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Author Topic: LORD MAHAVIRA By Prof. Vaman H. Pandit (Continued from August 1074)  (Read 6548 times)

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Offline JR

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According to the Jain religion, the best way to begin the study of their religion is through the stories of the Tirthankara. Par. svanatha was the twenty-third and Mahavira was the twenty-fourth. But the Jains have legends regarding each one of them and a student of Jainism ought to study all these legends in order to obtain the precise knowledge about the sacred faith.

(1) The first Tirthankara was born when the world had passed out of its happiest stage and was in the era of Susama Dusama. A Rajput king had a little son born to him, whom his mother called Risabhadeva, because in her dream she had seen a bull (Risabha) coming towards her. Risabhadeva (also called Adinatha) taught men seventy-two arts and women sixty-four, for these have only to be skilled in domestic and not in literary and industrial crafts; but his great glory lies in the fact that he first taught men the Jain faith. Risabhadeva had one hundred sons (among whom was the famous king Bharat); The first Tirthankara attained moksha from Astapada (or Kailasa) in the Himalayas.
(2) The second Tirthankara, Ajitanatha, was born in Ayodhya. After his birth all his father's enemies were conquered (jita), hence his name 'the invincible one'. He was born in the period called Dusama Susama, and all the remaining Tirthankara were born in the same period. His sign, which one sees on all his images in the temples, is an elephant. During his life he himself earned the tit e of Victorious, for he was so devout an ascetic that he was beaten by none in performing austerities.
(3) The third Tirthankara was born in Sravasti of Rajput parents. His emblem is the horse.
(4) The fourth Tirthankara Abhinanda was born in Vanita, where his parents, Samvara and Siddartha Rani ruled. He attained moksa accompanied by a thousand monks, as indeed, did all the first eleven Tirthankaras except Suparsvanatha Abhinandana has the ape for his sign.
(5) The fifth Tirthankara, Sumatinatha, was born in Kankanapura, where his father, a Rajput named Megharatha, was king; his mother's name was Sumangala. This Tirthankara's sign is sometimes given as a red goose, but others say it is a red partridge.
(6) Susima, the mother of the sixtn Tirthankara, Padmaprabhu longed before his birth to sleep on a bed of red lotuses (Padma), with the result that her son was always of the colour of a red lotus, which flower he took for his emblem. His father, Dhara, was the Rajput king of Kausambi.
(7) The father of the seventh Tirthankara was the Rajput king of Banares; but his queen suffered from leprosy in both her sides. This dreadful-disease was cured (before) the child's birth, so he was given the name of Su (good) Parsva (side). His emblem is the Swastika.
(8) The eighth Tirthankara was son of the Rajput king of Chan-drapuri. The moon was his emblem, and he was called Chandra-prabhu.
(9) The ninth Tirthankara is called Suvidhinatha. But as his teeth were so beautiful that they resembled the buds of an exquisite flower (Puspa) he was also called Puspadanta. There is a dispute over his emblem; the Svetambara say it is the crocodile, while certain Digamber say it is the crab,
(10) The tenth Tirthankara was son of Rajput king of Bhaddila-pura. His name was Sitalanatha, Lord of Coolness. His sign is the Srivatsa Swastika or according to the Digambara, the Ficus religiosa.
(11) King Visnudeva, who ruled in Simhapuri, possessed a most beautiful throne, but unfortunately an evil spirit took up his abode in it, so that no one dare sit there. His wife, however, so longed to sit on it that she determined to do so at any risk; to every one's astonishment she was quite uninjured, so, when her son was born, he was named Sreyamsanatha, the Lord of Good, for already he had enabled his mother to cast out an evil spirit and so do a world of good (Sreyamsa). His sign is the rhinoceros;
(12) The twelvth Tirthankara Vasupujya was son of Vasupuja. His sign is the male buffalo, and he passed to moksa from his birth place, Campapuri,
(13) The sign of the thirteenth Tirthankara is the boar. He got his name Vimalanatha, Lord of Clearness.
(14) There was an endless (Ananta) thread which lay about quite powerless in Ayodhya, but after the king's wife had given birth to the fourteenth Tirthankara, it became enduced with power to heal diseases; this event, combined with the fact that his mother had seen an endless necklace of pearls, decided the child's name. His sign is the hawk or according to the Digambara, the bear,
(15)   The fifteenth  Tirthankara   Dharmanath   was   born   to  the Rajput king and queen of Ratnapuri.   His sign wag a thunderbolt.
(16) After the nirvana of the ninth Tirthankara, Suvidhinatha, the Jain   faith disappeared   until the  birth of  the tenth  Tirthankara, who revived it; on his nirvana it disappeared again, but was revived on the birth of the eleventh; and this continued to be the case until the birth of Santinatha, the sixteenth Tirthankara, a which it never disappeared again. The parents of this Tirthankard ruled in Hastinapura. The special interest-of this saint lies in the fact that he was the first Tirthankara to become a Chakravarti or emperor of the whole of Bharat (i. e. India) His emblem is the dear. He attained moksa from Mt. Parsavanatha in Bengal. With the exception of four, all the Tirthankara passed to nirvana from this hill.
(17) The seventeenth Tirthankara was born in Gajapuri, where his parents, king Sivaraja and queen Sridevi, reigned. Kunthunatha's sign was goat,
(18) Queen Devi, wife of King Sudarsana of Hastinapura, saw a vision of a bank of jewels before the birth of her son, the eighteenth Tirthankara, Aranatha. His emblem is the third kind of svastika (the Nandavartta) and he passed to moksa from Sameta Sikhara (Mt Parsvanatha).
(19) The nineteenth Tirthankara is the most interesting of all, for owing to deceitfulness in a previous life this saint was born as a woman;   having, however,  done all the   twenty things that make an ascetic a Tirthankara, nothing could prevent his becoming one; but his  previous deceitfulness   resulted in his becoming a female Tirthankara.   She  was born in  Mithila,  where her parents, king Kumbera and Queen Prabhavati, ruled.   Before her birth her mother longed to wear a garland (malli) woven of the flowers of all seasons.    Mallinatha's symbol is a water-jar, and she also passed to moksa from Sameta Sikhara.   The Digambaras, who deny that any woman can pass to moksa without rebirth as a man, deny of course that Mallinatha could have been a woman.
(20) Before the birth of Munisuvrata, his mother, the wife of King Sumitra of Rajgriha, kept all the beautiful vows of Jainism (su vrata, good vows) as devoutly as if she had been an ordinary woman and not a queen; hence the child's name. His parents, while Khatriya er Rajputs, belonged to the Hari dynasty, whereas all the other Tirthankaras, save the twenty-second, belonged to the Iksvaku family. His symbol is the tortoise.
(21) The twenty-first Tirthankara, Nominatha, was born in Mathura to king Vijay and Queen Vipra. His emblem is the blue lotus, and he attained moksa from Sameta Sikhar.
(22) The twenty-second Tirthankara (like the twentieth) is always represented as black; He was son of Samudravijaya, King of Sau-ripura. Krishna and his brother Baldeva lived at this time, and were cousins of Neminatha. His sign was the conch shell.

Unlike most of the other   Tirthankara, he attained  moksa from Girnar in Kathiawad.
The twenty-third and twenty-fourth   Tirthankara are respectively Parsvanatha and Mahavira.


The sixth century B. C. was a period of revolt against Brahmanical influences in India, at least in Northern India. Some two thousand five hundred and sixty six years ago in Besarh, near modern Patna in Bihar in the Kashtrya ward of Vaisali an Apostle was born. He who made one of the most emphatic protests the world has ever known against accounting luxury, wealth or comfort. Almost paradoxical, it seems, that the warrior caste should produce the great apostle of ahimsa or non killing. He was afterwards known from his exploits as Mahavira - the great hero but his earliest name he derived from his birthplace, being known as Vaisaliya - the man of Vaisal. The chief of one of these Kshtriya clans named Siddharth was a man of some eminence in the State, for he married the daughter of the King of that State, a Kshtriya girl named Trisala. His symbol was a Lion.

There is a legend about  Mahavira's birth which is recorded in the Jain sacred books, and which possesses some value as showing the intense  hatred existing   between the Brahman lady, Devananda, wife of the Brahman  Risabh.idatta, living in the Brahmanical part of the town, saw the Fourteen Auspicious Dreams which foretold the birth of a great saint or Tirthankara.    But Indra, the chief of the gods, saw from his celestial throne what had happened, and knew that the child would be the great Tirthankara Mahavira; so he sent a deer to remove the embryo from Devananda and to give it to Trisala, in order that Mahavira might not be born in a 'beggarly or Brahman' family. However that may be, the stories go on to  show how  carefully Trisala,   2,566 years  ago,   gave birth to a perfectly healthy child in 599 Before Christ or towards the end of the Dusma Susma period, as the Jains reckon time, on the thirteenth  day of the bright  half of the moon  in the month of Chaitra.

When the child was three days old, it was shown the Sun and the moon (this is not usual now); on the sixth day was observed the religious vigil (modern Jains still worship 'Mother Sixth) Trisala bathed on the tenth day, and on the twelfth, after the usual family feast, the boy was named with all pomp and show. In India it is the father's sister who usually names a child, but his parents them&elves chose Mahavira's name, announcing that 'since the prince was placed in the womb of the Ksatriyani Tri sala this family's (treasure) of gold, silver, corn, jewels, pearls, shells, precious stones and corals increased, therefore the prince shall be called Vardbamana' (i. e. the Increasing). Mahavira was some times, as we have seen, called Vaisaliya from his birth place; his followers, however seldom call him by this or by the name his parents gave him, but prefer to use the title they say the gods gave him, that of Mahavira, the great hero, or else Jina, the conqueror, though this last is really more used in connection with the religion (Jainism) he founded than with himself. He is also known as Jnataputra, Namaputra, Sasanayaka.

We have noticed some of the legends that have gathered round Mahavira, and it is worth while examining more, since legends help us in special way to grasp the latent ideals of a faith. We can learn from them what its followers admire and what they despise, and also what qualities they revere sufficiently to link with their founder's name If we contrast the stories told of Mahavira with those told, for instances, of Lord Krishna by Hindus, we shall see at once that the thoughts of these early followers of Jainism moved on a higher, cleaner plane, and this purity of thought is one of the glories of Jainism today.

Austere though the creed of the Jain is, there are some amongst them whose habit of mind leads them to interpret even these severe tenets as sternly as possible. This diversity of temperament (which is surely inherent in the human race) manifests itself in the stories told of Mahavira's life. The Digambara always represent their hero as choosing the sterner and less pleasing path; avoiding marriage and going on his way unhindered by any fear of hurting his parents' feelings. The Svetambara sect, on the other hand, believe that, though from his earliest hours Mahavira longed to forsake the world and betake himself to homeless, wandering life, he neverthless felt he could not do this during his parents' lifetime, lest he should cause them pain.

Legends tell of his boyish prowess and of how easily he excelled all his companions in strength and physical endurance, as he did in beauty of mind and body. One day, they say, the sons of his father's ministers had come as usual to play with him in the royal gardens, when suddenly a mad elephant charged down on the group of children, who fled hither and thither in their efforts to escape. Mahavira, however, quietly went up to the infuriated animal, caught it by its trunk, and climbing up on it, escaped being trodden by its feet by riding on its back!

According to the Svetambara tradition Mahavira married Yasoda (belonging to the Kaundinya gotra) and a daughter was born to them named Anuja (Anojja) or Priyadarsana. This daughter eventually married Jamali, who, after becoming one of the Mahavira's followers and colleagues, ended by opposing him. Their child (Mahavira's grand daughter) had two names being known both as Sesavati and Yasovati.

Some ancient Indians believe that the result of action (Karma) ties men to the cycle of rebirth, and that if, through the cessation of life, action and its resultant karma could be ended so much the less would be the danger of rebirth. This tenet naturally encouraged belief in suicide as a form of prudential insurance! Amongst the recorded deaths by suicide are those of Mahavira's parents, who according to the Svetambara belief, died of voluntary - starvation; 'on a bed of kusa grass they rejected all food, and their bodies dried up by the last mortification of the flesh which is to end in death' At their death Mahavira, who was by now approaching thirtieth year, felt free to become an ascetic, and asked his elder brother's permission to renounce the world; the brother consented, only stipulating that Mahavira should do nothing in the matter for a year, lest people should think they had quarrelled.

The Digambara accounts differ widely from this. According to them, even when only a child of eight, Mahavira took the twelve vows which a Jain layman may take, and that he always longed to renounce the world; other Digambara say that it was in his thirtieth year that, whilst meditating on Ms 'self, he determined to become a monk, realizing that he would only spend seventy-two years in this incarnation as Mahavira. At first his parents were opposed to the idea of their delicately nurtured child undergoing all the hardships that fall to the lot of a houseless mendicant, but at last they consented, and it was during their lifetime that Mahavira entered on the spiritual vocation.

Modern research would seem to favour the Svetambara belief that Mahavira had married, but this the Digambara strenuously deny, for an ascetic who has never married moves on a higher plane of sanctity the one who has known the joys of wedded life.

(To be continued)


Man is God's highest creation, His image and secret. He is His beloved creation and "powerhouse" which lights up the world. The world is the temple which He sanctifies with the flame of His creation, man. Man, God's created masterpiece, master of himself and of the world, is the subtlest miracle, that wonder of wonders, within which lies the understanding and control of the two worlds, the mystery of God and the Universe. In the music of creation, man is His symphony, deriving delicate, divine rhythms from His Heart. Man, seemingly imperfect, in whom the seed of Perfection has been planted and watered by His Love.
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