Mahavir Jayanti is known to be one of the most significant festivals in Jainism. It is often regarded as Mahavir Janma Kalyanak. Jains trace their tradition through Tirthankaras. Among this lineage of Mahavira was born as the 24th Tirthankaras in the year 599 BCE. Mahavira is also called as Vardhamana is the apparent spiritual heir of Parshvanatha, making him the last Tirthankaras of the present Avasarpini.
The birth anniversary of Mahavir Jain is celebrated on the day of Mahavir Jayanti. Mahavira used to preach about spiritual awakening, non-violence (ahimsa), non-attachment (aparigraha), truth (satya), chastity (brahmacharya) and non-stealing (asteya). These vows were observed by him to enlighten people so that they may focus on bigger aspects of life without running towards fame and money. The Jains believe that he was born in the month of Chaitra on the 13th day when there was a bright half-moon night. The date of Mahavir Jayanti fluctuates yearly and can occur either in the month of March or April. According to the scriptures which follow details of Jain religion, Mahavira died in the year 527 BC when he was 72 years old. The day he died he attained Nirvana as he was a spiritual teacher as the Jains started celebrating this day of his Nirvana as Diwali. Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated with utmost enthusiasm by organizing charitable activities (like, feeding the poor, promoting the debar of cows slaughter through various missions), the sanctification of Mahavira statues, meditation and paying of reverence through prayers or vratas (fasting).
History of Mahavir Jayanti
Mahavira or Mahavirswami’s birth took place in Kundalpur, Bihar which in 599 BCE was considered as Kundagram. He was the successor of King Siddhartha who was the king of Kundagram in Ikshvaku or the Solar dynasty as per the Puranic literature. His mother, Queen Trishala already believed that his child when she started getting unusual dreams. There were a total of 16 dreams as mentioned by the Digambara community, and these were interpreted by the King himself. Contrary to this, the Svetambara describes the number of these dreams to be 14 in the total count. These dreams are special for understanding the soul of the baby in the womb and are called as ‘auspicious dreams’ by the Jains. It is believed that when the pure souled Mahavira was born, Indra himself performed the abhisheka ritual on a mountain known as Sumera Parvat.
After the birth of the great Mahavira, the kingdom of Kundagram flourished and this made him attain the name ‘Vardhamana’ which means ‘one who grows’. Mahavir Jayanti marks the second most auspicious event among the five chief events (Panch Kalyanakas) which are believed to have occurred in the span of Tirthankaras. Mahavira belonged to the Kshatriya family but he defied all the societal pleasures and followed an abstinent lifestyle. He became an ascetic and left everything behind at the age of 30 to pursue spiritual goals. It is believed that he attained moksha (salvation) followed my intense meditation for a duration of 12 years and preaching for 30 years. He practiced severe austerities and acquired Kevala Jnana or omniscience in simple words.
Lord Mahavir is best known for His welfare of the common man. He wanted to establish truth, peace and was considered as one of the finest and greatest prophets of social reformation. He was the propagator of Jainism and he followed the footsteps of his predecessor Tirthankara Parshvanatha. Mahavira spread the message of salvation and non-violence and his thoughts significantly influenced many followers. The spiritual power and moral greatness of Lord Mahavir’s teachings impressed many individuals during his time. He developed a five-fold path for all individuals to follow and these are ‘Ahimsa’ or non-injury to every living being on earth, ‘Asteya’ or non-stealing of every possible object, ‘Brahmacharya’ or abstinence from sexual pleasures in order to control temperament, ‘Satya’ or being truthful in one’s thought, speech and action, and ‘Aparigraha’ or non-acquisition of property. It can be observed that these five are the very important elements that potentially drive the human soul towards the wrongdoings and sins. It was therefore preached by Mahavir and observed as a principle of Jainism that a man should follow this five-fold path with strictness so that he is redeemed from the cycle of birth and rebirth and thus attain salvation. Jains follow these vows to live in peace and harmony. He made Jainism, a religion so simple and free from various ritual Or complexities and inspired many to follow his path.
In their prayer, Jains do not ask for any material benefits from Tirthankaras or from monks or nuns. They do not worship any specific Tirthankara or monk by its name. Any individual will gain inspiration from his mantras for the right path to true happiness or enlightenment and freedom from miseries.
Mahavir Jayanti Celebrations
Celebrations on Mahavir Jayanti, one of the most auspicious day for the Jains, vary between communities across the world. Both Digamma (sky-clad) and the Shvetambar (white-clad) Jains observe the birthday of Lord Mahavira. It is only celebrated for one day and the masses organize peaceful processions where chariots, horses, elephants, chanters and drummers also form part of this procession. On the way, religious rhymes called stavans are recited by the devotees. Statues of Mahavir are given a ceremonial anointment called the Abhisheka. Many stories related to Mahavira are narrated to children in honor of the great saint. Silent prayers and teachings of the great saint are reiterated through sermons, which are performed as part of the Mahavir Jayanthi celebrations. Money, food, and clothing is donated to the poor, which is an important custom performed on this special occasion. In certain organizations, free food and drinks are provided to the public. Some of the important Jain shrines are The Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat, Sri Mahavirji in Rajasthan, Pawapuri in Bihar and Parasnath Temple in Kolkata, where main celebrations of Mahavir Jayanti are held. In Vaishali, being the capital of kingdom Vajji, the birthplace place of Lord Mahavir, a grand festival is held there, and it is known as Vais Mahotsava. Lord Mahavir expressed his teachings based on scientific explanations of nature and the true meaning of life. His teachings are still followed today not only Jain communities alone but others as well. His messages and teachings regarding universal love will continue to live forever.