A Tirthankar is a human being who has attained a highly exalted state due to intense spiritual practices in various lifetimes and signifies the ultimate pure developed state of the soul. Having attained the highest spiritual goal of human life, they help others cross the ocean of Samsara and win freedom against the infinite cycles of birth and death that man has to undergo.
Bhagavan Mahavir was the 24th and last Tirthankar of the Jain Religion. Tirthankars are also referred to as Jinas or Arihants.
The idols of all the Tirthankars do not have much difference. This is because emphasis is not placed much on their physical body but on the virtues and qualities they represent. The symbol at the bottom of each Tirthankar identifies and differentiates them.
Bhagavan Mahavir’s birth is traced back from his 27th life when he was a village elder and forester named Nayasar who was pious and compassionate and served some ascetics with great devotion who blessed him and from this time it is said that Samyaktva or the seeds of righteousness were sowed in him .This is the starting point of spiritual evolution when a soul lost in the darkness of illusion gets the first glimpse of spiritual light. Mahavir’s evolution is thus traced from this period. He was then reborn as a God in the Saudharm dimension of the Gods. He then reincarnated as Marichi, the son of Bharat and the grandson of Rishabhdeva, the first Tirthankar. He became a follower of Rishabhdeva but could not sustain the strict rules and code of conduct that was to be adhered to. It is said that when Rishabhdeva predicted that Marichi would be reborn as the last Tirthankar, Marichi heard about it and allowed pride to enter him and so for the next twelve incarnations moved back and forth from the human dimension to that of the Gods. In these human births he performed rigorous austerities and penances. In his sixteenth incarnation he was born as Prince Vishvabhuti who later became an ascetic. He then reincarnated as a God in the Mahashakra dimension of the Gods and later as the first Vasudev Triprishtha. He conquered and established his Empire over three continents and became vain and cruel and hence was said to be reborn in the lower domains in a couple of births. In the twenty third birth he was born as Prince Priyamitra who was brave and pious and conquered all the six continents and became a Chakravarti. He then embraced ascetism under Potillacharya and continued to wipe out all negative Karmas accrued in previous lives by intense spiritual practices. He was then reborn as a God in the Mahashukra dimension of the Gods from where his soul reincarnated as Prince Nandan of Chhatranagari. Later on in life he became an ascetic and by his rigorous spiritual practices he reincarnated in a specific dimension of Gods and was finally reborn as Mahavir.
Birth and Early Childhood
The feudal system of rule prevailed in India during the period of Bhagavan Parshvanath. After his Nirvana democracy emerged and localised republics began expanding. Vaishali emerged as the capital of the federation of small republics. The King of Vaishali was Siddharth and the Queen was Trishala Devi.
The Queen witnessed fourteen dreams which are the signs of the advent of the birth of a Tirthankar. They were-
1. A large and beautiful white bull entering her mouth.
2. A lion
3. A garland of flowers
4.A giant elephant having four tusks
5.Goddess Lakshmi seated on a lotus
6.The glorious Sun
7. The full moon shining in the sky
8.A sea of milk
9.A golden urn
10.A Flag which was fluttering
11.A vehicle of the Gods which moves in space
12.A pond filled with lotus flowers
13.A heap of gems
14.A fire without smoke
In some scriptures it is mentioned that the soul of Mahavir descended into the womb of Devananda Brahmani. The foetus was then transplanted into the womb of Trishala Devi by the Gods. On hearing about the dreams the learned scholars explained that the Science of Dreams had 72 auspicious ones. Out of these, 42 indicated ordinary benefits and 30 indicated great benefits. 14 of these are highly auspicious indicating the birth of a Chakravarti or Tirthankar. Since already 12 Chakravartis had been born and one Tirthankar was yet to be born, it was predicted that the child in the womb would be a Tirthankar. King Siddharth and Queen Trishala were overjoyed. On the thirteenth day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra, the Queen gave birth to a son. Hearing the news of the birth it is said that the Gods rejoiced and led by the King of Gods Shakrendra, they bowed before the child and circumambulated the Mother Trishala Devi. There were celebrations everywhere. The King ordered the release of all prisoners. Money, clothes and alms were distributed to the old and needy The Child was named Vardhaman(ever increasing) as the Kingdom had a continued increase of power, wealth and happiness during his time.
It is said that as a child the Gods came to test him on various occasions in the field of education, martial arts etc but Vardhaman was brave and intelligent and due to his omniscience was able to answer all the questions successfully. These answers to Indra have been compiled in a book Aindra Vyadaran(The grammar of Indra).
Inspite of unlimited wealth and grandeur all around him, Vardhaman’s mind was pure and detached like a lotus flower in a pond. As he grew up, with pressure from his parents and other elders he was married to Yashoda. They had a daughter named Priyadarshana.
Vardhaman was detached from worldly activities and wished to become an ascetic but desisted from it as long as his parents were alive. When both of them took to continuous meditation without food and slowly gave up their mortal bodies, Vardhaman decided to leave home and take up the path of renunciation. His elder brother King Nandivardhan who was now the King could not bear to part from him so soon after the death of their parents hence he requested him to wait for another two years. Vardhaman agreed but lived an austere life in the two years preparing himself for the final renunciation. On the tenth day of the dark half of the month of Margashirsh in the Jnatkhand garden under an Ashoka tree in Kshatriyakund, Vardhaman embraced ascetism.
Wandering and practising severe austerities, a number of incidents have been mentioned of the various calamities that befell him but knowing that they were all his past karmas which he had to fully mitigate Vardhamana faced all these hurdles bravely. At last while resting under a tree he is said to have had ten strange dreams.
The ten scenes of Mahavir’s dream and the interpretations of Utpal are as follows-
1. Scene: Defeating a Tal demon
Interpretation: You will soon destroy the Mohaniya Karma (illusory Karma).
2. Scene: A bird with white feathers is in attendance.
Int.: You will always have purest attitude or feelings.
3. Scene: A bird with multicolored feathers is around.
Int.: You will propagate multifaceted knowledge through the twelve Angas (canons).
4. Scene: Two gem strings appear in front.
Int.: Utpal could not understand the fourth scene. On his inquiry Mahavir explained….I will preach two way religion….the conduct of ascetics and the conduct of laity.
5. Scene: A herd of white cows is in front.
Int.: The four pronged organization (Shraman, Shramani, Shravak, Shravika) will serve you.
6. Scene: A pond with open lotuses.
Int.: Gods from four dimensions will serve you.
7. Scene: Crossed a waxy ocean swimming.
Int.: You will cross the ocean of rebirths.
8. Scene: Sun rays are spreading in all directions.
Int.: Soon you will get enlightenment or omniscience.
9. Scene: You are encircling the Manushottar mountain with your bluish intestines.
Int.: You will pervade the universe with your pure glory.
10. Scene: You are sitting on a throne placed on the summit of the mountain Meru.
Int.: You will give religious discourse sitting on a high throne.
His twelve year period of spiritual practices can be divided into four parts-
1. Rigorous Penance
2. Extreme tolerance of pain
3. Deep and undisturbed meditation
4. Ultimate Equanimity
On the tenth day of the bright half of the month of Vaisakh, on the back of Rijubaluka River, under a sal tree in a garden Vardhaman achieved Omniscience. He realised Perfect Knowledge, Perception, Power and Bliss known as Keval Jnan.
Generally it is said that after achieving Omniscience a divine pavilion or Samavasaran is created by the Gods where the first Divine Discourse is heard. Similarly on the banks of the Rijubaluka River in the presence of the Gods, Vardhaman who became Mahavir or the Omniscient One gave his first discourse. The next day a number of eminent scholars and their disciples joined Mahavir’s fold at a place called Madhyam Pava near the Mahasen jungle which have now become places of pilgrimage. For thirty years Mahavir devoted himself to the welfare and upliftment of the community. People from all walks of life, men and women, kings and commoners, rich and poor were attracted to his teachings.
On the fifteenth day of the dark half of the month of Kartik, he gave his last discourse in the Samavasaran which is famous as the Vipak Sutra, Uttaradhyayan Sutra etc and later attained Nirvana.
His achievements were-
1.He opposed animal sacrifice and other misleading rituals and preached the path of Ahimsa or Non Violence.
2.He did not believe in the caste system and he was above distinction of caste,creed and gender. Women were not deprived from studying scriptures or any other restrictions.
3. Moral,social and ethical values were more important to him than physical or social differences.
4.Instead of using Sanskrit which was not known to all he used Ardha Magadhi which was the local language at that time for his discourses.
5.Along with the usual spiritual practices like worship, meditation etc he insisted upon welfare activities for spiritual development.
6.The Shravaks(laymen) in his organisation were from all walks of life.eg Ajatshatru, Shrenik were Kings, Saddalputra was a potter, Anand was a farmer, Sulas was a butcher etc.
7.The foundation of his philosophy was equanimity, knowledge, discipline and detachment.
8.The basis of the Code of Conduct was Ahimsa and the basis of spiritual purity was Anekant or relativity of thought.
9.He used compassion and calmness to change those who opposed him.
Some Temples of Bhagavan Mahavir in India
Digambar Jain Atishaya Kshetra Mahavir Mandir, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan
Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu, Rajasthan
Mahavir Temple, Karauli, Rajasthan
Mahavir Swamy Digambar Jain Temple, D.K.Lane, Bengaluru
Jain Mahavira Temple, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Mahavir Jain Temple, Pavapuri, Bihar
Mahavir Jain Mandir, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh
His symbol was lion. Bhagavan Mahavir’s teachings were simple and free from elaborate rituals and impressed the masses. It dealt with the internal purity and harmony of the soul. It was based on Universal Compassion and love and reflected the freedom and spiritual joy of the living being. Jainism existed before Mahavir and so he was not the founder of a new faith but a propagator of the existing religious order and he reorganised the tenets of Jainism to suit the times. He organised his followers into the four fold order. The main objective of his teachings was to achieve liberation or self realisation and total freedom from birth, death, pain and misery. According to him this could be achieved by Samyak Gyan(Right Knowledge), Samyak Darshan(Right Vision), Samyak Charitra(Right Conduct) with the five great vows of Ahimsa(non violence), Sathya(truthfulness), Asteya(non stealing), Brahmacharya(chastity) and Aparigraha(Non possession or non attachment). People celebrate the night of his salvation as Deepavali or the festival of lights in his honour.