Ashish Saurabh: In times when racial attacks, genocides and hatred are brewing, the concept of ‘Ahimsa’ as preached by Mahavir provides solution. At a time when the United States fired a barrage of 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles from its naval ship deployed in the Mediterranean Sea as a result to the use of chemical weapons on alleged civilians by the Syrian regime, the world definitely needs to go back to the teachings of the last Tirthankar of Jains, Mahavir.
Even the strategic silence of the Indian government on the issue is being criticized. India has not lambasted the Syrian government’s decision of the mass killings. Those opposing the American strikes blame that ally of “an ally is an ally-in-law” and this is the reason behind India’s silence.
Those apart, April 9 being the 2616th birth anniversary of the crusader of peace and harmony, Mahavir, let us take a look on the life of the sage. Perhaps, this might inculcate pro-peace feeling.
Mahavir Jayanti, one of the most important religious festivals of the Jain community, is celebrated with zeal in India and across the world to commemorate the birth and philosophy of Lord Mahavira.
Mahavira was the last Tirthanka and founder of Jainism in India. He was born on the thirteenth day of the rising moon of Chaitra to King Siddartha and Queen Trisala in Vaishali (Bihar), a few miles from present Patna city. His parents named him Vardhaman.
According to Swetambars, Vardhaman’s expecting mother had 14 dreams. When astrologers interpreted these dreams, they predicted that the child would become either an emperor or Tirthankar, a person who achieves spiritual enlightenment. The prophecies of the astrologers came true and later he became the 24th Tirthankar.
Mahavira lived as a prince. But, in his early years he developed a deep interest in the core beliefs of Jainism and started meditating. At the age of 30, he renounced the throne and his family to seek spiritual truth and spent twelve years as an ascetic. He spent most of his time meditating and preaching non-violence to people and also showed utmost reverence to all living beings. Mahavira chose an extremely ascetic life. While enduring the penance, he controlled his senses. His courage and exemplary action in controlling the senses earned him the name Mahavira. And he devoted the rest of his life preaching the truth of spiritual freedom. Thus, Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated every year to commemorate his preaching and Jain philosophy.
How Mahavir Jayanti is Celebrated?
Mahavir Jayanti is an auspicious occasion for the Jain community. Followers visit the temples and offer ceremonial bath, known as ‘abhishek’, to Mahavira’s idol. The temples are lavishly decorated with flags to mark the birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira. Majestic chariot processions are also carried out with the images followed by millions of devotees while chanting prayers. Traditional dishes are prepared on this particular day and alms are offered to the poor.
On the occasion of Mahavir Jayanti, sermons are also held in shrines or temples to preach the philosophy of spiritual freedom and virtue. Important chapters from the life of Mahavira are read out to the devotees that also contain biographies of Jain Tirthankars. Devotees and followers of Jainism send Mahavir Jayanti messages to relive the great teachings and life of Lord Mahavira. Amazing Mahavir Jayanti greetings, e-cards and Mahavir Jayanti SMS are shared with friends and family to celebrate the holy occasion.
A Tapaswi was meditating under a tree when a cow herder approached him to look after his herd while he could arrange some food for himself. Deep in meditation the Tapaswi did not respond. The herder thought that his request was herd and went. When he returned back he was amazed to find all his cows missing, while Tapaswi was still in meditation. Infuriated herder was about to whip the Tapaswi when an angel confronted him and stopped him. The angel convinced herder that his cows went missing not because of Tapaswi but because of his bad Karmas. Once out of his meditation the Tapaswi was not angry at the herder but blessed him such that he could trace his herd back.
Being a Sage
That Tapaswi was Vardhaman who taught world about tolerance, forgiveness and peaceful coexistence. Vardhaman, one of the greatest exponents of the Anekantvada, Syayvada and Nyayvada was born in royal clan of Ishvaku dynasty in Bihar in 540 BC. Bravery shown by the Vardhaman earned him the title ‘Mahavir’ meaning Bravest.
At age of 30, Mahavir had an urgent spiritual urge. Following this he spent twelve years wandering, meditating, severe penance while abandoning worldly things. At age of 43, Mahavir became kevali(omniscient). Following this, he spent next 30 years of his life wandering and teaching his principles.
His period was one of turmoil. Politically, the Mahajanpadas of the period were involved in bitter rivalry to expand at the cost of others. Socially, the established Brahmanincal society was witnessing strains because of its inability to accommodate new social realities of the period that included growing business class which was not given substantial social respect. The changing economies of the period had direct bearing on the societal and cultural interaction of the period. The teachings of Mahavir were powerful in responding to the needs of his time.
Soon his followers increased. Royals of the period, including Bimbisar of Magadha, Chetaka of Videha and Kunika of Anga were drawn into his teaching. Many rulers who came later in his history were also influenced by his teaching. Legends say that the great Maurya king, Chandragupta Maurya had abdicated his thorne and left his empire to practise penance as per Jain tradition under guidance of Bhadrabahu, a renowned Jain philosopher.
Ahimsa: not to harm any living being;
Satya: to speak harmless truth only;
Asteya: not to take anything not properly given;
Brahmacharya: not to indulge in sensual pleasure;
Aprigraha: complete detachment from people, place and Material things.
Mahavir had an immense impact on the philosophical tradition in India. His philosophical interventions are too many to be captured but two amongst them has been critical in Indian philosophical tradition since then.
Anekantavada: This propounds that reality can be perceived from multiple view points and no single view can be truth. This idea of pluralism of thoughts and multiplicity of truth has been taken by many.
Syadvada: this propounds that all judgements are good only in certain conditions and not all.
(The author is a post graduate in History from JNU, New Delhi. He can be contacted on Twitter @ScribeAshish and over the email: email@example.com)