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This article is about the Tirthankara of Jainism. For the Jain mathematician, see Mahāvīra (mathematician).
Not to be confused with Mahavihara.
Vardhamana Mahavira
Last Jain Tirthankara
An idol of Mahavira in Shri Mahavirji Temple, Karauli, Rajasthan
Alternate name(s) Veer, Ativeer, Vardhaman, Sanmati
Predecessor Parshvanatha
Main teachings Ahimsā, Anekantavada, Syadavada, Aparigraha
Dynasty/Clan Ikshvaku[1]
Father Siddhartha
Mother Trishala
Siblings Nandivardhana
Kalyanaka / Important Events
Chyavana date Asadh Sud 6
Chyavana place Vaishali
Birth date Chaitra Sud 13
Birth place Vaishali
Diksha date Kartik Vad 10
Diksha place Vaishali
Kevalgyan date Vaisakh Sud 10
Kevalgyan place Rijuvaluka
Moksha date Asho Vad Amaas (Kartik Amavasya / Dipawali)
Moksha place Pawapuri, Bihar
Complexion Golden
Symbol Lion
Height 7 cubits (10.5 feet)[2][3]
Age 72 years
Tree Shala[4]
Attendant Gods
Yaksha Matanga
Yakshini Siddhayini or Siddhayika
Ganadhara Gautama

Mahavira also known as Vardhamana, was the twenty-fourth and last tirthankara of Jainism of present Avasarpani era (ascending half of the time cycle as per Jain cosmology).[5]

Mahavira was born into a royal family in what is now Bihar, India. His father's name was Siddhartha and mother Trishala. At the age of 30, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening (Diksha). For the next twelve and a half years, he practiced intense meditation and severe penance, after which he achieved Kevala Jnana or enlightenment. He traveled all over Bharat (which was larger than today's India) for the next thirty years to teach Jain philosophy. Mahavira attained moksha at the age of 72. Mahavira was given the title Jīnā, or "Conqueror" (conqueror of inner enemies such as attachment, pride and greed), which subsequently became synonymous with Tirthankara.

Although, there is reasonable evidence to believe that Parshvanatha, predecessor of Mahavira was a historical figure, [6] still Mahavira is sometimes referred as the founder of Jainism. On this famous Indologist, Heinrich Zimmer note:

The foundation of Jainism has been attributed by Occidental historians to Mahavira. There must be some truth in the Jaina tradition of the great antiquity of their religion. We have grounds for believing that he (Parsva) actually lived and taught and was a Jaina.


His childhood name was Vardhamana, which means the one who grows, because of the increased prosperity in the kingdom at the time of his birth.[8] He later came to be known as Mahavira (a Sanskrit word meaning the Great Hero) because he conquered the world by achieving omniscence.[9][10][11] Mahavira has many other titles and epithets, including Vira, Sanmati and Nātaputta.[12] Buddhist texts refer to Mahavira as Nigaṇṭ ha Ñātaputta[13] (son of Natas). This referred to his clan of origin, the Ñata or Naya (Prakrit), the Jnatri (Sanskrit).[14][15] He is also known as Sramana.[9]


Historians date Mahavira as living from 497 BC to 425 BC.[16] Historians have identified three places in Bihar as his possible birthplace: Kundagrama (now Basokund in Muzaffarpur district),[17] Lachhuar in Jamui and Kundalpur in Nalanda. Most modern historians agree that Basokund was his birthplace.[18]

Traditional Life events[edit]


See also: Mahavir Jayanti

Mahavira was born into the royal Kshatriya family of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala (sister of King Chetaka of Vaishali).[17] He was born on the thirteenth day of the rising moon of Chaitra in the Vira Nirvana Samvat calendar.[19][20] In the Gregorian calendar, this date falls in March or April and is celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti.[21] According to Digambara, he was born in 615 BC[22] whereas Śvētāmbara dates his birth in 599 BC.[23] His Gotra was Kashyapa.[9][17]

Queen Trishala and the Newborn Mahavira

Traditionally, Kundalapura in the ancient city of Vaishali is regarded as his birthplace; however, its location remains unidentified.[24] As the son of a king, Mahavira had all luxuries of life at his disposal. Both his parents were strict followers of Parshvanatha.[8]


Jain traditions are not unanimous about his marital state. According to one tradition, Digambara, he was celibate and according to another (Svetambara) he was married young to Yashoda and had one daughter, Priyadarshana.[17][25]


At the age of 30, Mahavira abandoned all the comforts of royal life and left his home and family to live an ascetic life in the pursuit of spiritual awakening. He went into a park called Sandavana in the surroundings of Kundalpur. He meditated under the Ashoka tree. He underwent severe penances, even without clothes.[10] There is graphic description of hardships and humiliation he faced in the Acharanga Sutra. In the eastern part of Bengal he suffered great distress. Boys pelted him with stones, people often humiliated him.[25]

The Kalpa Sūtra gives a detailed account of his ascetic life:

The Venerable Ascetic Mahavira for a year and a month wore clothes; after that time he walked about naked, and accepted the alms in the hollow of his hand. For more than twelve years the Venerable Ascetic Mahivira neglected his body and abandoned the care of it; he with equanimity bore, underwent, and suffered all pleasant or unpleasant occurrences arising from divine powers, men, or animals.

— Kalpa Sutra 117
Mahavira accepting food from a householder
Attainment of omniscience (kevalajñāna) by Mahavira

Henceforth the Venerable Ascetic Mahavira was houseless, circumspect in his walking, circumspect in his speaking, circumspect in his begging, circumspect in his accepting (anything), in the carrying of his outfit and drinking vessel; circumspect in evacuating excrements, urine, saliva, mucus, and uncleanliness of the body; circumspect in his thoughts, circumspect in his words, circumspect in his acts; guarding his thoughts, guarding his words, guarding his acts, guarding his senses, guarding his chastity; without wrath, without pride, without deceit, without greed; calm, tranquil, composed, liberated, free from temptations, without egoism, without property; he had cut off all earthly ties, and was not stained by any worldliness: as water does not adhere to a copper vessel, or collyrium to mother of pearl (so sins found no place in him); his course was unobstructed like that of Life; like the firmament he wanted no support; like the wind he knew no obstacles; his heart was pure like the water (of rivers or tanks) in autumn; nothing could soil him like the leaf of a lotus; his senses were well protected like those of a tortoise; he was single and alone like the horn of a rhinoceros; he was free like a bird; he was always waking like the fabulous bird Bharundal, valorous like an elephant, strong like a bull, difficult to attack like a lion, steady and firm like Mount Mandara, deep like the ocean, mild like the moon, refulgent like the sun, pure like excellent gold'; like the earth he patiently bore everything; like a well-kindled fire he shone in his splendour.

— Kalpa Sutra 118[26]

According to Kalpa Sūtra (122), Mahavira spent forty-two monsoons of his ascetic life at Astikagrama, Champapuri, Prstichampa, Vaishali, Vanijagrama, Nalanda, Mithila, Bhadrika, Alabhika, Panitabhumi, Shravasti and Pawapuri.[27]


After twelve and a half years of rigorous penance, i.e. at the age of forty-three he achieved omniscience (Kevala Jnana),[25] i.e., realization of perfect perception, knowledge, power, and bliss. This happened under a Sala-tree on the banks of the river Rjupalika (today Barakar) near a place called Jrmbhikagrama.[28] The Acharanga sutra describes Mahavira as all-seeing. The Sutrakritanga elaborates the concept as all-knowing and provides details of other qualities of Mahavira.[24]

For a period of 30 years after omniscience, Mahavira traveled far and wide in India to teach his philosophy. According to the tradition, Mahavira had 14,000 ascetics, 36,000 nuns, 159,000 sravakas (laymen) and 318,000 sravikas (laywomen) as his followers.[29][30] Some of the royal followers included King Srenika (popularly known as Bimbisara) of Magadha, Kunika of Anga and Chetaka of Videha.[27][31]


Circa 1472 painting from Kalpa Sutra

According to Digambara, Mahavira attained moksha (complete liberation), i.e., his soul is believed to have become Siddha (soul at its purest) form in 510 BC whereas Śvētāmbara dates the year as 527 BC.[32] On the same day Gautama, his Ganadhara (chief disciple) attained Kevala Jnana. According to Mahapurana, after the nirvana of tirthankaras, devas do the funeral rites. According to Pravachansar, only nails and hair of tirthankaras are left behind, and rest of the body gets dissolved in the air like camphor.[33][34] Some Western scholars suggests that this date would have been around 425 BC.[32] Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative posture with a symbol of a lion under him.[35]


Painting from Mysore temple depicting Samavasarana of Mahavira c. 1825

His philosophy has eight cardinal (law of trust) principles, three metaphysical (dravya, jiva and ajiva),[31] and five ethical. The objective is to elevate the quality of life.[36]

  • Five ethical principles that were preached by Mahavira:
  1. Ahimsa (Non Violence)- Mahavira taught that every living being has sanctity and dignity of its own and it should be respected just like we expect our own sanctity and dignity to be respected. In simple words, we should show maximum possible kindness to every living being.[37]
  2. Satya or truthfulness which leads to harmony in society. One should speak truth and respect right of property of each other's in society. One should be true to his own thoughts, words and deeds to create mutual atmosphere of confidence in society.[37]
  3. Asteya or non-stealing which states that one should not take anything if not properly given.[37]
  4. Brahmacharya or chastity which stresses steady but determined restraint over yearning for sensual pleasures.[37]
  5. Aparigraha or non-possession, non-attachment which requires complete detachment from people, places and material property.[37]

Mahavira taught that pursuit of pleasure is an endless game, so we should train our minds to curb individual cravings and passions. That way one does achieve equanimity of mind, mental poise and spiritual balance. One should voluntarily limit acquisition of property as a community virtue which results in social justice and fair distribution of utility commodities. The strong and the rich should not try to suppress the weak and the poor by acquiring limitless property which results in unfair distribution of wealth in society and hence poverty. Attempting to enforce these five qualities by an external and legal authority leads to hypocrisy or secret criminal tendencies. So the individual or society should exercise self-restraint to achieve social peace, security and an enlightened society.[38]


Main article: Anekantavada

Another fundamental teaching of Mahavira was Anekantavada i.e., pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints. Mahāvīra employed anekānta extensively to explain the Jain philosophical concepts. Taking a relativistic viewpoint, Mahāvīra is said to have explained the nature of the soul as both permanent from the point of view of underlying substance (nīshyānay), and temporary, from the point of view of its modes and modification.[39]

Previous births[edit]

Mahavira's previous births are discussed in Jain texts such as the Trishashtishalakapurusha Charitra and Jinasena's Mahapurana. While a soul undergoes countless reincarnations in transmigratory cycle of saṃsāra, the births of a Tirthankara are reckoned from the time he determined the causes of karma and developed the Ratnatraya. Jain texts discuss twenty-six births of Mahavira prior to his incarnation as a Tirthankara.[27] There are various Jain texts describing the life of Mahavira. The most notable of them is the Kalpa Sūtra of Bhadrabahu. The first Sanskrit biography of Mahavira was Vardhamacharitra by Asaga in 853 CE.[40] He was earlier born as the heretical grandson of Rishabha known as Marichi.[41]


Mahavira's teachings influenced many personalities. Mahatma Gandhi was greatly influenced by Mahavira and said, "Bhagwan Mahavira is sure to be respected as the highest authority on Ahimsa. If anyone has practiced to the fullest extent and has propagated most the doctrine of Ahimsa, it was Lord Mahavira."[42][43]

Mahavira proclaimed in India, the message of salvation, that religion is a reality and not a mere social convention, that salvation comes from taking refuge in the true religion and not from observing the external ceremonies of the community, that religion cannot regard any barriers between man and man as an eternal variety. Wonderous to say, this teaching rapidly over topped the barriers of the race abiding instinct and conquered the whole county.

A major even is associated with the 2500th anniversary of Nirvana of Mahavira in the year 1974. In this context, Padmanabh Jaini writes[44]

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 Śvētāmbara, Digambara and 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 Tīrthaṅkara Mahāvīra 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 their history.

  • Mahaveerashtak Stotra composed by Jain Poet Bhagchand.[45]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sunavala 1934, p. 52.
  2. ^ Shah 1987, p. 95.
  3. ^ Sarasvati 1970, p. 444.
  4. ^ "Jain Tirthankaras summery". 
  5. ^ Sanghvi, Vir (14 September 2013). "Rude Travel: Down The Sages". Hindustan Times. 
  6. ^ von Glasenapp 1999, pp. 16-17.
  7. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 182-183.
  8. ^ a b Jain 1991, p. 32.
  9. ^ a b c Heehs 2002, p. 93.
  10. ^ a b von Glasenapp 1999, p. 30.
  11. ^ von Dehsen 2013, p. 121.
  12. ^ "Mahavir Jayanti greetings". The Times of India. 14 April 2011. 
  13. ^ Winternitz 1993, p. 408.
  14. ^ von Dehsen 2013, p. 29.
  15. ^ Jain 1991, p. 31.
  16. ^ Taliaferro & Marty 2010, p. 126.
  17. ^ a b c d von Glasenapp 1999, p. 29.
  18. ^ Chaudhary, Pranava K (14 October 2003). "Row over Mahavira's birthplace". The Times Of India. 
  19. ^ Wiley 2004, p. 134.
  20. ^ Shah, Pravin K. "Lord Mahavira and Jain Religion". Jain Study Center of North Carolina 
  21. ^ Gupta & Gupta 2006, p. 1001.
  22. ^ "Mahavir Jayanti Celebrating the birth anniversary of the last Jain Tirthankara". The Times of India. 
  23. ^ "Jainism: The story of Mahavira". London: Victoria and Albert Museum. 
  24. ^ a b Dundas 2002, p. 25.
  25. ^ a b c Upadhye.
  26. ^ Jacobi 1884.
  27. ^ a b c von Glasenapp 1999, p. 327.
  28. ^ von Glasenapp 1999, pp. 30, 327.
  29. ^ Heehs 2002, p. 90.
  30. ^ von Galesnapp 1999, p. 39.
  31. ^ a b Caillat & Balbir 2008, p. 88.
  32. ^ a b Dundas 2002, p. 24.
  33. ^ von Glasenapp 1999, p. 328.
  34. ^ Pramansagar 2008, p. 38-39.
  35. ^ Shah 1987, p. 192.
  36. ^ Chakravarthi 2003, p. 3–22.
  37. ^ a b c d e Shah 2015.
  38. ^ Jain 1991, p. 16.
  39. ^ Sethia 2004, p. 80.
  40. ^ Jain 1991, p. 59.
  41. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 21.
  42. ^ a b Nanda 1997, p. 44.
  43. ^ "Great Men's view on Jainism". Jainism Literature Center 
  44. ^ Jaini 2000, p. 31.
  45. ^ "Mahaveerashtak Stotra". 
  46. ^ "Destinations :: Pawapuri". Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation. 


External links[edit]