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Vardhman Mahavira

Vardhman Mahavira
  • In Jainism, a tirthankara is a saviour and spiritual teacher of the dharma (righteous path).The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha,which is a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths, the saṃsāra.
  • According to Jains, a tirthankara is a rare individual who has conquered the saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, on their own, and made a path for others to follow. After understanding the true nature of the Self or soul, the Tīrthaṅkara attains Kevala Jnana (omniscience).
  • Tirthankara provides a bridge for others to follow the new teacher from saṃsāra to moksha (liberation).
  • Tīrthaṅkaras are arihants who after attaining kevalajñāna(pure infinite knowledge)preach the true dharma. An Arihant is also called Jina (victor).
  • Vardhaman Mahavira was the 24th and last Tirthankara of Jainism. He flourished about 250 years after the death of parsva.
  • He was born in Kundagrama a suburb of Vaisali (modern Muzaffarpur district in Bihar) in 599 B.C. (according to some in 540 B.C.).
  • His father Siddhartha was the head of a Kshatriyadan called the Jantrikas and his mother Trisala was a sister of Chetaka, an eminent Lichchhavi Prince and ruler of Vaisali.
  • He was a very learned person and received education in all branches of knowledge. He married to Yasodhara and had a daughter named Priyadarshini who was married to Jamali. Jamali became the first disciple of Mahavira.
  • Mahavira led the life of a house holder. After the death of his father he left the wordly life at the age of thirty in search of truth. For 12 years he kept on wandering from place to place. He did not stay for more than a day in a village and for more than five days in a town. After discarding clothes he practised penance and austerities for 12 year.
  • After continuous and severe Penance for twelve years, on the tenth day of Vaisakha, outside the town of Jimbhikgram, he attained perfect knowledge or “Kaivaly” at the age of 42 while meditating under a sal tree beside the river Rijjupalika.
  • For his final deliverance from the bonds of pleasure and pain Vardhamana became known as Mahavira on the great hero and Jina or the conqueror. He was also known as “Kevalin”. His followers or disciples were known as ‘Nirgranthas” (free from fetters or bonds). The doctrine preached by him was known as Jainism.
    • Mahavira spread Jainism far and wide. He delivered his first sermon at Vipulachala near Rajagriha where 11 Brahmins became his disciples.
    • He preached eight months in a year and spent four months of rainy season in some famous town. For thirty years he preached Jainism in Champa, Vaisali, Rajagriha, Mithila and Sravasti.
  • He regularly visited King Bimbisara and Ajatasatru of Magadha who were devoted to him. King Chandra Pradyota of Avanti embraced Jainism. He passed away at Pava at the ripe age of seventy-two in 527 B.C. (to some 468 B.C.). He was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. He accepted the teachings of Parsva as the basis of Jainism.


  • Mahavira laid great stress on a pure and austere mode of living. He prescribed a threefold path for leading a pure and austere life namely, Right belief, Right knowledge and Right conduct.
  • This threefold path is called as Tri-ratna (three jewels). By following this threefold path a man could attain Siddha-Sila, i.e., liberation from karma and transmigration.
    5 VOWS
    Since the supreme goal of life is the attainment of salvation, one has to avoid all kinds of evil deeds or karmas. Mahavira prescribed some ethical code both for a house holder and a monk.
  • Accordingly one has to take five vows namely:

(1) Ahimsa (non-injury)
(2) Satya (speaking truth)
(3) Asteya (non-stealing),
(4) Aparigraha (non-possession),
(5) Brahmacharya (non-adultery).

  • The goal of these principles is to achieve spiritual peace, a better rebirth, or (ultimately) liberation.
  • According to Chakravarthi, these teachings help improve a person’s quality of life. Mahavira is best remembered in the Indian traditions for his teaching that ahimsa is the supreme moral virtue.
  • He taught that ahimsa covers all living beings, and injuring any being in any form creates bad karma (which affects one’s rebirth, future well-being, and suffering.
  • Mahavira taught that the soul exists, a premise shared with Hinduism but not Buddhism. There is no soul (or self) in Buddhism, and its teachings are based on the concept of anatta (non-self).
  • To Mahavira, the metaphysical nature of the universe consists of dravya, jiva, and ajiva (inanimate objects). The jiva is bound to saṃsāra because of karma.
  • Karma, in Jainism, includes actions and intent; it colors the soul (lesya), affecting how, where, and as what a soul is reborn after death.
  • The chief aim of Mahavira’s teaching is the attainment of moksha or the liberation of soul from earthly bondage. According to Jainism, man’s personality comprises material and spiritual natures. The former is perishable whereas the latter an eternal and evolutionary. Due to Karma the soul is in a state of bondage.
  • This bondage is created by passions and desires accumulated through several births. It is by the disintegration of the Karmik forces that the liberation of the soul is possible. By practising tapos, meditation and severe austerities, and fresh Karmas are formed and already deposited Karmas are shaken away.
  • Side by side with the decay of the Karmas the essential qualities of soul expressed more and more and the soul shines brightly which ultimately represents Moksha and then the soul merges in endless happiness or becomes paramatman, the Pure Soul, with infinite knowledge, power and bliss
  • Denial of the Existence of God: Man is the architect of his own destiny. One can escape the evils of life by following an austere life of purity and virtue. Instead of God, the Jains worship twenty-four tirthankar.
  • Denial to Veda: Mahavira rejected the authority of Vedas. According to him all Vedic gods and goddesses were imaginary and they were to misguide the society. He criticized the Vedic rituals and Brahmana supremacy.
  • Extreme asceticism: Mahavira asked his followers to practise extreme asceticism and self destruction. He laid great stress on extreme asceticism by practising penances, fasting and torturing the body. In order to follow a more austere life he asked his followers to discard clothes.
  • Lack of Royal Patronage: The liberal days of royal patronage had passed away. The great rulers like Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Udayin, and Kharavela had extended royal patronage to Jainism. But later on Buddhism eclipsed Jainism.
  • Severity of Jainism: The practice of severe austerities of jainism worked as a potent factor in bringing about its downfall. The jainas practise rigorous asceticism and self- mortification.
  • Factionalism in Jainism: They were divided into “Digamvara” and “Swetamvara”. The former group went on naked and strictly followed Mahavira’s teachings while the latter group wore white dress and discarded Mahavira’s teachings. This division weakened Jainism.
  • Spread of Buddhism: The rise of Buddhism worked as a powerful factor for the decline of Jainism.