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Jainism made a very valuable contribution to India literature and art

Updated on March 2, 2016

Lord Mahavir

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The lord Mahavir travelled extensively as a preacher in the kingdoms of Magadha

Mahavir was born at Kundagrama, now known as Basukunda in the modern district Vaishali in Norh Bihar. Nothing is certain about his date of birth, but historians believe that he was born in about 540 BC. His father Siddhartha was a kshatriya ruler of the region and his mother, Trishala, hailed from the Royal family of the Lichchhavi clan. He was married to Yashoda, and had a daughter from her. He had a spiritual bent of mind from early childhood and showed little interest in material comforts and wordly pleasures. Eventually, he left his home at the age of thirty and practised penance in search of true knowledge. After twelve years of rigorous penance and meditation, he attained divine enlightenment called `Kaivalya'. He lived a life of supreme detachment wordly ties and became `Jina'. Meaning the conqueror of the five sense. His followers, therefore, came to be known as `Jains'. The followers of the earlier prophets of this religion were known as Nirgranthas or people without ties or bonds.

The lord Mahavir travelled extensively as a preacher in the kingdoms of Magadha, Videha (north Bihar) and Anga (Bhagalpur in Bihar) and other neighbouring regions. As he was connected with the royal families of these kingdoms, he received a warm welcome wherever he went. At the age of 72, in about 468 BC., he breathed his last at Pava near Rajagriha (modern Rajgir in Bihar). At that time he had about 14,000 followers. Mahavir is said to have been in personal touch with Bimbisara and Ajatasatru, (rulers of Magadha) who, according to the Jain writings, adopted his teachings.

The teachings of Jainism can be divided into their – 1). doctrines about the nature of existence and the goal of life and 2). the code of conduct which leads to the achievement of that goal.

The followers of Jainism

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The followers of Jainism created monuments of great merit

The Jains believe that Jainism is the oldest religion of the world. The founder of the faith is said to have been Rishabhadeva who was followed by 23 other teachers or spiritual guides, all of whom are called Tirthankaras, Jain religious books give the names of all the twenty – four Tirthankaras, but historians have no means to establish if all of them were historical persons. However, it is generally accepted that Parsvanatha, the twenty – third and Mahavir, the twenty – fourth where historical persons.

Cultural life

Jainism made a very valuable contribution to India literature and art. The originally teachings of the Tirthankaras are said to have been contained in fourteen books called Purvas. Later on this body of knowledge was reorganized into twelve new books called the Angas. So the Angas form the most important part of the Hymn literature. Jain literature is mostly written in Ardha – Magadhi Prakrit dialect. Sanskrit, old Gujarati, Tamil and Kannada also been used in some Jain texts,. Their literature includes myths, legends, proverbs, popular stories and model behaviour patterns, all of which highlight the philosophy of Ahimsa.

The Jain religious books do not give the teachings of the different Tirthankaras separately. They maintain that all of them had preached and adhered to the same basic principles and rules, the only known exception being that Mahavir had added Brahmacharya or the control of the senses as an important rule to the code of conduct as it existed in his time.

The followers of Jainism created monuments of great merit. Mathura was a important early centre of Jainism, and remains of Jain stupas sculptural antiquities have been found there. Jain cave temples at Udayagiri in Orissa and Ellora in Maharashtra and the Dilwara temples at Mount Abu are excellent specimens of Jain architecture and sculpture. The colossal monolithic statue of Mahabali at Shravanabelagola (Karnataka) is a marvel in itself.

Gomateshwara Statue Shravanabelagola

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