Mahavira (599-527 BC) was the last Jainist Tirthankara. People call Lord Mahavira by different names such as Vira or Viraprabhu, Sanmati, Vardhamana, Ativira and Gnatputra. When it comes to the values of Jainism, Lord Mahavira deserves a special mention, as he was the one to establish the ethics that are ruling the whole Jain community today. Well, in this article, we will provide you with the Lord Mahavira's biography. To know the complete life history of Mahavir Swami, read on…
His teachings and philosophies continue to inspire numerous people even today. He was born in a royal family and denounced his royal family life to attain spiritual knowledge like the Buddha. He was named Vardhamana Mahavira because when he was born his father, king Siddhartha prospered like anything. Vardhamana means increasing and the king credited his growing success and prosperity to the birth of his son. The life of Swami Mahavir is very interesting and is given here as a short story.
Lord Mahavira was born roughly around 599 B.C. He was born in the royal family of Kshatriyakund, a part of the republic of Vaishali. His father was King Siddhartha and his mother was Queen Trishala. It is said that when the queen conceived Lord Mahavira, she had fourteen auspicious dreams that were a premonition of the greatness of the child that was to be born. The prosperity of the King grew day by day. The king attributed his success to his new born child and named him Vardhamana, which means "ever increasing".
Vardhamana had a lavish childhood and lived like a proper prince. He did many great things in his childhood like saving his friend from a poisonous snake, fighting a monster, etc. that proved that he was no ordinary child. This earned him the name "Mahavira". He was born with all worldly pleasures and luxuries but somehow he was never attracted by them. When he was in his late 20's his parents died. That is when he decided to become a monk. He left all his worldly possessions including clothing and went into seclusion to become a monk.
After 12 years of strict meditation and ascetic lifestyle, he finally gained enlightenment and spiritual knowledge and came to be known as Lord Mahavira. He gave up food and learnt to control his desires and wants. After gaining enlightenment(keval gyan), he preached what he had learnt to all those who needed it. He spent the next thirty years travelling on bare feet around India preaching to the people the eternal truth he realized. He attracted people from all walks of life, rich and poor, kings and commoners, men and women, princes and priests, touchables and untouchables. Numerous people were inspired by him and converted to Jainism.He organized his followers, into a four fold order,namely
- monk (Sadhu)
- nun (Sadhvi)
- layman (Shravak)
- and laywoman (Shravika)
The ultimate objective of his teaching is how one can attain the total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent blissful state of one's self. This is also known as liberation, nirvana, absolute freedom, or Moksha.
He explained that from eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, that are accumulated by its own good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions. Which are the deep rooted causes of self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such other vices. These result in accumulating more karma.
He preached that right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana), and right conduct (samyak-charitra) together will help attain the liberation of one's self.
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.
At the age of 72 (527 B.C.), Lord Mahavir died and his purified soul left the body and achieved complete liberation. He became a Siddha, a pure consciousness, a liberated soul, living for ever in a state of complete bliss. On the night of his salvation, people celebrated the Festival of Lights (Dipavali) in his honor.
Jains celebrate five major events (Pancha Kalyänak) of the life of a Tirthankar:
1 Conception Event ( Chyavana Kalyänak)
This is the event when a Tirthankar’s soul is conceived in the mother’s womb.
After conception, the mother has fourteen dreams (Digambar tradition believes that there are 16 dreams)
2 Birth Event ( Janma Kalyänak)
This is the event when a Tirthankar is born. After birth, Indra (king of heaven) takes the baby to Mount Meru and celebrates the birth of a Tirthankar, (Janma Abhisheka ceremony).
3 Renunciation Event ( Dikshä Kalyänak)
In this event, the would-be Tirthankar gives up all worldly possessions and family relationships. He initiates himself into the ascetic order.
4 Omniscience Event ( Keval-jnän Kalyänak)
This is the event when a Tirthankar becomes free of the four Ghäti Karma by the practice of severe discipline, penance and meditation, and attains Keval-jnän.
Celestial angels (Devas) set up the Samavasaran (assembly hall) for the every sermon by the Tirthankar. This is the most important event as the Tirthankar reinstates the Jain order (Sangha) and preaches the Jain path of liberation. Sermons are attended by Devas, ascetics, laity and animals.
5 Nirvana Event ( Nirvana Kalyänak)
This is the event when a Tirthankar is liberated from the cycle of birth and death, and becomes a Siddha. The Tirthankar destroys the remaining four Aghäti Karma, and is now free from all Karma.