According to Jain traditional accounts, he was born to King Nabhi and Queen Marudevi in north Indian city of Ayodhya, also called Vinita. He had two wives, Sunanda and Sumangala. Sumangala is described as the mother of his ninety-nine sons (including Bharata) and one daughter, Brahmi. Sunanda is depicted as the mother of Bahubali and Sundari. The sudden death of Nilanjana, one of the dancers of Indra, reminded him of the world's transitory nature and he developed a desire for renunciation. After renouncing, the Jain legends state he wandered without food for a whole year. The day on which he got his first ahara (food), is celebrated as Akshaya Tritiya by Jains. He is said to have attained Moksha on Mount Kailash. The text Adi Purana by Jinasena is an account of the events of his life. His iconography includes colossal statues such as Statue of Ahimsa, Bawangaja and those erected in Gopachal hill. His icons include the eponymous bull as his emblem, the Nyagrodha tree, Gomukha (bull-faced) Yaksha, and Chakreshvari Yakshi.
According to Jain cosmology, the universe does not have a temporal beginning or end. Its "Universal History" divides the cycle of time into two halves (avasarpiṇī and utsarpiṇī) with six aras (spokes) in each half, and the cycles keep repeating perpetually. Twenty-four Tirthankaras appear in every half, the first Tirthankara founding Jainism each time. In the present time cycle, Rishabhanatha is credited as being the first tīrthaṅkara, born at the end of the third ara (known as suṣama-duṣamā).
According to Jain texts, Rishabhanatha was born in a king's family in the age when there was happiness all around with no one needing to do any work because of Kalpavriksha (miraculous wish-fulfilling trees). Gradually as the cycle progressed, the efficacy of these trees decreased, people rushed to their king for help. Rishabhanatha is then said to have taught the men six main professions. These were: (1) Asi (swordsmanship for protection), (2) Masi (writing skills), (3) Krishi (agriculture), (4) Vidya (knowledge), (5) Vanijya (trade and commerce) and (6) Shilp (crafts). In other words, he is credited with introducing karma-bhumi (the age of action) by founding arts and professions to enable householders to sustain themselves. He is, in the Jain belief, the one who organized a social system that created the varna based on professions.
Rishabhanatha is credited in Jainism to have invented and taught fire, cooking, and all skills needed for human beings to live. In total, Rishabhanatha is said to have taught seventy-two sciences to men, and sixty-four to women. According to Paul Dundas, Rishabhanatha in Jain mythology is thus not merely a spiritual teacher but one who founded knowledge in its various forms and a form of culture hero for the current cosmological cycle.
The institution of marriage is stated to have come into existence after he married to set an example for other humans to follow. His life is also credited by Jains with starting the institution of charity (daana) from layperson to mendicants, when he received surgarcane juice in his hand from king Sreyamsa, to break his fast. This is accepted in the Jain tradition as what started the tradition of alms giving in its various forms, and one that has continued since ancient times in India.