The being that was to be Bhagavan Arishtanemi, in his earlier incarnation, was Shankh, the eldest son of king Shrishen of Hastinapur. One day some citizens and wayfarers came to the king and informed him that the highways approaching Hastinapur and the surrounding area were being terrorized by bandits and smugglers. No traveler or villager was safe from the attack of the bandits. Robbery and murder became a daily routine for them. The citizens requested he king to protect the masses. the king deputized prince Shankh to go and punish the bandits.
Prince Shankh was an accomplished diplomat and strategist. He planned and conducted his campaign in such a way that he apprehended the leader of bandits without any bloodshed. While he was on his way back he heard the cry of help of a young princess abducted by a Vidyadhar (a lower god); prince Shankh challenged the Vidyadhar, defeated him and saved princess Yahomati. when these young people saw each other they fell in love and got married. In due course prince Shankh ascended the throne.
Once a scholarly ascetic visited Hastinapur. King Shankh went for his Darshan, an asked him, “Why am I so deeply in love with Yashomati that all my desires to renounce come to a naught.” The ascetic said, “Your marital ties are many a life-time deep. For last six lives you are being married to each other, this is the seventh birth. That is the reason for such intense and deep feeling of love for each other.”
The king asked, “When these ties will be broken?”
The scholarly ascetic replied, “In your ninth incarnation you will be born as Neminath and she as Rajimati. In that birth you will be able to break this tie of love and become twenty second Tirthankar. Rajimati will also follow you on the path of renunciation and get liberated.”
Knowing all this Shankh had a deep feeling of detachment. He gave his kingdom to his son and became an ascetic. As a result of high spiritual practices and deep devotion for Jnan he earned the Tirthankar-nam-and gotra-karma and reincarnated in the Aprajit dimension of gods.
The Birth as Arishtanemi
The being that was Shankh descended from the Aparajit dimension of gods into the womb of queen Shiva Devi, wife of king Samudravijay of Sauripur. The fourteen great dreams indicated that this being was to become a Tirthankar. On the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Shravaan queen Shiva Devi gave birth to a son. As per the convention 56 goddesses of directions arrived and performed the birth celebrations after the post-birth cleaning.
During the naming ceremony the king conveyed that as the queen had seen a disc with Arishta gems, the new born will be called Arishtanemi.
The Power and Prowess of Arishtanemi
One day while wandering around, youthful Arishtanemi reached the hall of weapons of Vasudev Shrikrishna. Seeing the divine weapons he first lifted the Sudarshan Chakra (the disc weapon) curiously and whirled it playfully. He then lifted the giant bow, Sarang, and bent it as if it was a thin cane. After this he lifted the Panchajanya conch, put it to his lips and blew it hard. The piercing loud sound emanating from the great conch shocked the town. Shrikrishan rushed to the armory. Seeing Arishtanemi playfully handling the he giant and heavy weapons belonging to Vasudev, Shrikrishan was astonished. He asked “Nemi! did you blow the Panchajanya?” Nemi innocently replied, “Yes brother! It is so cute I could not contain myself.”
Shrikrishan knew that is weapons were beyond the capacity and strength of any warrior in the world. He was astonished and pleased at the same time, that his young cousin was so strong and powerful. He wanted to test Nemi’s strength further; he invited Nemi to the gymnasium for a friendly trial of strength. First Shrikrishan raised his arm and held it straight asking Nemi to bring it down. Nemi forced Shrikrishna’s arm down without any apparent effort. After this Nemi raised his arm and Shrikrishana, in spite of all his strength could not force it down. He even put all his weight on the outstretched arm but as if it was a beam of steal, the arm of Nemi did not move even a fraction of an inch.
Shrikrishan was very pleased knowing about this unprecedented strength of his cousin. He thought that this great individual, much more powerful than him, is capable of becoming a Chakravarti. but how could he become a Chakravarti if he does not change his attitude of detachment for all worldly activities. Shrikrishan formulated a plan. He asked Nemi to marry and start his family life. Nemi still did not show any interest. Shrikrishan now consulted his queens and organized a spring festival. The ladies dragged Nemi Kumar to the pool for water games and there they used all their guile to pursued him to agree for marriage. Shrikrishna also requested once more. Nemi presented a smiling but thoughtful look. With his divine knowledge he became aware it was the marriage celebration that would initiate him on the path of liberation. As such he did not oppose the proposal. His silence was taken as a sign of affirmation and it was joyously announced that Nemi Kumar had finally agreed for marriage.
Shrikrishana started the search for a suitable match. One of his queens Satyabhama, informed hat her beautiful and delicate younger sister, Rajul, would be an extremely suitable match for Nemi Kumar. Shrikrishana finalized all arrangements. On the arranged date the marriage procession started with Nemi Kumar riding the decorated king elephant. All the kings and princes of the Yadav clan joined the procession with their royal regalia and retinue.
Feeling of Detachment
When the procession was approaching the destination, Nemi Kumar saw that on the side of the road there were large fenced areas and cages full of wailing animals and birds. Filled with sympathy and compassion, he asked the elephant driver why those animals and birds were being kept in bondage. The driver informed him that the creatures were collected to be butchered for meat for the large number of guests attending his marriage.
Nemi Kumar was filled with despair and a feeling of detachment. He said to the elephant driver, “If I agree to be the cause of the butchering of so many living beings my life and the one to come will be filled with pain and misery. So, I will not marry. Immediately arrange for the release of all these creatures; turn back and head for Dwarka.” The driver looked at him in astonishment. Nemi Kumar said, “This is an order.”
The driver went and opened the gates of the fenced areas and cages. The animals jumped and ran away into the jungle. They were saved from the torture of death. The driver came back and turned the elephant towards Dwarka. On the way Nemi Kumar took out all the valuables and ornaments on his body and handed them over to the elephant driver.
The news spread panic in the marriage procession. All the seniors of the Yadav clan tried to change the mind of Nemi Kumar, but in vain. Even Shrikrishna could not dissuade him from his determination. Nemi Kumar said to the elders, “As these animals were prisoners in the cages, we all are prisoners in cages of karma which are much stronger than these fences. See the feeling of joy evident in the animals released from the cages. Know that happiness is in freedom, not in bondage. I want to tread the path of breaking this bondage of Karma and embrace eternal bliss. Please do not stop me.”
When Rajimati, dressed as bride, heard of this act of Nemi Kumar she could not tolerate the sting of sorrow. she fainted with shock. When she recovered she started crying and again lost consciousness.
After a year long charity, Nemi Kumar sat in a palanquin named Uttarkura, and, passing through the town of Dwarka, arrived in the Raivatak garden. He got down under an Ashoka tree and pulled out five fistful of hair and after taking off all ornaments and the royal dress. He became an ascetic along with one thousand person on the sixth day of he bright half of the month of Shravan. Shrikrishan was deeply touched by this incident; he blessed his younger cousin and wished him success in his mission.
Omniscience and Nirvana
Arhat Neminath spent fifty four days in deep spiritual practices and then went to Vijaynat hill (Girnar). On the fifteenth day of the dark half of the month of Ashvin, in he afternoon, he was observing a two days fast and was meditating under a bamboo tree when he became an omniscient. Establishing he four pronged religious organization (Tirth) he became the twenty second Tirthankar.
Rajimati Follows Arhat Neminath
When Rajimati recovered from the melancholy she decided to follow the path taken by Neminath. Prince Rathnemi, the younger brother of Neminath, tried his best to seduce Rajimati. But she could not be distracted from her goal. When Rajimati came to know that Neminath had become an omniscient, she went to the Samavasaran of neminath along with many of her friends and took Diksha. She lost herself in penances and other spiritual practices and in the end got liberated.
Stories of a number of famous ascetic contemporaries of Bhagavan Arishtanemi are glittering gems in he heap of Jain scriptures. some more prominent names are child ascetic Gajasukumar, great ascetic Dhandhan Rishi, Thavaccha-putra Sharman etc.
Bhagavan Arishtanemi got liberated, at the age of one thousand years, on the eighth day of the bright half of the month of Ashadh.
A number of historians accept that Arishtanemi, the cousin of Shrikrishana, was a historical figure who greatly contributed towards vegetarianism, compassion and Ahimsa. This is the point where Jain prehistory fuses with history.