Article: Dharma

Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma is the 15th 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.

Dharma 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, a feature not shared by all the Jinas’ names. Dharma means ‘law’ in Sanskrit and is often used as a synonym for ‘religion’ or ‘the path of religion’. Thus Dharmanātha means ‘Lord of the Dharma’ in Sanskrit.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, Dharma 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 or king before becoming monks.

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

Basic information

This 18th-century statue of a Jina from the Deccan has no emblem – lāñchana – to identify him. The emblem is usually on the central panel of his pedestal. With characteristics such as closed eyes, nudity and a very plain style, this figure is Digambara.

Jina statue
Image by Sailko © CC BY-SA 3.0

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 Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma is found on pages 128 to 137 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa in both Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 134 to 162 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.


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 Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma, it is reported in Śvetāmbara sources that his mother showed a special inclination towards religious duties – dharma – during this period.

Parents of Dharma



Suvratā – Śvetāmbara
Suprabhā – 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 Dharma

Birth place

Initiation and omniscience



Vaprakāñcana in Ratnapura

Mount Sammeta

In the modern-day state of Uttar Pradesh, Ratnapura or Ratnapurī is a small place 24 kilometres to the west of Ayodhya, near Ronahi and Sohaval railway station in the Faizabad district. It is a sacred site because it is the scene of the birth, initiation and omniscience of Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma.

The 14th-century Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri devotes one section of his work on Jain sacred places – the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – to Ratnapura. He reports the existence of a temple dedicated to this Jina, along with an image of a nāga. He also tells of worship to Dharma being performed with offerings of milk and shouts of ‘Dharmarāja’ or ‘King Dharma’.

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 Dharma

Last incarnation





  • 7th day of the bright half of Vaiśākha – Śvetāmbara
  • 7th day of the dark half of Bhadrapada – Digambara
  • 3rd day of the bright half of Māgha – Śvetāmbara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Jyeṣṭha – Digambara
  • 13th day of the bright half of Māgha – Śvetāmbara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Jyeṣṭha – Digambara
  • 15th day (full moon) of the bright half of Pauṣa – Śvetāmbara
  • 10th day of the bright half of Puṣya – Digambara
  • 5th day of the bright half of Jyeṣṭha – Śvetāmbara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Jyeṣṭha – 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.

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

Other numbers associated with Dharma


Total lifespan

45 bows

1,000,000 years

Monastic and lay communities

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)

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.

Dharma’s fourfold community

Chief disciples



Lay men

Lay women

43 led by Ariṣṭa – Śvetāmbara
35 led by Ariṣṭasena – Digambara


62,400 – Śvetāmbara
64,000 led by Suvratā – Digambara




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 Dharma







Kinnara – Śvetāmbara
Kinnara or Kiṃpuruṣa – Digambara

Kandarpā – Śvetāmbara
Mānasī or Anantamatī – 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 Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma is named Nāgadattā. On this occasion, he is accompanied by one thousand kings.

He performs a two-day fast. The next day he breaks his fast at the house of Dharmasiṃha or Dhanyasena, depending on the version.

Dharma wanders for two years as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a tree of the dadhiparṇa variety.

Events, stories, hymns

The life of Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma 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 15th 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 Dharma’s life more substance because the story of the triad of Sudarśana, Puruṣasiṃha and Niśumbha is inserted within the general frame of the story and told at length. The first two were half-brothers who were very close, especially after their parents died when they were quite young. King Niśumbha sent a messenger, pretending he wished to protect them from their enemies’ attacks. The Vāsudeva Puruṣasiṃha, who received the messenger, felt seriously insulted and refused the offer. A war started between Puruṣasiṃha and the Prati-vāsudeva king, whose mutual hatred continues from their previous births. Then Puruṣasiṃha had been a king defeated by the king who was Niśumbha’s previous birth, and had formed the resolution that he would take revenge on him in his next life. Thus it came to pass that Puruṣasiṃha killed him.

Dharma 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

Probably the best-known Dharmanātha temple, the Hutheesing temple in Ahmedabad was completed in the 19th century. Named after its patron, the two-storey temple is famous for its intricately carved white marble. The main image is of Dharmanātha, 15th Jina

Hutheesing temple
Image by Kalyan Shah © CC BY-SA 3.0

Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through a number of stone sculptures, such as those:

  • in caves 8 and 9 at Khanda-giri in Orissa
  • sculptures in the western Indian temples of Vimala Vasahi at Mount Abu
  • sculptures at the Shivpuri Museum, Madhya Pradesh
  • at Shravana Belgola, Venur and Mudbidri in Karnataka, along with sculptures of other Jinas.

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

There are some famous temples dedicated to Dharma, in which a statue of him is the main imagemūla-nāyaka. One of the best known is the Hutheesing temple in Ahmedabad, ‘outside Delhi Gate on the right side of the road leading to the Shahibag area’ (Dhaky 1998: 24). Worthy of note is the fact that this 19th-century temple is not called after the Jina, as is more usual, but after the sponsor who paid for its construction. Sheth Hutheesing was a wealthy businessman from an Ahmedabad family deeply engaged in the silk trade. Exporting opium to China and importing silk on the return journey was one of the main roads to wealth during that period, which he followed. In 1845 Hutheesing initiated the building of a new temple. After his sudden death, his widow, Harkumvar, continued the project. The temple was consecrated by Ācārya Śāntisāgara-sūri of the Sāgara-gaccha on 5 February 1847.

There is a large figure of Dharma in the central sanctuary of the Hutheesing temple and another one in the left-hand image chamber. An image of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanatha or Lord Ṛṣabha, is housed in the right-hand chamber. The inscription on the pedestal of the main image records its installation and says ‘it was carved for the spiritual bliss of Harakumarbāī’, the wife of Hatheesing, on 5 February 1847.


Hutheesing Heritage: The Jain Temple at Ahmedabad
M. A. Dhaky
Hutheesing Kesarising Trust; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1998

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


Please consider the environment before printing