Mahavir

  • Vardhamaan Mahavir – a legend Jainism gifted the world with to spread the values of love, non-violence, and purity. History regards him as the teacher of Buddha.

  • He is the 24th and the last Tirthankara of Jainism. He was the successor of Parshvanatha Tirthankara. The word Tirthankara means a person who leads the way.

  • Generally, the name ‘Mahavir’ doesn’t spark an instant connection with Jainism the way the name ‘Buddha’ is associated with Buddhism. The reason is that Buddha founded Buddhism, and the etymology makes it pretty evident. But Mahavir is one of the teachers in the long line of an already existing religion. But it was only after Mahavir that Jainism started flourishing in India. Therefore, it is only fair that he received a major part of the credit for the reforms brought in by Jainism in India.

  • Jains worship Mahavir as God. History says that Mahavir was born in Kandalpur, Bihar, between 6 BC and 5 BC. Like Buddha, Mahavir also came from a royal lineage. He belonged to the Ikshvaku clan and ruled over a subsidiary kingdom. At the age of 30, he renounced his kingdom, took up asceticism, and observed a 12-year penance. At the age of 42, he started following Jainism and spent his next 32 years, spreading the glory of Jainism. He left the mortal world at the age of 74.

  • How did Mahavir revolutionise his period? He rejected the scriptures and the concept of conditional acceptance. Until the entry of Mahavir, Jainism wasn’t largely popular. Jain principles such as non-violence, detachment, staying truthful, not harming other living beings were not widely known. This changed around after Mahavir stepped in and made structural reforms to Jainism. It is during his period that Jains traveled throughout India to spread the virtues of Jainism. Jainism preaches that anyone can be a person of great value if he / she had the mind to be so. It is these principles that Buddha later customised and expanded to form Buddhism.

  • Broadly, religions require an unquestioning adherence to their rules and norms. Questioning God or the religion is not treated kindly. Basically, religions were against rational thinking. Mahavir opposed this and declared that rationality is of utmost importance if one wishes to pursue spirituality. This is how Jainism favoured and introduced several brilliant personalities. On a philosophical level, it can also be debated that Thirukkural is a Jain text.

  • Education is the key to rational thinking. Understanding this, Mahavir established education as one of Jainism’s foremost priorities. In Tamil, the word ‘palli’ translates to school. This word has its roots in ‘Palli’ which were institutions established by Mahavir to impart education. Jain followers throughout India started schools to educate the masses. Sidharaal Malai and Kazhugumalai in Tamil Nadu have shown evidence that they have housed such schools.

  • Next to education, Mahavir’s priority was food service. He regarded this service as a penance in itself. Following his words, Jains all over the country started serving food to the needy. Even today, if you were to travel to places like Karnataka and Gujarat where there are good numbers of Jains, you’ll find that it’s enough to bring money for the travel expenses alone; For the Jains over there still continue rendering this service. Such is the impact of Mahavir.

  • Charity is an integral part of Jainism. Even today, Jains do not leave their entire property to their children. They leave a portion to charity and leave the rest to their children.

  • Generally, there are no female Tirthankaras in Jainism. But this cannot be interpreted that Jainism doesn’t observe gender equality. Among the Indian epics, a good many are Jain literature. In Tamil, Silappadhikaaram and Neelakesi are great examples of Jain literature. The society that was divided into Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra was restructured by Jainism as Shramana-Shramani and Shravaka-Shravika. Shramana and Shramani refer to a man who follows Jainism and chooses asceticism and a woman who follows Jainism and chooses asceticism, respectively. Shravaka is a Jain male who is unable to detach himself from worldly ties and Shravika is a Jain female who is unable to detach herself from worldly ties. This should show that Jainism viewed both the genders as equals.

  • Tamil Nadu has a lot of places to show the impact of Jainism. Places such as Thirumalai, Kazhugumalai, Thirakkoil, Sitthannavaasal, Samanaarmalai, Kuratthimalai, Ennaayira Malai, Pancha Pandavar Malai, Seeyaamangalam, Kanchiyoor, Cholapandiyapuram, Neganoorpatti, etc, have places of worship for Jains.

  • Today Jainism is controlled by a few hierarchies and gurus. If Jainism escapes such restrictions, it’ll bring about the change Mahavir envisioned in his mind.