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
In his previous incarnation Shreyansnath was King Nalingulm of Kshema town in Pushkarvar Island. After many births of rigorous spiritual penances, he had reached a very exalted state of spiritual enlightenment. This led to his being reborn as the next Tirthankar after his soul went to the Mahashakra dimension of the gods. His soul then descended into the womb of Queen Vishnudevi who was the wife of King Vishnuraja of Simhapur near Sarnath. When the child was in the womb the Queen dreamt about the 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
On hearing this, their Kulguru Kaudinya said that the child was no ordinary soul but a great one who would be the Tirthankar. The King and Queen were overjoyed that they had been blessed to be born as the parents of a Tirthankar. The Queen gave birth to a son on the twelfth day of the dark half of the month of Bhadrapad(according to the Hindu calendar). The whole Kingdom was immersed in joy. He was named Shreyansnath. He was a peace loving and obedient child. He was involved in prayers and meditation most of the time. The King then decided to get him married and then after a few years he handed over the Kingdom to him and retired to the forest to take up spiritual practices.
After ruling the Kingdom for many years Shreyansnath began to feel restless. In his meditations he saw all his past lives and realised the purpose of his birth. Handing over the Kingdom to his son he embraced ascetism. Many of the members of the royal family and his subjects too followed him and embraced ascetism. He underwent rigorous spiritual penances and on the fifteenth day of the dark half of the month of Magh(according to the Hindu calendar) under a mango tree he achieved Omniscience.
He continued preaching and exhorting people to follow the principles of Jain philosophy. They included compassion, non violence, Right Action, Right Living and Right Conduct. After a number of years of spiritual disciplines and preaching, he attained Nirvana on the third day of the dark half of the month of Shravan at Sammed Shikhar.
The symbol of Shreyansnath is rhinoceros. Bhagavan Shreyansnath was born to liberate mankind and guide them to break worldly bondage and transcend the infinite cycles of birth and death. Divine Beings like him are born due to compassion to enable struggling mankind to rise above sensual pleasures and seek the path of self realisation and bliss. Their very presence transforms and purifies the atmosphere and makes it sublime. The great land of Bharat is fortunate that great souls like Bhagavan Sreyansnath and other Tirthankars have taken birth here.