Mahavira is the name most commonly used to refer to the Indian sage Vardhamana.
Mahavira was born in Kundapura near Vaishali. The traditional Jaina date for Mahavira’s birth is 599 – 527 BCE.
(Ascetic: A person who renounces material comforts and leads a life of austere self-discipline, especially as an act of religious devotion.)
The following, is a legend which is narrated in the Acharanga Sutra and in the Kalpa Sutra. Swamy Mahaveera is referred to as Arugan or Arugadevan. He is also known in texts as Vira or Viraprabhu, Sanmati ,Ativira and Gnatputra.
Birth of Prince Vardhaman
In a place called Kshatriyakunda in the ancient kingdom of Lachuar. Mahavira was born to King Siddartha and Queen Trishala on the 13th day under the rising moon of Chaitra.
Mahavira was conceived in the womb of Devananda, who had fourteen prophetic dreams. These fourteen dreams, were meant to specify that the child would become either an emperor or a great Spiritual Soul. Mahavira was, soon after, divinely transferred to the womb of Trishala, who also had the same fourteen prophetic dreams. Note, how similar it is to the story about how, Krishna’s brother BalaramaBalarama
Balarama is considered to be the joint incarnation of Vishnu, along with Krishna...
, was transferred, to the womb of Rohini from the womb of DevakiDevaki
In Hinduism, Devaki is the wife of Vasudeva and mother of Krishna. She was the mother of the Devas.
Devaki and Vasudeva were imprisoned by her brother, Kamsa or Kansa...
To return to the life story of Mahavira, while the latter was in the womb of his mother, the wealth of the parent household increased. Hence the divine child was called Vardhamana.
While still in his mother’s womb it is believed he brought wealth and prosperity to the entire kingdom, which is why he was also known as Vardhaman. An increase of all good things, like the abundant bloom of beautiful flowers, was noticed in the kingdom after his conception. Queen Trishala had a number of (14 in Swetambar Sect, 16 inDigambar Sect) auspicious dreams before giving birth to Vardhaman, signs foretelling the advent of a great soul.
Jain tradition states that after his birth, Indra bathed him in celestial milk with rituals befitting a future Tirthankarand he was returned to his mother, Trishala.
Vardhaman’s birthday is celebrated as Mahavir Jayanti, the most important religious holiday of Jains around the world.
As King Siddartha’s son, he lived as a prince.
Young Vardhamana was brave. He not only mounted a charging elephant, but also picked up a large snake. Later as an ascetic, Vardhamana’s control of senses during the penance, that he endured, was exemplary. No wonder, that Vardhamana came to be known as Mahavira. (One who is courageous, One of great strength) The father of Mahavira was King Siddartha.
Mahavira married a princess named Yasoda, and they had a daughter, who was named Anoja.
However, even at that tender age he exhibited a virtuous nature. He started engaging in meditation and immersed himself in self-contemplation. He was interested in the core beliefs of Jainism and began to distance himself from worldly matters.
At the age of thirty Mahavira renounced his kingdom and family, gave up his worldly possessions, and spent twelve years as anascetic. During these twelve years he spent most of his time meditating. He gave utmost regard to other living beings, including humans, animals and plants, and avoided harming them. He had given up all worldly possessions including his clothes, and lived an extremely austere life. He exhibited exemplary control over his senses while enduring the penance during these years. His courage and bravery earned him the name Mahavira. These were the golden years of his spiritual journey, at the end of which he achievedKaivalya Gyan. He was now a person of infinite harmony, knowledge and self-control.
Mahavira devoted the rest of his life to preaching the eternal truth of spiritual freedom to people around India. He traveled barefoot and without clothes, in the hardest of climates, and people from all walks of life came to listen to his message. At one point Mahavira had over 400,000 followers. Mahavira’s preaching and efforts to spread Jain philosophy is considered the real catalyst to the spread of this ancient religion throughout India and into the mainstream.
At the age of 72 years and 4.5 months, he attained Nirvana in the area known as Pawapuri on the last day of the Indian and Jain calendars, Dipavali. Jains celebrate this as the day he attained liberation or Moksha. Jains believe Mahavira lived from 599-527 BCE, though some scholars prefer 549-477 BCE.