Mahavir Jayanti: Birth Anniversary of Lord Mahavira
Mahavir Jayanti or birth anniversary is celebrated throughout the Jain world in the country, but it is celebrated with special charms in Rajasthan and Gujarat, where the Jains are relatively in greater number than in the other states. Jaina Shrines at Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat and at Mahavirji in Rajasthan. Pawapuri and Vaishali Bihar are the other such centers. Vaishali being his birth place, a grand festival is held there, and it is known as Vaishali Mahotsava.
On this auspicious day grand chariot processions with the images of Mahavira are taken out, rich ceremonies in the temples are held, fasts and charities are observed, Jaina scriptures are read and a some places grand fairs are set up.
Mahavira, the great teacher and the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism was contemporary of Lord Buddha. His mother Trisala or Priyakarini had a series of miraculous dreams heralding the birth of Mahavira. Vardhama achieved enlightenment under an Asoka tree after two and a half days fasting and meditation. Then he stripped himself of all his clothes and wore none thereafter, but Svetambras believe that Indra then Presented him a white robe. After his enlightenment he gave away all his wealth and possessions and owned nothing. Mahavira underlined the importance of austerity and complete non-violence as the essential means of spiritual evolution and salvation.
Jains form less than one percent of the Indian population. For centuries, Jains are famous as community of traders and merchants. The states of Gujarat and Rajasthan have the highest concentration of Jain population in India. The Jain religion is traced to Vardhamana Mahavira (The Great Hero 599-527 B.C.). Mahavira was the twenty-fourth and last of the Jain Tirthankars. Mahavira was born in a ruling family of Vaishali, located in the modern state of Bihar, India. At the age of thirty, Mahavira renounced royal life and devoted himself to the task of discovering the meaning of existence. At the age of 42 he attained enlightenment and spent the rest of his life meditating and preaching Jainism.
Jainism rests on a real understanding of the working of karma, its effects on the living soul and the conditions for extinguishing action and the soul’s release. Jainism considers the soul as a living substance that combines with various kinds of non-living matters. The Jain religion rests on complete inactivity and absolute nonviolence (ahimsa) against all living beings. It is evident from the Jain monks and nuns wearing face masks to avoid inhaling small organisms. It is for the same reason all practicing Jains try to remain vegetarians.
The Jain community evolved into two main divisions- the Digambara or “sky-clad” monks do not wear clothes and the Svetambara or “white-clad” monks and nuns, who wear white clothes and carry bowls for collecting food. For centuries Western and southern India have been Jain strongholds. In the mid-1990s, there were about 7 million Jains, the majority of whom live in the states of Maharashtra (mostly in Bombay), Rajasthan, and Gujarat. Karnataka, conventionally a stronghold of Digambaras, also has a considerable Jain community.
Though the Jain shrines include images of the Tirthankars, yet they are not worshiped but remembered and revered. Daily rituals of the Jains may include meditation, bathing the images, offering food, flowers and light lamps for the images. It is interesting to note that the Jains also worship local gods and participate in Hindu or Muslim celebrations without compromising their fundamental path. The Jains celebrate the five major events in the life of Mahavira-conception, birth, renunciation, enlightenment, and final release after death.
Major Jain pilgrimage destinations in India are Palitana, Ranakpur, Shravanbelagola, Dilwara Temple, Khandagiri Caves and Udayagiri Caves.