Mahavira (c 599-527 BC) founder of the religion and philosophy of Jainism. He was born in 599 BC at Kshatriakundu village near Patna of India's Bihar province. His father's name was Siddhartha and his mother was Trishala or Priokarini. His wife's name was Yashodha. Mahavira and Yashodha had a daughter named Priodarshan. The name given to Mahavira by his parents was Bardhaman. Besides this, he is also called Vira, Virprabhu, Sanumati, Oti-vira, Gyatoputra, Vaishalya etc. But he is most famous by the name Mahavira. According to popular knowledge, his family became the possessor of huge wealth after Mahavira was born. The people believed that the god Indra sanctified him by washing him with milk after his birth. He could have led a princely life as he was the son of a king. But after the death of his parents when he was 30 years old, he adopted the life of a Sanyasin (ascetic) with permission from his brother Nandi Bardhaman. He became famous as the Mahavira after obtaining ultimate knowledge or 'Kaibalya' following his single-minded and sustained devotion for long 12 years on the Ganges basin. He also became known as 'Jin' or 'Ripu-Joy' after getting illumination. After preaching for almost 30 years, he died in 527 BC at a place called Paba of southern Bihar at the age of 72 years. He left behind around 400 thousand followers. The religion preached by Mahavira is known as 'Nirgrantha' or Jainism. His death anniversary is observed all over India as the 'Dipali' festival.
A total of 24 Tirthabkaras are believed to have preached Jainism. The first among those Tirthankaras was 'Rishabdev'. He was born at a place called 'Bineeta' of Ayodhya and attained 'Kaibalya' on the Kailash Mountain. Mahavira was the last or 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. All of 24 Tirthankaras are worshipped as the gods of Jainism. They are imagined through different symbols like bull, elephant, horse, lotus, thunder, swan etc. in accordance with the religious theory of Jainism.
The religious philosophy of Jainism is based on atheism and its main objective was to improve material life by controlling desire. Its main basis was to attain spiritual salvation or 'Kaibalya' by following an ethical and universalistic lifestyle. There were two principal features in the philosophy of Mahavira: metaphysics and ethics. There were three aspects of his metaphysics: 1. Multiplicity or numerous qualities of matter; it is also called polytheism; 2. Skepticism or absence of anything called ultimate truth, only possible truth; it is also called relativism; 3. Doctrine of action. The five elements of Mahavira's ethics are: Truth, Non-violence, Brahmacharya (chastity), Asteya (transience) and Aparigraha (non-marriage).
The main ethical issues of Jainism are: 1. Always speak the truth; 2. Controlling oneself is very important; 3. Do not acquire such wealth which you cannot spend in your lifetime; 4. Be honest with everyone; 5. Follow the path of non-violence; 6. Show mercy to all living entities.
Mahavira did not write any religious book of his own. Compilation of his preaching collected by his disciples form the basis of Jaina religious philosophy. This religious philosophy was written in 'Ardha-Magadhi', 'Prakrita' and 'Maharashtria' languages. The subsequent books, however, were written in Sanskrit language. Jainism is broadly divided into two classes: 'Purva' and 'Abga'. The preaching of Mahavira has been incorporated in 14 books of the former class. These books are no more found. The life, philosophy and teachings of Mahavira provide a route to the ultimate truth. According to him, the only method of solving a problem is to follow a non-violent path and peaceful means. [Pradip Kumar Roy]