Jain tradition speaks of twenty-four Tirthankaras (prophets).
In the Rigveda Mantros there are references to Rishabha the first Tirthankara as claimed by Jains. However, the first twenty-two Tirthankaras have no historical foundation. Only the last two, Parsva and Mahavira, are historical personages. Very little is known of Parsva’s life.
It is believed that he was the son of Asvasena, king of Banaras. He became an ascetic at the age of thirty, got enlightenment after 84 days of penance, gave his message to the people up to the age of 100 years and died on Mount Sammeta in Bihar, nearly 250 years before Mahavira.
LIFE OF MAHAVIRA
In fact, the real founder of Jainism was its 24th Tirthankara, Mahavira. His childhood name was Vardhamana. He was born in a suburb of Vaisali, called Kundagrama about 540 B.C. His father, Siddharatha was a wealthy nobleman of the Naya clan and his mother, Trishala was the sister of Chetaka, an eminent Lichhavi prince of Vaisali. He was married to Yasoda and had a daughter called Priyadarsana. He left his family and became a monk after the death of his parents at the age of 30. He abandoned his clothing after thirteen months and became a naked monk. After 12, years, near the village Jrimbhikagrama on the bank of the river Rijupalika, he got enlightenment under a Sa1 tree. Hencefourth, he was called Mahavira. He also became known as Jina (conqueror of passions) orNirgrantha (free from wordly fetters). The remaining thirty years of Mahavira’s life were spent in preaching his doctrines. The main areas of his activities were confined to the boundaries of Magadha, Anga, Mithila and Kosala. His followers were called Nirgranthas or Jainas. He died at Pawa (Pawapuri) in Nalanda district (Bihar) at the age of 72 about 468 B.C.
MAIN SECTS OF JAINISM
The principal sects of Jainism are two:
(a) Svetambaras; and
? There are differences between the two sects regarding versions of some incidents of the life of Mahavira, the type of food taken by Jaina preachers (munis) and the question whether women can attain Nirvana or not.
? But, more than that, the basic difference is on the use of clothes.
? It does not concern the followers or ordinary householder but the preachers.
? The preachers of Svetambara sect wore white clothes while preachers of Digambara sect practise complete nudity.
It is said that during the reign of Chandra Gupta Maurya a terrible famine broke out in Magadha which continued for twelve years. At that time the chief of the Jaina community, Bhadrabahu, migrated to South India along with his many followers including Chandra Gupta and left Sthulabhadra as Chief of the Jainas that remained in Magadha.
Sthulabhadra convened a council of Jainas at Patliputra when he felt that sacred scriptures of the Jainas were in danger of being lost.
The council arranged the first 10 Purvas (Jainas’s sacred texts) in 12 Angas and allowed Jaina preachers to wear white robes. When the followers of Bhadrabahu came back from the South they found the Jainas of Magadha wearing white robes. They protested against it. But when there was no compromise the Jainas were divided into two aforesaid sects. Afterwards the Digambaras even refused to accept the 12 Angas (out of them one is lost now) as authentic.
GROWTH OF JAINISM
At first Jainism made great progress than its other contemporary religion, Buddhism.
During his own life time Mahavira had made it popular in the kingdom of Kosala, Magadha, Anga and Mithila. Many kshatriya kings and a few republican states supported its cause and thereby helped in its popularity.
By the time of the Gupta-empire, Jaina religion had become popular from Orissa in the East to Gujarat in the West and also in the South as far as Kalinga and Mysore.
Among the ruling dynasties, which supported Jainism, were mainly the Ganga and Kadamba dynasties of the South and among important rulers were Chandra Gupta Maurya (who probably accepted Jainism in his later life), Kharavela of Kàlinga and .Kumarapala and Siddharaja of Gujarat.
PRINCIPLES OF JAINISM
Religious texts written in Pali do not recognize Mahavira as an originator of a new religion but as a reformer of an existing religion. Mahavira accepted mostly the religious doctrines of Parsva but certainly made some alterations and additions to them.
Parsva emphasizd self-control and penance and advised his followers to observe four principles:
1. Satya (truth);
2. Ahimsa (non-violence);
3. Aprigraha (no possession of property);
4. Asateya (not to receive any thing which is not freely given).
To these Mahavira added one more, that is;
As regards philosophy, Jaina philosophy shows a close affinity to Hindu Samkhya philosophy. It also ignores the idea of God, accepts that the world is full of sorrows and believes in the theory ofkarma (action or deed) and transmigration of souls.
Jaina philosophy is that of dualism. It believes that human personality is formed of two elements jiva (soul) and ajiva (matter). Among them while ajiva is destructible, jiva is indestructible and the salvation of an individual is possible through prgress of jiva. In short, the philosophy can be summed up as follows: the living (soul) and the non-living (matter), by coming into contact with each other, forge certain energies which bring about birth, death and various experiences of life; this process could be stopped, and the energies already forged destroyed by a course of discipline leading to nirvana (salvation)
There are also certain other vows of morality. For example, a householder should each day feed out of what is cooked for himself such holy persons as may turn up at his house at the proper time. A monk has to observe certain other strict rules as well. He has to abandon all wordly possessions, has to cease living under a roof which may be called his own and has to root out every hair of his head by his own hands. He should walk only during the day taking care that he kills no being. In his talk he must not indulge in censure of others or self-praise or talk about women. He should so train himself as not to be affected or moved by the objects of the senses. He should withdraw his senses from all objects and with meditation, concentration and reading of the life of arhats (monks who have succeeded in attaining salvation) prepare himself for salvation.
Thus, according to Jainas, nirvana or salvation depends on:
1. Right belief;
2. Right knowledge; and
3. Right action.
These are called Ratnalreya, or the three jewels of Jaina religion.
Mahavira did not believe in a supreme creator or God. The highest state of a soul was regarded as god by him.
According to Jainism, therefore, man is the architect of his own destiny and he could attain salvation and even the status of a god by pursuing a life of purity, virtue and renunciation.
The same way, it believes that the world has not been created, maintained or destroyed by a personal deity, but functions only according to universal law of decay and development.
The universe is eternal but is subject to an infinite number of cycles of development and decline.
CONTRIBUTION OF JAINISM
Jainism has an independent existence in the Indian philosophy. Besides philosophy it has contributed much in the fields of art and literature. The contributions of Jainism in the different fields are described below.
Though influenced by Vedic philosophy, Jain philosophy is very vast and has a separate existence. For example ‘Syatvad’ is quite a new and original philosophy propounded by Jainism.
PRINCIPLE OF AHIMSA
Though not entirely a new principle, yet Jainism has the credit for laying a great stress upon this principle and propagating this among the people. The sacrifices of animals in the Yajanas disappeared and people developed a dislike and hate towards animal sacrifices.
The followers of Jainism adopted the speaking language as their medium in literature too and their most of the books are in Prakrit language. Jain literature in Sanskrit is comparable very little. Hemchandra, Hari Bhadra, Sidha Sena, Pujya Pad etc. are the famous writers of Jain literature.
Besides religion and philosophy Jainism has contributed much to the development of Arts and Crafts.
The followers of Jainism built many famous caves such as Tiger cave of Udayagiri and Indra Sabha of Ellora.
Besides this, several temples, rock pillars, Statues etc., built by the followers of Jainism show their immense contribution to this field.
Temples of Gwalior, 57 feet high statue of Gometeshwar in Shravanbelgola, temples of Khajuraho and Abu are the marvellous examples of the high standard and quality of Jain Art and Culture.
Though Jainism cannot be ranked as one of the main religions of India, yet it is a fact that since its rise it has never faded and still exists in India and has made a valuable contribution in the fields of art, literature, philosophy etc.
CAUSES OF ITS DECLINE
Various factors contributed to its declining popularity in India. It had to compete hard with both Hinduism and Buddhism. At one time Buddhism, and afterwards Hindusim, became the most popular religion in India. Absence of popular religious preachers after the death of Mahavira, its division into two important sects, absence of protection by the later rulers, revival of Hinduism under the Gupta, Chola, Chalukya and Rajput kings contributed to its decline though it still survives in India.