Mahavira was born in Kundapura near Vaishali. He was born as a prince, in Bihar. The traditional Jaina date for Mahavira’s birth is 599 BC. Lord Mahavir was the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. He was a reformer. He propagated Jainism, as taught by his predecessors. The following, is a legend which is narrated in the Acharanga Sutra and in the Kalpa Sutra.
Mahavira was conceived in the womb of Devananda, who had fourteen prophetic dreams. These fourteen dreams, were meant to specify that the child would become either an emperor or a great Spiritual Soul. Mahavira was, soon after, divinely transferred to the womb of Trishala, who also had the same fourteen prophetic dreams. Note, how similar it is to the story about how, Krishna’s brother Balarama, was transferred, to the womb of Rohini from the womb of Devaki.
To return to the life story of Mahavira, while the latter was in the womb of his mother, the wealth of the parent household increased. Hence the divine child was called Vardhamana. Young Vardhamana was brave. He not only mounted a charging elephant, but also picked up a large snake. Later as an ascetic, Vardhamana’s control of senses during the penance, that he endured, was exemplary. No wonder, that Vardhamana came to be known as Mahavira. (One who is courageous, One of great strength) The father of Mahavira was King Siddartha.
Mahavira married a princess named Yasoda, and they had a daughter, who was named Anoja. At the age of thirty Mahavira renounced his kingdom, and family. It is believed that Mahavira did not partake of, even water, for two days. Mahavira pulled out his hair and put on a piece of cloth. He later, gave half of that garment to a beggar. After, a little over a year, he gave up clothes altogether. Mahavira’s renunciation was so great that he allowed, the cattle, to eat the grass on the thatched roof, of his hut, when the grass in the forest had been destroyed, because of intense heat.
Severe austerities practiced by Mahavira:
- In the summer meditation under the rays of the sun or a walk through sun-baked fields.
- During the chilly days of winter, he would meditate naked, in the open fields.
- Stand in a statue-like posture.
- Maintain silence.
- Use his hands as a dish.
- He walked carefully, so as to avoid stepping on any insects.
- He stayed in crematoriums and deserted places.
- Mahavira’s fasts at times, extended up to, two months.
The power of endurance of Mahavira was tremendous. Yet his religion did not advocate complicated ritual practices.
His message of nonviolence (Ahimsa), truth (Satya), non-stealing (Achaurya), celibacy (Brahma-charya), and non-possession (Aparigraha) is full of universal compassion. He taught about the internal beauty and harmony of the soul.
When Mahavira’s endurance was tested by being inflicted with unbearable physical pain, and having his food contaminated, Mahavira renounced begging and sat in meditation, without so much as a murmur. The torture continued for 6 more months. Mahavira remained peaceful, when a cowherd pushed grass sticks into his ears!
Mahavira preached that right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana), and right conduct (samyak-charitra) together will lead one towards liberation. ”A living body does not only consist of limbs and flesh but it is the abode of the soul which encompasses perfect perception(Anant-darshana), perfect knowledge (Anant-jnana), perfect power (Anant-virya), and perfect bliss (Anant-sukha).”
Lord Mahavir preached the gospel of universal love. Mahavira achieved Enlightenment (kevala-jnana) on the 13th year of His ascetic life, and gave up His body, at the age of 72 years. On the night of his salvation, people celebrated the Festival of Lights (Dipavali) in his honor.
Jainism is self originated. No Tirthankara founded it. It has however produced Tirthankaraas. Jinology does not perceive the existence of God. It acknowledges the self as atman. Jain philosophy is based on self-realisation, atmadarshan…Jina or the one who has overcome the mind and senses, attains omniscience and then salvation…Veetraga or detachment is the key to moksha-complete renunciation of all possessions including loin cloth and absolute abandonment of attachments and aversions. Ahimsa or non violence, aparigraha or non-possession, anekant or non absolutism are the three primordial principles of Jainism. Ratnatraya or the three jewels are: right faith, right conduct and right knowledge are paths to moksha…
Ravindra Kumar Jain