information is fairly standardised and remains identical throughout later sources except for occasional variations, or confusions, in numbers.

The meaning of his name is straightforward. The Sanskrit word ananta means ‘infinite’ – in knowledge in particular. Hence it has an extremely positive connotation.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Ananta married princesses. He governed the earth as a king before leaving worldly life for monastic initiation. According to the sect of the Digambaras, none of the Jinas assumed the responsibilities of a householder or king before becoming monks.

Ananta is one of the Jinas whose life is contemporary with a triad of great figures:

Basic information

This manuscript painting depicts ten identical Jinas. Those between Ṛṣabha, the first one, and Nemi, the 22nd, are usually portrayed identically in art. Omniscient, in lotus pose, their jewels and headdresses show they are spiritual kings to Śvetāmbaras.

Ten Jinas
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata about all the 24 Jinas is the final section of the fourth Aṅga, the Samavāyānga-sūtra and the Āvaśyaka-niryukti. Among the earliest Digambara sources is a cosmological work, the Tiloya-paṇṇatti.

The standard Digambara biography of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is found on pages 121 to 127 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 110 to 133 in volume III of Johnson’s English translation of Hemacandra’s work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra.

The biographical data can be categorised in a standard manner, and includes numbers, which are significant in wider Indian culture. These standard details can also be used to identify individual Jinas in art, since they are usually depicted as stereotyped figures. Pictures or statues of Jinas present them in either the lotus position or the kāyotsarga pose. Both of these imply deep meditation.


The important feature of a Jina’s father is that he is a king, from the kṣatriyacaste.

A Jina’s mother has an important role because she gives birth to a future Jina, and in practice a Jina is often called ‘the son of X’. Another reason for her importance is that the names given to the various Jinas are said to originate either in pregnancy-whims or in a dream their mothers had. This dream is specific, and adds to the traditional auspicious dreams that foretell the birth of a child who will become a Jina.

In the case of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta, the Āvaśyaka-niryukti indicates that his mother had dreamt of ‘an infinite – that is, very large – garland inlaid with various gems’. The scholar Hemacandra writes that he owes this name to the fact that ‘infinite armies of his enemies had been conquered by his father while he was in the womb’ (Johnson’s translation, volume III, page 113).

Parents of Ananta



Suyaśas – Śvetāmbara
Jayaśyāmā – Digambara



Of the five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – four take place on earth and are associated with a specific village or town in the sources. Archaeological evidence often helps to identify the old names with modern places. Even when it is lacking, there is a tendency to carry out this identification process. Associating auspicious events with certain locations makes these places sacred to Jains, so that they are potential or actual pilgrimage places and temple sites.

Places associated with Ananta

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience



Sahasrāmravana, outside Ayodhyā

Mount Sammeta

A famous Hindu sacred place, Ayodhyā has also Jain connections as it is there that five of the 24 Jinas were born:

This is recorded, for instance, in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri.

Dates and numbers

The five auspicious events that mark a Jina’s life – kalyāṇakas – are traditionally associated with a specific date. This is given according to the system of the Indian calendar:

  • month
  • fortnight
  • day in the fortnight.

Astrological considerations also play a role here and the texts normally mention the constellations when an auspicious event takes place.

Dates associated with Ananta

Last incarnation





  • 7th day of the dark half of Śrāvaṇa – Śvetāmbara
  • 1st day of the dark half of Kārttika – Digambara
  • 13th day of the dark half of Caitra – Śvetāmbara
  • 12th day of the dark half of Jyeṣṭha – Digambara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Caitra – Śvetāmbara
  • 12th day of the dark half of Jyeṣṭha – Digambara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Caitra – Śvetāmbara
  • 15th day of the dark half of Caitra – Digambara
  • 5th day of the bright half of Caitra – Śvetāmbara
  • 15th day of the dark half of Caitra – Digambara

The dates associated with these events are potential or actual dates of commemoration. These may be marked in festivals, which determine the Jain religious calendar.

There may be variations in the dates in different sources, Śvetāmbara on one side, Digambara on the other. But there are also cases of differences within the same sectarian tradition.

Other numbers associated with Ananta


Total lifespan

50 bows

3,000,000 years

Monastic and lay communities

This detail of a manuscript painting shows the universal gathering – samavasaraṇa. When a Jina reaches omniscience, he sits in a samavasaraṇa the gods have built for him. The term is also used for the gathering of animals, humans and gods that listen.

An omniscient Jina preaches
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

A Jina is not an enlightened being who exists alone after reaching omniscience. After perfect knowledge comes general preachingsamavasaraṇa. This sermon, which is attended by all, is reported in the scriptures as resulting in large numbers of listeners being inspired. Many turn to religious life, becoming monks or nuns, while many others make the vows that lay peopleśrāvaka and śrāvikā – can follow in their everyday lives. Further, the Jina’s teachings are preserved and passed on by his chief disciples – the gaṇadharas. This is why a Jina is also called a Tīrthaṃkara, meaning ‘ford-maker’ or ‘founder of a community’.

Each Jina establishes a ‘fourfold community‘, led by the chief disciples. Made up of monks, nuns, lay men and lay women, the fourfold community follows the principles the Jina has set out in his preaching. How members follow the religious teachings vary according to whether they remain householders or take initiation into mendicancy. Individual figures relating to each Jina are thus important.

Ananta’s fourfold community

Chief disciples



Lay men

Lay women

50, led by Yaśas – Śvetāmbara
Jaya – Digambara


62,000 or 100,800 led by Padmā – Śvetāmbara
62,000 led by Sarvaśrī – Digambara



Note that, in this case, the size of the nuns’ community in certain sources is slightly less than the monks’ community, which is unusual. No explanation is available for this.


All Jinas have individual emblemslāñchanas – and colours that help to identify them in artwork. They also have attendant deities known as yakṣa and yakṣī, who often appear flanking them in art.

Colour, symbol, yakṣa and yakṣī of Ananta






falcon – Śvetāmbara
bear – Digambara

Pātāla – Śvetāmbara
Pātāla or Kinnara – Digambara

Ankuśā – Śvetāmbara
Anantamati or Vairoṭī – Digambara

More details

Besides the basic information, the sources provide more details on various topics. These are almost infinite and vary depending on the sources. Such information differs between Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras. Here are only a few instances of extra detail.

All of the princes who become Jinas are carried on a palanquin to the park where they perform the ritual gesture of initiation into monastic lifedīkṣā. The palanquin of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is named Sāgaradattā. On this occasion, he is accompanied by numerous kings.

He performs a two-day fast. The next day he breaks his fast at the house of Vijaya in the town of Vardhamānapura. In Digambara sources he does this at the house of a king called Viśākha.

Ananta wanders for three years as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a tree of the aśoka variety.

Events, stories and hymns

Image of the 14th Jina, Anantanātha or Lord Ananta, in a temple dedicated to him in Tamil Nadu. The bear, which is this Jina’s emblem in the Digambara tradition, is shown on the pedestal. Typically of a Digambara Jina, he is serene, naked with closed eyes

Statue of Ananta
Image by Ramesh Kumar © Jain Sites in Tamilnadu

The life of Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is almost eventless. In the 9th-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great MenCauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, the chapter about the 14th Jina is hardly more than one page.

The 12th-century Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra, has become the standard Śvetāmbara version of the Jinas’ lives. This text gives Ananta’s life more substance because the story of the triad of Suprabha, Puruṣottama and Madhu is inserted within the general frame of the story and told at length. As usual with such triads, it is a tale of war and fighting. The two main enemies are the Vāsudeva Puruṣottama and the Prati-vāsudeva Madhu, whose hatred continues from their previous births.

There are several sizeable biographies focusing on the 14th Jina. One famous example is Janna’s epic poem Ananta-purāṇa, written in 1230 in Kannara. Another is Nemicandra-sūri’s 1159 Prakrit poem, the Aṇanta-jiṇa-cariya. In 9,610 stanzas, it supplements the tale with:

  • numerous descriptions
  • maxims and proverbs
  • stories illustrating the results of karmas and various aspects of the Jain teachings and practice, with one set of eight stories, for instance, centred on the eight kinds of worshippūjā – to the Jinas
  • accounts of the two previous births of Ananta
  • an explanation in the final stanzas of how the author was inspired by the devotion of a Jain couple.

Ananta is mainly praised alongside other Jinas in hymns dedicated to the 24 Jinas. One instance is the devotional song dedicated to this Jina in the Gujarati set of hymns composed by Yaśovijaya in the 17th century. This example can be found among the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia.

Temples and images

Anantanātha or Lord Ananta is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through various sculptures of him alone or in a group (Shah 1987: 150), such as the figures in caves 8 and 9 at Khanda-giri in Orissa. Metal images showing Ananta alone or with other Jinas are also available in temples and museums.

An early episode in the Jain tradition is associated with an image of this Jina in Kalinga, modern-day Orissa. It is said that in 150 BCE King Kharavela fought against the Nandas, a rival dynasty, recapturing the image of Ananta they had taken from his ancestors (Shantinath Dibbad in Hegewald 2011: 64).

Temples dedicated to Ananta are found all over in India, although they are not that numerous. There is one in Ayodhyā, the place connected with this Jina (ground plan in Hegewald 2009: 368 fig. 93).

For reasons as yet unknown, this Jina is particularly popular in Karnataka. Several templesbasadis – feature his image as the main idol, such as the Anantanātha temples in:

  • Laskshmeshvar, also called the Hale Basti (basic layout in Hegewald 2009: 524).
  • Melage or Melige, in Shimoga district, which was built by Ddvarajannpati and his wife Kompamnianm.

Anantanātha temples continue to be built. The Varadur temple, completed in 1978 in Wayanad, Kerala, is one instance among several.


‘The Construction, Destruction and Renovation of Jaina Basadis: A Historical Perspective’
Shantinath Dibbad
The Jaina Heritage: Distinction, Decline and Resilience
edited by Julia A. B. Hegewald
Heidelberg Series in South Asian and Comparative Studies series; volume 2
Samskriti Publishers; New Delhi, India; 2011

Full details

Jaina Temple Architecture in India: The Development of a Distinct Language in Space and Ritual
Julia A. B. Hegewald
Monographien zur Indischen Archäologie, Kunst und Philologie series; volume 19
Stiftung Ernst Waldschmidt, G+H Verlag; Berlin, Germany; 2009

Full details

edited by Muni Jinavijaya
Singhi Jain series; volume 10
Shantiniketan; Bombay, India; 1934

Full details

Śrī Nemicandra Sūri’s Anantanāha Jiṇa Cariyaṃ
edited by Pt Rupendrakumara Pagaria
L. D. series; volume 119
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1998

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details


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