A Tirthankar is a human being who has attained a highly exalted state due to intense spiritual practices in various lifetimes and signifies the ultimate pure developed state of the soul. Having attained the highest spiritual goal of human life, they help others cross the ocean of Samsara and win freedom against the infinite cycles of birth and death that man has to undergo. According to Jain philosophy Time cycle or the kaalchakra is infinite, it is beginningless and endless. Time is divided into two cycles, Utsarpini and Avsarpini. Utsarpini is progressive which means that during this cycle humanity progresses from its worst to its best in health, ethics, religion and all fields while in Avsarpini humanity moves from its best to worst stage. Aras are the six unequal periods that every Utsarpini and Avsarpini is divided into. At present according to Jainism the fifth Ara of the Avsarpini phase is going on with 19000 yrs approximately until the next Ara. The sixth phase will then begin after this Ara which is supposed to last for approximately 21000 years. This will be followed by the Utsarpini phase which will continue the repetition. Thus it is presumed that there has been infinite sets of 24 Tirthankaras, one for each half of the time cycle which will continue in the future. For the purpose of study, only the 24 Tirthankars of the present half cycle are considered.
Ajitnath-Birth and childhood
Ajitnath was the 2nd Tirthankar of the present age. All the Tirthankars were highly realised souls spiritually evolving through a number of births. Ajitnath in his earlier incarnation was said to be the King of Susima city in Mahavideha Area, King Vimalvahan. He was a great King who inspite of his royal grandeur led a very pious life and later on took up ascetism under Arindam Suri. He underwent rigorous penances and reached a highly exalted state which led to his birth as the 2nd Tirthankara.
He was born to Queen Vijaya Devi and King Jitshatru of Vinita town later known as Ayodhya. The Queen witnessed fourteen dreams which are the signs of the advent of the birth of a Tirthankar. They were-
1. A large and beautiful white bull entering her mouth.
2. A lion
3. A garland of flowers
4. A giant elephant having four tusks
5. Goddess Lakshmi seated on a lotus
6. The glorious Sun
7. The full moon shining in the sky
8. A sea of milk
9. A golden urn
10. A Flag which was fluttering
11. A vehicle of the Gods which moves in space
12. A pond filled with lotus flowers
13. A heap of gems
14. A fire without smoke
Vaijayanti, the wife of King Jitashatru’s younger brother Sumitra on the other hand also saw the same fourteen dreams. When the holy texts were consulted it was found that the Queen Vijayadevi would give birth to a Tirthankar while Vaijayanti would give birth to a Chakravarti or Emperor. It is said that even when the child was in the womb, its holiness pervaded everywhere. Enemy kingdoms came forward with peace treaties and there was an atmosphere of peace and love everywhere in the region.
On the eighth day of the bright half of the month of Magh, a son was born to the queen and he was named Ajit. The King’s brother’s wife Vaijayanti also gave birth to a son the same night and he was named Sagar. Both the princes grew up, and as time passed by got married and the King felt it was time to give up his Kingdom and devote the remaining part of his life to spiritual pursuits. He offered the throne to his younger brother who refused as he too wanted to devote his life to ascetic practices. His son Ajit too being of detached nature from childhood was not interested in the Kingship. Finally Prince Sagar agreed to become the King.
Ascetic life of Ajitnath
Ajitnath from his youth itself led a very pious life. He would travel to dense forests to practice meditation and rigorous penances. It is said that the intensity of his penances had such an impact on the forests around him that animals and reptiles would sit serenely around him basking in the peace and love that it generated.
For twelve years he performed rigorous spiritual practices and on the eleventh day of the bright half of the month of Paush he achieved Nirvana. After nirvana he began preaching on the tenets of Jainism and gave discourses on a number of spiritual topics to uplift the masses. Many people too accepted this path of renunciation. His brother King Sagar meanwhile conquered many places and became a Chakravarthi. The contemporaries of King Sagar at this time were King Megvahan and Vidyadhar Bhim who were the rulers of the demons or Rakshashas. Hearing Ajitnath’s discourse, Vidyadhar Bhim became so detached that he gave away his kingdoms of Lanka and Patal Lanka to King Megvahan along with his magic powers and knowledge. He also gave him his divine necklace with large and shining beads. King Megvahan is said to be the first King of the Rakshasha clan in which Ravana was born.
Travelling and meditating at various places, Ajitnath went to Sammetshikhar and began his final meditation with thousand other monks. On the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra he attained Nirvana or total liberation.
Meanwhile, King Sagar had many queens and sixty thousand sons who misused their royal power and were cursed by the King of Nag Kumars Jwalanprabh and burnt to ashes. King Sagar then handed over his kingdom to Bhagiratha, his eldest grandson and took Diksha from Ajitnath.
Realised souls like Bhagavan Ajitnath took birth purely out of compassion to help mankind and to redeem all those who, struggling for salvation pray that a Divine Being comes and saves them from the never ending cycles of birth and death. Such souls purify the very atmosphere they breathe on and sanctify the very ground they walk on. Their purity uplifts humanity and truly fortunate is India where such exalted beings have been taking birth for centuries and redeeming mankind.