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 have 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.
Birth and childhood
Sheetalnath in his previous but one incarnation was the King Padmottar of Sushima town in the Pushkarvar Island. He was a very pious and religious King and he later handed over the kingdom to his son and took Diksha from Tristadha Muni. He performed rigorous spiritual penances and he reached such a high state of spiritual enlightenment that he was reborn as the next Tirthankar. His soul descended into the womb of Queen Nanda the wife of King Dridhratha of Bhaddilpur town. When the child was in the womb she informed the King that she had sixteen auspicious dreams. 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 immediately mentioned that the dreams were similar to the ones seen by Bhagavan Suvidhinath’s mother and they were overjoyed that their son too was to be a Tirthankar. The queen gave birth to a baby boy on the twelfth day of the month of Magh. During the pregnancy, one day the King developed acute burning sensation and high fever. None of the medicines or ointments could relieve his suffering. The queen was grief stricken seeing his suffering. When she began to place her hand on his head, he immediately felt cool and relieved. To their surprise like a miracle, everywhere she placed her hand the king got relief. They realised it was due to the greatness of the unborn child. They named him Sheetal (cool, calm). He was an obedient and loving boy. As days passed he grew up and the parents got him married. He spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation. After some years, his father crowned him King and retired to the forests to undergo spiritual penances. Sheetalnath was a good King and ably served his subjects.
One day sitting in prayer all the memories of his past lives came to his mind and he realised the purpose of his birth. A deep sense of detachment came over him and he embraced ascetism. Many of the members of the royal family and his subjects followed him. He then continued his rigorous spiritual practices under a Peepal tree and achieved Omniscience on the fourteenth day of the dark half of the month of Paush.
He continued preaching and spreading the tenets of Jain religion, of compassion, non violence, the five codes of conduct, Right action, Right Thinking and Right Knowledge for a long time. He attained Nirvana on the dark half of the month of Vaisakh(according to Hindu calendar) at Sammed Shikhar.
The Symbol for Sheetalnath is Kalpavriksh. Bhagavan Sheetalnath uplifted mankind with his compassion and purity. He exhorted his followers to rise above worldly pleasures and transcend the infinite cycles of birth and death by practising the principles of renunciation and brotherhood. Exalted souls like him are born to sanctify the earth and liberate mankind from human bondage and achieve self realisation and bliss.