Mahavir Jayanti is one of the most important festivals in Jainism, and it celebrates the birth anniversary of the 24th Tirthankara Mahavir. It will Celebrated on 25 April 2021.
Lord Mahavira – His Life and Teachings – A Sacred Legacy
Lord Mahavira – the 24th and the last of the Jain Tirthankaras achieved the highest knowledge at an early age. He preached His message across India and left behind a sacred legacy that uplifted millions of souls and is highly venerated to this day. Lord Mahavira is known by several other names too. Nayaputta, Muni, Samana, Brahman and Bhagwan are some of them. Ancient Buddhist literature refers to Him as Araha and Veyavi (worthy – wise). Lord Mahavir is ‘Sramana’ – devoid of love and hate.
Lord Mahavir Swami Story
Lord Mahavira Swami was born on the 13th day of Chaitra (Shukla Paksha) in Kundangram, near Vaishali in present day Bihar. He was born in the royal family of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala of the Ikshvaku dynasty. The year was 599 BCE. It is stated in many Jain sects that Indradev came down from heaven, worshipped Lord Mahavira and performed Abhishek on Mount Meru. This event is depicted and followed in countless Jain temples across India. Mount Meru is the center of all cosmic spiritual energy and is also within the spinal column in the human body. Lord Mahavir’s parents – King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala were devotees of Lord Parshvanath, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara. They named their child Vardhaman.
Vardhaman grew up as all princes do, in royal luxury. There is disagreement among the Digambara and Svetambara sects whether He was married or not. Digambaras believe He refused marriage, but Svetambaras say Vardhamana married Yashoda. He also had a daughter named Priyadarshana. At the age of 30, Vardhamana woke up to His true calling in life. He renounced all worldly possessions, comfort and royal life to become an ascetic.
Severe Penance and Achievement of Kevala Jnana
His goal in life was very clear now. Lord Mahavira performed severe penance, meditation and austerities under a tree on the banks of a river. The hardships He suffered cannot be described. Details of these events are written about in sacred Jain texts such as Uttara Purana, Acharanga Sutra and Harivamsa Purana. After 12 years of such practise He achieved the pinnacle of spirituality – Kevala Jnana. It is said Lord Mahavira now was blessed with the most auspicious body known as Paramaudarika Sarira, a body free from the 18 imperfections. Lord Mahavira was now ready to begin His true mission in Life.
Travels across India and a Prodigious Following
The general consensus is that Lord Mahavira travelled across India after He achieved Kevala Jnana. Svetambaras believe Lord Mahavira visited a number of places, while Digambaras believe He remained in His Samavasarana and preached to His disciples and followers.
After achieving the highest spiritual position, Lord Mahavir first initiated 11 Brahmins as His disciples. They were known as the Eleven Ganadharas. This was followed by the initiation of 14,000 Sadhus and 36,000 Sadhvis (Ascetics) who would spread the teachings of Lord Mahavira. In addition there were 160,000 Sravakas (Male householder followers) and 318,000 Sravikas (Female householder followers). This was indeed a considerable following in those ancient days. Besides these Lord Mahavira had several kings, queens and other royals among His ardent followers. These included Bimbisara, Ajatshatru and Chetaka.
Lord Mahavira’s Teachings – The Five Vows
The essence of Lord Mahavira’s teachings are the five vows to be followed by ascetics and householders. Following and observing these five vows results in peace, a better rebirth and ultimately liberation from the cycle of birth and death (Moksha). These vows also result in a highly superior quality of life.
Ahimsa – Non violence or non injury. This is considered the foremost of the vows and must be followed in action, speech and thought.
Satya – Truth or truthfulness, internally and externally.
Asteya – Non Stealing or not taking anything wrongfully.
Brahmacharya – Abstinence from sensual pleasures for ascetics and faithfulness to one’s partner for householders.
Aparigraha – Non attachment to property, possessions, wealth etc. for householders. For ascetics – not owning anything (having no possessions).
The eleven Ganadharas had committed Lord Mahavira’s teachings to memory and conveyed His teachings verbally after Lord Mahavira’s Nirvana. These were later compiled and transcribed by Gautama Swami the leader of the eleven Ganadharas. They consisted of 12 chapters and came to be known as the Jain Agamas. About 300 years after Lord Mahavira’s Nirvana, Magadha kingdom experienced severe droughts and most of the Jain monks were displaced, forced to migrate to other places. The teachings of Lord Mahavir were gradually lost. Jain monks attempted to recreate the teachings in later years as per the original manuscripts but differences among scholars remained. In the 5th century CE an attempt was made to reconcile the differences but without success. Both sects – Svetambara and Digambara, stuck to their own viewpoints.
Lord Mahavira’s Nirvana
72 years after His birth, Lord Mahavira achieved Nirvana in the town of Pawapuri, in present day Bihar. At the same time His chief disciple Gautama Swamy achieved Kevala Jnana. Lord Mahavira’s Jal Mandir now stands in the place where He achieved Nirvana. Digambaras hold that Lord Mahavira delivered His last discourse which lasted six days. On the sixth day the crowd fell asleep during the discourse and when they awakened Lord Mahavira had disappeared, Only His hair and nails remained. These were cremated by His disciples.
Two Major Festivals
Two major festivals associated with Lord Mahavira are celebrated annually by Jains. The first is the Mahavir Janma Kalyanak. This festival is to celebrate the birth of Lord Mahavir as the 24th Tirthankara of Avasarpini (the present time cycle).
The second festival celebrates Lord Mahavira’s Nirvana. This comes on the same day as DIwali and is also the New Year for Jains.
A Bridge to cross over
Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankara was God’s own representative on Earth. A Tirthankara is someone who has conquered Samsara – the cycle of life and death. Tirthankaras show the way to others and provide the bridge to cross over. The sacred legacy of Lord Mahavira has uplifted millions and endures to this day.
Mahavir Jayanti Quotes/Wishes
“May Lord Mahavir bless you on Mahavir Jayanti, and always.”
” Live and let live. Happy Mahavir Jayanti !”
“Follow the path of non-violence
Take the holy pledge on this auspicious day of Mahavir Jayanti.”
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