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Mahavira Jayanti Celebration

Idol of Lord Mahavira at Shri Mahaveerji (the holy town in Rajasthan named after Mahavira.)  Thousands of worshipers visit Shri Mahaveerji Temple daily to catch a glimpse of this famous statue.
Idol of Lord Mahavira at Shri Mahaveerji (the holy town in Rajasthan named after Mahavira.) Thousands of worshipers visit Shri Mahaveerji Temple daily to catch a glimpse of this famous statue.
This article is about the 24th and the final ([Tirthankara]) of Jainism. For the jain mathematician Mahavira Acharya, see Mahavira (mathematician).
Mahavira (महावीर lit. Great Hero) (599 – 527 BCE, though possibly 549 – 477 BCE) is the name most commonly used to refer to the Indian sage Vardhamana (Sanskrit: वर्धमान "increasing") who established what are today considered to be the central tenets of Jainism. According to Jain tradition, he was the 24th and the last Tirthankara. He is also known in texts as Vira or Viraprabhu, Sanmati, Ativira,and Gnatputra. In the Theravada Buddhist scriptures he is referred to as the Nirgrantha Nathaputta - 'the naked ascetic of the Jñātr clan.'
Overview of Mahavira's life
Birth of Prince Vardhaman

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In a place called Kundagram in the ancient kingdom of Vaishali (modern day Bihar, India), Mahavira was born to King Siddartha and Queen Trishala on the 13th day under the rising moon of Chaitra (April 12 according to the Gregorian calendar). While still in his mother's womb it is believed he brought wealth and prosperity to the entire kingdom, which is why he was also known as Vardhaman. An increase of all good things, like the abundant bloom of beautiful flowers, was noticed in the kingdom after his conception. Queen Trishala had 14 (16 in Digambara Sect) auspicious dreams before giving birth to Vardhaman, signs foretelling the advent of a great soul.
Jain tradition states that after his birth, Indra bathed him in celestial milk with rituals befitting a future Tirthankar and he was returned to his mother, Trishala. Many Jains believe that Vardhaman was actually conceived by the Brahmin Devananda [1] but was transferred to the womb of Trishala by Indra because all Tirthankars had to be born into the Kshatriya caste.
Vardhaman's birthday is celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti, the most important religious holiday of Jains around the world. Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated with prayers, decorations, processions and festivity.
Early years
As King Siddartha's son, he lived as a prince. However, even at that tender age he exhibited a virtuous nature. He started engaging in meditation and immersed himself in self-contemplation. He was interested in the core beliefs of Jainism and started to get further away from worldly matters.
Twelve years of spiritual pursuit
India at the time of Mahavira
India at the time of Mahavira
At the age of thirty Mahavira renounced his kingdom and family, gave up his worldly possessions, and spent twelve years as an ascetic. During these twelve years he spent most of his time meditating. He gave utmost regard to other living beings, including humans, animals and plants, and avoided harming them. He had given up all worldly possessions including his clothes, and lived an extremely austere life. He exhibited exemplary control over his senses while enduring the penance during these years. His courage and braveness earned him the name Mahavira. These were the golden years of his spiritual journey, at the end of which he achieved Keval Gyan. He was now a person of infinite harmony, knowledge and self-control.
Later years
Mahavira devoted the rest of his life to preaching the eternal truth of spiritual freedom to people around India. He traveled barefoot and without clothes, in the hardest of climates, and people from all walks of life came to listen to his message. At one point Mahavira had over 400,000 followers. Mahavira's preaching and efforts to spread Jain philosophy is considered the real catalyst to the spread of this ancient religion throughout India and into the mainstream.
At the age of 72 years and 4.5 months, he attained Nirvana (end of life cycle, and leaving the body, attaining and living in pure soul form. This is not considered as death, since death means having re-birth again in some physical bodily form. When Nirvana is attained, the soul reaches to the highest point of the universe and stays there forever. In Jainism, this is called as Moksh) in the area known as Pawapuri on the last day of the Indian and Jain calendars, Dipavali. Jains celebrate this as the day he attained liberation, Moksh. Jains believe Mahavira lived from 599-527 BCE, though some scholars prefer 549-477 BCE.[2]
Mahavira's philosophy
Mahavira's philosophy has eight principal cardinals - three metaphysical and five ethical. The objective is to elevate the quality of life. These independent principles reveal exceptional unity of purpose, and aim at achieving spiritual excellence by ethically sound behavior and metaphysical thought. Mahavira's metaphysics consist of three principles - Anekantavada, Syādvāda, and Karma; and his Panchavrats, five codes of conduct - Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha. He talks of Tri-ratnas - three gems, which are the means and the goal.
The Jina, or Mahavir, as Guru folio from a manuscript,Gujarat, India, Circa 1411
The Jina, or Mahavir, as Guru folio from a manuscript,Gujarat, India, Circa 1411
Mahavira preached that from eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms accumulated by good or bad deeds. Under karma, the soul seeks temporary and illusory pleasure in materialistic possessions, which are the deep rooted causes of self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and other vices. These result in further accumulation of karmas.
To liberate one's self, Mahavira taught the necessity of right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana), and right conduct (samyak-charitra'). At the heart of right conduct for Jains lie the five great vows:
  • Nonviolence (Ahimsa) - not to cause harm to any living beings;
  • Truthfulness (Satya) - to speak the harmless truth only;
  • Non-stealing (Asteya) - not to take anything not properly given;
  • Chastity (Brahmacharya) - not to indulge in sensual pleasure;
  • Non-possession/Non-attachment (Aparigraha) - complete detachment from people, places, and material things.
Jains believe these vows cannot be fully implemented without accepting the philosophy of non-absolutism (Anekantvada) and the theory of relativity (Syādvāda, also translated "qualified prediction"). Monks and nuns follow these vows strictly, while common people follow them as far as possible.
Mahavira stated men and women are spiritually equal and that both may renounce the world in search of moksh or ultimate happiness.
Mahavira attracted people from all walks of life, rich and poor, men and women, touchable and untouchable. He organized his followers into a fourfold order; monk (Sadhu), nun (Sadhvi), layman (Shravak), and laywoman (Shravika). This order is known as Chaturvidh Jain Sangh.
Mahavira's sermons were orally compiled by his immediate disciples in the Agam Sutras. These Agam Sutras were orally passed on to future generations. In the course of time many Agam Sutras have been lost, destroyed, or modified. About one thousand years later the Agam Sutras were recorded on Tadpatris (leafy paper used in those days to preserve records for the future). Swetambar Jains accept these sutras as authentic teachings while Digambar Jains use them as a reference.
Jainism existed before Mahavir, and his teachings were based on those of his predecessors. Thus Mahavira was a reformer and propagator of an existing religion, rather than the founder of a new faith. He followed the well established creed of his predecessor Tirthankar Parshvanath. However, Mahavira did reorganize the philosophical tenets of Jainism to correspond to his times.
A few centuries after Mahavira's death, the Jain religious order (Sangh) grew more and more complex. There were schisms on minor points, although they did not affect Mahavira's original doctrines. Later generations saw the introduction of rituals and complexities that some criticize as placing Mahavira and other Tirthankars on the throne similar to those of Hindu deities.
Mahavira in the visual arts
Replica of Pavapuri temple at Pansara. Mahavira attained Nirvana at Pava.
Replica of Pavapuri temple at Pansara. Mahavira attained Nirvana at Pava.
Images of Mahavira came to be sculpted more than six hundred years after his 'nirvana'. His images, or rather all Tirthankara images, were a votive necessity of Jain devotees. Hence, instead of aiming at discovering their real likenesses the prime thrust of such images was their spiritual and aesthetic modeling under prescribed norms.
Their images were largely the images of mind transformed into stone, metal or colors. With locks of hair falling on his shoulders and serpent hood behind his head, the images of Rishabhadeva and Parshvanatha respectively have a distinct iconography, but such distinction, except some regional variations and a few minor and remote features, is not seen in other Tirthankara images.
Besides his lion emblem and a slightly different modeling of head, the images of Mahavira are largely identical to those of other Tirthankara. In most images - at least the ancient ones which alone are in thousands - the pedestals, which contained emblems of different Tirthankaras, are not intact. Hence, the identity of a Tirthankara image is difficult to discern.
Mahavira's images are mostly either in 'kayotsarga-mudra' or in 'padmasana'. Other postures have not been preferred - not even the 'godohana-mudra', which Mahavira had when he attained 'keval gyan'. Images rendered for devotees of Digambara sect are not only without clothes but also without every kind of ornamentation. Images rendered for Svetambara devotees are represented as wearing garments, jewels and even a crown. They are represented as seated in a throne much like a monarch.
Episodes from his life do not, or little figure in visual arts. Both sculptors and painters have shown some interest in rendering his birth, sometimes as mother Trishala lying on a bed with a number of maids attending upon her, and sometimes as dreaming with sixteen auspicious signs around. A symbolic representation of Mahavira's 'tri-ratnas' is also found in various sculptural panels. Similarly, the diagram of his 'samavasarana' has been the theme of a number of miniatures and wall paintings.

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