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
Sumatinath in his earlier incarnation was Purushasimha, the son of King Vijayasen, king of Shankhpur town in Purva Mahavideha area. One day as Prince Purushasimha was taking a walk in the garden, he came across Acharya Vinayanandan Dev giving a discourse to his followers. Hearing the discourse, Purushasimha realised the goal and purpose of his life. A deep sense of detachment came over him. He embraced ascetism and performed rigorous penances and spiritual practices. He had already attained a very high level of spiritual enlightenment from earlier lifetimes. Hence his soul took birth as the next Tirthankar. His soul descended into the womb of Queen Sumangala/Manglavati and King Meghrath of Ayodhya. Hearing that the Queen was enceinte the whole kingdom was filled with joy.
One day a small boy and two women approached the King’s court for justice. One of them informed the King that both of them were wives of a rich seafaring merchant and he had recently died leaving behind the son and heaps of wealth. She claimed that though the son was hers, the other woman was claiming him as her son. Meanwhile the other woman too began making the same charges and soon both began shouting and arguing. The small boy was unable to provide any help as he loved both the women equally. Also there was no eye witness available to provide veracity to the incident as he was born in some remote place.
The King was puzzled and none of his ministers could provide the solution. The King did not want to take any wrong decision and inadvertently punish the innocent. The King then decided to think over the problem. That night when he mentioned his worry to the Queen, she smiled and said she would solve it. Next morning she entered the court and spoke to both the women. Both were still adamant and stuck to their earlier claim. The Queen then stated that since she carried a pious soul in her womb, the decision would be taken after the birth of the child. In the meantime the son and the property would be taken into custody by the state and the claimants would have to wait for such a period.
Hearing this one of the women readily accepted the decision but the other woman began to weep and said that she could not bear to be parted from her son for such a long period. She said that she would withdraw her claim and that her son and the property be handed over to the other woman with a request that she would be content if she were allowed to meet the child often. The Queen recognised the concern and pain of a true mother. She immediately declared the woman who accepted her decision as the imposter and said she would be sentenced and the other woman as the real mother and ordered that the child and wealth be given to her with all due honour. Everyone assembled there in the Kingdom was impressed by this judgement. The imposter pleaded guilty and begged for pardon and the Queen allowed her to be pardoned.
The Queen soon gave birth to a son on the eighth day of the bright half of the month of Vaisakh. There was a feeling of love and peace everywhere. The King realised that it was the influence of the intelligence of the holy soul in the womb that led to the Queen’s wisdom and sense of judgement and so named his son Sumati(right thinking and wise). Years passed and he grew up and they got him married. The King then handed over the throne to him and went into the forests and became an ascetic.
Sumatinath ruled long and peacefully for a number of years and later a sense of detachment came over him and he renounced the Kingship and took up ascetism. He then continued rigorous penances for several years and on the eleventh day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra he finally attained omniscience under a Priyangu tree. He then established the religious fold and began to give discourses on human existence, the ephemeral nature of life and the path of right living, right conduct and right knowledge.
He worked towards this goal for a long period and helped in the spread of the Jain religion. On the ninth day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra he attained Nirvana or liberation at Sammed Shikar.
Bhagavan Sumatinathji was born to liberate struggling mankind from bondage and the cycles of birth and death. With infinite compassion and love he encouraged people to strive for liberation which was the goal of all human life and free themselves from desires and attachment which bound the soul to the earthly plane. He taught the Jain philosophy of Right action, Right Conduct and Right Knowledge and such was his greatness that many people embraced ascetism and followed the true path of life as instructed by him.