Who was Saint Mahavir? What is Mahavir Jayanti? Read on to find out.
Mahavir Jayanti, as the term suggests, marks the birth of the revered Jain saint, Mahavir. He was born in 540 B.C. as Vardhamana, in a small town called Vaishali. He was destined to be either an emperor or a teerthankara (saint). History tells us that he was the 24th teerthankara. He is the founder of Jainism, the religion practiced till date. Jainism surfaced (between the 5th and the 6th century B.C) as retaliation to the Vedic preaching of Hinduism. Unlike Buddhism, which follows the middle path, Jainism preaches a very extreme form of ascetism and self-control.
The term 'Jain' has been derived from Jina, which means The Conqueror. Jainism rests on the three-fold path of right conduct, right faith and right knowledge. It does not believe in a single God who absolves the worshippers of their sins. It teaches the practitioners to take complete responsibility for their actions, thereby underlying the Karma theory. It teaches the followers to live a very austere life, in an attempt to clear their debt to mankind and also attain the highest form of salvation.
The devout followers of this religion do not even harm a fly. Some followers cover their mouths with a tiny cloth, in order to avoid the slightest possibility of killing of germs during breathing. It was this doctrine of non-violence (Ahimsa) that was adopted and popularized by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle.
Jainism can be divided into two sects - the Shwetamabara Jains (ones wearing simple white clothes) and the Digamabara Jains who practice the most extreme form of ascetism by not adorning any clothes on their bodies. Both these schools strictly follow the teachings of Mahavira, who is known as the 'Jina' or the conqueror.
Mahavir Jayanti is observed on the 13th day of the month of Chaitra as per the Hindu calendar. This day is commemorated, not with pomp and festivities, but with silent prayers and worship, in accordance with Saint Mahavir's teachings of austerity and renunciation.
Jain religious leaders spend the day in solitude, while the rest of the Jain population organises peaceful processions, with children depicting stories from the life and times of Saint Mahavir. Mahavir Jayanti is especially observed in places like Old Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan, which consists of a sizeable Jain population. At certain places, (like the highly revered shrines of Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat, Pawanpuri in Bihar and the Parasnath temple in Calcutta), the day is celebrated with a great deal of joy and enthusiasm. Mahavir Jayanti is generally considered auspicious all over the country.