Mahavira Biography

Vardham-na Mahavira (Ksatriyakundagram, India, 16 April 549 BC – Pavapuri, India, 10 November 477 BC). Spiritual leader, of Indian origin, considered the number 24 and the last of the Tirthankaras (saviors who preach Jainism) and founder of Jainism.

He is believed to have been a contemporary of Buddha, along with whom he starred in the greatest religious opposition against the customs of Brahman, preaching and applying in his life the philosophy of non-violence, the refusal towards ritual sacrifices and towards the caste system.

Today Jainism is followed by about four million people, which is why Mahavirá is held as one of the most influential religious figures in history.

Early life

According to tradition it is believed that he was born and raised on the outskirts of Vaishali, in Ksatriyakundagram, in what is today Basarh, in the state of Bihar, India.

As for his date of birth, all branches of Jainism agree that Mahavirá was born, at four o’clock in the morning, on the 13th day of the new chaitra moon, a date that in the Gregorian calendar, used by the West, would coincide with April 16.

However, there are divergences as to the year of their arrival in the world. Thus, while for the Jainas Digambara (naked) their birth may have occurred in 615 BC, for the Jainas Shvetambaras (dressed in white) it occurred in 599 BC. However, most modern researchers point out that Mahavirá was a contemporary of Buddha (between the 6th and 4th centuries BC).

It would have belonged to the warrior caste of Kshatriya. His father, Siddhartha, would have been King of Kundagram, an acutual state of Bijar, India. His mother, named Devananda, was a descendant of the priestly caste of Brahman, although in other traditions it is noted that it may also belong to the Kshatriya caste, the second in importance among the four castes of politicians and warriors.

As the legend continues about this religious leader, his father would have called him with the name Of Vardhamana, which can be translated as “increasing”, because his fortune began to grow following the birth of his son.


According to the teachings preached by Mahavirá himself, collected by the different branches of Jainism, after birth, the god Indra would have taken him from his mother’s arms, to bathe him with the sacred milk of the Surabhi cow, according to the rituals derailed to the last Tirthakar then then gives it back to his mother, Devananda, which in some branches is also called Triaala.

Like Siddhartha Gautama, Vardhamana would have lived like a prince, in the midst of the luxury of his palace, though he was not the first in the line of succession, being one of the King’s youngest sons.

Similarly, after marrying a woman of the same caste, with which she had a daughter, Vardhamana would have given up her life, to surrender to the practice of strict asceticism. History that coincides with the life of Buddha and even with the Parsyá, his predecessor, the Thirthankara 23, who would have lived in the 18th century BC, also renouncing his status as a warrior prince at the age of thirty.

Mahavratas, big five votes of resignation

From then on, according to the traditions of the Jains, Vardhamana renounced the world. The first year he wore the same garment, but as he advanced in his practice he began to go naked. I had no material possession.

He practiced nonviolence (ahimsa) and denial of the body to the maximum, even allowing insects to walk on his body, patiently resisting the pain of bites. He also restrained with peace of mind the blows and insults of which he was sometimes victimized by the people, because of his appearance.

He gave himself up to meditation, fasting, eating very rarely as long as he was nothing prepared for him. His life became wandering, although most of the time he inhabited the sites intended for cremation, as well as the cemeteries.

Achieving the acceptance of the Mahavratas, five “great vows” of renunciation, made up of the refusal to kill, the falsehoods of speech, greed, sexual pleasure and the sense of possession over living and material beings. Conquering with this one more vote than its predecessor Parsuá.

Teachings and legacy

In the light of the Jain teachings, at the twelve years of a life in complete renunciation, Mahavirá reached the highest level of perception, known to the Jains as the kevala.

According to his teachings, man should seek to free himself from the cycle of the infinite reincarnations preached by Hinduism, for reincarnation only meant that the soul carried with it impurities, which were rooted in the material world, so there was to be completely move away from it, represented by luxuries and passions, in order to achieve liberation and eternal rest.

Mahavirá based his knowledge on the doctrine of Parsuá, reforming and systematizing the beliefs of the Jain, giving a new optician to his mythology and cosmology, while dictating the rules under which Jainist monks and nuns should be governed, as well as their followers, which is why he is considered the founder of Jainism.

Mahavirá, whose name can be translated as “the one who overcomes himself”, was also named with the title of Jina (conqueror of enemies). According to his followers he died in Pavapuri, present-day Bihar, at the age of seventy-two, in 510 BC, according to the Jainas Digambara, while for the Shvetambaras his death would have happened in 527 BC.

After his death he left as a legacy a group of followers, estimated at about four hundred thousand, who devoted themselves to preaching and practicing Jainism.

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Mahavira Biography
Source: Education  
July 31, 2019

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