who hath large eyes and feet red and tender as is a
lotus, who possesseth the ultimate knowledge as his
intuitive vision, who redeemeth all from the bonds of
attachment, temptations and hatred by his detached yet
alluring words, O Ye, Lord Mahavira, I bow to thee in
reverence and worship so as to be able to achieve the
good and the virtuous," said the first century
Jain monk Kundakundacharya, one of the earliest known
teachers and annotators of the Jain dogma. The statement
reveals three aspects of Lord Mahavira : his form; width
of intuitive vision; and, power to redeem from the cycle
of life and death.
Born in an era of social disparity,
killing and violence inflicted in the name of rituals
and sacrifice and for vengeance and hatred, Lord Mahavira
emerged as a reformist, thinker, law-giver and guide.
He sought to achieve a multi-fold mission aiming especially
at a change in the prevailing system of thought, economic
structure, social set-up, and ethical values seeking
to equalize all living beings respecting alike the life
contained in a grass-leaf, insect, or human being, and
re-defined sanctity and potentialities of individual
self - 'jiva', as Mahavira has called it, in attaining
salvation - 'nirvana', by its own doing. Far ahead the
motto : 'live and let live' - commonly attributed to
Lord Mahavira, the ultimate aim that he set before all
'jivas' was : 'parasparopagraha jeevanam' - all living
beings, by virtue that they bear life, are under obligation
to mutually protect and help life in whatsoever form
it is contained. Instead of only 'let live', life was
obliged to mutually and positively promote life irrespective
of who or what bore it.
Before or even after Mahavira, survival
of mankind, or at the most animals, was the prime concern
of man's thought and endeavor. Mahavira's umbrella extended
to entire life, irrespective of form - grass-leaf, ant,
elephant, man or whatever that contained it. Environmentalists,
or rather all rational minds, are now worried about
irrational and injurious damage to nature - vegetation,
minerals and all its resources, which they think are
primarily responsible for ecological balance - an essential
condition of man's survival. This concern surfaced more
intensely and rationally in Mahavira's thought some
2600 years ago when he ordained that life sustained
in life, mutually and obligatorily - not in isolation
or by destroying other, as to Mahavira, life was life's
means and obligation. Contemporary minds - environmentalists
and others, seek to protect nature but
primarily for man's survival; Mahavira sought to protect
it - or rather every form of life, for its own sake.
In Jains' hierarchical order Lord
Mahavira was the last of the twenty-four 'Thirthankaras'
of the concurrent eon. As texts related to Jainism have
it, before his birth as Vardhamana - the name given
to Lord Mahavira at his birth, his 'jiva' transmigrated
through a cycle of hundreds of births and deaths. In
immediately preceding birth his 'jiva' was born as lion
- brave and seeker of new paths. When born as Vardhamana,
he had on his right foot the figure of lion - the mark
of the previous birth carried forward to the next, which
was his last. In the iconography of Mahavira the figure
of lion is hence used to denote his images.
Hundreds of births before he was
born as Vardhamana, the 'jiva' of Mahavira was Marichi,
the son of Maharaja Bharata, after whom the subcontinent
was named Bharata or Bharatavarsha. Rishabha Deva, the
father of Maharaja Bharata, was the first 'Tirthankara'
and the founder of the 'Shramana-dharma'. After having
attained 'tirthankarahood' Rishabha Deva, one day, when
preaching a gathering of his followers, predicted that
after him twenty-three more 'jivas' would attain 'keval
jnan' - enlightenment, and 'tirthankarahood' thereby.
The curious gathering prayed him to tell if anyone of
such twenty-three 'jivas' was present in the gathering.
Rishabha Deva pointed out Marichi as one of the would-be
'tirthankaras'. Hearing this, Marichi began considering
himself a 'Tirthankara'. Out of vanity he started behaving
proudly, arrogantly and even violently. He was thus
in the grip of detrimental 'karmas' - acts that obstructed
him from attaining 'tirthankarahood' and threw him into
interminable transmigrations, birth after birth. At
last, after he was born in this present birth as Vardhamana,
he was able to destroy his 'karmas' that obstructed
him from attaining 'keval jnan' and 'tirthankarahood'.
Though a historical figure, little
is known about the personal life of Lord Mahavira. Except
that on the 6th day of the later half of the month of
Ashad in 600 B. C., mother Trishala saw in her dream
sixteen auspicious signs when Mahavira emerged into
her womb, the childhood of Mahavira was by and large
So were the early years of his youth,
or rather the rest of his life; perhaps because whatever
worldly a 'jiva' was required to go through, Mahavira
had accomplished in his previous births. When he emerged
into public eye - as a prince or divine, he had already
reached such state of being, where he was required to
only know - not do anything. He neither hated nor loved,
nor reacted to injury inflicted or service rendered.
He inclined neither to eliminate evil nor to promote
good for he was neither the enemy of one nor the friend
of the other. Neither the emergence of 'jiva' - birth,
delighted him nor its disappearance - death, grieved,
for he knew that whosoever came would also go. Fixed
into himself Mahavira was beyond both - birth and death,
or rather beyond all worldly things, feelings of flesh
and misgivings of mind.
Chronologically, Lord Mahavira was
born at midnight on 30th March - Chaitra Shukla Trayodashi,
599 B. C., at Kundalpur or Kshatriya Kundapur, a sub-township
of Vaishali - part of modern Bihar. After he emerged
in Trishala's womb, Vaishali - the state of his father
Raja Siddhartha, recorded tremendous growth. Hence,
on the twelfth day, during a ceremony, Raja Siddhartha
named his son Vardhamana - ever-growing. He was his
father's second son. His mother Trishaladevi was the
daughter of Raja Chetak, an influential ruler of those
days. Raja Chetak - the theme of numerous legends in
Jain tradition, was greatly instrumental in expanding
King Siddhartha - himself a great
astrologer, knew by interpreting Trishala's dream that
his son was not for palatial comforts but to redeem
the world of its pangs and miseries. Despite, he arranged
for him a teacher for instructing him in 'shashtras',
and a trainer of arms. In no time the teacher found
that his pupil knew more than what he could teach him;
and by his deeds of bravery and prowess he soon outwitted
his arms-trainer and impressed all. Gods also tested
Mahavira's mettle. One day, a god, named Sangama, transformed
as a ferocious snake, came to frighten him. But, compassionate
Mahavira took in into his hands to protect it from others
and let go. His face did not reveal even a sign of fear.
Some believe that this incident gave
him 'Mahavira' epithet. Such beliefs are, however, erroneous.
His devotees called him Mahavira for far superior reasons.
They found that thousands submitted themselves to some
extraneous power - a god or whatever, for redeeming
them from the cycle of births and deaths. Mahavira was
one who transcended beyond this cycle of his own by
conquering himself - a far difficult thing. Opinions
differ as to whether Mahavira married or not. The name
of Yashoda - daughter of the Kalinga king Jitashatru,
whom Sidhartha and Trishala both liked, occurs sometimes
as his wife and sometimes only as one proposed for marriage.
Followers of 'Digambara' sect maintain that Mahavira
declined the proposal but those of 'Svetambara' sect
hold that he was married to her and also had a female
Mahavira, always sunk into himself,
was an introvert person with a very few words. At about
30 years of age, on the 10th day of the second half
of the month of 'Magha', 569 B. C., he renounced the
world after duly seeking his parents' permission. In
Kundapur, he was a prince. He hence left the town in
a specially prepared palanquin. But, after he reached
Jnatakhanda - a garden outside Kundapur, he got down
and bade farewell to all. The garden had a rock which
looked like a 'swastika' - an auspicious diagram consisting
of two lines crossing each other in the center and all
four ends turning clock-wise. He sat on the rock, removed
his garments, ornaments and even hair. Now the world
ceased to belong to him.
For over twelve years - twelve years,
five months and fifteen days, he moved from one place
to other, moving, knowing and meditating - all in simultaneity.
He stayed at one place only for a 'Chaturmasa' - four
months of monsoons. Most of his meditation was accomplished
in a standing posture - 'kayotsarga-mudra', though when
on the 10th day of the later half of Vaisakha he attained
'keval jnan', he was in 'Godohana-mudra' - a posture
one had when milking a cow. On the bank of river Rjukula,
when he attained 'keval jnan' - all-knowing intuitive
vision, he was sunk into 'shukla dhyan' - pure meditation.
For these twelve years, he was in the process of acquiring,
hence had not spoken out a word. Now gods wished he
revealed what he had acquired.
Kuber, gods' treasurer, prepared
a large venue - 'Samavasarana' as it is known in Jain
tradition, with a huge and high rostrum for Mahavira
to deliver his first sermon. Many days passed but he
did not utter a word. Indra realized that Mahavira was
silent for twelve years. Thus, people's dialect was
no more his medium to talk to them. All this while he
spoke to himself in an abstract language. Besides, 'keval
jnan' that he had attained, too, revealed on him in
a different vocabulary. Hence, he felt, Mahavira would
speak only when someone was able to interpret him. Indra
believed that Gautama - the most learned Brahmin of
those days, alone could interpret Mahavira's words.
Indra somehow persuaded the reluctant Brahmin to do
the good job. No sooner than Gautama appeared in the
'Samavasarana' words began pouring from Mahavira's throat.
Gautama interpreted what Mahavira delivered.
Gautama with his ten Brahmin disciples
was the first to convert to Mahavira's path. Mahavira
founded with them and others the institution of 'Jinas'.
For 30 years then Lord Mahavira traveled countrywide
preaching people and sharing with them what he had attained
by his penance and meditation. One day when absorbed
in deep meditation at Pavapuri - some 27-28 kms from
Patna, in the early hours of Kartika Amavasya, the day
celebrated all over the country as the festival of light
- Diwali, he attained 'Nirvana - final extinction beyond
the cycle of birth and death.
As a diction comprises eight parts
of speech, Mahavira's philosophy has eight principal
cardinals - three having
metaphysical character and the other five ethical, though
the objective of both is elevational seeking to elevate
the quality of life. Hence, these independent principles
reveal exceptional unity of purpose, which aims at achieving
spiritual excellence by ethically sound behavior and
collateral metaphysical thought. Mahavira's metaphysics
consist of three principles - Anekantavada, Syadvada,
and Karmas; and his ethics, of Panchavratas, five codes
of conduct - Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and
Aparigraha. He also talks of Tri-ratnas - three gems,
which are both, the means of the above as also their
The cardinal doctrine of Mahavira's
philosophy - 'Anekantavada', is based on three words
that he first uttered after attaining 'keval jnan'.
These words were : 'uppanneyi va', 'vigameyi va', and
'dhruveyi va' - everything is created, everything is
destroyed, and everything lasts; that is, everything
has inherent in it characters of creation, dissolution
and permanency. When a potter moulds clay into a pot,
the state that clay earlier had is destroyed; instead,
a new state is created; and yet, clay - permanent state
of the substance, is inherent in both states. Creation,
destruction and permanency are simultaneous, as when
a new state of matter is created, the old gets destroyed
in simultaneity, and during this transformation, substance,
which undergoes such transformation, is inherently present.
Human perception is subjective; hence, to some, it is
one thing, while to other, different. Thus, at one and
the same time, a thing is one and also many. Similarly,
it possesses one attribute and also many. 'Anekanta'
asserts that there cannot be 'utpada' - creation, unless
there is 'vyaya' or 'vinasha' - consumption or destruction;
and, unless there is 'dhrauvya'- substance, there can
neither be 'vinasha' nor 'utpada'. None of them occurs,
or exists, without the other two. Hence, the assertion
that a thing is just one does not rightly define existence
of things. 'Anekantavada' asserts multitudinousness
of states and attributes of a thing and truly defines
the character of matter, its forms and transforms -
the total existence.
'Anekanta' relates to the truth of
a thing and 'syadvada', to method to arrive at this
truth. 'Syadvada' is the means to seek, know, and express
multi-truths or multitudinous of attributes, which one
is able to perceive in a thing, expressing at the same
time the probability of any number of truths or attributes,
which such thing might inherently be having. To Mahavira,
knowing a thing with all its contradictory attributes
was not so difficult as to express all such contradicting
attributes simultaneously. Hence, ignorant alone would
claim that only that, which he perceived, was final
and all about a thing. After having perceived a thing
the wise would only say : 'may be', 'may not be', or
'may or may not be'.
'Syadvada' is based on the belief
that forms or attributes, which a substance is capable
of adopting, are infinite. Whatever the magnitude of
one's knowledge, one may not know total truth of a substance.
The wise would assert only what he perceives without
disproving what others do. Contrarily, the ignorant
would reject perceptions of all except his own. 'Syadvada'
of Lord Mahavira does not reject or under-estimate a
thought other than his own, whether prevailing now or
likely to ever prevail. 'Syadvada' is not negative,
as some think. Different from 'perhaps', denoting suspiciousness,
'syat' denotes probability of many more attributes of
a thing besides what has already been spoken of. It
is the most positive approach of seeing things beyond
their concurrent appearance. 'Syat' is, thus, instrument
of arriving at a fuller, wider and deeper knowledge
of a thing.
In Mahavira's theory, 'karmas' -
deeds, actions, contrary to what the term commonly denotes,
are conceived as obstructing attainment of 'keval jnan'.
As no 'karma' takes place without a reason behind it,
Mahavira contemplates a 'karma' as a mere product or
material manifestation of mind or senses. Attachment,
delusion, hatred, fear, hunger, malice, anger, temptation,
love, - all manifest as 'karmas' - acts of body. Their
elimination would render senses and reasoning mind detached
and lead to all-knowing intuitive vision. Mahavira has
identified eight classes of such 'karmas' : 'jnan-avarniya',
that which covered knowledge; 'darsha-avarniya', that
which covered perception of vision; 'antaraya', that
which obstructed; 'mohaniya', that which deluded; 'vedaniya',
by which 'jiva' experiences pleasure and pain; 'ayu'
- age; 'nam' - name; and 'gotra' - exogamous sub-division
Detrimental 'karmas' - first four, are real enemies
of 'jivas'. Once they are destroyed, 'jiva' attains
what such 'karmas' had concealed behind them. Fifth
- 'vedaniya', is one's own doing and might be more easily
overcome. 'Ayu-karma' is an attribute working both ways;
and, 'nam' and 'gotra' isolate the 'jiva'. The path
- penance, which Mahavira adopted, helped defeat 'karmas'.
Penance was to him a laboratory where a 'jiva' destroyed
his detrimental 'karmas' and attained such attributes
of a liberated soul that made it infinite - 'Parmatma'.
Mahavira, hence, instead of favoring Omni Godship concept,
emphasized that 'jiva', by destroying its detrimental
'karmas', might work its own salvation. He said : 'purisa,
tumemeva tumam mittam' - man thou alone art thy friend.
Lord Mahavira did not approve the theory that this universe
has been created by any external agency. He maintained
that the universe along with all existing things is
the result of a substantial evolution. Creation, destruction,
and permanency of substance are names of cosmic process.
Lord Mahavira considered 'Ahimsa'
the highest religion of man. 'Dhammamahinsa samam natthi'
- there is no religion like 'ahimsa'. Lord Mahavira
commanded: 'killing is unpleasant to all, life is pleasant.
All living beings desire to live. Whatever, life is
dear to all. Hence, do not kill any living ones.' His
concept of 'ahimsa' is not limited to prohibition of
killing. 'Ahimsa', as perceived by Mahavira, is the
highest form of human sensitiveness. Whatever pains
others - a rude behavior, negligence, or insult, is
'himsa' under the concept of Mahavira. Infliction of
injury to body, mind or soul by deeds, words, actions,
or even in thought, is 'himsa' and should be forbidden.
Once 'himsa' emerges in one's thoughts, it is 'himsa'
- it inflicts anyone or not.
As 'ahimsa' is the highest religion
or code for life, 'satya' is the highest of all achievable
virtues, or rather is inclusive of all of them - penance,
self-restraint, or even anger. Lord Mahavira held that
as ocean harbors all fish of all kinds, so doth the
truth harbor within it the good and virtuous. The wise
use words that are truthful in practice and in determination,
that bind him who uses them but not others and are yet
pleasing, benevolent and free from bitterness and suspiciousness.
Lord Mahavira has commanded everyone
to abstain from committing theft of any kind, adulteration,
forgery and their abetment. A desire to obtain even
a grass-leaf belonging to someone else without his consent
is sinful and one should abstain from it. Abstaining
from such acts is 'asteya'.
'Brahmacharya' is higher and different
from celibacy in the sense that it does not forbid only
physical or matrimonial relationship but indulgence
in 'kama' in all possible ways. There is nothing more
delusive than 'kama' and should hence be conquered by
Lord Mahavira's teaching of 'aparigraha'
leads to economic parity and a kind of socialism which
commands all to possess only what is enough for their
need. To possess beyond one's needs is 'parigraha'.
Lord Mahavira warned his followers to be beware of riches,
as one may protect himself against anything but not
against riches. He said wise never accumulate beyond
what they need in minimum. Anyone who amasses money
or riches beyond one's need gets entrapped into malice
and evil, and those who are detached from them are free
in themselves and from fear.
Mahavira talked of three more tenets
: 'samyaka-darshana' - absolute detached visual perception;
'samyaka-jnan' - absolute detached knowledge; and 'samyaka-charitra'
- absolute detached character. These are means of above
eight as also their outcome. If the 'jiva' attains 'tri-ratnas',
either the 'karmas' would delude it, nor it would over-emphasize
its perception as final or hurt any other 'jiva' by
any of its acts, words or thoughts. And, if the 'jiva'
is able to destroy its detrimental 'karmas', is humble
to accept others' perception as another truth of a thing,
and observes 'Panch-vratas', it will not fail in its
attainment of 'Tri-ratnas'.
Images of Mahavira came to be sculpted
more than six hundred years after his 'nirvana'. His
images, or rather all Tirthankara images, were a votive
necessity of Jain devotees. Hence, instead of aiming
at discovering their real likenesses the prime thrust
of such images was their spiritual and aesthetic modeling
under prescribed norms.
Their images were largely the images
of mind transformed into stone, metal or colors. With
locks of hair falling on his shoulders and serpent hood
behind his head the images of Rishabhadeva and Parshvanatha
respectively have a distinct iconography, but such distinction,
except some regional variations and a few minor and
remote features, is not seen in other Tirthankara images.
Besides his lion emblem and a slightly
different modeling of head, the images of Mahavira are
largely identical to those of other Tirthankaras. In
most images - at least the ancient ones which alone
are in thousands, the pedestals, which contained emblems
of different Tirthankaras, are not intact. Hence, identity
of a Tirthankara image is difficult to discern.
Mahavira's images are mostly either
in 'kayotsarga-mudra' or in 'padmasana'. Other postures
have not been preferred - not even the 'godohana-mudra',
which Mahavira had when he attained 'keval jnan'. His
images rendered for devotees of Digambara sect are not
only without clothes but also without every kind of
ornamentation. Images rendered for Svetambara devotees
are represented as wearing garments, jewels and even
a crown. They are represented as seated in a throne
much like a monarch. Episodes from his life do not,
or little figure in visual arts. Both sculptors and
painters have shown some interest in rendering his birth,
sometimes as mother Trishala lying on a bed with a number
of maids attending upon her, and sometimes as dreaming
with sixteen auspicious signs around. A symbolic representation
of Mahavira's 'tri-ratnas' is also found in various
sculptural panels. Similarly, the diagram of his 'samavasarana'
has been the theme of a number of miniatures and wall
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