The Jain religious tradition traces its origins into ancient times to the first jina or conqueror, Adinatha (original lord).  Adinatha is understood to be the first of 24 tirthankaras, men who conquered desire and anger to reach a state of perfection or liberation. 

Adinatha First Tirthankara
Although the 24 jinas are portrayed in identical forms, emphasizing their state as liberated souls free of any material body or personality, two jinas possess char-acteristics that allow them to be recognized, Adinatha and Parsvanatha.  Often, Adinatha is depicted with hair falling over his shoulders and a bull at his feet, while Parsvanatha, the 23rd, is always shown with a cobra canopy.

Parsvanatha Tirthankara
The 24th tirthankara was a man, Mahavira (great hero) who lived 599-527 BCE, just before the time of Siddharta Gautama, founder of the Buddhist tradition and Buddhist monasticism.  Mahavira practiced a life of disciplined asceticism from the age of 30 when he left a comfortable home to pursue liberation. A lion is often placed with Mahavira as a symbol of his strength and discipline.

Mahavira 24th Tirthankara

Mahavira 24th Tirthankara Seated
Sculptures of Mahavira show him either standing or seated on a lotus with legs and feet held in the yogic lotus position, padmasana. 

Jain tradition puts greatest emphasis on the practice of ahimsa (nonviolence). 

Elephant at Entrance
to Jain Cave

Jain scriptures construct a system of ethics and discipline around the practice of nonviolence toward all creatures, from the largest elephant to microscopic organisms.  Deeply immersed in this respect for all forms of life, some Jain saints refuse food completely in order not to destroy any plant or animal life.  Of course this practice results in the eventual death of the human body but in a highly purified state. 

Elephant at Entrance
to Jain Cave Fullview

Adinatha with Deer

Jain Tirthankara
In photo at left is a wall sculpture in one of the Jain caves that exemplifies this core teaching of nonviolence by depicting a tirthankara in a standing meditative posture surrounded by animals, including a cobra, scorpion, lion, deer, and tortoise. This tirthankara is possibly Adinatha with animals demonstrating practice of nonviolence.

Yaksha Guardian
in Jain Cave
On either side of the entrance to the upper floor assembly hall of the largest Jain cave are two huge guardian figures, a yaksha and yakshini.   The yaksha is seated on a gentle-looking reclining elephant holding a drooping lotus blossom in his trunk; perhaps a model of enlightenment in the embrace of non-violence. 

Yaksha Elephant Holding Lotus Detail

On the other side is a voluptuous yakshini seated on a reclining lion and attended by several women.   This protective yakshini uses the powerful lion as her throne as she radiates fertility and abundance, under a canopy created by a blossoming mango tree heavy with fruit.

Yakshini Guardian
in Jain Cave
Yaksha Elephant Detail
Yakshas and yakshinis were understood to be guardian deities appointed by Indra to protect the well-being of the tirthankaras, and to be their devotees.  Over time, however, people began praying to particular yakshas and yakshinis sensing that their earthy natures would make them sympathetic to human desires. 

Entrance to Mahavira Shrine Inside Jain Cave
Not all of these earth spirits were kind but many yakshas and yakshinis were understood to bestow wealth and fertility; making them popular figures at Jain shrines.  Yakshas and yakshinis as creatures of intercession filled a need that was unmet by jinas who, as liberated souls beyond the realm of the senses, could not answer prayers or grant boons.
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