Compendium of Jainism ► II ►The Tirthankaras And Lord Mahavira

Posted: 22.10.2015

The Tirthankaras and Lord Mahāvira.

Time (Kāla) is infinite according to the Jaina tradition, it is a substance which has kalpas (aeons) or cycles- Each cycle is divided into two eras; the avasarpiṇī and utsarpiṇī. The former is an era during which happiness and goodness go on decreasing while the latter era is one in which there is a gradual increase in piety, truth and goodness. Each of these two equal eras is divided into six ages or periods of unequal length, each with its own features. The present era is called avasarpiṇī and its six ages are;

  1. suṣamā-suṣamā or the period of great happiness;
  2. suṣamā or the period of happiness;
  3. suṣamā-duḥṣamā or the period of happiness and some misery;
  4. duḥṣamā –suṣāmā or the period of misery and some happiness;
  5. duḥṣamā or the period of misery
  6. duḥṣamā - duḥṣamā or the period or great misery.

The periods or ages of utsarpiṇī have the same names in the reverse order, commencing with duḥṣama-duḥṣama. Thus the first three of the avasarpiṇī Kala and the last three of the utsarpiṇī Kala are periods or ages of happiness.

In the earliest state of civilization, man knew neither the arts nor the occupations like agriculture. He depended wholly on fruits and roots for his diet, and leaves and barks of trees for his clothing. So the trees were called Kalpa-vṛkṣas as they yielded all that man needed or desired. This age was followed by the ages of work and toil. This tradition is in conformity with modem researches which have disclosed that until the invention of tools, agriculture etc., man subsisted on fruits and roots of trees.

Evolution has been gradual. During that period, there appeared fourteen Kulakaras or Manus one after the other. It was these wise men that were responsible for the progressive changes in the world by the invention of new skills and arts and by introduction of order and new phases in the art of living. Pratiśruti, Sanmati, Kṣemānkara, Kṣemandhara, Sīmankara, Sīmandhara, Vimalavāhana, Cakṣumān, Yśasvin, Abhicandra, Candrābha, Marud Deva, Prasenajit and Nābhi are the fourteen Manus or wise men who are the benefactors of mankind as they not only paved the way for comfortable living but also enlightened mankind on the basic rules of morality and goodness.


The last Manu Nābhi had a wife by name Marudevi who gave birth to a son by name Ṛṣabha. Jaina tradition is unanimous in recognising Ṛṣabha as the first Tīrthankara. Śamantabhadra says:

Yena praṇītaṃ prathu dharma-tīrthaṃ,
Jyeṣṭhaṃ janāḥ prāpya jayanti duḥkhaṃ.

"A Tīrthankara is one who has laid down the principles of the highest religion with whose assistance people can conquer their sorrows." He is also called an Arihanta or one who has conquered all enemies like lust, greed, etc. and destroyed all the destructive and non-destructive Karmas; his other name is Arhat or one who is worthy of respect. European scholars have interpreted the term Tirthankara as meaning "a holy teacher", or "a ford-maker" or "remover of all obstacles on the way to salvation", or "boatman across the current of existence". The royal emblem of Ṛṣabha was the bull. Since he taught people how to grow sugarcane, his lineage came to be known as Ikṣvāku-vamśa. He taught people the art of domesticating animals and the use of bulls for cultivation of lands. He laid down and followed the path of Ahimsa and Truth. He organized the society into three occupational groups: agriculturists, traders and soldiers. The last group consisted of only able bodied men who could defend the country and maintain order in society. He ruled over his kingdom for several years. He had many sons, but of them, Rharata and Bāhubali are quite well-known. He led a life of great piety and purity.

"As a matter of fact, Lord Ṛṣabha laid the foundation of civic life and taught men how to co-operate with one another for mutual benefit. He taught 72 arts to men and 64 fine arts to women which included writing, painting, music etc. But the most important of his worldly teaching was the cultivation of grains and manufacturing of pots. As such, Prof. Lothar Wendel is right to call him "the Father of agriculture and culture the greatest achievement of which was the recognition of soul, the basic fundamental for the sanctity of all life and for the manifestation of Ahimsā".

The details of his life as given in the Mahāpurāṇa and Padmapurāṇa of the Jainas are corroborated by the Hindu Purāṇas like the Bhāgavata and Śivapurāṇa. When Ṛṣabha was ruling his kingdom making the lives of his subjects happy and purposeful, an event of great significance' occurred. While he was sitting one day in his Darbār, a dancer by name Nīlāṃjanā was brought there to dance. She began her dance to the accompaniment of music and when she had reached the climax of her graceful art, she suddenly collapsed and breathed her last. This incident was sufficient to convince him about the uncertainty and fleeting character of life. He decided to renounce the world.

Ṛṣabha crowned his eldest son Bharata as his successor. He distributed his kingdom amongst his sons including Bahubali. It is due to the memorable reign of Bharata that India acquired the renowned name of Bhāratvarṣa. Ṛṣabha parted with everything that he had and took to the life of a Śravaṇas. He went to Mount Kailāsa where he practised penance as a naked Muni. He attained Omniscience and preached the religion of Ahiṁsā, love and truth. He had 84 Gaṇadharas or apostles who interpreted his sermons to the audience. Vṛṣabhasena. the younger brother of Bharata was the first to become the spiritual messenger of the Tirthankara. Somaprabha and Śreyāṁśa at whose place he accepted food after long fast, also became the apostles. His eldest daughter Brāhrni was the first to accept asceticism and become a nun. His second daughter Sundarī was the next to join the order of nuns. It may be noted that according to tradition, Ṛṣabhadeva is credited with the invention of a script to teach his daughters and that it is for that reason that the script came to be known as Brahmi script.

That Ṛṣabhadeva preached the gospel of Ahiṁsā is mentioned in the Viṣṇupurāṇa and Vāyupurāṇa, which only proves that the Tirthankara was respected even by the Hindus. After preaching his religion which came to be known as the religion of Jinas, he retired to Mount Kailāsa in the Himalayas and attained salvation or Nirvana after destroying the aghātīya Karmas. He attained Nirvāṇa on the fourteenth day of the dark half of the month of Magha.

Reference has already been made to the finds during the excavations at Harappa and Mohenjadaro where nude images of ascetics in Kayotsarga and seals with emblem of bull have been found. Scholars have deduced from the numerous finds that the Indus Valley Civilization was a pre-Aryan civilization with the Ahimsa cult. From the absence of any weapons of war amongst the finds, scholars have informed that there might not have been wars and that the State administration must have been founded on the principle of non-violence. It is a good augury that such archaeological discoveries and other evidences are gradually favouring the Jaina tradition of its antiquity.

During the present cycle of time, there were twenty-four Tīrthankaras whose names and some other details are as follows:




Place of Birth








Rṣabha or Ādinātha


























Sumaṅgalā (Maṅgalā)


Curlew (Kraunea)



Dharaṇa (Śrīdhara)



Red Lotus



Supratiṣṭha (Pratiṣṭha)











Puspadanta (Suvidhi-nātha)

Sugrīva (Supriya)



Crocodile (makara)




Sunandā (Nandā)

Bhadrikā-purī (Bhadrilia)

Wishing tree (Srivatsa)




Visṇudri (Viṇṣa)






Vijayā (Jaya)






Suramyā (Śyamā)








Bear (Falcon)






Spike-headed Club(Vajradaṇḍa)






















Rakṣitā (Prabhāvatī)

Mithilā-puri (Mathurā)






Kuśāgra-nagara or Rāja-gṛha





Vaprā (Viprā)

Mithilā-puri or Mathurā

Blue Lotus





Śauripura or Dvārakā









Mahāvīra or Vardhamāna


Priyakāriṇī (Triśalā)




Except Ṛṣabha, Vāsupūjya, Neminātha and Mahavira, all the Tirthankaras attained Nirvana on Mount Sammed (modern Parasnāth), in Bihar while the aforesaid four attained Nirvana on the Mount Kailāsa, Champāpurī, Mount Girnār and Pāvā-puri respectively.

(Copied from the Table at the end of Chapter I of Outlines of Jainism by J. L.Jaini).

The details given in the Mahāpurāṇa about their parentage, about the dreams that the mother of each had at about the time of conception (garbha-kalyāṇa), birth, (janma-kalyāṇa), ascension to the throne (kalyana rājyārohaṇa), initiation (dīkṣā-kalyāṇa) and attainment of Nirvana (Mokṣa-kalyāṇa) are full of details. The gods led by Indra attended and actively participated in each function. Each Tīrthankara has a history of his previous births as man and beast until his last birth as a human being in which he attained Nirvana and became a Jina. The first Tīrthankara was a person of stupendous height and his life span extended over millions of years.

The dreams dreamt by the mother of each of the Tirthankaras must have been inserted in the Purāṇās to impress on the parents that they were to have a son who was destined to be a Jina and that austere life of purity and piety on their pan was most essential. The worship and the celebrations on the five occasions called panca-kalyana pujas were perhaps necessary to create an awakening amongst the public and to herald to the world the advent of a new teacher. The descriptions about the height and span of life were intended to impress on the followers the physical and spiritual zenith each Jina had reached; it is not unlikely that the poet who visualized in his mind the most astounding strength and prowess, attributed the same to each of the Jinas in his poetic descriptions and thus impressed on his readers their divine grandeur and lustre all through their worldly existence. The bhavāvalī or the history of previous births and deaths is intended to emphasise the inexorable character of the law of karma operating in the life of every living being, however exalted might be the status he ultimately realized.

It is impossible to narrate the life-history of all the Tīrthankaras. Besides, the historicity of many of them is still shrouded in mythology. It would be too dogmatic to think that the Tīrthankaras were all mythological since the historicity of at least the last three of them is now recognised, even though some fifty years ago many scholars wrongly asserted that Mahavira was the founder of Jainism. I would therefore refer only to such of them as are considered to be of historical environments.


Muni-Suvrata is the 20th 1 Tīrthankara who is said to have been born in the month of Vaisakha, on the second day of the dark half of the month. He v as born at Rājagṛha or Kuśāgra-nagara. His father was Sumirarāja while Padmāvatī was the name of his mother. His emblem was Tortoise. He attained salvation on the month Parasnāth on the 12th day of the dark half of the month of Phalguna. Dr. Kamta Prasad has refered to the mention of Kūrma-Rṣi in the Rigveda(2-3- 27-32) as also to his teachings which it is possible to identify with this Tīrthankara. He also refers to Kūrma Purāṇa. There is no other evidence.[1]

Ariṣṭanemi or Neminātha

Ariṣṭanemi has been mentioned in the Ṛgveda as already referred to. He was born at Mathura on the second day of the bright half of the month of Śrāvāṇa. His father was Samudravijaya while his mother was Śivādevi. Vasudeva, the father of Śri Kṛiśṇa was the younger brother of Samudra-vijaya. They belonged to Yādava Kshatriya clan. According to Jaina Purāṇa, king Ugrasena had a daughter by name Rājamati. It had been settled that Neminātha should marry Rājamati. So while he was proceeding in procession to the house of his father-in-law, he heard the groaning of some animals and saw some of them tied to pillars. When he questioned others, he was told that the animals were intended to be killed for food to some of the guests attending the marriage. His heart melted with pity and he drove back his chariot. He renounced the world and took to asceticism inspite of the entreaties of Shri Kṛṣṇa and other relatives. When Rājamati came to know of the turn of events, she too abandoned her royal life and became a nun. He preached the religion of compassion, self-control and renunciation in the kingdoms of Magadha, Pallava etc., before he retired to Girnār where he attined Nirvana after severe penance.

Reference has already been made to the mention of the name of Ariṣṭanemi in the Vedas and to the opinion of Dr. Radhakrishnan who does not doubt the historicity of this Tirthankara. Dr. Prananath, whose reading of a copper-plate grant by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnazaar I of 1140 B. C. has been published, has stated that the King had come to mount Revata to pay his homage to Lord Neminatha.[2] Dr. Fuherer has declared on the basis of his studies on the archaeological discoveries at Mathura that Neminatha was a historical personage.[3] Dr. Kamta Prasad mentions that some inscriptions of Indo-Scythian period make express reference to this Tirthankara.[4] It h stated in the Ādi Parva of the Mahabharata that the Epic War took place at the advent of Kali-era which is said to have commenced 3101 years B. C. Neminatha was a cousin and a contemporary of Shri Kṛṣṇa, though he did not participate in the War like the letter. The Jaina Purāṇas assign 2750 years before the birth of Pārśva as the year of his attainment of Nirvana. This calculation almost tallies with the calculations made on the basis of Mahabharata War. Until further evidence of unimpeachable character becomes available, it may not be erroneous to accept these dates to uphold the historicity of Lord Neminatha. In this connection, quite noteworthy is a paper "Before Mahāvīra" by Dr. R. Williams published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (April 1966). In his opinion Nemi emerges from the background of the traditional hagiography with a profile at least as clear as that of Pārśva.[5]


He was followed by Lord Pārśvanātha who is the twenty- third Tirthankara. He was born at Varanasi. His father Viśvasena was then ruling over Kāśi which was his kingdom. His mother's name was Brahmi. He was born on the 11th day of the dark half of the month Puṣya in the year 1039 B. C. According to tradition his birth took place 2,750 years after Lord Neminatha had attained Nirvana. He belonged to Ugra Vaṁśa and Kāśyapa-gotra. His royal emblem was a hooded cobra. He was a great reformer and had a stately personality. Even from his boyhood he was full of compassion.

It is usual to associate every great personality with some incidents that speak of his heroic power or divine nature.

It is said that when once the prince was walking in a forest, he saw an ascetic who was no other than Mahīpāla, his maternal grandfather. Mahīpāla had renounced the world on the death of his queen and gone to a forest to practise penance. He was then practising austere penance by being surrounded by five fires, Pārsva was hurt. Then Mahīpāla started cutting a tree for fuel to feed the fires around him. Prince Pārsvanātha understood by his mental powers that there were two living serpants in that branch of (he tree which he was cutting. Thereupon, he advised the ascetic not to cut the tree as there were a male and a female serpants in it and that austerities of the type he was practising were not conducive to spiritual elevation. The ascetic did not heed his advice and went on thoughtlessly cutting the tree. To his great dismay, he saw two serpants emerging from the branch of the tree he had cut. The serpants were reeling with pain and were actually dying. Prince Pārśvanātha took pity on them and out of affection for them, repeated loudly the Panca-Namokāra- mantra before them. The snakes died while hearing the holy Mantra and were born in the Nāgaloka as Dharaṇendra and his queen Padmāvatī It may be mentioned that in most of the Jaina temples where there is the image of Lord Pāśvanāta as the presiding god, there are images of these two Yaksa and Yakṣinī

When the prince attained thirty years of his age he heard that King Devasena of Sāketapura was celebrating the panca- Kalyana pujas of Lord Ṛṣabhadeva. „He went there and came to know how the Lord had renounced the world. He felt that life was transitory and that there was in the himsā (injury) in name of religion. He decided to renounce the world much to the grief of his parents. He advised them about the ills of life and the greatness of true asceticism.

He went to a forest. Ongoing there, he removed all his ornaments and clothes. He removed his hair with his own hands and started observing all the rules of conduct of a Śravaṇa. He observed fasts and penance. He acquired the manaḥparyāya Jnana or the knowledge of reading the thoughts of others. He radiated all affection and purity. It is said that when he was deeply engrossed in his meditation, Śambaradeva who was no other than Mahīpāla in his next birth, started pouring heavy rains and trying to cause all sorts of pain. The two Nāgas-Dharaṇendra and Padmāvatī came to know it and spread their hoods on the Lord who was undisturbed by what was taking place. It is worthwhile to mention that the image of Lord Pārśvanātha has the hood of a cobra spread over his head like an umbrella. Cobra is his emblem.

Pārśvanātha continued his penances undisturbed and in full control of himself. At last, when he became absorbed in Śukla dhyāna (lustrous meditation), he obtained Omniscience on the fourth day in the dark half of the month of Caitra. He then started preaching the gospel of Jina and called upon all people to observe the vows of Ahimsa, Truth, Non-stealing and Non~ possessiveness or aparigraha. He went to different places in the country like Kāśi, Kosala, Magadha, Kalinga and Pāñcāia etc. After preaching till he attained 69 years and 9 months of his age, he proceeded towards the Sammedagiri and became engrossed in meditation. When he had reached 100 years of age, he attained Nirvana on the seventh day of the bright half of the month of Śrāvaṇa in the year 939 B. C. The Sammedagiri which had been hallowed by the attainment of Nirvana by 19 Tirthankaras earlier came to be named after him as Pārśvanātha Hill which is regarded today as the holiest place of pilgrimage for Jainas.

The historicity of Lord Pārśvanātha is no longer in dispute as stated by Dr. Jacobi. The scenes of his life are found sculptured in the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri in Orissa. They belong to the second century B. C. The inscription of Indo-Scythian period found at Mathura also establishes his antiquity.[6] Dr. Zimmer has observed: "More striking still are those Jaina images of Pārśvanātha that represent him with two serpants sprouting from his shoulders; these point to a connection of some kind 'with ancient Mesopotamian art, and suggest something of that great antiquity of the symbols incorporated in the Jaina cult"[7]

The religion preached by Pārśvanātha was more comprehen­sive than the one preached by his predecessors. It appears from the conversation between Keśi, the follower of Pārśva and Gautama the follower of Vardhamāna as recorded in the Uttarādhyayana Sutra that the three Jewels, viz, Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct had already been part of the Jaina religion. Pārśva preached only the four aṇuvratas as mentioned above thinking that aparigrapha included celibacy also. Pārśva permitted the monks the use of an under and an upper garment. The explanation by Gautama is that the Tirthankara fixed what is necessary for carrying out the rules of the Dharma.[8] It appears that the question of garment was not regarded as of much consequence since what was important was internal purity. It is recognised that the earlier Tirthankaras had preached sāmāyika (introspection) and saṁyama (self- restraint). Pratikramaṇa or repentance was prescribed for all breaches of rules of vows committed by a Śramaṇa. Besides Pārśva opened the minds of people to the futility of wrong practices and rituals for spiritual elevation and emphasised the need of perfect faith, knowledge and conduct for self-realization.

Lord Mahāvīra

Mahavira is the last of the twenty-four Tirthankaras. It is now undisputed that he is not the founder of Jainism.

Mahāvīra was born on the 13th day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra in the year 599 B. C. His father Siddhartha, King of the Kuṇḍapura of the Jñātṛ clan in Vaiśāli. His mother was Triśalā, the daughter of Chetāka, a King of the Lichhavi clan. She had another name Priyakāriṇī. There is another tradition which regards her as the sister of Chetaka. The parents were the followers of the tradition of Lord Pārsvanātha. The child was first named Vīra, but since his birth, as the kingdom began to attain greater prosperity, he was called Vardhamāna. In some religious texts, he is called Jñātṛputra. In the Buddhistic literature he is called Nātaputta. According to tradition, he had been gifted at birth with Matijñāna (perceptional knowledge), Śruta-jñāna (knowledge of the sacred lore) and manaḥ paryāya jñāna (clairvoyance). He was thus born with all the intellectual and spiritual gifts which marked him out as a great religious teacher. He was educated as a prince. He possessed a gifted personality and a brilliant intellect. It is said that two sages Vijaya and Saṁpaya who had heard about him, entertained doubts about his greatness. So they went to see him; but when they saw him actually, all their doubts were dispelled. They therefore called him Sanmati. Although lie was born in a royal family, he had hardly any love of power or wealth. He perceived that every living being had a soul with the same poten­tialities of greatness as his own; his conduct towards every living creature was full of compassion and love. The material comforts had no attraction for him. Self-restraint was a way of life for him. He was sweet-tempered and bore no ill-will towards anybody.

A couple of stories built around him are very popular and may therefore be briefly referred to. One is that while he was in the palace, he saw people running about helter-skelter in fear. When he came out, he saw the royal elephant running madly frightening the citizens. He ran out at once, caught hold of the elephant by its trunk and pacified it in no time. His marvellous courage and self-control were subjects of high admiration by the citizens. Similarly when he was playing in a garden with his friends, the latter were frightened by the approach of a terrifying cobra. While others tried to run away, the prince stood calm and when the cobra came near him, he caught hold of it and danced on its hood much to the amaze­ment of his friends. Such a story is told about Sri Kṛṣṇa also. It is said that it was on account of his brave acts like these that he was called Mahavira or Great Hero.

Mahavira thus grew up with all accomplishments and courage into a handsome youth. When he was about twenty-eight years old, his parents naturally thought of his marriage. On this point, there is a difference of view between the Digambara and the Śvetāmbara traditions. The former maintains that. Mahāvīra declined to marry as he was always spiritually inclined and regarded marriage as a hindrance to spiritual progress. The Śvetāmbara version of his life-history is that he was married to Princess Yaśodā of Kalinga and had a daughter who was later married to Jamāli; the latter was his disciple for some time but parted company later.

According to both the traditions, Mahāvīra took the vow of monk when he was thirty years old by which time his parents had died. He distributed his wealth in charity. He moved to forest where he cast off his clothes and pulled out his hair with his own hands. He spent most of his time in penance in caves and forests, on hills and mountain- peaks. He often suffered at the hands of cow-herds and other ignorant people, all kinds of privations and ill-treatment. It is said that when he was once engrossed in penance, a farmer asked him to look after his cattle and went away to his village for food. On his return, he found his cattle missing. He head the saint responsible for the dis­appearance of his cattle. He beat him but when he found him unmoved and smiling, he realised his folly and begged for pardon. He would observe fasts for days together as he used to get engrossed in deep meditations. He had acquired full control over his body, mind and speech as he bad set upon self- purification, which is a necessary pre-requisite for liberation of the self from the body. He was unmindful of social status and ignored the distinction between the high and the low. Once he accepted food from a girl by name Candanā who was a slave in the house of a rich man by name Vṛṣabhadatta but was pure in heart and conduct. He did this when numerous rich house-holders were eagerly waiting to offer him food. Thus he tried by example to abolish distinctions based on birth and status.

He spent twelve years of his life in observing austerities and long spells of deep meditations. He went to Jṛmbhikāgrāma or modern Jhiria in Bihar and took his seat under a sāl tree on the bank of the river Rijukula. He became engrossed in Śukla-dhyāna or lustrous meditation and destroyed the four destructive Karmas: Darśanāvaraṇīya, Jñānāvarṇīya, Mohanīya and Antarāya. He attained Kevala-jnāna or Omniscience. It was the 10th day of the bright half of Vaisakha when he attained supreme knowledge and intuition.

When the Venerable Ascetic Mahāvīra had become a Jina and Arhat, he was a Kevalin, omniscient and comprehending all objects; he knew and saw all conditions of the world, o' gods, men and demons: whence they come, whither they go, whether they are born as men or animals or become gods or hell beings, the ideas, the thoughts of their minds, the food, doings, desires, the open and secret deeds of all the living beings in the whole world; he, the Arhat, for whom there is no secret, knew and saw all conditions of all living beings in the world, what they thought, spoke, or did any moment.

On coming to know that the Lord had obtained Omniscience, large number of people collected to worship the Arhat. Amongst them was one indrabhūti Gautama, a reputed scholar in Vedic lore. The first sermon was delivered on the Vipulācala hill near Rājagṛha. The Śvetāmbara version is that it was delivered near Pāvānagar where they have built a temple. On hearing the first Sermon, Indrabhūti Gautama had his doubts dispelled and got new enlightenment. He and his followers including his brothers Agnibhūti and Vāyubhūti sought for initiation into the order of Śramaṇas and were so initiated. Indrabhūti Gautama became the first Gaṇadhara or (apostle) the interpreter of the sermons. This event was a great revolution in the spiritual thinking in Magadha.

Mahāvira started preaching the principles of Ahimsa and Truth, of self-control, self-reverence and self-knowledge as leading man to salvation. He preached what he had realised during the period of twelve years when he had turned his vision inwards by penances and austerities. There used to be large gatherings of people, irrespective of caste and creed, to hear his sermons. According to Jaina traditions, such assemblies where he held his sermons are known as Samavasaraṇa or a refuge of equality and equanimity, for all. He spent his rainy seasons in many places including Vaiśāli, Rājagṛha, Nālandā, Mithilā and Śrāvastī. Thousands of people who had thirst for spiritual knowledge used to gather at the feet of the Lord. He spent his rainy season at Pāvāpuri where on the 15th day of the dark fortnight he breathed his last when he was sitting absorbed in penance early before dawn. He annihilated his aghātīya Karmas and attained Nirvana in the morning of the Amavasya day, in the month of Asvija in 527 B. C. freeing himself from the ties of birth, old-age and death. He became fully liberated and became a mukta. The Kings of Kāśi, Kosala and Vaiśāli celebrated the event with illuminations on the first new moon day and said: "Since the light of intelligence is gone, let us. take an illumination of material matter".[9] Even to this day, the day is observed as a festival day, a day of illumination, Dīpāvaliv

The religion preached by Lord Mahāvīra is not a new religion; it is the religion of the Jinas who had gone before him and popularised the basic principles of the greatness of Self. The two basic principles of the Universe are Jīva and Ajīva. They are connected with each other from the beginning. It is the activities of the mind, speech and body that are responsible for entanglement of the soul with Karma which it is possible to prevent and eradicate by austerities, observance of the principles of religion and by meditation. Man is the architect of his own destiny. The goal of his life is attainment of infinite Faith, knowledge and bliss so as to be free from the fetters of the Karmas. The principles of Ahimsa (Love) and Satya (Truth) have guided the destinies of our country and of other countries that have abided by them. Mahatma Gandhi used them as his armour in our country's struggle for freedom and proved that they are not weapons of the weak but of the brave.

Mahāvīra delivered his sermons in the language of the people, viz., Ardhamāgadhi. His disciples have collected his teachings under twelve titles called the Dādasāngas or the Twelve Scriptures. His message is not one of "empty heart". He emphasised that life had a meaning and could be purposeful only if one lived it with an awareness of its sacred goal. It is a message of hope for a life of piety and love.

Mahāvira preached celibacy (brahmacarya) as a separate vow so as to make the total number of vows five: viz. Ahimsā, Satya, Acaurya, Brahmacarya and Aparigraha. He also constituted the community into a Sangha consisting of the Munis (Monks), Arjikās (Nuns), Śrāvaka (male house-holders). For the first two classes, he prescribed the five vows as Mahāvratas or the big vows while the same were termed Aṇuvratas or small vows for the lay men and lay women. The big vows implied that the votary was to observe them with greater rigour and minute­ness, exercising greater care and meticulousness in the observance of each vow in all aspects. He evolved eleven stages (pratimās) amongst the lay men and lay women commencing from the cultivation of Right Faith till the final stage of having the minimum clothing. He also emphasised that for averting the.effects of transgressions, sincere repentances for every lapse was efficacious. He preached that austerities and regular observance of vows were essential for preventing the influx of fresh karmas.

Gaṇadharas (Apostles)

Before closing this topic, reference must be made to the Gaṇadharas who interpreted the principles of Bhagavān Mahavira after he had started preaching his gospel on attaining omniscience. The first scholar to do this work was Indrabhūti Gautama. He was a Brahmin well-versed in Vedic-lore. He entertained some doubts about the interpretation of some metaphysical principles. On hearing of the Omniscient Lord, he went to him to know what.was meant by the six dravyas, the five astikāyas and the seven principles etc. He was fully satisfied with the interpretation of those principles by the Tīrthankara. Mahavira preached what life was, what the meaning of Karma was and how Karma was responsible for different births and rebirths. Indrabhūti felt enlightened and became a convert along with his five hundred disciples to the religion of Śramaṇa. After this, the two brothers of Indrabhūti, viz., Agnibūti and Vāyubhūti, were also erudite scholars of Vedic faith and they too had their doubts clarified.

Besides these three brothers, there were eight other Brahmin and Kṣatriya scholars who were similarly attracted by the preachings of Mahavira and they too became converts to his faith along with their disciples. They arc: Sudharma, Mauryaputra, Maundrya, Putra, Maitreya, Akampana, Acelaka and Prabhava.

Of these Gaṇadharas, Indrabhūti Gautama was the wisest and possessed sound powers of exposition. He therefore, became the first Gaṇadhara who not only interpreted the sermons of Mahavira but also reduced them to writing.

The Great Teacher went about from place to place preaching to all people irrespective of caste and creed the principles of the five vows, of the path of salvation and of self-control and self- knowledge. Many great rulers of the time like Śreṇika and Ajātaśatru of Magadha, Chetaka of Vaiśāli, Prasenajit of Śrāvasti, flocked to hear his sermons and became his followers.

Of the eleven Gaṇadharas, only two of them, Gautama and Sudharma, survived Mahavira while the rest of them adopted the vow of Sallekhana at different times at Rājagṛha and attained salvation.

After the Nirvana of Mahavira, Indrabhūti Gautama lived for about 12 years and attained omniscience. Sudharma then assumed the spiritual leadership and he too attained omniscience. He was followed by Jambūsvāmi who was the last to attain omniscience.

After Jambūsvāmi had attained salvation in 403 B. C. Prabhava continued the leadership of Jaina thought and died in 397 B. C. It was during his time that the two sects of Osvāla Jaina and Śrīmāla Jaina arose.[10] It may be noted that upto Jambūsvāmi, there is unanimity between Digambara and Śvetāmbara traditions. Thereafter, the Śvetāmbara tradition gives the names of Prabhava, Svayambhava, Sambhūtivijaya and Bhadrabāhu while the Digambara tradition mentions the names of Viṣṇu, Nandi, Aparājita, Govardhana and Bhadrabāhu. These are called the Śruta-kevalins who did not attain omniscience like their three predecessors.[11]

It is an outstanding event of history that it was this Bhadrabāhu who was the Guru of Chandragupta of the Maurya dynasty who migrated to the South along with his 12000 disciples as he sensed a famine of terrible severity. Chandragupta also accompanied his Guru and the inscriptions at Śravaṇabelagola and elsewhere bear ample testimony to this great event in the spread of Jainism in Southern parts of India. Chandragupta became a Jaina ascetic after abdicating his throne in 297 B. C. and died twelve years later at Śravaṇabelagola* after adopting the vow of Sallekhanā.[12]

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Title: Compendium of Jainism
Authors: T.K. Tukol
Publisher: Prasaranga, Karnatak University, Dharwad
Edition: 1980