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Lord Mahavira (Bhagwān Mahāvīra), also known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (ford-maker) of Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that Mahavira was born in the early part of the 6th century BC into a royal family in what is now Bihar, India. At the age of thirty, abandoning all worldly possessions, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening and became an ascetic. For the next twelve and a half years, Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for thirty years, and is believed by Jains to have died in the 6th century BC. Scholars such as Karl Potter consider his biographical details as uncertain, with some suggesting he lived in the 5th century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira died at the age of 72, and his remains were cremated.
After he gained Kevala Jnana, Mahavira taught that the observance of the vows ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (non-attachment) is necessary to spiritual liberation. He gave the principle of Anekantavada (many-sided reality), Syadvada and Nayavada. The teachings of Mahavira were compiled by Gautama Swami (his chief disciple) and were called Jain Agamas. These texts were transmitted through oral tradition by Jain monks, but are believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st century when they were first written down. The surviving versions of the Agamas taught by Mahavira are some of the foundational texts of Jainism.
Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative posture with the symbol of a lion beneath him. The day he was born is celebrated as Mahavir Janma-kalyanak (popularly known as Mahavir Jayanti), and the day of his liberation is celebrated by Jains as Diwali. In 1975, which was the 2,500th anniversary of the Nirvana (or Moksha) of Mahavira, monks of the various sects of Jainism assembled to resolve their differences and arrive at some commons points of agreement about the history and philosophy of Jainism.
According to the Kalpasutra, Mahavira was born at Kundagrama in present-day Bihar, India. This is assumed to be the modern town of Basu Kund, which is about 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Patna, the capital of Bihar. However, it is unclear if the ancient Kundagrama is the same as the current assumed location, and the birthplace remains a subject of dispute. Mahavira renounced all his material wealth and left his home when he was twenty-eight by some accounts, or thirty by others, then lived an ascetic life and performed severe austerities for twelve years, and thereafter preached Jainism for a period of thirty years. The location where he preached has been a subject of historic disagreement between the two major sub-traditions of Jainism – the Svetambaras and the Digambaras.
Though it is universally accepted by scholars of Jainism that Mahavira was an actual person who lived in ancient India, the details of his biography and the year of his birth are uncertain, and continue to be a subject of considerable debate among scholars. The Jain Śvētāmbara tradition believes he was born in 599 BC and died in 527 BC, while the Digambara tradition believes 510 BC was the year he died. The scholarly controversy arises from efforts to date him and the Buddha, because both are believed to be contemporaries according to Buddhist and Jain texts, and because, unlike for Jain literature, there is extensive ancient Buddhist literature that has survived. Almost all Indologists and historians, state Dundas and others, accordingly date Mahavira's birth to about 497 BC and his death to about 425 BC. However, the Vira era tradition that started in 527 BC and places Mahavira in the 6th century BC is a firmly established part of the Jain community tradition.
The 12th-century Jain scholar Hemachandra placed Mahavira in the 5th century BC. According to Kailash Jain, Hemachandra made an incorrect analysis that, along with attempts to establish Buddha's nirvana date, has been a source of confusion and controversy about Mahavira's year of nirvana. Kailash Jain states the traditional date of 527 BC is accurate, adding that the Buddha was a junior contemporary of the Mahavira and that the Buddha "might have attained nirvana a few years later". The place of his death, Pavapuri (now in Bihar), is a pilgrimage site for Jains.
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