Mahavir Jayanti is one of the most significant festivals of Jainism. It is observed to commemorate the birth of Lord Mahavira, the twenty fourth and last tirthankara of Jainism. The festival is also called “Mahavir Janma Kalyanak” and is usually celebrated in the Gregorian months of March or April. The celebration lacks much pomp and show and is mainly observed with reverence to Lord Mahavir, with anointment of his statues, prayers and meditation.
Mahavir Jayanti 2019
This year Mahavir Jayanti will be celebrated on Wednesday, 17th April 2019. Some of the Indian states where Mahavir Jayanti is grandly observed are – Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh.
When is Mahavir Jayanti Observed?
Ancient Jainism texts which document the birth of Lord Mahavir, state it, as on the thirteenth day of waxing moon in the Hindu calendar month of Chaitra. Chaitra is the first month of Hindu calendar corresponding to the months of March or April in Gregorian calendar. Thus Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the rising moon in Chaitra month.
Life of Lord Mahavir
Lord Mahavir was born in royal Ikshvaku dynasty, to king Siddhartha and queen Trishala. Other Indian deities like Rama and Gautam Buddha also belonged to the same dynasty. Jains believe that their twenty one out of twenty four tirthankaras also belonged to the same dynasty.
Digambar Jains believe that the place of birth of Mahavir was in a village named Kundagrama, now in present day Vaishali district of eastern state of Bihar, where his mother gave birth to him in a seven storey palace known as Nandavarth palace. However, this claim conflicts the Swetambar Jains, who believe that Mahavir was born at a place called Kshatriyakund village. Never the less, both of these places were in Bihar and also there is no difference regarding Lord Mahavir’s date of birth, which is, Chaitra Shukla 13 in 599 BC.
Lord Mahavir’s child hood was spent in prosperity and abundance, as a prince. His parents were ardent devotees of twenty third tirthankara, Parshvanatha; this in fact had an influence on Mahaveera’s personality. Swetambar Jains believe that he was married to Yashoda, and the couple also had a daughter, Priyadarshana; however, Digambaras challenge it and claim that he was never married.
Mahavir took to ascetic life at the age of thirty. He left his royal life and family, in search of spiritual awakening. He abandoned his clothes and underwent hard penance for twelve years before he attained Kevala Jnana (infinite knowledge and wisdom) at the age of forty two, under a sal tree, at the banks of Rijupalika River, at a place called Jrimbhikagrama located in modern day Bihar state.
After achieving infinite wisdom and knowledge, Mahaveera roamed throughout India to a number of places for thirty years to teach his philosophy. His disciples included 14000 male ascetics, 36000 nuns and half a million male, female followers.
There is no dispute among the two sects of Jainism regarding Mahaveera’s date of birth; however, they both differ on his nirvana (death) date. Swetambar Jains believe that Mahavir died in 527 BC, while the Digambars believe that his death occurred in 468 BC. However, both the sects agree on Pawapuri in present day Bihar as the Mahavira’s place of death.
Legends of Lord Mahavira
There are various legends associated with the early as well as previous lives of Lord Mahaveera. Even there is a legend associated with his nirvana (death).
As per the ancient mythological legend of Jainism, Mahavira took 27th rebirths before he was born as Mahavira in the sixth century. He is believed to have taken birth as a resident of hell, a lion and also a God, before his birth as the twenty fourth tirthankara. Ancient Swetambara texts state that the embryo of Mahavira was first formed in a Brahmin woman and was transferred into the womb of Trishala, by Hari Naigamesin, the commander of Lord Indra’s army.
Ancient texts on Jain tradition describe the occurrence of auspicious dreams to a mother, foretelling the birth of a child. Mahavira’s mother Trishala too had a number of auspicious dreams, all signifying the birth of a great soul. However, Swetambara and Digambara sects believe that Trishala had fourteen and sixteen dreams respectively.
Another legend states that Lord Indra descended on earth to perform anointment (abhisheka) of Mahavira at Sumeru Parvat when he took birth.
There is also a legend associated with the death of Mahavira; it states that, he was giving a sermon to thousands of his disciples at the town of Pawapuri in Nalanda district of eastern Bihar state. Sometimes during the night, when the disciples were fast asleep, Mahavira attained nirvana. When the disciples got up in the morning, Mahavira was not to be found anywhere, rather his disciples found his nails and hairs, which they cremated. Today, Mahavira Jal Mandir stands at the place where Lord Mahavira attained nirvana.
Teachings of Mahavira
Historians believed that the teachings of Mahavira were different in many ways than his contemporary Gautam Buddha. Teachings of Mahavira detailed a belief in soul while Gautam Buddha rejected such details. The ascetic teaching of Mahavira are considered to be more intense as well as his emphasis on ahimsa (non violence) is unparallel to any other religion.
For the purpose of achieving spiritual peace and enlightenment, Mahavira, emphasized on taking five vows. They are ahimsa or non violence, Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity) and Aparigraha (non attachment).
In Indian traditions, Mahavira is considered the supreme preacher of ahimsa ever born. He taught that all living beings should live in harmony and no harm should be done on anyone be it human, animal or even insects. Mahavira preached that any bad deed done in this life cycle will affect the next life. According to him enlightenment could only be achieved through practicing self restraint.
How is Mahavir Jayanti Celebrated?
Mahavira Jayanti is grandly celebrated with reverence to Mahavira, Jainism’s twenty fourth tirthankara. A procession called Rath Yatra is carried out with the idol of Mahavira. Devotees recite bhajans and other religious rhymes in commemoration to Lord Mahavira. Next, the idol of Mahavira is anointed, this ceremony is called Abhisheka. Devotees visit Jain temples to worship and meditate and to listen to religious sermons.
The teachings of Mahavira laid much significance on Ahimsa, so to commemorate his teachings, an ahimsa walk is carried out, in which people display compassion and consideration towards each other as well as other living creatures.
Charity is also promoted and people donate food, money to the needy, or help in whatever way they can. The charity events differ from place to place and could range from individual donations to large community feasts or other similar events.
Large crowds of devotees throng to significant Jain temples all over India, more so, in the temples with an idol of lord Mahavira, for example – Dilwara temples near Mount Abu, Rajasthan; Palitana temples in Gujarat, Kulpakji Temple in Telangana, Sonagiri temples in Madhya Pradesh.
One of the major celebrations of Mahavir Jayanti takes place at the 17th century Hanumantal Jain temple in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. A considerably large procession is taken out from the temple on the birthday of Lord Mahavira.
Last but not the least; food also plays a significant role in any Jain festival. Devotees eat mostly fruits, nuts and vegetables, abstaining from garlic, onion and root vegetables.
History of Mahavir Jayanti and Ancient Custom
Ancient Jain texts state that Lord Mahavira was born in 599 BCE and died in 527 BCE, at an age of seventy two. However, he was the twenty fourth and last tirthankara of Jainism, validating the fact that the birthdays of his predecessors like Bahubali, are being celebrated since long before him.
However, the observance of the day has faced many ups and downs, as sometimes around the 1st century, the orally transmitted texts by monks, were lost. Fortunately, the teachings and vision of Mahavira and other tirthankaras stood the test of time.
The earliest symbols of Lord Mahavira are found from archeological sites in the north Indian city of Mathura, dated, sometimes, between 1st century BC to 2nd century AD.
In ancient days, the birth of Mahavira was observed as a strictly spiritual event without processions or display of the idols. Later the event became a little grander and also the observance of Nirvana (death) day of Mahavira, merged with the Deepawali festival of Hinduism.
Significance of Mahavir Jayanti
Lord Mahavira was a great spiritual teacher and the greatest advocate of Ahimsa or non violence. Even, Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian freedom fighter and the champion of truth and non violence, had said that Lord Mahavira was the greatest advocate of truth and non violence, ever born. Remembering him and his teachings on his birthday, let the devotees reinstate faith in their religion and spiritual masters. The birthday of Lord Mahavira gets all more significant considering the fact that there are very few festivals in Jainism.
The celebration also gives a fair chance to other religions as well, to know Jainism deeply. People of other faiths, from across India and the world as well, get to know the sanctity of Jainism and admire it. The intense penance, meditation for twelve years by Mahavira to attain enlightenment, is an inspiration for millions of devotees, while facing everyday challenges, keeping them from deterring from the path of truth and non violence.
Another most significant fact about Mahavira Jayanti is that, it promotes a sense of compassion towards the sufferings of other living beings and charity. Jain devotees donate money and other valuables to the needy, irrespective of caste or religion, implying the significance of good deeds and its rewards.