Mahavira was the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of Jainism. His teachings increased the popularity of Jainism, and thus, he is considered the founder of the religion.
- He was born in Kundagrama near Vaishali in Bihar in the second half of the sixth century. While his father belonged to a Kshatriya clan, his mother belonged to the royal family of the Lichchavis.
- From childhood, he was absorbed in spiritual pursuits. To divert his attention from spirituality, he was married to princess Yashoda. However, at the age of thirty, he renounced the world and practiced severe penance for the next twelve years.
- He is then said to have attained supreme knowledge. He was credited to have conquered his desires and thus came to be known as ‘Jina’ or the conqueror. His followers thus came to be known as Jinas or the Jains.
- He gave his first sermon at Mount Vipul located in Rajgriha, the then capital of Magadha. The number of his followers began to increase.
- He preached at various places such as Avanti, Videha, Vaishali, Champa, Mithila, Kosala, and Anga.
Main Teachings of Jainism
Jainism rejected the authority of the Vedas. The Jains do not worship any God. Jainism preaches five vows.
The Five Vows
A Jain householder has to take the following five vows. These are
- Ahimsa meaning non-violence
- Asateya means not to steal
- Satya means to speak truth
- Aparigraha means not to possess property
- Brahmacharya means to practise chastity
Mahavira denounced any kind of violence. To him violence was of three kinds:
- Physical violence or killing
- Use of harsh language
- Mental violence or having ill feelings towards others
The nine truths have a central place in the philosophy of Jainism. These are
- Jiva (living beings),
- Ajiva (non-living beings),
- Punya (result of good deeds),
- Pap (sin),
- Ashrav (good deeds),
- Sanvar (obstacles in the path of karma),
- Bandha (bondage),
- Nirjara (destruction of karma)
- Moksh (salvation).
Doctrines of Jainism
Mahavira preached that salvation can be obtained by following triratnas or three jewels. These are right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct.
Jainism believed in good karma and the belief that one should be responsible for his own karma.
Mahavira preached equality and universal brotherhood. He stressed that all men and women are equal irrespective of their caste or creed. To him, compassion should be shown to even the smallest living creature.
He believed in the immortality of the soul.
The Jains believe in salvation, i.e. freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Penance is considered a virtue in Jainism. It means to live a hard life and to die of starvation.
- Because Jainism had royal patronage, it spread around the regions of Kosala, Magadha, Mithila, Champa and in other parts of the country.
- Many monasteries were founded by Lord Mahavira, and these were headed by the learned sages.
- In western India, Jainism was patronised by business communities. Jainism was promoted by the Rashtrakutas and Chalukya kings in the South.
Division of Jainism into Two Sects
In about 300 BC, the first Jain council was held where differences among the Jains arose. As a result, Jains were divided into two groups:
This sect of Jainism was led by Sthulabhadra who was based in Magadha. The Shvetambaras wore white cloth and covered their mouth with a small white cloth to avoid the killing of the smallest germ which may enter their nose while breathing. They fasted but did not believe in extreme penance and austerity.
The sect was led by Bhadrabahu. They did not believe in covering their body as living without clothes show detachment from worldly pleasures. They were the orthodox followers of Mahavira and kept fasts and lived an extremely austere life.
Impact of Jainism
- Jains did not build any political empire of their own.
- It encouraged equality among the people as the Jains rejected the caste system and rituals.
- Important contributions were made in literature by the Jain monks. Jain literature included 12 upangas, 10 prakiranas, sutras, and mulasutras. Purvas contained the teachings of Mahavira. These texts are also important sources of the period from the 6th to 4th century BC.
- Many monasteries and temples were constructed by the Jains. They had constructed many dharamshalas, homes for orphans, and supported charitable organizations. The structures of the Bahubali at Shravanabelagola, Dilwara temples at Mt Abu, and Jain Tower at Chittor are some fine specimens of Jain architecture.
Decline of Jainism
Jainism declined because of the following reasons:
- Some principles of Jainism were extremely difficult to follow. The theory on non-violence extended even to the insects and germs which was not possible for every person to follow. Similarly, the theory of ahimsa extended even to the wearing of clothes.
- Jainism did not spread to foreign countries.
- Later, even in India, because of the patronage given to Buddhism by Ashoka, Harsha, and Kanishka, the spread of Jainism was restricted.
- The revival of Hinduism in the Gupta Period led to a further decline in Jainism, and it was restricted to only a few parts of the country.