In the previous article, I have not talked about the fourth plaque in the temple of Ranakpur as I wanted to share the story of Lord Parshvanath with a discussion on the plaque. Among the twenty-four Jain Tirthankaras, the historians agree that the Lord Parshvanath and the Lord Mahaveer are the two with real historical evidences. Lord Parshvanath is believed to have preceded Mahaveer by about two-hundred and fifty years. At the time of Lord Mahaveer there was a line of Lord Parshvanth’s spiritual followers led by Muni Keshi Kumar. It is documented in Jain books that Muni Keshi Kumar met Gandhar Gautam, the chief disciple of Lord Mahaveer and they had discussions on the spiritual quest and differences between the two set of followers. The answers of Muni Gandhar Gautam convinced Muni Keshi Kumar and he accepted Lord Mahaveer as twenty-fourth Tirthankara and the two groups merged.
Lord Parshvanath is often represented in deep meditation under the protective hood of a snake. In the beginning of idol making, Parshvanath Bhagwan was shown protected by a snake with three, five or seven hoods. Then the artists started to introduce variations in the canopy of snake hoods, as visible, in this plaque a thousand hooded snake is intricately carved forming a beautiful arch over the body of meditating Jina. This plaque was installed in 1847 in the Ranakpur temple.
The thousand hooded snake is believed to be the Yaksha Dev Dharnendra and he is accompanied by his wife Devi Padmavati and two other nagin chauri bearers. The snake in this plaque is carved skillfully with entwined tail covering the whole frame. This vivid and eloquent frame also tells the never-ending cycles of life and death.
In the carving Dev Dharnendra is shown protecting Lord Parshvanath from Meghmali dev. The story behind this incident goes several births back. The animosity between Meghmali dev and Bhagwan Parshvanath started in a birth where the two were born as brothers – Kamath (the soul of Meghmali) and Marubhuti (soul of lord Parshvanath). Kamath was elder to Marubhuti; however he was cruel and was a debauch and so he was sidelined and Marubhuti succeeded his father as Rajpurohit. One day Kamath seduced Marubhuti’s wife. When Marubhuti came to know about it, he informed the king and Kamath was exiled. These events further augmented animosity and jealousy in Kamath and he started doing a rigorous tapsaya. Later-on Marubhuti felt sorry that because of him his brother was insulted and thrown out of the state; he searched him and bowed before him seeking his forgiveness. But Kamath was filled with extreme anger, he picked-up a large stone and killed Marubhuti with that.
With this started a cycle of births and rebirths where Lord Pashvanath’s soul keep on elevating and purifying itself with amnesty and compassion, and Kamath’s soul keep on degrading itself with animosity and a continuous desire to take revenge and hurt Parshvanath.
In his last birth, Lord Parshvanath was born as a prince. He was the son of King Asvasena and Queen Vama of Varanasi and the soul of Kamath took re-birth as a wandering mendicant. Wandering around, Kamath reached Varanasi and started to perform Panchagni penance there. Many people of the city were impressed by his performance and started to worship him.
By this time, the young Parshvanath generated a strong belief in non-violence. He was strongly against killing of any form of life. One day he passed around the area where the mendicant was performing a public Anushthan. When he noticed him with the sacrificial fire, he tried to dissuade him from taking away unnecessary lives in the sacrificial fire, but failed as the mendicant disagreed that his performance was taking away any life. From his divine vision Lord Parshvanath realized that the last wood the mendicant had kept on the fire had a snake couple into it. He requested the monk to take out the wood immediately from the fire as otherwise the innocent snake couple would be charred to death. The mendicant was annoyed with Parshvanath’s persistent interference. He challenged him that there are no snakes and he is speaking blatant lies just to belittle him. Without wasting any time, the Young Parshvanath took out the log of wood from the fire and cut it into two, from which emerged a half-burnt snake couple.
The episode dissuaded the public away from the mendicant. He was insulted and proved wrong in front of a huge crowd, so his grudge increased against Parshvanath. He started to perform even more severe penance and after his death was born as a dev as he had accumulated good karmas in his previous life due to his penance. He also had a celestial craft that used to fly on his wishes. At the same time, the snake couple took re-birth as Dev Dharnendra and Devi Padmavati.
Parshvanath decided to take sanyas at the age of thirty years. Once when he was meditating in a forest, Meghmali Dev’s celestial craft passed over him; but because of the power of his meditation it become immovable. When Meghmali dev tried to find out the reason he realized that it was due to Parshvanath’s presence. The previous births hostilities made Meghmali Dev extremely angry on Parshvanath; he felt that Parshvanath intentionally made his craft immovable and inflicted heavy rains and storm over him.
It rained heavily and the rain water started to rise upto a level that could have drowned Parshvanath. Dharnendra Dev and Devi Padmavati (the soul of the snake couple) realized Meghmali’s ill intentions. Dharnendra covered Lord Parshvanath under his hood and made all attempts of Meghmali Dev to trouble Lord Parshvanath futile. Dharnendra then re-approached Meghmali severely and warned him not to create any trouble to the graceful muni. Meghmali realized the futility of his act. He fell at Lord Parshvanath’s feet and begged for forgiveness for his evil acts. Lord Parshvanath was in deep meditation during this whole episode. He had attained a high level of ecstasy and had developed a perfect equanimity. He had no affection for Dharnendra for protecting him, neither any hatred against Meghmali.
Bhagwan Parshvanath attained nirvana at Sammed Shikar after hundred years. He spend seventy years of life as an ascetic. Some historians see the presence of Dharnendra protecting Lord Parshvanath as his following among the Naga tribes