Vardhman Mahavira and Jainism

Jainism, rise of Religion in 6th century BCE

Vardhman Mahavir's life and Jainism
In this chapter we learn about Religious Rise in 6th Century BCE. How Vardhman Mahavir spread Jainism its impact on common people. This chapter is dedicated for upcoming Government exams like RRB NTPC, GROUP-D and SSC Exams.


  • The name of Jain Tirthankara Rishabha is found in the Rig Veda.
  • The Vishnu Purana and the Bhagwat Purana describe Rishabha as an incarnation of Narayana.
  • Jainism is of ancient origin and believes to have 24 Tirthankaras (great teachers) in their religion.
  • The mail nude torso discovered from Harappan ruins has been said to be associated with the Tirthankaras.
  • The first Tirthankara was Rishabhdev (born in Ayodhya), who is said to have laid the foundation of orderly human society and realised that the source of Jain philosophy was Adinath.

The 23rd Tirthankara was Parshvanath (born in Varanasi), and the 24th and last Tirthankara was Vardhamana Mahavira (born 540 BCE at Kundangrama near Vaishali).

Famous Tirthankaras of jainism

1stRishabha     Bull
 22nd  NeminathConch Shell
23rdParshvanath   Serpent

Vardhman Mahavira

  • Vardhman Mahavira or Jina (conqueror) was born to siddhartha, head of Jnatrika clan and Trishla, Lichchhavi princess and sister of Chetka in 540 BCE at Kundalgram near Vaishali in Bihar
  • He was married to Yashoda and had a daughter Priyadarsena, whose husband Jamali became his first disciple.
  • Mahavira abandoned the world at the age of 30 in the search of truth. He became an ascetic and meditated for 12 years subsequently, living an austere life.
  • In the 13th year, at the age of 42, he attained kaivalya under a sal tree at Timbhikagrama on the bank of river Rijupalika.
  • Kaivalya refers to the conquest of misery and happiness. Owing to this conquest, he is known as Mahavira or great hero or jina (the conqueror), and his followers Jains.
  • Mahavir gave his first sermon at at Pava to his eleven disciples known as Ganddharas. He also founded a Jain Sangha at Pava.
  • He propagated religion for 30 years and passed away at the age of 72 in 468 BCE at Pavapuri near Rajagriha.

    Teachings of Jainism

    • He rejected the authority of the Vedas and objected to Vedic rituals and sacrifices.
    • Even the practice of agriculture was considered sinful a as it causes injury to the earth, worms, and animals.
    • Doctrine of ascetism and renunciation was carried to great lengths by the practice of starvation, nudity, and other form of self-torture as penance for all sins committed.
    • Although Parshvanath had asked people to cover their upper and lower body parts, Mahavira asked them to discard cloths altogether in a show of extreme austerity.
    • Mahavira did not condemn the varna system the way Buddhism did. According to Mahavira, person’s birth in a higher or lower varna is the consequence of the sins of their past life, and through penance and meritorious life they can attain liberation.

    Jainism mainly aimed at the freedom of the individual from worldly bonds.

    Three Principles of JainismTriratnas (Way to Nirvana)

    • Right faith (belief in teachings and wisdom of Mahavira).
    • Right knowledge (acceptance of the theory that there is no god, that the world has been existing without a creator, and that all objects possess a soul).
    • Right conduct (refers to the observance of the five great vows).

    Five Cardinal Principles

    • Ahimsa (non-injury).
    • Satya (non-lying).
    • Asteya (non-stealing)
    • Aparigraha (not to acquire property)
    • Brahmacharya (observe abstinence and lead a contient, ethical life, a principle added by Mahavira).

    Five Instruments of Knowledge

    • Mati jnana: Perception through activity of sense organs, including the brain.
    • Avadhi jnana: Clairvoyant perception.
    • Shruta jnana: Knowledge revealed by the scriptures.
    • Manahparyaya jnana: Telepathic knowledge.
    • Keval jnana: Omniscience or temporal knowledge.

    Jain Sects

    • Although Parshvanath, the predecessor of Mahavira,had asked his followers to cover the upper and lower portions of their body, Mahavira asked with them to discard clothes completely. On account of this, in later times, Jainism was divided into two sects.
    • Svetambaras or those who put on white dress, and
    • Digambaras, or those who keep themselves naked.
    • According to the Swetambaras, the original doctrine taught by Mahavira was contained in 14 old texts called the Purvas, which were passed orally and were compiled later as the twelve Angas.

    Spread of Jainism

    • Admitted both women and Shudras in its order of followers.
    • Used Prakrit (common language) for preaching instead of Sanskrit.
    • 200 years after the death of Mathavira, there was a serious famine in the Gangetic plains. Many Jain followers led by Chandragupta Maurya and Bhadrabahu left for the south (Karnataka) and rest stayed back under the leadership of Sthalabahu. Emigrants spread Jainism in south India.
    • Meanwhile, Sthulabhadrau changed the code of conduct for the monks, which led to division of Jainism into two sects Swetambara (white clad/northern India) and Digambara (Naked/southern India).
    • The first Jain council was held at Patliputra led by Sthulabahu, and the second was held at Vallabhi, where the 12 Angas of the Swetambaras were finally compiled.
    • Jains built stupas with railing, pillars, and gateways. The Hathi Gumpha, Udaigiri, and Khandagiri caves of Orrisa contain Jain relics.
    • Mathura became a center of Jain art during the Kushan period.
    • The statue of Gomatesawara and Karkala testify to the excellence of jain architecture.
    • Dilwara temple at Mt Abu and temples at Ranakpur are examples of superb workmanship.

    Impact Of Jainism

    • Jainism made the first serious attempt to mitigate the evils of varna and ritualistic Vedic religion.
    • Early Jainism discarded the Sanskrit language mainly patronised by Brahmanas and adopted the Prakit language.

    Jain Councils

    • By the end of the fourth century, there was a serious famine in the Ganges Valley leading to great exodus of many Jain-monks to the Deccan and South India along with Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta Maurya.
    • They returned to the Gangetic Valley after 12 years. The leader of the group which stayed back at Magadha was Sthulabahu.
    • The changes that took place in the code of conduct of the followers of Sthulabahu led to the division of the Jains into Digambaras (sky-clad or naked) and Swetambaras (white clad).

    First Council: The First Council was held at Patliputra by Sthulabahu at the beginning of the third century BCE and resulted in the compilation of the 12 Angas to replace the lost 14 Purvas.

    Second Council: The Second Council was held at Vallabhi in the fifth century CE under the leadership of Devaradhi Kshmasramana and resulted in the final compilation of the 12 Angas and 12 Upangas.

    Decline of Jainism

    Various factors contributed to the decline of Jainism in India :

    • It had to compete with both Hinduism and Buddhism.
    • The absence of popular religious preachers after the death of Mahavira, its division into two important sects, the absence of protection by later rulers, and the revival of Hinduism. all contributed to the decline of this religion. Besides, it also was unable to spread to any considerable extent behind the limits of India.

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