Article: Śreyāṃsa

Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa is the 11th 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.

Śreyāṃsa 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 not straightforward. Śreyāṃsa is based on the common Sanskrit word śreyas, meaning ‘better, superior, better’. Hence it has a positive moral connotation.

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

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

Basic information

The 11th Jina, Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa, in the Digambara temple at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. Though the statue is carved in the plain traditional style of the Digambara sect, the shrine and surroundings are colourful and lavishly decorated.

Statue of Śreyāṃsa
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

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 Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa is found on pages 79 to 84 of the 1968 edition of Guṇabhadra’s Uttarapurāṇa in Sanskrit and Hindi. The standard Śvetāmbara biography is on pages 1 to 63 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 Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa, the standard biography of Hemacandra does not give any explanation, which is unusual. It is just said that ‘his parents named him Śreyāṃsa on a good day’, underlining the moral meaning of the word śreyāṃsa. In Prakrit, however, the form of the name is Sejjaṃsa. An early Prakrit commentary, the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, devotes half a verse to an explanation of each of the 24 Jinas’ names. It says: ‘he was called Sejjaṃsa because his mother had the pregnancy fancy to climb on a precious bed – sejjā’.

Parents of Śreyāṃsa



Viṣṇu – Śvetāmbara
Nandā – Digambara


– Śvetāmbara
Vimalavāhana – Digambara


This board recalls the four auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – in the life of Lord Śreyāṃsa, the 11th Jina, that took place nearby. It lists his final incarnation, birth, initiation and omniscience. Śreyāṃsa is closely associated with Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh

Śreyāṃsa’s four auspicious events
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

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 Śreyāṃsa

Last incarnation and birth place

Initiation and omniscience


Siṃhapura or Siṃhapurī


Mount Sammeta

Siṃhapura is a part of Hirāmanpur, a small locality in Sarnath, about 30 kilometres from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The 11th Jina is recalled several times across the whole area, as shown by three temples or large images.

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 Śreyāṃsa

Last incarnation





6th day of the dark half of Jyeṣṭha

  • 13th day of the dark half of Phālguna – Śvetāmbara
  • 14th day – Digambara
  • 15th day of the dark half of Māgha – Śvetāmbara
  • 3rd day of the bright half of Māgha – Digambara
  • 3rd day of the dark half of Nabhas (= Bhadrapada) – Śvetāmbara
  • 14th day of the dark half of Bhadrapada – 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.

The birth of Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa is commemorated by annual festivals in Sarnath, which is the area traditionally connected with this Jina.

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

Other numbers associated with Śreyāṃsa


Total lifespan

80 bows

8,400,000 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.

Śreyāṃsa’s fourfold community

Chief disciples



Lay men

Lay women

76, led by Gośubha – Śvetāmbara
77 led by Kunthu – Digambara


103,000 led by Dharaṇadevī – Digambara

279,000 led by Tripṛṣṭha



This detail from a manuscript painting is of a rhinoceros, which is a significant animal in Jain iconography. The rhino is the emblem – lāñchana – of Śreyāṃsa, the 11th Jina. The rhino is also the symbol of the Prāṇata heaven, the tenth paradise of 12.

Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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 Śreyāṃsa







Īśvara or Kumāra

Mānavī – Śvetāmbara
Gaurī or Mahākālī – 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 Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa is named Vimalaprabhā. 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 King Nanda in the town of Siddhārtha.

Śreyāṃsa wanders for two months as an ordinary ascetic and reaches omniscience under a tree of the aśoka variety.

Events, stories and hymns

The central statue is Lord Śreyāṃsa, to whom this Śvetāmbara temple is dedicated. The temple is in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. This is where four out of five auspicious events in the life of the 11th Jina took place and is closely associated with him.

Statue of Śreyāṃsa and other Jinas
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

The life of Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa 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 11th 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 Śreyāṃsa’s life more substance because the story of the triad of Acala, Tripṛṣṭha and Aśvagrīva 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 Tripṛṣṭha and the Prati-vāsudeva Aśvagrīva, whose hatred continues from their previous births.

Śreyāṃsa 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

The Digambara emblem of the 11th Jina, the rhinoceros is found at the foot of the image of Lord Śreyāṃsa in Sarnath. Each Jina has an emblem – lāñchana – identifying him in art, which is usually found on the pedestal on which he stands or sits.

Emblem of Śreyāṃsa
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa 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
  • at Shravana Belgola, Venur and Mudbidri in Karnataka, along with sculptures of other Jinas
  • now preserved at the Provincial Museum in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, the Shivpuri Museum in Madhya Pradesh and the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai (Shah 1987: 146–147).

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


The huge Digambara image of Śreyāṃsanātha or Lord Śreyāṃsa in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. Inaugurated on 20 January 2005 by Āryikā Jñānamati, the statue of the 11th Jina is off the main street. Nearby are smaller temples to other Jinas linked to the area.

Large Digambara idol of Śreyāṃsa
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Today, the place where Śreyāṃsa’s presence is particularly visible is Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh. Near Varanasi, Sarnath is where four out of five auspicious events of his life took place and boasts several temples and images of the 11th Jina.

A Śvetāmbara temple dedicated to him is found in Hirāmanpur, a small village area on the outskirts of Sarnath. It was built in 1801 CE, at the instigation of the Śvetāmbara monk Jinakuśalacandra-sūri. The temple is in a large courtyard, used during festivals, and the main image there is of Śreyāṃsa.

To the south-east of the Dhameka Buddhist stupa, for which Sarnath is most famous, is a Digambara temple dedicated to Śreyāṃsa. It was built in 1824. The image is made of black stone and features the Jina’s emblem, the rhinoceros. The Jina is shown in a seated meditation posture. The interior walls were decorated with colour paintings executed in 1900. They have been recently replaced by new paintings with different themes. Photographs of the old paintings are kept at the temple. The original paintings depicted episodes from Śreyāṃsa’s life and representations of Digambara monks. The new paintings, on which the artist was working during January 2012, do not show any clearly Digambara features.

A gigantic statue of Śreyāṃsa sits in a garden on the side of the main street of Sarnath, opposite the entrance of the Buddhist stupa. Sitting cross-legged, the idol has been installed on a platform at the instigation of the leading Digambara nun Āryikā Jñānamati on 20 January 2005 on the occasion of the festival held in commemoration of this Jina’s birth and other auspicious events. It is made of black stone and features the rhinoceros at the base. To the right of this alongside the boundary wall are four mini-temples each dedicated to the four Jinas who are associated with the region of Varanasi, namely the:

Old images of this Jina and others connected with the region are found in the local museums of Uttar Pradesh, in Sarnath, Varanasi and Lucknow.


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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

Vārāṇāsī ke Jain Tīrtha evaṃ Mandir
Lalit Cand Jain
Lābhendu Prakāśan; Vārāṇasī, Uttar Pradesh, India; 2011

Full details

‘Significance of Sarnath in Jaina Tradition and Art’
S. S. Sinha
Jaina Contribution to Varanasi
edited by R. C. Sharma and Pranati Ghosal
Jñāna-Pravāha, Centre for Cultural Studies and Research Varanasi & D. K. Printworld; Delhi, India; 2006

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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