Mahavira

Mahavira also known as Vardhamana, was the twenty-fourth tirthankara (ford-maker) who revived Jainism.

Updated: June 16, 2022

Mahavira also known as Vardhamana, was the twenty-fourth tirthankara (ford-maker) who revived Jainism. He expounded the spiritual, philosophical and ethical teachings of the previous tirthankaras from the remote pre-Vedic era.


Mahavira was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, the primary figure in Buddhism on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities for 12 years, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience).
He preached for 30 years and is believed by Jains to have attained moksha in the 6th century BC. Mahavira attained nirvana at the age of 72, and his body was cremated. He was born on 599 BC and died on 527 BC.


Childhood of Mahavira:

Mahavira was born in 599 BC into a royal family of Kshatriyas, in Bihar, India. His childhood name was 'Vardhamana', which means 'One who grows'.
His parents were King Siddartha of Kundgraam and Queen Trishala. His father was the chief of the Jnatrika clan, an indigenous oligarchical tribe. As the son of a king he had a privileged childhood and was raised in the lap of luxury.


He grew up to be a very brave boy and once brought a fierce serpent under control. This earned him the name 'Mahavira' meaning 'Great Warrior' in Sanskrit.


Family of Mahavira:

Different sources give varying views about Mahavira's marital status. According to the Digambara tradition he was celibate. However, according to the Shwetamber tradition he was married to Yashoda with whom he had one daughter, Priyadarshana.


Some facts about Mahavira:

  • Mahavira realized that his luxurious life did not provide him any satisfaction and at the age of 30 he renounced all his worldly ties and embarked on a search for the ultimate spiritual truth.
  • He strictly followed the principle of ahimsa or non-violence. He allowed insects to crawl all over his body and did not harm them even when they bit him. He endured all the physical hardships of his ascetic life peacefully.
  • He attained 'Kevala jnana', meaning 'absolute knowledge' or 'supreme knowledge' after a period of twelve and a half years. Thus he attained the realization of perfect perception, knowledge, power, and bliss.
  • He traveled all over India teaching his philosophy which was based on eight cardinal (law of trust) principles, three metaphysical, and five ethical. The ethical principles were 'Ahimsa' or non-violence, 'Satya' or truthfulness, 'Asteya' or non-stealing, 'Brahmacharya' or chastity, and 'Aparigraha' or non-possession.
  • Having attained the Kevala jnana at the age of 42, Mahavira preached and taught for the next 30 years.
  • Mahavira died or attained moksha or complete liberation in 527 BC at Pawapuri, Bihar.
  • There is a Jain temple named Jal mandir in the place where Mahavira is believed to have attained nirvana.
  • During Mahavir Jayanti, Jains celebrate Mahavira's birth as the 24th and last tirthankara of avasarpini (the current time cycle). During Mahavir Jayanti, the five auspicious events of Mahavira's life are re-enacted.
  • Diwali commemorates the anniversary of Mahavira's nirvana, and is celebrated at the same time as the Hindu festival. Diwali marks the New Year for Jains.
  • Mahavira's earliest iconography is from archaeological sites in the north Indian city of Mathura, dated from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD.
  • Many images of Mahavira have been dated to the 12th century and earlier. An ancient sculpture was found in a cave in Sundarajapuram, Theni district, Tamil Nadu.



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