Article: Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi

The ninth of the 24 Jinas of the present cycle of time is known under two alternate names of Puṣpadanta and Suvidhi. 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.

Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi 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 name Suvidhi means ‘expert in rules and rites’ in Sanskrit. Hence it is straightforward and has a positive connotation. The name Puṣpadanta literally means ‘flower-tooth’ in Sanskrit, but the explanations given for it are not transparent.

There are minor differences between the accounts and descriptions of this Jina among the two main Jain sects. According to Śvetāmbara biographies, he 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.

Basic information

This 12th-century statue has no identifying emblem – lāñchana – but the endless knot – śrīvatsa – on his chest marks him as a Jina. The sculpture also demonstrates typical symbols of wisdom and renunciation, such as a bump on the crown and stretched ears.

Marble Jina idol
Image by British Museum © Trustees of the British Museum

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 Suvidhinātha or Lord Suvidhi is found on pages 66 to 70 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 324 to 336 in volume II 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.

Parents

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.

For reasons that are unclear, the ninth Jina was given two names. The standard author for the Śvetāmbara Jina biographies, Hemacandra, explains:

Because his mother became expert in all religious rites, while he was in the womb, and because a tooth appeared from a pregnancy-whim for flowers, his parents gave the Lord two names, Su-vidhi [expert-rite] and Puṣpa-danta [flower-tooth]
Johnson’s translation, volume II, page 327

Only the name Suvidhi is known in earlier sources such as the Āvaśyaka-niryukti. Puṣpadanta is the only name used in another Śvetāmbara source, Śīlānka’s Cauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariyaLives of the 54 Illustrious Men.

Puṣpadanta tends to be favoured in Digambara sources. But Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa, which is a Digambara classic, uses both. He uses the name:

  • Suvidhi at the opening of his chapter
  • Puṣpadanta in the course of the narration
  • Suvidhi and Puṣpadanta in the final verse.

He does not attempt a literal and strange explanation of the compound in the way Hemacandra does. He simply retains the component ‘flower’, and justifies it by the fact that the Jina’s body was as white as jasmine flowers – kunda.

So the choice of name in the sources is neither clear-cut nor strictly sectarian.

Puṣpadanta is otherwise attested as the proper name of various heroes or persons in Indian culture. Among Digambara Jains two famous Puṣpadantas are:

  • one of the monks to whom the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama was taught
  • a 10th-century author of narrative works.
Parents of Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi

Mother

Father

Rāmā – Śvetāmbara
Mahādevī or Jayarāmā – Digambara

Sugrīva

Places

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 Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience

Emancipation

Kākandī

Sahasrāmravana

Mount Sammeta

Kakandi is a small site in Uttar Pradesh, which can be reached from the Kakandi to Bherpur road. This isolated place has remains of Jina images and other antiquities. The existence and connection of this place with the ninth Jina are recorded in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa, a 14th-century work on sacred places by the Śvetāmbara monk Jinaprabha-sūri. The place name appears in a list of those where a Jina was born, all of them praised as destinations for pilgrimage, but there is no specific information about any temple here.

A Jain temple was built in 1874 by Rai Bahadur Mulchand, 1.5 kilometres away from the village of Khukand in Uttar Pradesh. It has a shrine dedicated to the:

The neighbouring forest of Kukubh Van is known as the place where Puṣpadanta took initiation.

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.

Dates associated with Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi

Last incarnation

Birth

Initiation

Omniscience

Emancipation

9th day of the dark half of Phālguna

5th day of the dark half of Mārgaśīrṣa

6th day of the dark half of Mārga

  • 3rd day of the bright half of Āśvina – Śvetāmbara
  • 2nd day of the bright half of Kārttika – Digambara
  • 9th day of the black half of Bhādrapada – Hemacandra
  • 9th day of the bright half of Bhādrapada – Śīlānka
  • 8th day of the bright half of Bhādrapada – Digambara

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 Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi

Height

Total lifespan

100 bows

200,000 pūrvas

Monastic and lay communities

This painting from an Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows monks preaching to lay men. The monks are of the Digambara sect even though their white robes resemble those of Śvetāmbara monks. Each monk sits on a dais and holds a scripture in a scroll. The books

Preaching monks
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.

Puṣpadanta or Suvidhi’s fourfold community

Chief disciples

Monks

Nuns

Lay men

Lay women

88, led by Varāha – Śvetāmbara
led by Vaidarbha – Digambara

200,000

120,000 led by Sulasā – Śvetāmbara
380,000 led by Goṣā – Digambara

229,000 – Śvetāmbara
200,000 – Digambara

472,000 – Śvetāmbara
500,000 – Digambara

Identification

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.

More details

This manuscript painting is of 20 identical Jinas, who are very probably those between Ṛṣabha, the first one, and Nemi, the 22nd. Omniscient and seated in the lotus pose of meditation, they are Śvetāmbara spiritual rulers, symbolised by their jewellery.

Twenty Jinas
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 Puṣpadantanātha or Lord Puṣpadanta is named Suraprabhā. 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 Puṣpa in the town of Śvetapura.

Puṣpadanta wanders for four months as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a tree of the mālūra variety.

Events, stories and hymns

The life of the ninth Jina is almost eventless. In the 9th-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great MenCauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, where he is known only under the name Puṣpadanta, the relevant chapter about the 11th Jina has only a few paragraphs.

The 12th-century Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra, has become the standard Śvetāmbara version of the Jinas’ lives.In this text the chapter about the ninth Jina is amplified by the preaching he delivers after he has reached omniscience.

Puṣpadanta 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

A 15th-century Śvetāmbara metal altarpiece has the ninth Jina at its centre. Though there is no identifying emblem, he is named in an inscription on the back. Known as both Suvidhi or Puṣpadanta, this Jina is surrounded by symbols of royalty

Suvidhi or Puṣpadanta image
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Puṣpadantanātha or Lord Puṣpadanta is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through a number of sculptures (Shah 1987: 145), such as:

  • an early image of the 4th century preserved in the Vidisha Museum, Madhya Pradesh, where the Jina is identified through an inscription but has no emblem
  • rock-cut sculptures in caves 8 and 9 at Khandagiri, in Orissa, where he is shown with his emblem
  • a figure in cell 9 of the Pārśvanātha temple at Kumbharia in Gujarat
  • an image in the Bhaṇḍāra Basti at Shravana Belgola, where he stands with his yakṣa and yakṣī.

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

Reading

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


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

Full details


The Jain Saga: 63 Illustrious Persons of the Jain World, Brief History of Jainism
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
edited by Muni Samvegayashvijayji Maharaj
Acharya Shrimad Vijay Ramchandra Suriswarji Jain Pathshala; Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2009

Full details


Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad’s Oriental series; volume 3
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1949

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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