The religion of Jainism has millions of followers on the Indian subcontinent in South Asia. However, it is not well-known in the Western World. Immigration of some citizens, the Internet, universal laws, and globalization of mass media and culture are changing that though. If you’re curious about this faith, you’ll come across a certain name quite often, leading to the inevitable question, just who is Mahavira?
In short, Mahavira is the man who is widely regarded as being the individual that gave the religion of Jainism it’s modern-day form. It should be noted that the recognition he gets for doing this is done so rather broadly. He’s actually sometimes called the founder of the faith, which he is not.
Mahavira is the most recent tirthankara of this world, and the last one of the current age. It’s actually a little more accurate to consider him as a reformer that popularized an ancient lifestyle instead of someone that founded a religion.
Mahavira was born in Vardhmana, which is in the northeastern region of India. Traditionally, his birthdate is listed as 599 BCE, although a number of contemporary scholars list it as 540 BCE and even later.
The man was royalty, a prince whose parents were King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala. They were members of the kshatriya, or warrior, caste. They followed the teachings of Parshva.
Around the age of 30, Mahavira’s parents both died, and he fled the royal palace so he could live in the lifestyle of a sadhana, or ascetic, renouncing all worldly comforts and pleasures. Over the following decade, he went through serious bouts of meditation and fasting. In this period, he allegedly attained a form of enlightenment, leading to his name of Mahavira.
He added studied and preached Parshva’s four Jain principles of no possessions, no lying, no stealing, and no violence, but added chastity to the mix as well. Tradition holds that his community of Jainism followers included 14,000 monks on top of 36,000 nuns at the time of his death.
Jainism continued to grow, eventually spreading into central and even western India before being challenged by the growth of Hinduism before starting to bounce back in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Jainism is considered one of the four primary Indian religions, also sometimes coupled together as the Dharmic faiths. On top of geographic proximity, there are many common historical roots and common beliefs between Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism.
Attached below is a video about Mahavira. Watch it now to learn even more about this interesting aspect of Jain Culture!