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
Shantinath in his previous incarnation was King Meghrath son of King Dhanrath of Pundarikini town in Mahavideha area. He was a very religious and pious king. It is said that even the Gods tried to test him by disturbing his meditations. But his reverence and piety made them eventually bow to him. Later he took diksha from Arhat Dhanrath and became an ascetic. After rigorous spiritual penances of a number of lifetimes he had reached a very high state of spiritual enlightenment due to which he was reborn as a Tirthankar. He reincarnated in the Sarvarthasiddha dimension of the Gods and then later his soul descended into the womb of Queen Achira who was the wife of King Vishwasen of Ikshvaku clan. The queen dreamt of fourteen auspicious things. 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
The King realised that the soul in the womb would be a Tirthankar and both of them felt blessed and overjoyed. When the Queen was enceinte it is said that there was an epidemic in the Kingdom and thousands were affected by it. The King was troubled and vowed that he would neither eat nor drink as long as peace and normalcy did not return to his kingdom. The King of Gods moved by his plight appeared before him and reassured him that just a glance from the Queen would remove all suffering as she was carrying such a holy soul in her womb. The King and Queen then decided to journey through the whole kingdom. Wherever her glance fell peace and health were restored back. Time passed and the queen gave birth to a son on the thirteenth day of the dark half of the month of Jyeshta. Due to the pacifying influence of the child in the entire kingdom when in the womb of his mother, he was named Shanti. He was a bright and religious child. Soon he grew up and they got him married. The King then gave the reins of the Kingdom to him and retired to the forest to pursue his spiritual disciplines. It is said that a Divine disc emerged in the armoury. This weapon was then worshipped traditionally after which on its own it began moving towards the East. Shantinath followed the weapon and most of the Kings in its way surrendered. Shantinath defeated the remaining other kings and became a Chakravarti. He then continued ruling his kingdom in a just and wise manner.
After ruling for a number of years Shantinath began to get restless. In his meditations he saw his earlier life times and realised the meaning of his life and the goal of his birth. He developed a deep sense of detachment. He decided to hand over his Kingdom to his son Chakrayudh and embrace ascetism. Many members of the royal family and his subjects too followed him. He roamed from place to place practising his spiritual practices. Finally he reached Hastinapur and sitting under a Nandi tree on the bright half of the month of Paush he achieved Omniscience.
He continued preaching and lecturing and even his son Chakrayudh took Diksha and embraced ascetism. He preached the principles of Jain philosophy. He explained the qualities of compassion and non violence and how to eschew passions and realise the true goal of life ie self realisation. He finally attained Nirvana at Sammed Shikhar on the dark half of the month of Jyeshta.
The symbol of Shantinath is deer. Bhagavan Shantinath was born to exhort mankind to strive for Right Conduct, Right Thinking and Right Action and to break the bonds of worldly life and the eternal cycles of birth and death. Supreme Beings like him are born to elevate mankind from misery and unhappiness and enable the light of knowledge to shine upon them.