Rishabha was also referred to as Rishabhadeva, Adinath, Adishwar as he was the first Tirthankar and the founder of Jainism. Adinath was the son of King Nabhiraja and Queen Marudevi and was born in the royal Ikshvaku dynasty of Ayodhya. The Jain scriptures mention that his soul during many previous births had done rigorous spiritual practices due to which he was at an exalted state of spiritual advancement. Some of his earlier births are also mentioned, namely as Dhanna the caravan leader who was always offering his services and alms to the holy men and others, as Doctor Jivanand who was always taking care of ailing masses, as King Vajranabh who supported and took care of the masses until he renounced the world and became an ascetic. His high level of spiritual attainment finally led to his birth as Rishabha.
Birth And Childhood
When he was conceived, his mother Marudevi dreamt of fourteen auspicious things which was one of the hallmarks 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
When the King heard these words from his wife, being scholarly and experienced he told her that she would give birth to a highly realised soul who would lead them on the path of salvation and bring peace and happiness to the world.
Thus Rishabha was born as one of twins in the month of Chaitra around midnight, on the eighth day of the dark half of the moon. It is said that there was auspiciousness everywhere and the fifty six Goddesses of direction came and bowed before the Mother and circumambulated her. After performing the post birth cleaning rituals they began singing praises of the child. The King of the Gods, Saudharmendra Shakra of the Saudharm dimension, too came with the other retinue of Gods to offer his salutations to the mother. After the mother rested in her chambers, Saudharmendra created five look alike bodies of himself. One body carried the baby, the other stood in front as a bodyguard, the third and fourth carried fans(whisks) on either side of the baby and the fifth carried an umbrella behind the baby. In this procession, they went to Mount Meru. All Gods with their consorts in heaven then performed the rituals that were done after the birth of a child. This was the Janma Kalyanak ceremony of a Tirthankar.
As he was born with the sign of a bull on his thigh and his mother had seen a bull in her dream, King Nabhiraja decided to name him Rishabha and his twin was named Sumangala.
It is said that when Saudharmendra came carrying sugarcane to formalise the family name when Rishabha was one year old, Rishabha extended his tiny fingers to grab it, hence Saudharmendra named the clan Ikshvaku, Ikshu implying sugarcane. In those days, divine children were born as a pair of twins who were later on in life married to each other. Thus Rishabha was married to Sumangala and to Sunanda whose twin had died in an accident. In course of time, Sumangala gave birth to Bharat, Brahmi and 98 other sons and Sunanda gave birth to Sundari and Bahubali.
Prince Rishabh was born with a far sighted and highly endowed intellect. He took into account the prevailing times and the need of the society and taught them farming, trading, writing, martial arts, pottery, architecture, music, dance and enriched society in all fields.
King Nabhiraja then nominated Rishabha to become the first King of that era and in the presence of the Gods and with holy water from all pilgrimage centres, crowned him King. Kuber then constructed a beautiful city named Vinita, later on it became known as Ayodhya.
Rishabha continued to open new frontiers of knowledge for the people. He broadly divided society into three groups according to their activities, virtues and professions namely the traders or Vaishyas, the soldiers or Kshatriyas and the service class or the Shudras. The Brahman group was not formed at this time. Time passed by and Rishabha began to transfer his responsibilities to his sons and wished to detach himself from the world and proceed towards liberation. He realised that the worldly path only gave an illusion of happiness and wished to seek the true source of happiness. He then divided his kingdom and all the other areas which came under him among his hundred sons. He gave Bharat the state of Ayodhya and Bahubali that of Takshashila. He wished to take Diksha the ascetic way. The Gods then arrived to take him. He performed meritorious charity for one year and then on the eight day of the dark half of the month of Chaitra under an Ashoka tree in the Siddhartha Vana garden he abandoned all his ornaments and apparel. He then began pulling out his hair. But in the middle Indra stopped him and asked him to maintain the hair at the crown of the head falling over the shoulders and Rishabhdeva agreed. Along with him it is said that four thousand of his subordinates and courtiers too took Diksha getting inspired by his ascetic way of life.
The Path of Renunciation
Rishabhdeva along with his followers began to beg for food as alms as it was the practice of an ascetic but unfortunately the people could not comprehend the rules of ascetism and only offered him gifts as befitting a King. He would then accept nothing and simply proceed. His other followers decided to eat the vegetables and fruits naturally available and slowly drifted away from him. For one year Rishabhdeva continued rigorous spiritual practices without touching food and water. Then he decided to go to Hastinapur town and try begging for alms again.
The King of Hastinapur was Bahubali’s son Somprabh. His son Shreyans Kumar had dreamt the earlier night that the golden mountain Suvarnagiri had turned black and he had washed it with pitchers full of milk and restored its golden colour. He was unable to understand the significance of the dream inspite of narrating it to the King and others in the Kingdom. Standing in the balcony he saw Rishabhadeva calmly approaching the palace. He rushed to welcome his great grandfather. On beholding him, he suddenly went into an inner state Jati Smaran Jnan where he could remember his past births. In his past birth he was the charioteer of King Vajranabh the earlier incarnation of Rishabhadeva. He realised that Rishabhadeva was wandering without food and water. He then offered salutations and requested Rishabhadeva to break his fast with fresh sugar cane juice as he had been offered 108 pitchers of it just at that time. Rishabdeva then agreed and broke his fast. There was a shower of flowers, gems and divine music from the skies. Thus began the tradition of charity and alms giving. The third day of the bright half of the month of Vaisakh is celebrated as Akshaya Tritiya festival in memory of this incident. After the penance of Varshi Thap(Alternate days of one meal and fast for one year), Jains specifically celebrate it as breakfast day.
Ignoring his body and other mundane activities Rishabhdeva continued rigorous spiritual practices for thousand years. Then as he was seated under a banyan tree in the Shakatmukh garden, close to Ayodhya, in the month of Phalgun, on the eleventh day of the dark half of the month, he attained omniscience and became a Jina. It is said that the Gods themselves came to pay their respects at that time and the whole world glowed. They created the Divine Pavilion the Samavasaran. King Bharat came riding an elephant with his grandmother Marudevi. She had been worried about her son Rishabha but beholding his glowing countenance she was so overcome with bliss that she too attained liberation and became a Siddha. This was announced by Rishabhadeva also.
In his first discourse, he explained Right Knowledge, Right Action and Right Conduct. He spoke about the importance of human birth and the goal of all life. This laid the foundation of the new religion Jainism. Thousands including members of the royal family embraced the ascetic way of life. His first disciple was Rishabsen, the eldest son of King Bharat who was also known as Pundarik.
Rishabhdeva continued to propagate the tenets of Jainism and after completing all his karmas along with ten thousand ascetic followers proceeded to the Ashtapad Mountains and observed a six day fast without water. It was the thirteenth day of the dark half of the month of Magh and Rishabhdeva was meditating deeply when he attained Nirvana or liberation. All the gods then gathered around him and paid homage to his illustrious soul.
Rishabhdeva is also mentioned in many Hindu Puranas like Vayu, Markandeya, Kurma, Brahma, Varaha, Vishnu, Skandha, Linga etc. In the Bhagavat Puran, he is mentioned as an Avatar Of Vishnu to show people the path of salvation. Hindus also mention that it was due to his son Bharat that the country was called Bharat Varsha. Archaeological excavations have shown a number of Jain artefacts reiterating the fact of how ancient the religion was. A number of temples have been dedicated to Rishabhdeva all over India.