Article: Ara

Aranātha or Lord Ara is the 18th 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.

Ara 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.

This Jina’s name is not among those which refer to a specific quality. The word ara means a spoke of a wheel.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Ara married princesses and 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 before becoming a monk. However, both Śvetāmbaras and  Digambaras believe that three of the 24 Jinas were universal emperors – Cakravartins – before they left worldly life. Ara is the seventh of 12 universal emperors in each half-cycle of time.

Basic information

Part of the stone figure of a Jina carved in typical Digambara style. This tenth-century idol from southern India portrays a Jina in the kāyotsarga pose. This standing posture involves such deep meditation that one is unaware of the physical world.

Unidentified Jina
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Each Jina has standard biographical information found in various sources. Among the earliest Śvetāmbara canonical sources that provide biodata of 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 Aranātha or Lord Ara is found on pages 218 to 232 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 11 to 36 in volume III of Johnson’s English translation of Hemacandra’s work, Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣa-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.

Jina and Cakravartin

According to both Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras, there are three Jinas who were universal emperors before they left worldly life to become monks. They are the:

  • 16th Jina, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti
  • 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu
  • 18th Jina Aranātha or Lord Ara.

In their lives as lay men, after these three men succeeded their fathers as kings the disc-shaped jewel – cakra – appeared in front of them. It led them to conquer all regions in turn so that they became Cakravartins – universal emperors. In each half-cycle of time there are 12 Cakrvartins. Ara is the seventh Cakravartin in the present era. The eighth Cakravartin, Subhūma, is regarded as his contemporary. Then the men renounced worldly glory to be initiated as monks and later became Jinas.


This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbaras, she has 14 dreams while the Digambaras say 16. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, minus the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun.

Dreams of an expectant mother
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

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, at least in Śvetāmbara sources. 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 Aranātha or Lord Ara, it is said in Śvetāmbara sources that during pregnancy his mother had seen a spoke of a wheel – ara – in a dream.

Parents of Ara



Devī – Śvetāmbara
Mitrasenā – Digambara



There are numerous temples on Pārasnāth Hill in Jharkhand, identified with Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara. Though most of the temples date back to the 18th century, the mountain has long been sacred because it is where 20 of the 24 Jinas were liberated.

Mount Sammeta
Image by Takeo Kamiya © Takeo Kamiya

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 Ara

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience




Mount Sammeta

Hastināpura or Hastinapur is located 37 kilometres from Meerut, in Uttar Pradesh. Today a large village, it is a place of high antiquity, a site of prehistoric culture and the capital town of the Pāṇḍava lineage, famous from the Mahābhārata epics. Its importance as a Jain sacred place comes from its association with several Jinas. It is the birth place of the three Jinas who are also Cakravartins:

  • 16th Jina, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti
  • 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu
  • 18th Jina Aranātha or Lord Ara.

It is also the place where the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, is said to have broken his year-long fast when Prince Śreyāṃsa gave him sugar-cane juice. This first alms-giving event is commemorated during the Akṣaya-tṛtīyā festival

The sites of the old temple dedicated to Ara and the other two Jinas born there are today marked by holy footprints – pādukās – in the remote countryside.

In today’s Hastinapur, the main Śvetāmbara temple is dedicated to Śānti. The main temple image of Śānti is flanked by Kunthu and Ara on the right and left respectively. Thus the three Jinas traditionally connected with the locality are shown together.

Literary evidence

There is a lot of literary evidence from the 13th century onwards showing that the place was a favourite pilgrimage destination for Jains who wanted to pay homage to Aranātha or Lord Ara and the two other Jinas born there. Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti, Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu and Ara form a group and are often mentioned together.

A record dated 1318 CE (1375 of the Vikrama era) mentions a collective pilgrimage led by the Śvetāmbara mendicant Jinacandra-sūri, of the Kharatara-gaccha. The pilgrims recited hymns for the three Jinas which Jinacandra-sūri had composed specially.

Another one datable to 1333 CE records how the pontiff Jinaprabha-sūri of the Kharatara-gaccha placed newly made images of Śānti, Kunthu and Ara in temples there.

In the same year Jinaprabha-sūri composed a praise of this place after a temple pilgrimage, and devotes two pieces to it in his collection on Jain sacred places, the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa (number 16 and number 50; translated in Balbir 1990: 186–187). He starts with homage to the three Jinas Śānti, Kunthu and Ara. He states that four auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – in their lives took place in this locality, and then lists all the dates connected with the auspicious events of their lives.

In his 1641 autobiography called the Ardha-kathānaka, the Jain merchant poet Banārasīdās narrates how he was in a group of people who undertook a pilgrimage in 1618 to perform worship of Śānti, Kunthu and Ara. On this occasion he produced a poem of praise for the three Jinas, mentioning their names, their parents’ names, their size and their respective emblems:

He composed a poem for the teachers Śānti, Kunthu, Ara. May Banārasī recite it with heart and devotion: ‘Glory to King Viśvasena, to the monarch Śūrasena, to King Sudarśana. Acirā, Śrī, Devī sing the praises of these masters. Their sons have the emblems of the antelope, of the goat, of the nandyāvarta. Their bodies measure 40, 35 and 30 bows. They have a golden complexion

Ardhakathānaka, verses 582 to 583

English translation based on Petit 2011 (page 117)

Dates and numbers

This 16th-century manuscript painting shows a Jina in the lotus position of meditation. His jewellery and headdress show that he is a spiritual king. Jinas are always pictured in a very stylised way and this Jina has no identifying emblem.

A Jina meditating
Image by Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

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.

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.

Dates associated with Ara

Last incarnation





  • 2nd day of the bright half of Phālguna – Śvetāmbara
  • 3rd day – Digambara
  • 10th day of the bright half of Māgha – Śvetāmbara
  • 14th day of the bright half of Mārgaśīrṣas – Digambara
  • 11th day of the bright half of Mārgaśīrṣa – Śvetāmbara
  • 10th day of the bright half of Mārgaśīrṣa – Digambara

12th day of the bright half of Kārttika

  • 10th day of the bright half of Māgha – Śvetāmbara
  • 15th day of the dark half of Caitra – Digambara

Among Śvetāmbaras, the initiation of this Jina is one of the events commemorated during the festival known as Maunaikādaśī. This takes place on the 11th day of the bright half of Mārgaśīrṣa or Māgasar.

There are also other numbers connected with the life of this Jina.

Other numbers associated with Ara


Total lifespan

30 bows

84,000 years

Monastic and lay communities

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.

Ara’s fourfold community

Chief disciples



Lay men

Lay women

33, led by Kumbha – Śvetāmbara
30, led by Kumbha – Digambara


60,000, led by Puṣpavatī – Śvetāmbara
led by Yakṣilā – Digambara

184,000 – Śvetāmbara
160,000 – Digambara

372,000 –Śvetāmbara
300,000 – Digambara


A rice nandyāvarta is part of a temple offering, the fruit representing a soul in the cycle of birth. For Śvetāmbara Jains the nandyāvarta is one of the eight auspicious symbols – aṣṭa-mangala – and the emblem – lāñchana – of the 18th Jina, Ara.

Nandyāvarta in rice
Image by Cactusbones – Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

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 Ara






nandyāvarta – Śvetāmbara
fish – Digambara

Yakṣendra – Śvetāmbara
Khendra – Digambara

Dhāriṇī – Śvetāmbara
Ajitā – Digambara

More details

This drawing of a Jina is from the 'Caturviṃśati-stava', a set of hymns to the Jinas. Composed by Yaśovijaya in the 18th century, this text contains a hymn in Gujarati dedicated to each of the 24 Jinas.

Sketch of a Jina
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

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 Aranātha or Lord Ara is named Vaijayantī. 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 King Aparājita in the town of Rājapura.

Ara wanders for three years as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a mango tree.

Events, stories and hymns

The life of Aranātha or Lord Ara is almost eventless.

In the Śvetāmbara biographies, the corresponding chapters are increased by adding the eventful story of a skilful character called Vīrabhadra, which is told in the presence of Ara’s chief disciple, Kumbha. This is the case in the:

In the classic Digambara version of Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa, the chapter on Ara’s life is amplified by the story of Subhūma, the universal monarch regarded as Ara’s contemporary.

Ara 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 Yaśo-vijaya in the 17th century. This example can be found among the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia.

Temples and images

Digambara statue of Aranātha or Lord Ara in a temple. A fish – the Digambara emblem of the 18th Jina – is on the pedestal. Jains believe he was also a cakravartin. Ara's initiation is marked in the festival of Maunaikādaśī

Image of Ara
Image by Ramesh Kumar © Jain Sites in Tamilnadu

Aranātha or Lord Ara is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through a number of stone sculptures (Shah 1987: 158-159) that display the Digambara emblem of the fish, such as:

  • a possible image from the Mathurā period, of the first centuries BCE to CE, where a pair of fish is found on the pedestal
  • various figures preserved in museums
  • sculptures in the Bārābhuji and Mahāvīra caves at Khandagiri, Orissa.

In Karnatak, the image of Ara is found in the:

  • Deramma Setty Basadi in Mudbidri
  • Caturmukha Basadi at Karkala.

In both cases, the idol is accompanied by images of Mallinātha and Munisuvrata, the two Jinas who appeared after Ara.

Metal images showing Ara alone or with other Jinas are also available in temples and museums.


‘Recent Developments in a Jaina Tīrtha: Hastināpur (U.P.): A preliminary report’
Nalini Balbir
The History of Sacred Places in India as Reflected in Traditional Literature: Papers on Pilgrimage in South Asia
edited by Hans Bakker
Panels of the VIIth World Sanskrit Conference series; volume III
E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1990

Full details

Ardhakathanak: A Half Story
translated by Rohini Chowdhury
Penguin Books India; New Delhi, India; 2009

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

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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