The Jaina tradition of 24 Tirthankaras seems to have been accepted by the Hindus, like the Buddhists, as could be seen from their ancient scriptures. The Hindus, indeed, never disputed the fact that Jainism was founded by Rishabadeva and placed his time almost at what they conceived to be the commencement of the world. They acknowledged him as a divine person and counted him amongst their Avataras i. e. various incarnations of Lord Vishnu. They give the same parentage (-father Nabhiraja and mother Marudevi) of Risabhadeva as the Jains do and they even agree that after the name of Rishabhadeva’s eldest son Bharata this country is known as Bharata-Varsha.
So far as the oldest Vedic literature is concerned we find that in the Rig- Veda there are clear references to Rishabha, the 1st Tirthankara, and to Arishta- nemi, the 22nd Tirthankara. The Yajur-Veda also mentions the names of three Tirthankaras, viz. Rishabha, Ajitanatha and Arishtanemi. Further, the Atharava- Veda specifically mentions the sect of Vratyas and this sect signifies Jainas on the ground that the term ‘Vratya’ means the observer of vratas or vows as distinguis- hed from the performer of sacrifices, which applied to the Hindus at those times. Similarly in the Atharva-Veda the term Maha-Vratya occurs and it is supposed that this term refers to Rishabhadeva, who could be considered as the great leader of the Vratyas.
In the later puranic literature of the Hindus also there are ample references to Rishabhadeva. The story of Rishabha occurs in the Vishnupurana and Bhaga- vata-Purana, where he figures as an Avatara i. c. incarnation of Narayana, in an age prior to that of ten avataras of Vishnu. The story is exactly identical with the life-history of Rishabhadeva as given in the Jaina sacred literature. In this way Rishabhadeva’s life and significant importance narrated in the Jaina literature get confirmed by the account of Rishabha given in the Hindu puranas. Thus from the fact that Hindu tradition regards Rishabhadeva-and not Mahavira-along with Gautama Buddha as an incarnation of God, it can be said that the Hindu tradition also accepts Rishabhadeva as the founder of Jainism.
Jaina Tradition and Buddhism
As Mahavira was the senior contemporary of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, it is natural that in the Buddhist literature there are several refere- nces of a personal nature to Mahavira. But it is very significant to note that in Buddhist books Mahavira is always described as Nigantha Nataputta (Nirgrantha Jnatriputra, i, e.. the naked ascetic of the Jnatre clan) and never as the founder of Jainism. Further in the Buddhist literature Jainism is not shown as a new religion but is referred to as an ancient religion. There are ample references in Buddhist books to Jaina naked ascetics, to worship of Arhats in Jaina Chaityas or temples, and to the Chaturyama Dharma (i. e. fourfold religion) of 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanatha.
Moreover it is very pertinent to find that the Buddhist literature refers to the Jaina tradition of Tirthankaras and specifically mentions the names of Jaina Tir- thankaras like Rishabhadeva, Padmaprabha, Chandraprabha, Pushpadanta. Vimalanatha, Dharma-natha and Nemi-natha. The ‘Dharmottarpradipa’, a well- known Buddhist book, mentions Rishabhadeva along with the name of Mahavira or Vardhamana as an Apta or Tirtnankara The ‘Dhammikasutta’ of the Anguttra Nikaya’ speaks of Arishtanemi or Nemi-natha as one of the six Tirthankaras. The Buddhist book ‘Manoratha-Purani”, mentions the names of many lay men and women as followers of parshavanatha tradition and among them is the name of Vappa, the uncle of Gautama Buddha. In fact, it is mentioned that Gautama Buddha himself practised penance according to the Jaina system before he pro- pounded his new religion.
Further, it is significant to note that the names and numbers of Buddhas, Paccekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas in Buddhism appear to have been influenced by those of the Jaina Tirthankars. For instance, Ajita, the name of the 2nd Jaina Tirthankara, has been given to one Paccekabuddha. Padma, the 6th Jaina Tirthankara, is the name of the 8th of the 24 Buddhas. Vimala, a Paccekabuddha, has been named after Vimala-Natha, the 13th Jaina Tirthankara.
Jaina Tradition and Indus Valley Civilization
From some historical references it can be regarded that Rishabhadeva must be the real founder of Jainism. In this connection Dr. Jacobi writes thus, “There is nothing to prove that parshva was the founder of Jainism. Jaina tradition is unanimous in making Rishabha the first Tirthankara as its founder and there may be something historical in the tradition which makes him the first Tirthankara There is evidence to show that so far back as the first century B. C. there were people who were worshipping Rishabhadeva. It has been recorded that King Kharvela of Kalinga in his second invasion of Magadha in 161 B. C. brought back treasures from Magadha and in these treasures there was the statue of the first Jaina Tirthankara (Rishabhadeva) which had been carried away from Kalinga three centuries earlier by King Nanda 1. This means that in the 5th Century B. C. Rashabhadeva was worshipped and his statue was highly valued by his followers. From this it is argued that if Mahavira or parshvanatha were the founders of Jainism then their statues would have been worshipped by their followers in the 5th Century B.C.e. immediately after their time. But as we get in ancient inscriptions authentic histori-cal referencs to the statues of Rishabhadeva it can be asserted that he must have been the founder of Jainism.
Other archaeological evidences belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age in India also lend support to the hoary antiquity of the Jaina tradition and suggest the prevalence of the practice of worship of Rishabhadeva, the first Tirthankara, along with the worship of other deities. The recent excava- tions at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa have revealed the real existence of very well developed PreVedic and non-Aryan Civilization known as the Indus Valley Civilization. As a result, history of India can now be traced back to the Indus Valley period (i. e. about 3500 to 3000 B. C.) and not upto the Vedic period (i, c. about 1500 to 1000 B, C) only as was being done formerly. In fact the recent researches have shown that there is an organic relationship between the Indus Valley Culture and the present day Indian Culture. It is very pertinent to note that many relics from the Indus Valley excavations suggest the prevalence of Jaina religion in that most ancient period.
(i) It is observed that in the Indus Valley Civilization there is a great pre- ponderance of pottery figures of female deities over those of male deities and that the figures of male deities are shown naked. In this regard Dr. Earnest Mackay.. the renowned Archaeologist intimately connected with the Indus Valley excava- tions, mentions that “For some reason which it is difficult to understand, figures of male deities in pottery are distinctly rare. They are entirely nude, in contrast with the female figures, which invariably wear a little clothing; necklaces and bangles, may be worn, but this is by no means always the case.” This fact clearly reveals the traces of Jaina religion among the Indus Valley people as the worship of nude male deities is a very well established practice in Jaina religion.
(ii) Further, the figures engraved on the seals found in the exavations also suggest the same thing. For example, we find that the figures of six male deities in de form are engraved on one seal (Vide Sir John Marsholl: Mohanjo-Daru and the Indus Civilization, Vol. III, plate No. 118, picture No. B.426) and that each figure is shown naked and standing erect in a contemplating mood with both the hands keeping close to the body. Since this Kayotsarga’ way (i e in standing posture) practising penance is peculiar only to the Jainas and the figures are of naked ascetics, it can be maintained that these figures represent the Jains Tirthankaras
(iii) Again, the figures of male deities in contemplating mood and in sitting poure engraved on the seals (Vide Sir John Marshall: Mohanjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization, Vol. III, (a). Plate No 116, Picture No, 29, and (b) Plate No 118, Picture No. 11) resemble the figures of Jaina Tirthankaras because in there, the male deities are depicted as having one face only while the figures of male deities, supposed to be the prototypes of Lord Shiva, are generally depicted as having three faces, three eyes and three horns (vide Sir John Marshall: Mohanjo- Daro and the Indus Civilization, Vol. I, Plate No. 12, Picture No. 17).
(iv) Moreover, on some seals we find the figure of a bull engraved below the figure of a nude male deity practising penance in the Kayotsarga’ way i, e. in a standing posture. These figures appear to be the representations of Rishabhadeva, the 1st Jaina Tirthankara, because of the facts that among the Jainas there is an established practice of depicting the Lanchhana, i, e. the emblem, of each Tirthan- kara below his idol and that the emblem of Rishabhadeva is bull.
(v) In addition, the sacred signs of Swastika are found engraved on a num- ber of seals (vide Sir John Marshall: Mohanjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization, Vol. III, Plate No. 14, Picture No. 500 to 515). It is pertinent to note that the Swastika signs engraved on Seals Nos. 502, 503, 506 and 514 exactly resemble the established Jaina practise of drawing Swastika signs.
(vi) Further, there are some motifs on the seals found in Mohanjo-Daro and, it is suggested, that these motifs are identical with those found in the ancient Jaina art of Mathura
From these archaeological evidences it can be stated that there are traces of worship of Jaina deities and that there was the prevalence of worship of Jaina Tirthankara Rishabhadeva along with the worship of Hindu God who is considered to be the prototype of Lord Shiva in the Indus Valley Civilization. This presence of Jaina tradition in the most early period of Indian history is supported by many scholars like Dr. Radha Kumud Mookarji, Gustav Roth, Prof. A. Chakravarti. Prof. Ram Prasad Chanda, T. N. Ramchandran, Champat Rai Jain, Kamta Prasad Jain and Dr. Pran Nath. Regarding the antiquity of Jaina tradition of Tirthankaras Major J. G. R. Forlong (in his book ‘Short Studies in the Science of Comparative Religion”) writes that from unknown times there existed in India a highly organized Jaina religion and that Jainism was preached by twenty-two Tirthankaras before the Aryans reached the Ganges. Dr. Zimmerman also strongly supports the antiquity of Jaina tradition in the following terms. “There is truth in the Jain idea that their religion goes back to remote antiqity, the antiquity in question being that of the Pre-Aryan,” (vide Zimmerman: The Philosophies of India, p. 60).