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.
Birth and childhood
Neminath in his earlier incarnation was Shankh who was the eldest son of King Shrisen of Hastinapur. Once learning that there were some bandits terrorising the people in the highways, the King requested Shankh to go and punish them. Prince Shankh was a clever strategist and without bloodshed he succeeded in apprehending them. On his way he rescued a princess in difficulties and married her. In course of time he became the King. One day an ascetic came to the Kingdom and King Shankh asked him why he had felt attracted to the princess inspite of having the feeling of renunciation. The ascetic replied that she had been his wife in the last six births and this was the seventh one which was the reason for the intense attraction. The scholarly ascetic assured him that he would be free of the attraction in his ninth incarnation as Tirthankar Neminath and his wife too would get liberated at that time. Years passed and the King handed over his kingdom to his son. King Shankh ruled for a number of years but soon felt a deep sense of detachment. He gave up his Kingdom and became an ascetic. He then reincarnated in the Aprajit dimension of the Gods. Due to his penances of earlier lifetimes, he had attained a very exalted level of enlightenment due to which his soul now descended into the womb of Queen Shiva Devi who was the wife of King Samudravijay of Sauripur. 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
On the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Shravan the Queen gave birth to a son and he was named Neminath. The younger brother of King Samudravijay was Vasudev whose senior Queen Rohini had a son named Balram and junior Queen Devaki had a son named Shrikrishna. Balram and Shrikrishna were said to be the ninth Baldev and Vasudev in Jain philosophy. Jarasandha was the Prativasudev and he and Kamsa were cruelly oppressing everyone. Therefore the Yadava clan migrated from Mathura to Dwaraka which was constructed by Shrikrishna near the Girnar Mountain. One day, it is said that while playing, Neminath lifted the Panchajanya conch and blew on it and he also lifted the divine discus Sudarshan Chakra. Shrikrishna heard the sound of the conch and was stunned as they were beyond the capacity and strength of any warrior in the world. To test his prowess he challenged Nemi to a bout in the gymnasium but found to his surprise that his cousin Nemi not only had unprecedented strength but a total attitude of detachment to worldly activities. Thinking that he would make a good Chakravarti he then persuaded him to get married. Shrikrishna then began looking for suitable alliances. His wife Sathyabhama informed him about her beautiful sister Rajul(Rajimati) who was considered eminently suitable by all and the marriage was fixed. On the wedding day, Prince Neminath was riding an elephant and proceeding towards the marriage hall when he saw cages of animals and birds. When he realised they were meant as feast for the wedding, a deep sense of despair and detachment came over him. He ordered for release of all of them and the marriage procession to return to Dwarka and cancelled the wedding. On the way he took off all his valuables and ornaments.
All the elders including Shrikrishna tried to dissuade him but he declared that humans too were bound by their fetters just like the animals in the cages and the happiness when they were released was similar to the liberation that man would achieve on breaking the worldly bondage. On the sixth day of the bright half of the month of Shravan according to the Hindu calendar he embraced ascetism along with a number of members of the royal family and his subjects. Shrikrishna too was deeply touched by the incident and blessed his cousin in his mission. After a number of days of deep spiritual penances he achieved Omniscience on the fifteenth day of the dark half of the month of Ashwin while meditating under a Bamboo tree.
He then established the four pronged religious organisation(Tirth) of Sadhus, Sadhvi, Shravaks and Shravikas(monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen). He attained Nirvana on the eighth day of the bright half of the month of Ashadh. Rajul his intended bride too took Diksha and after rigorous spiritual penances got liberated.
Temples of Bhagavan Neminath in India
Neminath temple, Girnar Hill, Junagadh, Gujarat
Neminath Jain Temple, Bateshwar, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Neminath Jain Temple, Ranakpur, Rajasthan
His symbol is conch. Bhagavan Neminath was the cousin of Shrikrishna and contributed greatly towards Ahimsa or non violence, compassion and vegetarianism. He urged his followers to realise the goal of self realisation and transcend the eternal cycles of birth and death. His purity and compassion sanctified the land and the people who came into contact with him. He is said to be mentioned in the Yajurveda as one of the important Rishis who was the remover of violence and the ocean of compassion.