Mahavira Jain and the rise of Jainism in India. Indian History for Competitive govt. job Exams.

rise of jainism

Jainism, which is traditionally known as Jain Dharma is one of the most ancient Indian religion. The followers of Jainism are called ‘Jains’. ‘Jains’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Jina’ which means victor. Jainism makes it history through a succession of twenty-four victorious saviors and teachers known as “Tirthankara”. The first Tirthankara was ‘Rishabhanatha’, who is believed to have lived millions of years ago. The twenty-fourth Tirthankara was Mahavira (540 BC). Jain followers believed that Jainism is an eternal dharma and the Tirthankara guiding the cycle of Jain cosmology.

Life of Mahavira

Mahavira Jain & Jainism
Mahavira Jain

Vardhamana Mahavira was the last Tirthankara. He was born in the village Kundagrama near Vaishali about 540 B.C. His father Siddhartha was the head of a famous Kshatriya clan and mother was Trisala. Mahavira grew up as a prince. He was married to Yashoda and they had a daughter.

At the age of thirty, Mahavira abandoned the comfort of royal life and left home and family to live an ascetic life. He had spent his next twelve and a half years pursuing a life of hard penance to drive away his attachments. He practices complete silence and rigorous asceticism to conquer his basic desires.

At the age of 42, he attained Kaivalya, i.e. the Supreme knowledge & final deliverance from the bonds of pleasure and pain at Jrimbhikagrama. Now he came to be known as Mahavira.

According to Jain tradition, Mahavira had 14,000 muni (male ascetic), 36,000 aryika (nuns), 1,59,000 sravakas (laymen), 3,18,000 sravikas (lay-women) as his followers. Some of his Royal followers were Bimbisara of Magadha, Kunika of Anga, Chetaka of Videha.

Jainism & Jain Philosophy:

Jain philosophy is one of the oldest Indian philosophy, deals with reality, cosmology ( the study of the origin, evolution, and the fate of the Universe), epistemology ( the study of knowledge), and Vitalism. The main principle of Jain philosophy is ‘Ahimsa’ or non-injury.

Some important features of Jain philosophy are –

  1. Rejected the authority of the Vedas and Vedic rituals.
  2. Belief on independent existence of soul and matter (body).
  3. Believed in Karma and transmigration of the God.
  4. Ultimate truth and reality are complex. No single, specific statement can describe the nature of existence and the absolute truth.
  5. Morality and Ethics based on freedom of the soul.

Five main teachings of Jain philosophy:

  1. Ahimsa (non-injury)
  2. Satya (non-lying)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Aparigraha (non-possession)
  5. Brahmacharya (observe continence)

Jain literature:

There are mainly two types of schools in Jainism; (i) Digambara and (ii) Svetambara. Jain literature is primarily divided into Digambara literature and Svetambara literature. Jains literature exists mainly in Magadhi Prakrit, Sanskrit, Marathi, Tamil, Rajasthani, Dhundari, Marwari, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu and more recently in English.

The canonical texts of Jainism are called Agamas.

Digambara literature:

In Digambara tradition, two main texts, three commentaries on main texts, and four Anuyogas (exposition) consisting of more than 20 texts are followed. These scriptures were written by great Acharyas (scholars) from 100 to 1000 AD using the original Agama Sutras as the basis for their work.

  • The prathmanuyoga (first exposition) contains the universal history.
  • the karananuyoga (calculation exposition) contains works on cosmology.
  • the charananuyoga (behavior exposition) includes texts about proper behavior for monks and Sravakas.

Svetambara literature:

The sacred literature of the Svetambaras is written in a type of Prakrit called Ardhamagadhi Prakrit. This literature can be classified as follows:

  • 12 Angas
  • 12 Upangas
  • 10 Parikrama’s
  • 6 Chhedasutras
  • 4 Mulasutras
  • 2 Sutra-Granthas

Apart from this, some important Jain texts are – Kalpasutra by Bhadrabahu, Bhadrabahu Charita, Parishishta Parvan by Hemchandra.

Sects of Jainism:

Jainism can be broadly classified into two main sects; Digambara and Svetambara.


digambar jain monk of jainism
A Digmanbar Jain Monk
  • This sect of Jain Dharma rejects the authority of the Jain Agama (text of Jainism based on the discourse of the Tirthankaras)
  • According to Digambara tradition, Mahavira was never married. He renounced the world at the age of thirty after taking permission of his parents.
  • Monks in Digambara tradition do not wear any clothes. They carry only a broom made of fallen peacock feathers and a water gourd.
  • One of the most important scholar-monks of Digambara tradition was Acharya Kundakunda. Samantabhadra and Siddhasena Divakara were other important monks of this tradition.
  • The Digambara are 90% in number and are present mainly in Southern India, Bundelkhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, etc.
  • The oldest scripture that the Digambara sect of Jainism believes is the Shatkhand-agama and Kasay-pahuda.


sect of jainism and svetambara monk
Svetambara Monk
  • Svetambara is a term describing its ascetics’ practice of wearing white clothes, which sets it apart from the Digambara whose ascetic practitioners go naked.
  • Svetambara monks do not believe that ascetics must practice nudity. They usually wear white. Some monks and nuns cover their mouth with a white cloth or muhapatti to practice ahimsa even when they talk.
  • Svetambaras also believed that women are also able to obtain moksha.
  • Svetambaras maintain that the 19th Tirthankara, Mallinatha, was a woman.


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