Mahavira (/məˌhɑːˈvɪərə/; IAST: Bhagavān Mahāvīra), also
known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth
of Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that
born in the early part of the 6th century BC into a royal family
in what is now Bihar, India. At the age of thirty, abandoning all
worldly possessions, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual
awakening and became an ascetic. For the next twelve and a half years,
Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities, after
which he is believed to have attained
Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He
preached for thirty years, and is believed by Jains to have died in
the 6th century BC. Scholars such as Karl Potter consider his
biographical details as uncertain, with some suggesting he lived in
the 5th century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira
died at the age of 72 in
Pawapuri (now Bihar), and his remains were
cremated. According to the Jain tradition,
Mahavira had 14,000
muni (male ascetics), 36,000 aryika (nuns), 159,000 sravakas (laymen),
and 318,000 sravikas (laywomen) as his followers. Some of the royal
followers included Srenika (popularly known as Bimbisara) of Magadha,
Anga (Ajatashatru), and
Chetaka of Videha.
After he gained Kevala Jnana,
Mahavira taught that the observance of
the vows ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing),
brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (non-attachment) is necessary
for spiritual liberation.
Mahavira taught that the doctrine of
non-injury must cover all living beings, and causing injury to any
being in any form creates bad karma which affects one's rebirth and
future well-being and suffering. According to Mahatma Gandhi,
Mahāvīra was the greatest authority on Ahimsa. He gave the principle
Anekantavada (many-sided reality), Syadvada and Nayavada.
Mahavira taught that the soul is permanent and eternal with respect to
dravya (substance) and impermanent with respect to paryaya (modes that
originate and vanish). The teachings of
Mahavira were compiled by
Gautama Swami (his chief disciple) and were called Jain Agamas. These
texts were transmitted through oral tradition by Jain monks, but are
believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st century when
they were first written down. The surviving versions of the Agamas
Mahavira are some of the foundational texts of Jainism.
Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative
posture with the symbol of a lion beneath him. The earliest
Mahavira is from archaeological sites in the north
Indian city of Mathura. These are variously dated from the 1st century
BC to the 2nd century AD. The day he was born is celebrated as Mahavir
Janma-kalyanak (popularly known as Mahavir Jayanti), and the day of
his liberation is celebrated by Jains as Diwali. In 1973, which was
the 2,500th anniversary of the
Nirvana (or Moksha) of Mahavira, monks
of the various sects of
Jainism assembled to resolve their differences
and arrive at some commons points of agreement about the history and
1 Titles and names
2 Historical Mahavira
3 Biography per Jain traditions
3.2 Early life
3.6 Nirvāṇa, death
3.7 Previous births
4.1 Jain Agamas
4.2 Five vows
4.6 Rebirth and realms of existence
5.1 Ascetic lineage
6 See also
9 External links
Titles and names
The early Jain and
Buddhist literature that has survived into the
modern era uses other names or epithets for Mahavira. These include
Nayaputta, Muni, Samana, Niggantha, Brahman, and Bhagavan. In early
Buddhist Suttas, he is also referred to by the names Araha (meaning
"worthy"), and Veyavi (derived from the word "Vedas", but contextually
it means "wise" because
Mahavira did not recognize the
Vedas as a
Buddhist texts refer to
Mahavira as Nigaṇṭha
Jñātaputta. Nigaṇṭha means "without knot, tie, or string"
and Jñātaputta (son or scion of Natas), refers to his clan of origin
as Jñāta or Naya (Prakrit). The Jain text Kalpasutras
states that he is also known as
Sramana because he is "devoid of love
According to later Jain texts, Mahavira's childhood name was
Vardhamāna ("the one who grows"), because of the increased prosperity
in the kingdom at the time of his birth. According to the
Kalpasutras, he was called
Mahavira ("the great hero") by the gods
because he stood steadfast in the midst of dangers and fears,
hardships and calamities.
Mahavira is also called a
Though it is universally accepted by scholars of
Jainism that Mahavira
was an actual person who lived in ancient India, the details of his
biography and the year of his birth are uncertain, and continue to
be a subject of considerable debate among scholars. Digambara
text, Uttarapurāna mention that
Mahavira was born at Kundpur kingdom
of Videh. and
Svetambara text, Kalpasūtra use the name
Kundagrama. It is said to be located in present-day Bihar,
India. This is assumed to be the modern town of Basu Kund, which is
about 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Patna, the capital of
Bihar. However, it is unclear if the ancient Kundagrama is the
same as the current assumed location, and the birthplace remains a
subject of dispute.
Mahavira renounced all his material
wealth and left his home when he was twenty-eight by some
accounts, or thirty by others, then lived an ascetic life and
performed severe austerities for twelve years, and thereafter preached
Jainism for a period of thirty years. The location where he
preached has been a subject of historic disagreement between the two
major sub-traditions of Jainism – the Svetambaras and the
Śvētāmbara tradition believes he was born in 599 BC
and died in 527 BC, while the
Digambara tradition believes
510 BC was the year he died. The scholarly controversy
arises from efforts to date him and the Buddha, because both are
believed to be contemporaries according to
Buddhist and Jain texts,
and because, unlike for Jain literature, there is extensive ancient
Buddhist literature that has survived. Almost all Indologists and
historians, state Dundas and others, accordingly date Mahavira's birth
to about 497 BC and his death to about 425 BC.
However, the Vira era tradition that started in 527 BC and places
Mahavira in the 6th century BC is a firmly established part of
Jain community tradition.
The 12th-century Jain scholar
Mahavira in the
5th century BC. According to Kailash Jain, Hemachandra
made an incorrect analysis that, along with attempts to establish
Buddha's nirvana date, has been a source of confusion and controversy
about Mahavira's year of nirvana. Kailash Jain states the
traditional date of 527 BC is accurate, adding that the Buddha
was a junior contemporary of the
Mahavira and that the
have attained nirvana a few years later". The place of his death,
Pavapuri (now in Bihar), is a pilgrimage site for Jains.
Biography per Jain traditions
See also: Panch Kalyanaka
According to Jain texts, 24 Tirthankaras have appeared on earth in the
current time cycle of Jain cosmology.
Mahavira was the last
Avasarpiṇī (present descending phase or half of the
time cycle).[note 1] A
Tirthankara (Maker of the River-Crossing,
saviour, spiritual teacher) signifies the founder of a tirtha, which
means a fordable passage across the sea of interminable cycles of
births and deaths (called saṃsāra).
See also: Mahavir Jayanti
The Birth of Mahavira, from the Kalpa Sutra, c. 1375–1400
Belonging to Kashyapa gotra,
Mahavira was born into the royal
Kshatriya family of King Siddhartha and Queen
Trishala of the Ikshvaku
dynasty.[note 2] This is the same solar dynasty in which Hindu
Rama and the Ramayana, and in which the
place the Buddha, and the Jains attribute another twenty-one of
their twenty-four Tirthankaras over millions of years.
According to the
Mahavira was born in
582 BC. According to the
Svetambara Jain texts, he was born
in 599 BC. Mahavira's birthday, in the traditional calendar,
falls on the thirteenth day of the rising moon in the month of Chaitra
Vira Nirvana Samvat
Vira Nirvana Samvat calendar. In the Gregorian
calendar, this date falls in March or April and is celebrated by Jains
as Mahavir Jayanti.
Kundagrama, the site of Mahavira’s birth is believed by tradition to
be near Vaishali, a great ancient town in the Gangetic plains. The
identity of this place in the modern geography of
Bihar is unclear, in
part because people migrated out of ancient
Bihar for economic and
political reasons. Dundas states that, according to the "Universal
History" in Jain mythology,
Mahavira had undergone many rebirths
before his birth in the 6th century. These rebirths included
being a hell-being, a lion, and a god (deva) in a heavenly realm in
Jain cosmology just before his last birth as the 24th fordmaker.
According to the texts of
Svetambara sect, his embryo was first formed
Brahman woman, but his embryo was then transferred by the divine
commander of Indra's army, Hari-Naigamesin, to the womb of Trishala,
the wife of Siddhartha.[note 3] The embryo transfer legend is
not accepted by the adherents of the
Jain texts state that, after
Mahavira was born, the god
from the heavens, anointed him, and performed his abhisheka
(consecration) on Mount Meru. These events are illustrated in the
artwork of numerous Jain temples and play a part in modern Jain temple
rituals. The Kalpa sutras describing Mahavira's birth legends are
recited by the
Svetambara Jains during annual festivals such as
Paryushana, but the same festival is observed by the Digambaras
without the recitation.
Mahavira grew up as a prince. According to the second chapter of the
Śvētāmbara text Acharanga Sutra, both of his parents were followers
and lay devotees of Parshvanatha. Jain traditions do not agree
Mahavira ever married. According to the Digambara
tradition, Mahavira's parents wanted him to marry Yashoda but Mahavira
refused to marry.[note 4] According to the Śvētāmbara
tradition, he was married to Yashoda at a young age and had one
daughter, Priyadarshana, also called Anojja.
Jain texts portray
Mahavira as a very tall man, with his height stated
to be seven cubits (10.5 feet) in Aupapatika Sutra. In Jain
mythology, he was the shortest of the 24 Tirthankaras, with earlier
teachers believed to have been much taller, with the 22nd Tirthankara
Aristanemi, who lived for 1,000 years, stated to have been forty
cubits tall (60 feet).
See also: Jain monasticism
At the age of thirty,
Mahavira abandoned the comforts of royal life
and left his home and family to live an ascetic life in the pursuit of
spiritual awakening. He undertook severe austerities of
fasting and bodily mortifications, meditated under the Ashoka
tree, and discarded his clothes. There is a graphic
description of his hardships and humiliation in the Acharanga
Sutra. According to the Kalpa Sūtra,
Mahavira spent the first
forty-two monsoons of his life at Astikagrama, Champapuri,
Prstichampa, Vaishali, Vanijagrama, Nalanda, Mithila, Bhadrika,
Alabhika, Panitabhumi, Shravasti, and Pawapuri. He is said to have
Rajagriha during the rainy season of the forty-first year of
his ascetic life. This is traditionally dated to have been in
Kevala Jnana and Samavasarana
The āsana in which
Mahavira attained omniscience.
After twelve years of rigorous penance, at the age of forty-three
Mahavira achieved the state of
Kevala Jnana (omniscience or infinite
knowledge) under a Sāla tree, according to traditional
accounts. The details of this event are mentioned in Jain
texts such as Uttar-purāņa and Harivamśa-purāņa. The
Acharanga Sutra describes
Mahavira as all-seeing. The Sutrakritanga
elaborates the concept as all-knowing and provides details of other
qualities of Mahavira. Jains believe that
Mahavira had the most
auspicious body (paramaudārika śarīra) and was free from eighteen
imperfections when he attained omniscience. The Śvētāmbara
Mahavira traveled throughout
India to teach his
philosophy for thirty years after gaining omniscience. The
Digambara, however, claim that after attaining omniscience, he sat
fixed in his Samavasarana, giving sermons to his followers.
The Jain texts state that Mahavira's first disciples were eleven
Brahmins who are traditionally called the eleven Ganadharas.
Gautama was their chief. Others were Agnibhuti, Vayubhuti,
Akampita, Arya Vyakta, Sudharman, Manditaputra, Mauryaputra,
Acalabhraataa, Metraya, and Prabhasa. Mahavira's disciples are said to
be led by Gautama after him, who later is said to have made Sudharman
his successor. These eleven Brahmin–Ganadharas, as the early
followers, were responsible for remembering and verbally transmitting
the teachings of the
Mahavira after his death, which came to be known
as Gani-Pidaga or Jain Agamas.
According to the Jain tradition,
Mahavira had 14,000 muni (male
ascetics), 36,000 aryika (nuns), 159,000 sravakas (laymen), and
318,000 sravikas (laywomen) as his followers. Some of the
royal followers included King Srenika (popularly known as Bimbisara)
of Magadha, Kunika of Anga, and
Chetaka of Videha. Mahavira
initiated the mendicants with the Mahavratas (Five vows). He
delivered fifty-five pravachana and answered thirty-six unasked
Jal Mandir marking Mahavira's nirvana at Pawapuri
Mahavira attained omniscience at the age of 42, under a
Sala tree on the banks of River Rijupalika near Jrimbhikagrama. He
preached, then died at the age of 72. The Jain
believes his death occurred in 527 BC, while the
tradition believes this happened in 510 BC. His jiva (soul) is
believed in all Jain traditions to be in
Siddhashila (abode of the
According to Jain texts, Mahavira's nirvana[note 5] (death) occurred
in the town of
Pawapuri (Bihar). His life as a spiritual
light and the night of his nirvana is remembered by Jains as
the same night that Hindus celebrate their festival of lights.
On the night that
Mahavira died, his chief disciple Gautama is said to
have attained omniscience.
The accounts of Mahavira's death vary among the Jain texts, some
describing a simple death but others describing grandiose celebrations
attended by gods and kings. According to the Jinasena's Mahapurana,
the heavenly beings arrived to perform his funeral rites. According to
the Pravachanasara, only the nails and hair of Tirthankaras are left
behind; the rest of the body is dissolved in the air like camphor.
In some texts he is described, at age 72, to be giving his final
preaching over six days to a large crowd of people. Everyone falls
asleep, only to awaken to find that he has disappeared, leaving only
his nails and hair, which his followers cremate.
Jain temple called
Jal Mandir stands at the place of
Mahavira's nirvana (moksha). Jain artwork in temples and texts
depicts the final liberation and cremation of Mahavira, sometimes
symbolically shown as a miniature pyre of sandalwood and a piece of
Mahavira's previous births are discussed in Jain texts such as the
Mahapurana and Tri-shashti-shalaka-purusha-charitra. While a soul
undergoes countless reincarnations in the transmigratory cycle of
saṃsāra (world), the births of a
Tirthankara are reckoned from the
time he determined the causes of karma and developed the Ratnatraya.
Jain texts discuss 26 births of
Mahavira before his incarnation as a
Tirthankara. According to the texts,
Mahavira was born as Marichi,
the son of Bharata Chakravartin, in one of his previous births.
Folio from Kalpa Sūtra, 15th century
Yativṛṣabha discusses almost all of the
events connected with the life of
Mahavira in a form convenient to
Acharya Jinasena's Mahapurāṇa include
Ādi purāṇa and
Uttara-purāṇa. It was completed by his disciple Acharya Gunabhadra
in the 8th century. In the Uttara-purāṇa the life of Mahavira
is described in three parvans (74–76) in 1,818 verses.
Vardhamacharitra is a
Sanskrit kāvya (poem) describing the life of
Mahavira written by
Asaga in 853.
Kalpa Sūtra is a collection of biographies of the Jain Tirthankaras,
Parshvanatha and Mahavira.
Samavayanga Sutra is a collection of texts containing Lord
Acharanga Sutra describes the penance of Mahavira.
Main article: Jain philosophy
Colonial-era Indologists, considered
Jainism and Mahavira's followers
to be a sect of Buddhism because of the superficial similarities in
their iconography, meditative and ascetic practices. However, as
studies and understanding progressed, the differences between the
teachings of the
Mahavira and the
Buddha were found to be so markedly
divergent that the two gained recognition as separate religions.
Mahavira, states Moriz Winternitz, taught a "very elaborate belief in
the soul" unlike the Buddhists who denied it[clarification needed],
the ascetic practices in his teachings have been of a higher order of
magnitude than those found in either Buddhism or Hinduism, and his
Ahimsa (non-violence) against all life forms is far
greater than in all other Indian religions.
Main article: Jain Agamas
See also: Jain councils
Mahavira's teachings were compiled by his
Ganadhara (chief disciple),
Gautama Swami. The sacred canonical scriptures comprised twelve
parts. The Mahavira's teachings were gradually lost after around
300 BC, according to the Jain tradition, when a severe famine in
Magadha region of ancient
India caused a scattering of the Jain
monks. Thereafter, attempts were made by Jain monks to gather again,
co-recite the canon, and re-establish it in its entirety. These
efforts identified differences between recitations of the Mahavira's
teachings, and an attempt was made in the 5th century AD to
reconcile the differences. However, the reconciliation efforts
Digambara Jain traditions continuing with
their own incomplete, somewhat different versions of the Mahavira's
teachings. In the early centuries of the common era, Jain texts
containing Mahavira's teachings were written down in palm leaf
manuscripts. According to the Digambaras, Āchārya
the last ascetic who had partial knowledge of the original canon.
Later, some learned Āchāryas restored, compiled, and wrote down the
Mahavira that were the subject matter of the Agamas.
Āchārya Dharasena, in the 1st century CE, guided Āchārya
Pushpadant and Āchārya
Bhutabali as they wrote down these teachings.
The two Āchāryas wrote on palm leaves,
Ṣaṭkhaṅḍāgama – among the oldest known
Main article: Ethics of Jainism
Jain emblem and the "five vows"
Jain Agamas prescribe five major vratas (vows) that both ascetics and
householders have to follow. These ethical principles were
preached by Mahavira:
Ahimsa (Non-violence or Non-injury).
Mahavira taught that every living
being has sanctity and dignity of its own and it should be respected
just as one expects one's own sanctity and dignity to be respected.
Ahimsa is formalised into Jain doctrine as the first and foremost vow.
The concept applies to action, speech, and thought.
Satya (Truthfulness) – Neither lie, nor speak what is not true,
do not encourage others or approve anyone who speaks the untruth.
Asteya (Non-stealing) – Theft is explained as "taking anything
that has not been given".
Brahmacharya (Chastity) – Abstinence from sex and sensual
pleasures for Jain monks, faithfulness to one's partner for Jain
Aparigraha (Non-attachment) – For laypersons, the attitude of
non-attachment to property or worldly possessions; for mendicants, not
The goal of these principles is to achieve spiritual peace, better
rebirth, or, ultimately, liberation. According to
Chakravarthi, these teachings help elevate a person's quality of
life. In contrast, states Dundas, the emphasis of
non-violence and restraint has been interpreted by some Jain scholars
to "not be driven by merit from giving or compassion to other
creatures, nor a duty to rescue all creatures", but resulting from
"continual self discipline", a cleansing of the soul that leads to
one's own spiritual development and ultimately brings about spiritual
Of these precepts,
Mahavira is most remembered in the Indian
traditions for his teachings of ahimsa (non-injury) as the supreme
ethical and moral virtue.
Mahavira taught that the doctrine
of non-injury must cover all living beings, and causing injury to
any being in any form creates bad karma which affects one's rebirth
and future well-being and suffering. According to Mahatma Gandhi,
Mahāvīra was the greatest authority on Ahimsa.
Main article: Jīva (Jainism)
Mahavira taught that the soul exists, a premise that
with Hinduism but not Buddhism. According to Buddhism, there is no
soul or self, and its teachings are based on the concept of
anatta. In contrast,
Mahavira taught that the soul is
permanent and eternal with respect to dravya (substance).
Mahavira additionally taught that the soul is also impermanent with
respect to paryaya (modes that originate and vanish).
To Mahavira, the metaphysical nature of the universe consists of
dravya, jiva, and ajiva. The jiva gets attached and bound to
samsara (wordly realms of suffering and existence) because of karma
(activity). Karma, in Jainism, includes both actions and intent,
and it colors (lesya) the soul; its particles stick to the soul and
affect how, where, and what the soul is instantaneously reborn into
after a being dies.
There is no creator God, according to Mahavira's teachings, and
existence has neither beginning nor end. However, there are gods and
demons in Jain beliefs, whose jivas are a part of the same cycles of
births and deaths depending on the accumulated karmic particles.
The goal of spiritual practice is to liberate the jiva from all karmic
accumulation, and thus enter the realm of the siddhas who are never
reborn again. Enlightenment, to Mahavira, is the consequence of a
process of self-cultivation and self-restraint.
Main article: Anekantavada
Mahavira taught the doctrine of "many-sided reality". This doctrine is
now known as
Anekantavada or Anekantatva. This term does not
appear in the earliest layer of
Jain literature or the Jain Agamas,
but the doctrine is illustrated in the answers of
questions his followers asked. According to Mahavira, truth and
reality are complex and always have multiple aspects. Reality can be
experienced, but it is not possible to express it completely with
language. Human attempts to communicate are Naya, or a "partial
expression of the truth". Language is not Truth, but a means and
attempt to express Truth. From Truth, according to Mahavira, language
returns and not the other way around. One can experience the
truth of a taste, but cannot fully express that taste through
language. Any attempt to express the experience is syāt, or valid "in
some respect" but still remaining a "perhaps, just one perspective,
incomplete". In the same way, spiritual truths are complex, with
multiple aspects, and language cannot express their plurality, yet
through effort and appropriate karma they can be experienced.
Anekantavada premises of
Mahavira are also summarized in Buddhist
texts such as the Samaññaphala Sutta, wherein he is called Nigantha
Nataputta.[note 6] The
Anekantavada doctrine is another key difference
between the teachings of the
Mahavira and those of the Buddha. The
Buddha taught the Middle Way, rejecting, in answer to questions,
extremes of the answer "it is" or "it is not". The Mahavira, in
contrast, accepted both "it is" and "it is not", with the
qualification of "perhaps" and with reconciliation.
Jain Agamas suggest that Mahavira's approach to answering all
metaphysical philosophical questions was a "qualified yes" (syāt). A
version of this doctrine is also found in the
Ajivika tradition of
ancient Indian philosophies.
In contemporary times, according to Dundas, the
has been interpreted by many Jains as intending to "promote a
universal religious tolerance", and a teaching of "plurality" and
"benign attitude to other [ethical, religious] positions", but this is
problematic and a misreading of Jain historical texts and Mahavira's
teachings. The "many pointedness, multiple perspective" teachings
Mahavira is a doctrine about the nature of reality and human
existence, and it was not a doctrine about tolerating religious
positions such as on sacrificing or killing animals for food, violence
against disbelievers or any other living being as "perhaps
right". The five vows for Jain monks and nuns, for example, are
strict requirements, and there is no "perhaps". Beyond the
renunciant Jain communities, while Mahavira's
Jainism co-existed with
Buddhism and Hinduism through history, according to Dundas, each were
also "highly critical of the knowledge systems and ideologies of their
One of the historically contentious views within
Jainism is in part
Mahavira and his ascetic life where he never wore any
clothes as a mark of disowning everything (interpreted as a
consequence of the fifth vow of Aparigraha). The disputes triggered by
this teaching of
Mahavira are those related to gender and whether a
female mendicant (sadhvi) can achieve spiritual liberation just like a
male mendicant (sadhu) through Jain ascetic practices.
The main sub-traditions of
Jainism have historically disagreed, with
Digambaras (sky-clad, naked mendicant order) stating that a woman is
by her nature and her body unable to practice asceticism, such as by
living naked, and therefore she cannot achieve spiritual liberation
because of her gender. She can at best, state the
live an ethical life so that she is reborn as a man in a future
life.[note 7] In this view, she is also viewed a threat to a monk's
chastity. In contrast, Svetambaras (white-clad, wear clothes)
have interpreted Mahavira's teaching as encouraging both males and
females to pursue a mendicant ascetic life with the possibility of
moksha (kaivalya, spiritual liberation) regardless of
Rebirth and realms of existence
Rebirth and realms of existence are foundational teachings of
Mahavira. According to the Acaranga Sutra,
Mahavira comprehended life
to exist in myriad forms, such as animals, plants, insects, water
bodies, fire bodies, wind bodies, elemental forms, and
others. He taught that a monk should avoid touching or
disturbing any one of them including plants, never swim in water, nor
light a fire or extinguish it, nor thrash their arms in the air as
such actions can torment or hurt other beings that live in those
states of matter.
Mahavira preached that the nature of existence is cyclic, where the
jiva (soul) of beings is reborn after death in one of the
triloka – heavenly, hellish, or earthly realms of existence and
suffering. According to Mahavira, human beings are reborn,
depending on one's karma (actions) as a human, animal, element,
microbe, and other forms, on earth or in a heavenly or hellish state
of existence. Nothing is permanent, everyone, including
gods, demons and beings on the earthly realms, die and are reborn
again based on their karma merits and demerits. It is the Jina who
Kevala Jnana who are not reborn again, and attain
the Siddhaloka or the "Realm of the Perfected Ones".
Mahavira has been mistakenly called the founder of Jainism. Jains
believe that there were 23 teachers before the Mahavira, and they
Jainism was founded in far more ancient times than that
of the Mahavira, whom they revere as the 24th Tirthankara. The
first 22 Tirthankaras are placed in mythical times. For example, the
Arishtanemi is believed in the Jain tradition to have
been born 84,000 years before the 23rd
Mahavira is sometimes placed within Parshvanatha
lineage, but this is contradicted by all Jain texts, which state that
Mahavira renounced the world alone.
Jain texts suggest that Mahavira's parents were lay devotees and
followers of Parshvanatha. However, the lack of details and mythical
nature of the legends about Parshvanatha, combined with
Svetambara texts portraying Parsvites as
"pseudo-ascetics" with "dubious practices of magic and astrology" have
led scholars to debate the evidence for Parshvanatha's
historicity. Regardless of scholarly speculations, according to
Dundas Jains believe that
Parshvanatha lineage influenced Mahavira.
Parshvanatha, as the one who "removes obstacles and has the capacity
to save", has been a highly popular icon and his image the greatest
focus of Jain devotional activity in temples. Of the 24
Tirthankaras, the Jain iconography has celebrated
Parshvanatha the most since the earliest times, with sculptures
discovered at the
Mathura archaeological site that have been dated to
the 1st century BCE by modern dating methods.
According to Moriz Winternitz,
Mahavira may be considered as a
reformer of a pre-existing sect of Jains called Niganthas
(fetter-less) that is mentioned in early
The two major annual festivals in
Jainism associated with
Mahavir-Jayanti and Diwali. During
Mahavir Jayanti , Jains celebrate
the birth of Mahavira, 24th and last
Tirthankara (Teaching God) of
Avasarpiṇī. In Mahavir Jayanti, the five auspicious events
(Kalyaans) of Mahavira's life are re-enacted.
Diwali marks the
Nirvana or the liberation of Mahavira's soul, the last
Tirthankara of the present cosmic age. It is celebrated at the
same time as the Hindu festival of Diwali.
Diwali marks the New Year
for Jains and commemorates the passing of their 24th Tirthankara
Mahavira and his achievement of moksha.
Mahavira adoration in a manuscript, c. 1825 CE
The Svayambhustotra by Acharya Samantabhadra is the adoration of
twenty-four Tirthankaras. Its eight shlokas (aphorisms) express
adoration of the qualities of Mahavira. One such shloka is:
O Lord Jina! Your doctrine that expounds essential attributes required
of a potential aspirant to cross over the ocean of worldly existence
(Saṃsāra) reigns supreme even in this strife-ridden spoke of time
(Pancham Kaal). Accomplished sages who have invalidated the so-called
deities that are famous in the world, and have made ineffective the
whip of all blemishes, adore your doctrine.
The Yuktyanusasana by Acharya Samantabhadra is a poetic work
consisting of 64 verses in praise of Mahavira.
Mahavira's teachings influenced many personalities. Rabindranath
Mahavira proclaimed in
India that religion is a reality and not a mere
social convention. It is really true that salvation can not be had by
merely observing external ceremonies. Religion cannot make any
difference between man and man.
— Rabindranath Tagore
Mahavira iconography is recognized by the lion stamped or carved
below his feet. On his chest is a
Shrivatsa mark, found on other Jinas
A major event associated with the 2,500th anniversary of the Nirvana
Mahavira took place in 1974. According to Padmanabh Jaini:
Probably few people in the West are aware that during this Anniversary
year for the first time in their long history, the mendicants of the
Sthānakavāsī sects assembled on the
same platform, agreed upon a common flag (Jaina dhvaja) and emblem
(pratīka); and resolved to bring about the unity of the community.
For the duration of the year four dharma cakras, a wheel mounted on a
chariot as an ancient symbol of the samavasaraṇa (Holy Assembly) of
Mahavira traversed to all the major cities of India,
winning legal sanctions from various state governments against the
slaughter of animals for sacrifice or other religious purposes, a
campaign which has been a major preoccupation of the Jainas throughout
— Padmanabh Jaini
Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative
posture with the symbol of a lion beneath him. Every Tīrthankara
has a distinguishing emblem that allows worshippers to distinguish
similar-looking idols of the Tirthankaras. The lion emblem of
Mahavira is usually carved below the legs of the Tirthankara. Like all
Mahavira is depicted with Shrivatsa[note 8] and downcast
The earliest iconography for
Mahavira is from archaeological sites in
the north Indian city of Mathura. These are variously dated from the
1st century BC to the 2nd century AD. The use of
the srivatsa mark on Mahavira's chest, along with his dhyana-mudra
posture, appears in Kushana Empire-era artwork. The differences in the
Mahavira artwork between the
appear in the late 5th century AD and thereafter. According
to John Cort, the earliest archaeological evidence of Jina iconography
with inscriptions precedes its datable texts by more than 250
Many images of
Mahavira have been dated to be from the 12th-century
and earlier. An ancient sculpture of
Mahavira was found in a cave
at Sundarajapuram, Theni district, Tamil Nadu. K. Ajithadoss, a
Jain scholar based in Chennai, dated the sculpture to the
9th century AD.
Rock cut sculpture depicting
Mahavira at Samanar Hills, Madurai, Tamil
The tallest known image of Lord
Mahavira (in seated position)
Four-sided sculpture depicting
Mahavira (found during excavation at
Kankali Tila, Mathura)
Rishabhanatha (left) and
Mahavira (right), 11th century.
Temple relief of Mahavira, 14th century. Seattle Asian Art Museum.
Mahavira (Thirakoil, Tamil Nadu)
16-foot 2-inch-high single stone statue of
Mahavira at Ahinsa Sthal,
Mehrauli, New Delhi
Mahavira Statue in Cave 32 of Ellora Caves
According to John Cort, the
Mahavira temple at Osian, Jodhpur,
Rajasthan, is the oldest
Jain temple surviving in western India. It
was constructed in the late 8th century AD. Other temples of
Jal Mandir, Pawapuri
Shri Mahavirji, Karauli, Rajasthan
Muchhal Mahavir Temple, Rajasthan
Lakkundi Jain Temple
Lakkundi Jain Temple in Lakkundi
Rata Mahaveerji, Bijapur, Rajasthan
Bhandavapur Jain Tirth
Shri Dharmachakra Prabhav Tirth, Gajpanth
Meguti Jain Temple
Lakkundi Jain Temple
Osian Jain temple
Gaon mandir, Pawapuri
Daman Jain Temple
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mahavira.
God in Jainism
History of Jainism
Mahavira: The Hero of Nonviolence
Timeline of Jainism
^ Heinrich Zimmer: "The cycle of time continually revolves, according
to the Jainas. The present "descending" (avasarpini) period was
preceded and will be followed by an "ascending" (utsarpini). Sarpini
suggests the creeping movement of a "serpent" ('sarpin'); ava- means
"down" and ut- means up."
Trishala was the sister of King
Chetaka of Vaishali in ancient
^ This mythology has similarities with those found in the mythical
texts of the
Vaishnavism tradition of Hinduism.
^ On this
Champat Rai Jain
Champat Rai Jain wrote: ""Of the two versions of Mahavira's
life — the Swetambara and the Digambara— it is obvious that only
one can be true: either
Mahavira married, or he did not marry. If
Mahavira married, why should the Digambaras deny it? There is
absolutely no reason for such a denial. The Digambaras acknowledge
that nineteen out of the twenty-four Tirthamkaras married and had
Mahavira also married it would make no difference. There
is thus no reason whatsoever for the Digambaras to deny a simple
incident like this. But there may be a reason for the Swetambaras
making the assertion; the desire to ante-date their own origin. As a
matter of fact their own books contain clear refutation of the
Mahavira had married. In the Samavayanga Sutra
(Hyderabad edition) it is definitely stated that nineteen Tirthankaras
lived as householders, that is, all the twenty-four excepting Shri
Mahavira, Parashva, Nemi, Mallinath and Vaspujya."
^ Not to be confused with Kevalajnana (omniscience), which he achieved
at age 42.
^ Samaññaphala Sutta, D i.47: "Nigantha Nataputta answered with
fourfold restraint. Just as if a person, when asked about a mango,
were to answer with a breadfruit; or, when asked about a breadfruit,
were to answer with a mango: In the same way, when asked about a fruit
of the contemplative life, visible here and now, Nigantha Nataputta
answered with fourfold restraint. The thought occurred to me: 'How can
anyone like me think of disparaging a brahman or contemplative living
in his realm?' Yet I [Buddha] neither delighted in Nigantha
Nataputta's words nor did I protest against them. Neither delighting
nor protesting, I was dissatisfied. Without expressing
dissatisfaction, without accepting his teaching, without adopting it,
I got up from my seat and left."
^ According to Melton and Baumann, the Digambaras state that "women's
physical and emotional character makes it impossible for them to
genuinely engage in the intense [ascetic] path necessary for spiritual
purification. (...) Only by being reborn as a man can a woman engage
in the ascetic path. Later
Digambara secondary arguments appealed to
human physiology in order to exclude women from the path: by their
very biological basis, women constantly generate and destroy (and
therefore harm) life forms within their sexual organs. Svetambara
oppose this view by appealing to scriptures."
^ A special symbol that marks the chest of a Tirthankara. The yoga
pose is very common in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Each tradition
has had a distinctive auspicious chest mark that allows devotees to
identify a meditating statue to symbolic icon for their theology.
There are several srivasta found in ancient and medieval Jain art
works, and these are not found on
Buddhist or Hindu art
^ Tandon 2002, p. 45.
^ a b c d e f g h i j Dundas 2002, p. 24.
^ a b c d Taliaferro & Marty 2010, p. 126.
^ a b c Potter 2007, pp. 35–36.
^ a b c Dundas 2002, p. 22.
^ Sharma & Sharma 2004, p. 39.
^ Sharma & Khanna 2013, p. 18.
^ a b c d e f Dundas 2002, p. 25.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 25–26.
^ a b c Winternitz 1993, p. 408.
^ a b Zimmer 1953, p. 223.
^ von Dehsen 2013, p. 29.
^ Kailash Chand Jain 1991, p. 31.
^ a b c Heehs 2002, p. 93.
^ a b Kailash Chand Jain 1991, p. 32.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 24–25.
^ Pannalal Jain 2015, p. 460.
^ Doniger 1999, p. 682.
^ a b c d von Glasenapp 1925, p. 29.
^ Chaudhary, Pranava K (14 October 2003), "Row over Mahavira's
birthplace", The Times of India, Patna
^ a b c d e Doniger 1999, p. 549.
^ Umakant P. Shah 1987, p. 3.
^ Rapson 1955, pp. 155–156.
^ Cort 2010, pp. 69–70, 587–588.
^ Kailash Chand Jain 1991, pp. 74–85.
^ Kailash Chand Jain 1991, pp. 84–88.
^ a b c Zimmer 1953, p. 224.
^ Jain & Upadhye 2000, p. 54.
^ Zimmer 1953, p. 181.
Upinder Singh 2016, pp. 312–313.
^ Britannica Tirthankar Definition, Encyclopaedia Britannica
^ Sunavala 1934, p. 52.
^ George M. Williams 2008, pp. 52, 71.
^ Evola 1996, p. 15.
^ Zimmer 1953, pp. 220–226.
^ von Glasenapp 1925, pp. 15–17.
^ a b c Wiley 2009, p. 6.
^ Dowling & Scarlett 2006, p. 225.
Upinder Singh 2016, p. 313.
^ a b Gupta & Gupta 2006, p. 1001.
^ a b c d Dundas 2002, p. 21.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 21, 26.
^ Mills, Claus & Diamond 2003, p. 320, note:
referred to as Sakra in some Indian texts..
^ Olivelle 2006, pp. 397 footnote 4.
^ Mills, Claus & Diamond 2003, p. 320.
^ Jain & Fischer 1978, pp. 5–9.
^ Dalal 2010, p. 284.
^ Dundas 2002, p. 30.
^ Umakant P. Shah 1987, p. 99, Quote: "According to the Digambara
Mahavira did not marry, while the Svetambaras hold a contrary
^ Shanti Lal Jain 1998, p. 51.
Champat Rai Jain
Champat Rai Jain 1939, p. 97.
^ Umakant P. Shah 1987, p. 188.
^ Umakant P. Shah 1987, p. 95.
^ von Glasenapp 1925, p. 16.
^ a b c d e f g George 2008, p. 319.
^ Jacobi 1964, p. 269.
^ a b Wiley 2009, pp. 5–7.
^ von Glasenapp 1925, p. 30.
^ Sen 1999, p. 74.
^ Dundas 2002, p. 27.
^ a b c von Glasenapp 1925, p. 327.
^ Kailash Chand Jain 1991, p. 79.
^ Jain & Upadhye 2000, p. 30.
^ von Glasenapp 1925, p. 30, 327.
^ Jain & Upadhye 2000, p. 31.
^ Vijay K. Jain 2016b, p. 5.
^ a b
Upinder Singh 2016, p. 314.
^ a b Wiley 2009, pp. 6–8, 26.
^ George 2008, p. 326.
^ Heehs 2002, p. 90.
^ a b von Glasenapp 1925, p. 39.
^ a b c Caillat & Balbir 2008, p. 88.
^ von Glasenapp 1925, pp. 30–31.
^ a b Doniger 1999, p. 549-550.
^ von Glasenapp 1925, pp. 29–31, 205–206, Quote: "At the end
of almost thirty years of preaching, he died in the chancellory of
King Hastipala of Pavapuri and attained Nirvana.".
^ Zimmer 1953, p. 222.
^ Dundas 2002, p. 22-24.
^ a b Melton & Baumann 2010, p. 897.
Pramansagar 2008, p. 38–39.
^ von Glasenapp 1925, p. 328.
^ "Destinations : Pawapuri".
Bihar State Tourism Development
^ Jain & Fischer 1978, pp. 14, 29–30.
^ Jain & Upadhye 2000, p. 45.
^ Jain & Upadhye 2000, p. 46.
^ Kailash Chand Jain 1991, p. 59.
^ Dundas 2002, p. 19.
^ Jain & Upadhye 2000, p. 47.
^ a b Winternitz 1993, pp. 408–409.
^ Cort 2010, p. 225.
^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. xi.
^ a b Wiley 2009, pp. 6–8.
^ Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. xii.
^ Sangave 2006, p. 67.
^ Shah, Umakant Premanand,
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^ Long 2009, p. 101–102.
^ Long 2009, p. 109.
^ Cort 2001, pp. 26–27.
^ Appleton 2014, pp. 20–45.
^ Adams 2011, p. 22.
^ Chakravarthi 2003, p. 3–22.
^ a b Dundas 2002, pp. 88–89, 257–258.
^ Jain & Jain 2002, p. 13.
^ Titze 1998, p. 4.
^ a b c d e Taylor 2008, pp. 892–894.
^ Pandey 1998, p. 50.
^ a b Nanda 1997, p. 44.
^ a b Great Men's view on Jainism,
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Anatta in Buddhism, the
doctrine that there is in humans no permanent, underlying soul. The
concept of anatta, or anatman, is a departure from the Hindu belief in
atman (“the self”).
^ Collins 1994, p. 64.
^ Nagel 2000, p. 33.
^ a b Charitrapragya 2004, pp. 75–76.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 99–103.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 90–99.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 91–92, 104–105.
^ a b c d e Charitrapragya 2004, pp. 75–79.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 229–231.
^ a b Jain philosophy, IEP, Mark Owen Webb, Texas Tech University
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^ Matilal 1998, pp. 128–135.
^ Matilal 1990, pp. 301–305.
^ Balcerowicz 2015, pp. 205–218.
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^ Long 2009, pp. 98–106.
^ Dundas 2002, p. 233.
^ Long 2009, pp. 36–37.
^ a b Harvey 2014, pp. 182–183.
^ Melton & Baumann 2010, p. 1396.
^ a b Arvind Sharma 1994, pp. 135–138.
^ Dundas 2002, pp. 55–59.
^ Chapelle 2011, pp. 263–270.
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^ Vijay K. Jain 2015, p. 164–169.
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^ Umakant P. Shah 1987, p. 193.
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Quotations related to
Mahavira at Wikiquote
Harvard Pluralism Project: Jainism
God in Jainism
Arihant ; Siddha ; Pañca-Parameṣṭhi
Simandhar Swami (other world)
John E. Cort
Champat Rai Jain
Jeffery D. Long
Digambar Jain Mahasabha
Vishwa Jain Sangathan
Dynasties and empires
Statue of Ahimsa
Jain terms and concepts
List of Jains
List of Jain temples
List of Jain ascetics
List of Digambar Jain ascetics
Topics List (index)
Monks & nuns
Acintya bheda abheda
Buddhist philosophy and Early
All 108 texts
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali