Mahavira (Sanskrit महावीर “Great Hero”) is the name most commonly used to refer to the Indian sage Vardhamana .
Mahavira was born in Kundapura near Vaishali. The traditional Jaina date for Mahavira’s birth is 599 – 527 BCE .
According to Jain tradition, Bhagvan Rishab Dev an incarnation of Lord Vishnu was the first Tirthankara,Lord Mahavir was the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jain religion one of the many paths followed by Ascetics “Sanyasis” of Santana Hindu Dharma.
(Ascetic: A person who renounces material comforts and leads a life of austere self-discipline, especially as an act of religious devotion.)
The following, is a legend which is narrated in the Acharanga Sutra and in the Kalpa Sutra. Swamy Mahaveera is referred to as Arugan or Arugadevan. He is also known in texts as Vira or Viraprabhu, Sanmati ,Ativira and Gnatputra.
Birth of Prince Vardhaman
In a place called Kshatriyakunda in the ancient kingdom of Lachuar. Mahavira was born to King Siddartha and Queen Trishala on the 13th day under the rising moon of Chaitra .
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.
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 a number of (14 in Swetambar Sect, 16 inDigambar 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 Tirthankarand he was returned to his mother, Trishala.
Vardhaman’s birthday is celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti, the most important religious holiday of Jains around the world.
As King Siddartha’s son, he lived as a prince.
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.
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 began to distance himself from worldly matters.
At the age of thirty Mahavira renounced his kingdom and family, gave up his worldly possessions, and spent twelve years as anascetic. 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 bravery earned him the name Mahavira. These were the golden years of his spiritual journey, at the end of which he achievedKaivalya Gyan. He was now a person of infinite harmony, knowledge and self-control.
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 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 or Moksha. Jains believe Mahavira lived from 599-527 BCE, though some scholars prefer 549-477 BCE.
Mahavira prior to his incarnation as a Tirthankara.
1. Nayasara – A village headman who secured samyaktva or partial enlightenment in this birth on account of preaching of true dharma by Jain monks.
2. Demi-god in First Saudharma (Name of Heaven as per Jain cosmology)
3. Prince Marichi – Grandson of Rsabha, the first Tirthankara.
4. Demi-god in Fifth Brahma (Name of heaven as per Jain cosmology)
5. Kaushika – A Brahmin
6. Pushyamitra – A Brahmin
7. Demi-god in First Saudharma
8. Agnidyota – A Brahmin
9. Demi-god in Second Ishana (Name of heaven as per Jain cosmology)
10. Agnibhuti – A Brahmin
11. Demi-god in Third Saudharma
12. Bharadwaja – A Brahmin
13. Demi-god in Fourth Mahendra (Name of Heaven as per Jain cosmology)
14. Sthavira – A Brahmin
15. Demi-god in Fifth Brahma
16. Prince Vishvabhuti
17. Demi-god in Seventh Mahashukra (Name of heaven as per Jain cosmology)
18. Triprishtha Vasudeva – First Vasudeva of this half-time-cycle
19. Naraka in the seventh hell
20. A lion
21. Naraka in the fourth hell
22. A human being (Name unknown)
23. Priyamitra – A Chakvartin (The universal ruler of seven continents)
24. Demi-god in Seventh Mahashukra (Name of heaven as per Jain cosmology)
25. Prince Nandana – Accepted the vow of self control and gained Tirthankara nama karma.
26. Demi-god in tenth Pranata (Name of heaven as per Jain cosmology)
27. Vardhamana Mahavira (The final birth)
Mahavira’s philosophy has eight cardinal principals – three metaphysical and five ethical. The objective is to elevate the quality of life.
Mahavira preached that from eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage to karmicatoms accumulated by good or bad deeds. In a state of karmic delusion, the individual seeks temporary and illusory pleasure in material possessions, which are the root causes of self-centered violent thoughts and deeds as well as anger, hatred, greed, and other vices. These result in further accumulation of karma.
To liberate one’s self, Mahavira taught the necessity of right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-gyana), and right conduct (samyak-charitra’). At the heart of right conduct for Jains lie the five great vows:
Nonviolence (Ahimsa) – to cause no harm to any living being;
Truthfulness (Satya) – to speak the harmless truth only;
Non-stealing (Asteya) – to take nothing not properly given;
Chastity (Brahmacharya) – to indulge in no sensual pleasure;
Non-possession/Non-attachment (Aparigraha) – to detach completely from people, places, and material things.
At the age of thirty Mahavira renounced his kingdom, and family.
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 Vedic Sandesh “Vasudhaiv Kutumbam” to the whole world. 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.