World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


24th Jain Tirthankara
Idol of Mahavira at Shantinath Jain Teerth
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 hath (hands)[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. In Jainism, a tirthankara is an omniscient teacher who preaches the true dharma (righteous path). Twenty-four tirthankara grace each half of the cosmic time cycle. Mahavira was the last tirthankara of avasarpani (present descending phase).[note 1][6] Mahavira was born into a royal family in what is now Bihar, India. At the age of 30, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening. He abandoned all his clothes and became a Jain monk.[5] For the next twelve and a half years, he practiced intense meditation and severe penance, after which he became omniscient. He traveled all over South Asia for the next thirty years to teach Jain philosophy. Mahavira died at the age of 72 and attained nirvana (final release) or moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).[7] Mahavira's philosophy has eight cardinal (law of trust) principles, three metaphysical (dravya, jiva and ajiva),[8] and five ethical. The objective is to elevate the quality of life.[9]


  • Etymology 1
  • Historicity 2
  • Teachings 3
    • Anekantavada 3.1
  • Life events 4
    • Birth 4.1
    • Early life 4.2
    • Renunciation 4.3
    • Omniscience 4.4
    • Moksha 4.5
  • Previous births 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Iconography 7
    • Temples 7.1
    • Prayers 7.2
  • Gallery 8
    • Idols 8.1
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • Sources 12
  • External links 13


Mahavira's childhood name was Vardhamana, which means the one who grows, because of the increased prosperity in the kingdom at the time of his birth.[10] He was called Mahavira (the Great Hero) because of the acts of bravery he performed during his childhood.[11][12][13][14] Mahavira was given the title Jīnā (the "Victor" or conqueror of inner enemies such as attachment, pride and greed), which subsequently became synonymous with Tirthankara.[15]

Buddhist texts refer to Mahavira as Nigaṇṭha Jñātaputta.[16] Nigaṇṭha means "without knot, tie, or string" and Jñātaputta (son of Natas), referred to his clan of origin Jñāta or Naya (Prakrit).[15][17][18] He is also known as Sramana.[11]


Jaina traditions date Mahavira as living from 599 BC to 527 BC.[7][19] Western Historians date Mahavira as living from 480 BC to 408 BC.[20] Some Western scholars suggests that Mahavira died in around 425 BC.[21] Historians have identified three places in Bihar as his possible birthplace: Kundagrama (now Basokund in Muzaffarpur district),[22] Lachhuar in Jamui and Kundalpur in Nalanda. Most modern historians agree that Basokund was his birthplace.[23]

Although, there is reasonable evidence that Parshvanatha, predecessor of Mahavira was a historical figure, [24] 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.
— Heinrich Zimmer[25]


Sculpture depicting Mahavira's message of Ahimsa

Pārśva, the 23rd Tirthankara, propounded the four vows of ahimsa, satya (truth), aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and asteya (non-stealing). Buddhists texts have references about the chatur-yama-dharma ("fourfold restraint") of the Nigaṇṭha tradition[26][27] Mahavira added the fifth vow of Brahmacharya (chastity or celibacy) to his teachings.

  • 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.[28]
  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.[28]
  3. Asteya or non-stealing which states that one should not take anything if not properly given.[28]
  4. Brahmacharya or chastity which stresses steady but determined restraint over yearning for sensual pleasures.[28]
  5. Aparigraha (Non-possession)- non-attachment to both inner possessions (like liking, disliking) and external possessions (like property).[28]

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.[29]


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.[30]

Life events


Mahavira was born into the royal Kshatriya family of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala (sister of King Chetaka of Vaishali).[22] He was born on the thirteenth day of the rising moon of Chaitra in the Vira Nirvana Samvat calendar.[31][32] In the Gregorian calendar, this date falls in March or April and is celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti.[33] His Gotra was Kashyapa.[11][22] Traditionally, Kundalapura in the ancient city of Vaishali is regarded as his birthplace; however, its location remains unidentified.[34]

Early life

As the son of a king, Mahavira had all luxuries of life at his disposal. Both his parents were strict followers of Parshvanatha.[10] Jain traditions are not unanimous about his marital state. According to Digambara tradition, Mahavira's parents desired that he should get married to Yashoda but Mahavira refused to marry.[35] According to Svetambara tradition, he was married young to Yashoda and had one daughter, Priyadarshana.[22][36]


Mahavira accepting food from a householder
Attainment of omniscience (kevalajñāna) by Mahavira

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 underwent severe penances, meditated under the Ashoka tree and went without clothes.[12] 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.[36]

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.[37]


After twelve and a half years of rigorous penance, i.e. at the age of forty-three, Mahavira achieved the state of Kevala Jnana. Kevala means "isolation-integration", which implies omniscience and release from earthly bondage-corresponding to the "enlightenment" (bodhi) of the Buddhas.[38] This happened under a Sala-tree on the banks of the river Rjupalika (today Barakar) near a place called Jrmbhikagrama.[39] The Acharanga sutra describes Mahavira as all-seeing. The Sutrakritanga elaborates the concept as all-knowing and provides details of other qualities of Mahavira.[34]

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.[40][41] Some of the royal followers included King Srenika (popularly known as Bimbisara) of Magadha, Kunika of Anga and Chetaka of Videha.[37][8]


Jal Mandir marking Mahavira's nirvana at Pawapuri

According to Jain texts, Mahavira attained moksha i.e., his soul is believed to have become Siddha (soul at its purest form).[21] 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.[42][43] Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative posture with a symbol of a lion under him.[44] Today, a Jain temple, called Jal Mandir stands at the place where Mahavira is believed to have attained moksha.[45]

Previous births

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.[37] Mahavira was born as Marichi, the son of Bharata Chakravarti in one of his previous births.[46]

There are various Jain texts like Kalpa Sūtra that describe the life of Mahavira. The first Sanskrit biography of Mahavira was Vardhamacharitra by Asaga in 853 CE.[47]


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."[48][49]

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[50]

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.


Mahavira's emblem: Lion (Photo:Ahinsa Sthal, Delhi)

Every tirthankara has a distinguishing emblem. These emblem allow a worshiper to distinguish the otherwise similar looking idols of the tirthankaras.[51] The emblem of Mahavira is "Lion". The emblem is usually carved, right below the legs of the tirthankara. Like all tirthankara, Mahavira is depicted having Shrivatsa (a flower like design) on his chest.


Dharmachakra, Jain Temple, Nasik, Maharashtra

Temples dedicated to Mahavira :-


  • Mahaveerashtak Stotra composed by Jain Poet Bhagchand.[52]



See also


  1. ^ 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."[5]


  1. ^ Sunavala 1934, p. 52.
  2. ^ Shah 1987, p. 95.
  3. ^ Sarasvati 1970, p. 444.
  4. ^ "Jain Tirthankaras summery". 
  5. ^ a b Zimmer 1953, p. 224.
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b Zimmer 1953, p. 222.
  8. ^ a b Caillat & Balbir 2008, p. 88.
  9. ^ Chakravarthi 2003, p. 3–22.
  10. ^ a b Jain 1991, p. 32.
  11. ^ a b c Heehs 2002, p. 93.
  12. ^ a b von Glasenapp 1999, p. 30.
  13. ^ von Dehsen 2013, p. 121.
  14. ^ Jain 1998, p. 50.
  15. ^ a b Zimmer 1953, p. 223.
  16. ^ Winternitz 1993, p. 408.
  17. ^ von Dehsen 2013, p. 29.
  18. ^ Jain 1991, p. 31.
  19. ^ "Jainism: The story of Mahavira".  
  20. ^ Taliaferro & Marty 2010, p. 126.
  21. ^ a b Dundas 2002, p. 24.
  22. ^ a b c d von Glasenapp 1999, p. 29.
  23. ^ Chaudhary, Pranava K (14 October 2003). "Row over Mahavira's birthplace".  
  24. ^ von Glasenapp 1999, pp. 16-17.
  25. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 182-183.
  26. ^ Sangave 2001, p. 105.
  27. ^ Sangave 2001, p. 21.
  28. ^ a b c d e Shah 2015.
  29. ^ Jain 1991, p. 16.
  30. ^ Sethia 2004, p. 80.
  31. ^ Wiley 2004, p. 134.
  32. ^ Shah, Pravin K. "Lord Mahavira and Jain Religion". Jain Study Center of North Carolina 
  33. ^ Gupta & Gupta 2006, p. 1001.
  34. ^ a b Dundas 2002, p. 25.
  35. ^ Jain 1998, p. 51.
  36. ^ a b Upadhye.
  37. ^ a b c von Glasenapp 1999, p. 327.
  38. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 221.
  39. ^ von Glasenapp 1999, pp. 30, 327.
  40. ^ Heehs 2002, p. 90.
  41. ^ von Galesnapp 1999, p. 39.
  42. ^ von Glasenapp 1999, p. 328.
  43. ^ Pramansagar 2008, p. 38-39.
  44. ^ Shah 1987, p. 192.
  45. ^ "Destinations :: Pawapuri".  
  46. ^ Dundas 2002, p. 21.
  47. ^ Jain 1991, p. 59.
  48. ^ a b Nanda 1997, p. 44.
  49. ^ "Great Men's view on Jainism". Jainism Literature Center 
  50. ^ Jaini 2000, p. 31.
  51. ^ Zimmer 1953, p. 225.
  52. ^ "Mahaveerashtak Stotra". 


  • Shah, Umakant Premanand (14 May 2015), Mahavira Jaina teacher,  
  • von Dehsen, Christian (13 September 2013), Philosophers and Religious Leaders, Routledge 
  • Taliaferro; Marty (2010), A dictionary of philosophy of Religion 
  • Pramansagar, Muni (2008), Jain tattvavidya, India: Bhartiya Gyanpeeth,  
  • Gupta, K.R.; Gupta, Amita (1 January 2006), Concise Encyclopaedia of India 3, Atlantic Publishers & Dis 
  • Sethia, Tara (2004), Ahimsā, Anekānta, and Jaininsm, Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 
  • Wiley, Kristi L. (1 January 2004), Historical Dictionary of Jainism,  
  • Chakravarthi, Ram-Prasad (2003), "Non-violence and the other A composite theory of multiplism, heterology and heteronomy drawn from Jainism and Gandhi", Angelaki 8 (3): 3–22,  
  • Nagārāja, Muni (2003), Agama and Tripitaka a Comparative Study of Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha, Concept Publishing Company,  
  • Kumar, Sehdev (2001), Jain Temples of Rajasthan, Abhinav Publications,  
  • von Glasenapp, Helmuth (1 January 1999), Jainism: An Indian Religion of Salvation,  
  • Nanda, R. T. (1997), Contemporary Approaches to Value Education in India, Regency Publications,  
  • Jain, Kailash Chand (1991), Lord Mahāvīra and His Times, Motilal Banarsidass,  
  • Shah, Umakant Premanand (1987), Jaina-Rupa Mandana: Jaina Iconography 1,  
  • Sunavala, A.J. (1934). Adarsha Sadhu: An Ideal Monk. (First paperback edition, 2014 ed.). Cambridge University Press.  
  • Note: ISBN refers to the UK:Routledge (2001) reprint. URL is the scan version of the original 1884 reprint  
  • Sangave, Vilas Adinath (2001), Aspects of Jaina Religion,  
  • Jain, Shanti Lal (1998), ABC of Jainism, Bhopal (M.P.): Jnanodaya Vidyapeeth,  

External links

  • Harvard Pluralism Project: Jainism
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.