Jainism is one of the world’s oldest religions, that originated in India at least 2,500 years ago. They are concentrated in India’s west region, mainly in Maharashtra. Jainism’s spiritual goal is to become liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth and to secure an all-knowing state known as ‘moksha’, which can be achieved by living a nonviolent life or ahimsa. These traditions of Jainism were taken ahead by a succession of 24 tirthankaras (great teachers), renownedly known as the Vardhamana Mahavira, the last of the tirthankaras and most likely a contemporary of Gautama Buddha.
The teachings of Mahavira & Buddha were often in contrast to those of Vedic priests of the time, who focused on ritual practices and considered themselves to play the role as intermediaries between humanity and the gods.
This article discusses the origin of Jainism, Mahavira, causes of the rise of Jainism etc. So, let’s get started.
How Jainism originated?
- Jainism is as old as the Vedic religion, in accordance with some traditions. The Jain tradition has a succession of great teachers or Tirthankaras. There were 24 Tirthankaras & Vardhaman Mahavira was the last of them.
- The first Tirthankara is considered to be Rishabhanath, or Rishabhadev & the 23rd Tirthankara was Parshvanatha, born in Varanasi. All these Tirthankaras were Kshatriyas by birth.
- So, during Mahavira’s lifetime and even after his death, Jainism was spread in several parts of India. An organization of Mahavira’s disciples, comprising both men and women, was established by him to spread the teachings of Jainism. It mostly spread in the western parts of the country because the Brahmanical religion was weak.
- Jains used the Prakrit language of the masses rather than the Brahmans-favored Sanskrit language to transmit their doctrines and ideologies. One prime reason for the spread of Jainism was Chandragupta Maurya, the famous ruler from the Maurya dynasty is credited for spreading Jainism in the state (Magadha). Chandragupta on becoming a Jain and giving up his crown, resided in Karnataka and spent the remaining years as a Jain ascetic.
- The second reason of the growth of Jainism in southern India is considered to be the catastrophic famine which happened in Magadha 200 years after the death of Mahavira. This catastrophic famine lasted for 12 years in Magadha.
Who were Digambaras and Shvetambaras?
- During these years, a large number of Jains fled to the southern part of India under leadership of Bhadrabahu, while the remaining Jains resided in Magadha only under the leadership of Cthulhu.
- After these immigrants who fled to southern part of India returned back to Magadha, they were opposed by the local Jains who stayed back in Magadha.
- These Southerners Jains were referred to as Digambaras, and Jains in Magadhas were referred to as Shvetambaras.
- In the 4th century BCE, Jainism spread to Kalinga in Odisha, and the King Kharavela of Kalinga gave his full support in the first century. In the said 1st & 2nd centuries BCE, Jainism reached the southern parts of Tamil Nadu & later, Jainism spread to Rajasthan, Malwa, and Gujarat as well. Presently, almost every Jain is either Gujarati or Marwadi.
Who is Vardhamana Mahavira (540 – 468 B.C.)?
The 24th Tirthankara or the last Tirthankara, Vardhamana Mahavira, is considered to have propounded Jainism. He was born in Kundagramam, a village close to the ancient city of Vaisali. His father was Siddhartha, the chief of a Kshatriya clan (Jnatrikas), & his mother was princess Trishala, sister of the Vaishali’s ruler, Lichchhavi chief Chetaka. It was Chetaka’s daughter who married Haryanka King Bimbisara. He was married to Yasoda and had a daughter Anojja or Priyadarsana. So, it can be said that Mahavira was born in a highly aristocratic family of wealth & fame. Vardhaman, at the age of 30, renounced his home and became a wandering ascetic. After 13 years of penance, he attained the highest spiritual knowledge, known as Kevala Jnan, under a Jimbhikagrama village under a sal tree, aged 42. This is called Kaivalya. After that, he was referred to as Mahavira, Jina, Jitendriya (meaning one who conquered his senses), Nigrantha (free from all bonds), and Kevalin. He taught for 30 years & died at Pava (near Rajagriha) at 72.
What are the causes of the rise of Jainism?
- Vedic religion had become highly ritualistic & was taught in Pali and Prakrit making it more accessible to the common man of all castes as compared to Sanskrit.
- After 200 years when Mahavira died, a great famine in the Ganga valley prompted Chandragupta Maurya and Bhadrabahu (last Acharya of the undivided Jain sangha) to migrate to Karnataka. It was after this when Jainism spread to Southern India.
What Mahavira believed?
Mahavira is believed to be a founder of Jainism. The teachings of Mahavira can be deliberated in terms of the Responsibility of Mahavira:
- His primary responsibility was to spread Jainism country wide.
- Rejected Vedic principles and didn’t agree with God's existence. He believed in Karma.
- He communicated that individuals are punished or rewarded according to their Karma
- Mahavira always preached non-violence
5 Interesting facts on Jainism
- Almost every Jain is vegetarian as they believe in ahimsa.
- Hinduism teaches that the universe was created, but Jainism does not , yet these 2 religions share many similarities in their teachings and practices like belief in Karma.
- Jains are highly concentrated in India’s west.
- Jains prefer living separately from other religious and caste groups.
- Jains are generally more educated than any other castes and they hardly get counted in lower castes.