Jain Legend : Jain Dharma ka Maulika Itihasa (1) ► Lord Śrī Mahāvīra (I)

Posted: 23.04.2016

The 24th and the latest Tīrthaṃkara of Jain religion, Lord Mahāvīra, was a great religious leader to establish Jain doctrine. Not only this, he was also a revolutionary social reformer, symbol of world friendship, well-wisher of all living being; and a true guide showing people the expansive path towards true equality, equanimity, non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-attachment thereby leading the human beings in firmly following the path towards immortality. With a divine call of "savve jīvāvi icchaṃti jīviuṃna marijjiuṃ", (all living beings desire to live and not death) he not only taught a lesson of non-violence, compassion and love to humankind but also to animals, birds and the entire eco system. He freed countless living beings of their fear by inspiring people to protest against the condemnable custom of animal sacrifice in the name of religion in sacrificial rituals (yajṅa). He not only tried to uplift humanity that had fallen into the abyss of falsity, false pride, dogmatism and casteism but through the divine light of his knowledge inspired human society, which was moving towards destruction, to walk the path of right knowledge, right belief and right conduct. Bearing with the worst calamities and ordeals with extraordinary bravery, supreme courage, unshakeable firmness, unfathomable intensity, he established an unprecedented example of perseverance, forgiveness and compassion.

Lord Mahāvīra's time-period is considered as the 6th century BCE that has special significance not only in the cultural and religious history of India but of the world. This was the time when along with Mahāvīra, Mahātmā Buddha, taught about ahiṃsā, andstarted a religious and cultural revolution. Similarly LaoTse and Confucius in China, Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates, etc in Greece; started religious and cultural revolutions in their own regions during this period. Opposing dogmatism and blind beliefs, these great men inspired people to move in the right direction and showed them the path towards right thinking. All these people were epochal in the right sense of term and for several epochs; the extensive paths they showed will throw light on the life-paths of people. Lord Mahāvīra has the highest, most important and respected place among the epochal men mentioned above.

Condition of the country in the time of Mahāvīra

250 years after Lord Pārśvanātha Lord Śrī Mahāvīra emerged as a Tīrthaṃkara in India. At that time, the condition of the country and various societies in it had degenerated significantly. Like in the times of Pārśva, popular interest in austerities, restraint and religion, had declined. Pompous display in the name of religion was widespread. The Śramaṇa tradition was being oppressed continuously by the increasing influence of Brhaminical culture. Sacrifice and ritualism started being considered as the only form of religion. Sacrificial fires not only used purified butter but also ahiṃsā. Violence inherent in Vaidika sacrifices was considered not violence but ahiṃsā (non-violence). Caste-order and layering of castes as high—low was rampant resulting in depriving majority of people (termed as lower caste) of socio-religious freedom and benefits. Sensitivity of the rich people towards the poor was declining. Women's condition was worse; they had no freedom and were considered as slaves.

Politically it was a chaotic period. There was no steadiness or uniformity between different kingdoms. The Licchavī republic was the strongest among the republics of that time. Vaiśālī was its capital and king Ceṭaka was the chief. Mahāvīra's mother, Triśalā was his sister. Kāśī and Kauśala were also part of this republic. Apart from the Licchavī republic the Śākya republic was especially significant and had a great influence. Its capital was Kapilavastu. King Śuddhodhana was its chief. Gautama Buddha was his son. There were also other smaller republics such as Malla, Kola, Āmlakampā, Pippalīvana, etc. There were also independent kingdoms such as Magadha, north Kauśala, Avanti, Kaliṃga, etc. There were friendly relations between these kingdoms but the conditions of the lower castes were pitiable and worrisome in all of these. The Brahmincaste were dominant, people were suffering in grief. These conditions influenced the religious atmosphere as well. People seemed less inclined towards religion. Obtaining heaven became the aim of religious practice and not liberation. The Śramaṇa order was continuously on the decline. While there were protests against sacrificial violence and propagation of ahiṃsā, substantial power and cooperation in these was found wanting. It was in these difficult circumstances that Lord Mahāvīra was born to show the true path for the benefit of people.

Past Lives of Lord Mahāvīra

According to the Jain scripture, every soul has the ability to become the supreme soul. Through special deeds and conduct; some souls are born and become a Tīrthaṃkara or a Jina thereby attaining liberation (Godhood). Since liberated souls (popularly referred as God-like or Bhagavāna or Siddha), being free of karmas are not born in human form again, they do not come down. Thus, it is possible for each human being to rise higher in status and ultimately attain liberation. Thus, Jain religion is not about avatāras (various forms of reincarnations of god in human form) but about rising higher (transcendence). Lord Mahāvīra's soul in the past life as Nayasāra sowed seeds of good deeds and cultivating the same successively, obtained the Tīrthaṃkara status, which is described below:

Once upon a time, the village overseer Nayasāra went to collect wood from the forest. When he sat down to eat in the afternoon he saw a monk who had lost his way and come there. He gave faultless food and water to that hungry and thirsty monk and gave him correct directions. The monk too gave religious teachings to Nayasāra and told him the path to self-progress. As a result, Nayasāra obtained right belief and he limited his worldly existences. His various births are indicated below:

Birth

  • 2nd Heavenly being in Saudharma-kalpa
  • 3rd Marīci, the son of king Bharata
  • 4th Heavenly being in Brahmaloka
  • 5th Brahmin Kauśika
  • 6th Brahmin Puṣyamitra
  • 7th Heavenly being Saudharma
  • 8th Agnidyota
  • 9th Heavenly being in the second kalpa
  • 10th Brahmin Agnibhūti
  • 11th Heavenly being Sanatkumāra
  • 12th Bhāradvāja
  • 13th Heavenly being in Mahendrakalpa
  • 14th Brahmin Sthāvara
  • 15th Heavenly being in Brahmakalpa
  • 16th Prince Viśākhabhūti son of Viśvabhūti
  • 17th Heavenly being Mahāśukra
  • 18th Vasudeva Tripṛṣṭha
  • 19th As Tripṛṣṭha having accumulated bad karmas, born as a 7th hell inhabitant
  • 20th He was a lion
  • 21st A hell inhabitant in fourth hell
  • 22nd Priyamitra (Poṭṭila) cakravartī,
  • 23rd Heavenly being in Mahāśukrakalpa
  • 24th King Nandana he obtained the Tīrthaṃkara gotra.
  • 25th Heavenly being of the Puṣpottaravimāna in Prāṇata heaven
  • 26th According to the Samavāyāṃgasūtra, Nandana's soul entered Devānandā's womb.

Hariṇaigameṣī (heavenly being) transferred this fetus of 26th birth from the womb of Devānandā to that of Triśalā and he was born as Varddhamāna, which is considered his twenty-seventh birth. Thus, conception in two wombs is considered two separate births.

In the Digambara tradition, Lord Mahāvīra had 33 births. Despite this, both traditions seem dissimilar in terms of number of past lives and names therein, an important fact is unanimously agreed upon that after endless cycle of births with the obtaining of right belief and through destruction of karmas Nayasāra's soul became firm on the path of rise and self-progress. By binding himself to bad karmas he had to wander through several births and in the end, as Nandana with best thinking, reflection and feelings and the highest quality of sacrifice, penance, restraint, detachment, devotion he obtained the highest Tīrthaṃkara nāmakarma.

The Lord obtained the Tīrthaṃkara nāmakarma in the birth of king Nandana; that past birth is briefly described as under:

In his twenty-fourth birth Lord Mahāvīra was king Nandana.  The son of king Jitaśatru of Chatrā city, Nandana renounced royal splendour inspired by the sermon of Poṭṭilācārya and took initiation and in a life of restraint for one-lakh years, he observed constant fasts, totalling eleven lakh, and sixty thousand māsa- khamaṇa fasts. The fast-breaking time was totally three thousand three hundred and thirty three months and twenty-nine days. Because of arihanta devotion of twenty instruments he obtained the Tīrthaṃkara nāmakarma and in the end, completing his life in meditative state after two months of fast, he became a god of the Puṣpottara vimāna in Prāṇata heaven.

The auspicious events (Kalyāṇaka)of Lord Mahāvīra' life

The five Kalyāṇaka of Lord Mahāvīra happened under the constellation Uttarāfālgunī. Under the Uttarāfālgunī constellation, leaving the tenth heaven, he entered the womb of Devānandā. It was under the same Uttarāfālgunī constellation that his fetus was transferred from Devānandā's womb to that of Triśalā. Mahāvīra was born under Uttarāfālgunī constellation. It was under Uttarāfālgunī constellation that by plucking his hair, he became a mendicant and under the same constellation, he attained pure intuition and pure knowledge together. Lord Mahāvīra attained nirvāṇa under the Svāti constellation.

Exit and entering the womb

Three time-periods (Āraka) of the present avasarpiṇīcycle had passed and approximately 76 years were remaining for the fourth Āraka. On the sixth day of the bright fortnight of the Āṣāḍha month with moon being conjunct with Uttarāfālgunī constellation, king Nandana's soul left tenth heaven and entered the womb of Devānandā, wife of the Brahmin Ṛṣabhadatta, a resident of the vicinity of Kuṇḍapura in Videha kingdom. In a half –asleep, half –awake state Devānandā saw the fourteen auspicious dreams. She told her husband Ṛṣabhadatta of these dreams. Hearing the description of the dreams Ṛṣabhadatta said – "you will get a righteous son, who will be a scholar of Vedas when he grows up and shall be valorous and brave." The mother started protecting her womb happily.

Stealing of the womb

When the king of god's Śakrendra saw the 24thTīrthaṃkara Lord Mahāvīra's soul enter the womb of the Brahmin woman, he thought –"It has been a tradition since long that Tīrthaṃkara are always born in influential, heroic clans. Yet, because of older karmas Lord Mahāvīra has entered the womb of Brahmin Devānandā, which is an impossible and amazing thing. It is my duty that I transfer him to a pure clan." He duly instructed the god Hariṇaigameṣī. Hariṇaigameṣī god went to the Brahminvillage and putting Devānandā to deep sleep without giving her any trouble or pain took Mahāvīra's fetus in his palm and placed him in the womb of queen Triśalāthus transferring the fetus in Triśalā's womb from Devānandā's. This way, after staying for 82 nights in Devānandā's womb on the 13th day of the dark fortnight of Aśvina month, Lord Mahāvīra entered the womb of Triśalā.

Discussion on the transfer of womb

The event of exchange of womb, while it is amazing, is not impossible. Considering this incident debatable the Digambara tradition has given it up altogether. However, there is clear description of this in the basic Sūtras and tīkā Cūrṇis of the Śvetāmbara tradition. The Śvetāmbara ācāryas believe that the stealing of the womb of Tīrthaṃkara may be an uncommon feat but not an impossible one. The 83rd samāvāya of the Samavāyāṃga Sūtra describes the womb-change. In the fifth place in Sthānāṃgasūtra there is clear description of the womb-change while mentioning the five Kalyāṇaka of Lord Mahāvīra in the Uttarāfālgunī constellation. The Sthānāṃgasūtra mentions ten extraordinary events, among which the womb-change occupies the second place. The ten extraordinary events are as follows"

  1. Calamities: - At the Samavaśaraṇa of Lord Mahāvīra Gośālaka turned to ashes the monk Sarvānubhūti and Sunakṣatra through fire and started hurling fire at the Lord. This was the first extraordinary event
  2. Womb-stealing: - Tīrthaṃkara's wombs are not transferred but Lord Mahāvīra's was transferred, which is the second extraordinary event.
  3. Woman- Tīrthaṃkara:- Usually only men attain the Tīrthaṃkara status but in the present avasarpiṇī cycle, the 19thTīrthaṃkara Mallinātha was in the form of Mallī, who was a woman. This is also an extraordinary event.
  4. An Unimpressive Council:- Usually the Tīrthaṃkara's first sermon is influential and hearing it people accept the path of restraint, but Lord Mahāvīra's first sermon was unimpressive, nobody took initiation; this is also an extraordinary event
  5. Kṛṣṇa's arrival at Amarakaṃkā:- To find out about Draupadī Kṛṣṇa went to Amarakaṃkā in Dhātakīkhaṇḍa and conversed with Vasudeva Kapila through the conch. Usually cakravartīs and Vasudevas do not go outside their boundaries but Kṛṣṇa did, which is also an extraordinary event.
  6. The Descending of Candra and Sūrya: - Gods like Sūrya, Candra, etc come to see the Lord but not in their own palaces (vimāna).  But in Kauśāmbī at the Samavaśaraṇa, the gods like Candra, Sūrya came to see the Lord Mahāvīra in their own respective vimānas, which is an extraordinary event.
  7. Harivaṃśa clan origins (the twins going to hell):- On seeing the twins Hari and Hariṇī leading their lives happily; their past life enemy, who was a heavenly being in that life, remembered his animosity and using his powers he reduced their age and bodily stature and sent them to Campā city where people were in search of a new king. They made these two the king and queen. Because of bad company they both started indulging in bad habits and both went to hell. Twins (yugalika) do not go to hell but Hari and Hariṇī went there which is an extraordinary event. These twins gave rise to the Harivaṃśa clan.
  8. Rise of Camara: - The soul of ascetic Purāṇa was born as king of Asuras (Camarendra). He saw that above him was Śakrendra, of the realm of gods seated on a throne and enjoying pleasures. Out of envy, he wished to produce obstacles in the happiness of Śakra. Taking refuse in Lord Mahāvīra's congregation, he created havoc in Saudharma-kalpa. Angry with this Śakra threw a thunderbolt at him. Afraid, Camarendra fell at the Lord's feet. When Śakrendra learnt that Camarendra is at the Lord's feet taking refuge he came with great speed and holding his thunderbolt, saved Camarendra and forgave him. It is an extraordinary event for Camarendra to take refuge in Arihanta and go to Saudharma realm of gods.
  9. 108 monks with supreme body (avagāhanā) attaining liberation (Siddha) together: According to norms there should be only two Siddha as with supreme body. But there was Lord Vṛṣabhanātha with 500 dhanuṣa avagāhanāand 108 souls including his sons, etc who became Siddha as all at the same time. This is an extraordinary event.
  10. Praying to the unrestrained Ones: Usually the ones practicing total self-restraintare worthy of veneration. But in the time period of the ninth Tīrthaṃkara Suvidhinātha in the absence of monks and female-monks the unrestrained were offered prayers to. This is an extraordinary event.

Many things mentioned in Indian literature, such as transfer of a fetus, are considered unbelievable but in the scientific age ever new discoveries have shown these things in reality. An extraordinary event has been published in 'Jīvana Vijṅāna' (vol. 43) brought out by the Gujarat Vernacular Society that an American doctor had to operate upon a pregnant woman's stomach. So that doctor first tore open the stomach of a pregnant goat and placed the fetus in her womb in a box powered by electricity and placed the woman's fetus into the womb of the goat. After finishing the surgery of the woman, he removed the fetus from the goat, placed it again in the woman's womb, and replaced the goat's fetus back in its womb. Later both the lamb and the human child the goat and the woman gave birth to were healthy and natural siblings.

Entry into Triśalā's womb

When Hariṇaigameṣī transferred Mahāvīra's soul from Devānandā's womb to that of Triśalā's with the permission of Indra, Devānandā saw the fourteen dreams exiting from her mouth. She woke up and started to cry saying someone has stolen her womb. At the same time on the night of the thirteenth day of the Aśvina month with moon, being conjunct with Uttarāfālgunī constellation Triśla saw the fourteen auspicious dreams. The dream interpreters said – "such dreams are only seen by the mothers of Tīrthaṃkara and cakravartīs.  Hence queen Triśalā shall beget a fortunate son who will either be a Tīrthaṃkara or a cakravartīwhen he grows up." King Siddhārtha and queen Triśalā were very happy to hear these words. Queen Triśalā started taking care of her womb and completed her pregnancy period happily.

Entry into the womb and birth

Through his avadhijṅāna (clairvoyance), the Lord saw that his mother is experiencing pain with his turning around in the womb, hence he stopped moving which made Triśalā worried and thought – "perhaps my child has withered in the womb." With this news Triśalā, the king and their family were full of sorrow. When the Lord realised this again with his clairvoyance, he resumed his movement, which made his mother happy. Seeing his mother so happy while in the womb he resolved – "as long as my parents are alive I shall not remove my hair and renounce."

The pregnancy period ended in a good atmosphere and on the thirteenth day of the bright fortnight of Caitra month during the midnight hour under Uttarāfālgunī constellation queen Triśalā gave birth to a son. Gods showered the five auspicious things from the skies. There was an atmosphere of divine light and peace all over the world. 56 Dikkumārīs (nymphs) and 64 Devendras celebrated the auspicious birth festival of the Lord. King Siddhārtha too freed the prisoners and gave charities with a free hand. All across the kingdom, people celebrated Lord's birth with great happiness and gaiety for ten days and in an atmosphere of endless happiness and fervour.

Naming Ceremony

After ten days celebration of the birth of his son; on the twelfth day king Siddhārtha called his family and friends for the naming ceremony. At that time those people said – "ever since this child entered his mother's womb we have had abundance of richness-wealth and progress by leaps and bounds. Hence the child should appropriately be named Varddhamāna." People gave calls of joy. Impressed by the brave acts of his since childhood, gods named him as Mahāvīra. He was also called 'Samaṇa' as he easily gained good knowledge, gods named him Mahāvīra on seeing his extraordinary bravey and on account of his practice of renunciation and difficult austerities he was called 'Śramaṇa' in the scriptures.

Birthplace and Parents

There is difference of opinion among scholars about the birthplace of Mahāvīra. Some people consider Vaiśālī his birthplace while some others say it is 'Kuṇḍanapura', and yet others believe it to be 'Kṣatriyakuṇḍa'. At the same time, some people consider the Lord's birthplace as situated in Magadha and some say it was Videha. Ācārāṃga and Kalpasūtra consider Mahāvīra as the resident of Videha. The Digambara tradition, too, agrees with this opinion. They consider Kuṇḍapura-Kṣatriyakuṇḍa as part of Videha. Monk Kalyāṇavijayajī considers Kuṇḍapura a suburb of Vaiśālī whereas Vijayendrasūri considers it to have been an independent city. Similarly, some use the term Bārhmiṇakuṇḍa and Kṣatriyakuṇḍa as suburbs of Kuṇḍapura. Both these place, despite being in the form of settlements, existed so close to each other, that they were considered to be near Kuṇḍapura. The ninth section of BhagavatīSūtra gives a clearer picture. There we find reference to Kṣatriyakuṇḍa towards the west of Bārhmiṇakuṇḍa village and a Bahuśāla caitya located in the midst of the two, thus:- Once, Lord Mahāvīra came to Bahuśāla caitya in Bārhmiṇakuṇḍa. When the information reached the people of Kṣatriyakuṇḍa they came there to pay obeisance to him. Prince Jamāli too reached the Bahuśāla caitya in Bārhmiṇakuṇḍa, passing through Kṣatriyakuṇḍa, where Lord Mahāvīra was visiting. There is reference to five hundred Kṣatriya princes taking initiation along with him.

Actually, there is no basic difference between the two places as the northern part of Kuṇḍapura is also called Kṣatriyakuṇḍa and the southern part is called Bārhmiṇakuṇḍa. Ācārāṃga states that there is the vicinity of Bārhmiṇakuṇḍa in the south and that of Kuṇḍapura the north in Kṣatriyakuṇḍa. Jñātṛ, meaning, Kṣatriya used to stay in Kuṇḍapura. Being a settlement of 'jṅātṛka' the Buddhist texts called it jṅātigrāma. The location of 'jṅātṛka' is between Vaiśālī and Kotigrāma within Vajjideśa. Vaiśālī is today popular as Vaniyā Vasāḍha in the Muzaffarpur division (Tirhut) of Bihāra. It is said that Vāsukuṇḍa near Vasāḍha was where ancient Kuṇḍapura existed. It becomes clear form the above-mentioned evidences and historical sources that Lord Mahāvīra was born in Kuṇḍapura of Vaiśālī near Kṣatriyakuṇḍa. This Kuṇḍapura was not a suburb of Vaiśālī but an independent city.

Lord Mahāvīra's father was the jṅātṛ, or kṣatriya king Siddhārtha and his mother was Triśalā. Scriptures refer to Lord Mahāvīra as belonging to a great royal family. Kalpasūtra too says –"taeṇaṃ se siddhi rāyā". In this context, it does not seem right that some scholars believe that Siddhārtha was not a king but a kṣatriya vassal or chief.  The objection of Dr. Hoernle and Jacobi to Siddhārtha being considered a king has only one reason; namely, he did not have any special honours or distinction when compared to the king Ceṭaka of Vaiśālī. However, he was a king, or else how would Ceṭaka's sister be married to him? Thus, there is no doubt he was a king except the argument of him being a minor or a big king. Siddhārtha was the father of Lord Mahāvīra, there is no doubt about that; the doubt exists only on whether he was a king. However, it can for sure that he was definitely a king even if he was not as well-known as king Ceṭaka of Vaiśālī was. Kalpasūtra and Ācārāṃga give three names for Siddhārtha, including Śreyāṃsa and Yaśasvī while Triśalā has two other names, Videhadinnā and Priyakāriṇī.

An Incident in childhood

Five able midwives took care of child Mahāvīra. Mahāvīra grew up with the love and care of these five midwives and his mother Triśalā and comforts suitable for a prince. Child Mahāvīra's child games are not only charming but strength giving as well.

Once child Mahāvīra was playing in the garden with his friends a game called 'Saṃkulī'. He was then around 8 years old. Seeing his courage and fearlessness Indra told the gods – "Child Mahāvīra is so brave that let alone men, even gods cannot defeat him." One god did not agree with Indra. He wanted to test Mahāvīra and taking the form of a snake, went and hid by the bark of that same tree that Mahāvīra had climbed. Other children became scared seeing the snake on that tree and started running. However, the snake could not scare Mahāvīra at all. Stopping all his friends, he said – "Why are you all running away? This small creature cannot trouble us at all. Let us take it and throw it somewhere far." Hearing Mahāvīra's words the boys said – "Mahāvīra, do not even try to touch it, men die if they are bitten by it." Without fear, Mahāvīra held the snake, like a rope, in his left hand and threw it.

Thereafter the children started playing the tiṃdusaka game. In a game two boys run together to touch a tree and the one who touches it first returns to the starting place climbing atop the other's back. The god too entered the game taking the form of a boy. Mahāvīra continuously defeated many boys in this game and once he got the chance to run with that god. The god lost and started to walk back with Mahāvīra on his back. To frighten Mahāvīra the god assumed a giant and fearsome form. The boys got scared but Mahāvīra did not lose his courage. He understood this was some illusory being which has come to test him. Sitting on his back he gave the god such a boxing that his body became dwarfish. The god sought forgiveness from Mahāvīra and said – "Indra was right –you are not just brave but exceedingly so."

Mahāvīra was a Tīrthaṃkara and a Tīrthaṃkara's strength is incomparable with anyone. The small finger of a Tīrthaṃkara has infinitely more times the strength of a god, demon, men, Indra, cakravartīs, etc. Their strength comes from accumulated deeds of many births. When Mahāvīra became eligible for education, seeing an auspicious occasion his parents sent him to a teacher. When king of gods Indra found this out he thought what would this ordinary teacher teach the receptacle of three kinds of knowledge? Thinking thus Indra took the form of an old Brahminscholar and appeared before the teacher. He asked Mahāvīra many scholarly questions. Mahāvīra gave comprehensive and appropriate answers to all of them which surprised the teacher and the others present there. The Brahminscholar too raised some doubts before Mahāvīra and getting right answers became speechless. Then the old Brahminsaid – "Oh teacher, present before you as a student is not any ordinary child but a great man who is an ocean of knowledge and well-versed in scriptures. Taking all the answers of Mahāvīra the old Brahmin wrote 'Aindra Vyākaraṇa'.

Marriage with Yaśodā

When Mahāvīra attained youth, his parents placed a marriage proposal in front of him. Though Mahāvīra was detached from sensual pleasures, he had resolved in his mother's womb, seeing her delight, that so long as his parents were alive he would not take initiation. In the same way, for the happiness of his parents and to complete his karmas of enjoyment (bhoga) he ultimately agreed to get married and was married at an auspicious time to Yaśodā, daughter of the chief of Vasaṃtapura, Samaravīra, endowed with all good qualities. There is reference to Mahāvīra's wedding in all the Śvetāṃbara texts such as Ācārāṃga, Kalpasūtra, Āvaśyakaniryukti, etc but the Digambara scriptures do not agree with this. In those texts while you find reference to the parents' request for Mahāvīra to marry, proposals of many kings who offered their daughters and request for Jitaśatru's daughter Yaśoda, there is no mention of the marriage-taking place. The basic reason for this is the use of the term 'kumāra' and difference of opinion about its meaning. Both traditions accept that Vāsupūjya, Mallī, Neminātha, Pārśvanātha and Mahāvīra renounced at a young age. 'Kumāra' means both 'unmarried' and 'crown prince'. In the Digambara texts such as Tiloyapaṇṇattī, Harivaṃśapurāṇa and Padmapurāṇa, these five Tīrthaṃkara are said to be 'kumāra' and the rest are said to have ruled. Lokaprakśa mentions that Mallī and Neminātha did not have any enjoyment karmas left; hence, they did not marry and took initiation without having married. The term kumāra does not just mean unmarried, but also prince and crown prince. Hence in Āvaśyakaniryukti Dīpikā, because of his not being crowned king, he is considered to have renounced in his young age.

Demise of Parents

Mahāvīra's parents were followers of the śramaṇa tradition. After practising the householder's conduct for many years, when they sensed the end of their time, they repented their bad deeds for purifying their souls, with the arihanta, Siddha and soul as witnesses. They duly accepted condoning of the bad deeds sitting on a fast with raw coconut and giving up four kinds of food. Observing a fast, completing their lifetime in saṃlekhanā they emerged as gods in Acyuta kalpa in the 12th heaven. After sojourn in heaven, they are born in Mahā Videha. They attain enlightenment thereafter.

Towards renunciation

With the demise of his parents, Mahāvīra's resolve in the womb had been realised. He was 28 years old at that time. Then he expressed his desire to take initiation to his elder brother, Nandīvardhana and others. Brother Nandīvardhana said, "We are yet to emerge from the mourning for father and mother. Please hold on for some time, and then renounce." Through his clairvoyance, sensing it was not the right time, he said – "Alright, but until when do I wait?" His family members said – "At least for two years." Mahāvīra agreed, but said –"In this time I shall eat as per my wish." People agreed happily. After this, for some two years or more, Mahāvīra remained at home with a feeling of detachment, but he gave up accepting unfiltered water and dinner after sunset. He observed celibacy. He used to wash his feet too with faultless water, used to sleep on the floor and used to maintain equanimity, giving up anger. Staying this way for a year, the Lord started the yearlong act of giving (varṣīdāna). He used to donate one crore eight lakh gold coins every day. On completing 30 years of age, Mahāvīra's desire was successful. At that time as per norms, the lokāntika gods requested Mahāvīra – "Lord! Take initiation; establish the religious order for the benefit of all living beings."

Lord Mahāvīra started preparations for the initiation, taking permission from his brother Nandivardhan and paternal uncle, Supārśva. Nandīvardhana ordered his family members to keep ready 1000 gold and bronze urns for the Lord's departure ceremony. According to the Ācārāṃga Sūtra, learning of the Lord's departure ceremony, four kinds of gods and goddesses reached the vicinity of Kṣatriyakuṇḍa in their respective vimānas filled with gold and riches. There they created a throne with their celestial powers. Everybody seated Mahāvīra on the throne facing east. They oiled his body with scented oil and bathed him in pure water. They dried his body with a scented ochre-coloured towel and applied gośīrṣa sandal on him. Then they made him wear light and valuable clothes and ornaments. Decorating him like a kalpavṛkṣa tree, they seated him on the Candraprabhā palanquin. Men, gods, Indras lifted the palanquin. There were horses on both sides in front of the Lord's palanquin and elephants behind it. King Nandīvardhana, astride an elephant, was moving behind Mahāvīra along with his four-fold army. This way, surrounded by a vast human crowd, passing through the central part of Kṣatriyakuṇḍa, the Lord came to the jṅāt-khaṇḍa garden and alighted from the palanquin under the Aśoka tree. Removing his ornaments and clothes, he also removed five fistfuls of hair.

Initiation

The Lord took initiation with a fast without water on the tenth day of the dark fortnight of Mṛgaśira under Uttarāfālgunī constellation. Bowing down to the Siddhas in front of the huge gathering of gods and men he resolved – "savvaṃ me akaraṇijjaṃ pavaṃ kammaṃ" – from now on all bad deeds are for me undoable. The Lord accepted the right conduct – "karemi sāmāiyaṃ savvaṃ sāvajjaṃ jogaṃ paccakkhāmi"- from today I give up all sāvadya karmas from three karaṇas and three yogas." When the Lord took this oath, all the people gathered became still, as if panting. Mahāvīra was moving on the thorny path, leaving everything. The moment he accepted the spiritual conduct, he attained telepathic knowledge (manaḥparyavajṅāna). Thus, Mahāvīra began to know the inner feelings of all living beings.

Lord's Resolution and Wandering

After everybody left, the Lord took the following resolution – "From today till the next 12 years, until the time that I gain omniscience, I shall live as a renouncer of all attachment to the body. Hence in this period, I shall bear with equanimity all the calamities, pains that may come through gods, human beings or beings of hell." After this, the Lord moved from there. Many ācāryas believe that when the Lord began to wander after initiation, a Brahmin, who was unable to be present at the time of the year-long giving, accosted him on the way. Seeing his pitiable state the Lord tore the divine-cloth (devadūṣya) on his shoulder into half and gave it to him. The Ācārāṃga and Kalpasūtra mention the devadūṣya falling off after 13 months but basically in Kalpasūtra or any other text there is no mention of him tearing his cloth and giving it. Of course, in the Cūrṇi and commentary (Tīkā) etc, there is reference to donation of the half cloth to a Brahmin.

First calamity and fast-breaking (pāraṇā)

At the time when the Lord was standing in meditation outside Kurmarāgrāma, a herdsman came there with his oxen. He left them close to Mahāvīra to graze and went to a village nearby to milk the cows. After sometime when the herdsman returned, not finding his oxen, he asked Mahāvīra for their whereabouts. When Mahāvīra, deep in meditation, did not reply, he went looking for them. Al night he kept searching for them. By coincidence, the oxen returned and sat next to Mahāvīra. The sad herdsman was returning empty-handed next morning when, seeing those oxen sitting next to Mahāvīra, he got very angry, Thinking Mahāvīra to be a thief, he went to hit him with a rope. Seeing this, Indra appeared at once and saved Mahāvīra from this trouble.

After this incident, Indra requested the Lord to allow him to serve him. The Lord said – "arhantas do not take anybody's help for Siddhi or to attain pure knowledge but attain them on their own strength." Yet for his satisfaction, Indra, to prevent deathly calamities, appointed a vyaṃtara god, Siddhārtha, to be at the Lord's service, and saluting the Lord, left.

The next day the Lord left from there and reached the vicinity of Kollāga. There he broke his first fast at the home of a Brahmin named Bahula, with rice mixed with clarified butter and sugar. The sky resounded with the echo of "aho dānam, aho dānam". The gods showered the five auspicious things to express the glory of the giving.

Austerities of Lord Mahāvīra

Ācārāṃgasūtra and Kalpasūtra state that after initiation Lord Mahāvīra retained nothing with him barring the devadūṣya. For around 13 years that cloth remained on his shoulder, and after it fell off and the Lord remained totally naked. During his mendicancy period, he would stay at either a poor person's hut or a rest house for travelers, etc. He always kept his hands hanging on the sides. He would not bend his arms even in extreme winter months. When all others would try to protect themselves in winter, Lord Mahāvīra would stand naked. Apart from winter, summer he had to bear with many kinds of harsh feelings on the skin through bites of mosquitoes, etc. The place of stay was also filled with different kinds of difficulties and bites of poisonous creatures like scorpions, snakes, crows, hawks were also borne by him. Sometimes wicked people used to beat him up or abuse him, women and children would tease him or make fun, but in the midst of all those difficulties, and calamities, the Lord used to remain meditative with equanimity in a pure and peaceful manner and would not bring to mind any sense of hurt /pain.

If there was reason to leave a place he would do so quietly. The Lord never slept during his mendicancy period; he remained in deep meditation in kāyotsarga posture. While wandering he would not look ahead or behind nor on his sides, and would not even speak to anyone. Being in equanimity in all circumstances, he would seek alms from different homes and would not differentiate between a palace, a hut, or a rich or poor person. Whatever food he received, be it fresh or stale, etc, he would accept without bias, but he would not partake of faulty food. Mahāvīra's dispassionate attitude towards his body was extraordinary. He was not only apathetic to cold and heat but to sickness also. He would not even seek to brush off anything from the body nor would he scratch. Rising above passion towards the body while being in the body, he went beyond the corporeal existence. He did not even wink at the most difficult bodily pain nor did not attempt to cure it by any means. Actually, it is hard to find an example anywhere else of this kind of incomparable forbearance in austerity and equanimity in every situation.

The First year of spiritual-exertion

After leaving Kollāga, the Lord reached the Morāka province. The chief of the hermitage there was a friend of king Siddhārtha. He welcomed Mahāvīra and requested him to stay there. Mahāvīra stayed there for one night and when he was ready to leave the next day the chief requested him to stay there in the monsoon period. After wandering about nearby the Lord returned for the monsoon stay to that hermitage and started living in a small hut there. Mahāvīra had feelings of compassion and friendship for every living being. Because of a famine, cows started coming close to the huts in the hermitage and grazing there on the grass. Other ascetics used to chase them away but Mahāvīra would keep standing in meditation with a feeling of detachment. He had neither any love for the chief of the hermitage nor the hermitage itself, nor hatred for the cows. Dispassionate towards all, he remained meditative day and night.

Some ascetics complained to the chief of the hermitage about this attitude of Mahāvīra's. Advising him sweetly the chief said – It is a happy and contented thing for you to remain meditative continuously, but you could perhaps see to it that there is no destruction caused by the animals to this hermitage?" Mahāvīra understood the point. He thought, is the objective of leaving royal palaces and staying in a hut to be more concerned about a non-conscious hut in place of conscious animals? Thinking thus, after spending the monsoon period there he left that place quietly. He made certain resolves in his mind, namely, "I shall not stay in a loveless place, shall always remain meditative, shall not speak with anyone, shall stay silent, shall accept food only in my hands, and shall not show courtesies to householders." There is no reference to these resolves in basic scriptures, but in the Tīrthaṃkara tradition, they remain silent during mendicancy.

The calamity caused by a Yakṣa; falling asleep and dream

After leaving the hermitage, Mahāvīra left for Asthigrāma. It was evening by the time he reached there. In search of a lonely spot, he sought permission to stay at Yakṣa Śūlāpaṇi's shrine outside the city. In the evening, the priest Indraśarmā came there to offer prayers. After prayers, he asked all the travelers to leave the place. He told Mahāvīra, too, but he was silent and in meditation. Indraśarmā said – "King, a Yakṣa stays here who is rude. He does not let anyone stay here at night." However, Mahāvīra remained unmoved. He therefore thought it appropriate, to stay there to face the ordeal and assist in Yakṣa' awakening. He remained meditative. Finally, Indraśarmā too, left. When it was became dark in the night the Yakṣa appeared. Seeing the Lord in meditation, he said – "It seems like he does not know of my heroism." He laughed. The whole forest shook but Mahāvīra was unaffected. Taking the form of an elephant and a ghoul, he tried to scare Mahāvīra in many ways but the Lord did not get agitated. Then the Yakṣa created frightening pain in the Lord's eyes, ears, nose, head, teeth, nails and his back, but Mahāvīra showed no signs of response. Ultimately, accepting defeat, the Yakṣa fell at the Lord's feet and begged forgiveness and left. At the end of the night, the Yakṣa's calamities ended. In the Bhagavatī Śataka 16, topic 6, there is reference to a dream on the last night the mendicancy period. Some part of the night remained when Mahāvīra fell asleep for a short while and he saw the following ten dreams:

  1. He struck a tree demon with his hands
  2. A white cuckoo (Koyala) came to serve
  3. He saw a strange coloured cuckoo in front of him
  4. He saw two brilliantly-lit gem garlands
  5. He saw herd of white cattle standing beside him
  6. He saw a pond with lotus blossoms
  7. He saw himself swimming across the ocean using his arms
  8. He saw a Sun with thousand rays lighting up the world
  9. He saw his beryl-like entrails from hisintestines enveloping the Mānuṣottara mountain
  10. He saw himself ascending the Merū

The Lord woke up the moment he saw the dreams. The Lord was standing in meditation when through the brightness of the daybreak he had fallen asleep for a moment. During his mendicancy period this was the first and last time that he fell asleep.

The Interpretation of the dreams

A soothsayer named Utpala lived in that village. He was a śramaṇa from the first Pārśvanātha tradition but on some account, had given up mendicancy. When he heard about Mahāvīra staying at the Yakṣa's shrine, his heart skipped a beat, expecting some catastrophe. When he saw the Lord in meditation there, he was very happy. He expressed the following thoughts to the Lord about the dreams of the night before

  1. Beating up the ghoul means that you will destroy your deluding karma
  2. Seeing a white cuckoo (Koyala) indicates you will enter into deep meditation
  3. Seeing a strange coloured cuckoo means you will give a sermon filled with multi-faceted knowledge
  4. The soothsayer could not interpret the meanings of the two gem studded garlands
  5. Seeing herd of white cattle means you will establish the four-fold order
  6. Seeing a pond of lotus blossoms means you will be served by four kinds of gods
  7. Seeing yourself swimming across the ocean means you will cross the ocean of the world
  8. Seeing the world lit up by the thousand rays of the sun means you will attain pure knowledge and instruct others
  9. Seeing your entrails enveloping the Mānuṣottara mountain means your fame will spread across the world of people
  10. Seeing yourself ascend the Merū mountain means you will give a sermon seated on the throne

About the brilliant garlands, the Lord said they meant the two forms of religion, namely, that of mendicants, and that of householders. Everybody was delighted to hear the meaning of the dreams. During a year's stay at Asthigrāma the Lord did not face any calamities. Peacefully he observed 8 times fasts of a fortnight each and completed his first year of stay.

The Second year of spiritual-exertion

After completing the year-long stay at Asthigrāma, Mahāvīra moved towards Morāka province on the first day of the dark fortnight of Mārgaśīrṣa. Reaching Morāka, he entered a garden. A heretic named Acchaṃdaka used to live there, who used to make a living out of astrology. The god Siddhārtha told people in Morāka village – "This mendicant is the receptacle of three kinds of knowledge and knows of the past, present and future." Not just that, he also brought to light the bad deeds of Acchaṃdaka that turned out to be true. As a result, his influence declined. On the other end, impressed by the Lord's penance, more and more people started coming to him. Acchaṃdaka was worried seeing this. He went to the Lord and prayed – "Lord, you are detached and all powerful. My livelihood has suffered because of your stay here. Please have mercy on me and go elsewhere." The Lord understood the meaning and pain of Acchaṃdaka and left that place, moving towards north Vācālā. On the way to Vācālā, by the banks of the Suvarṇakūlā, the Lord's devadūṣya got stuck in the thorns and fell off; the Lord turned back to see if the devadūṣya had not fallen off in the wrong place. When he saw the cloth stuck in the thorns, he realised that the disciples will obtain the cloth easily. Giving up the cloth, the Lord became naked and remained without a cloth (acela) throughout his life. With the desire to obtain the devadūṣya, a Brahmin acquaintance of king Siddhārtha who was following the Lord took the cloth and went home.

Awakening of Caṇḍakauśika

Moving towards north Vācālā the Lord reached a hermitage named Kanakhamala. There were two paths to go to north Vācālā from that hermitage; One through the hermitage, and the other from the outside. The Lord took the straight path. Reaching some distance, he came across two herdsmen. They told the Lord – "There is a forest ahead on this path where lives a dreaded viper named Caṇḍakauśika who just looks at the travelers with his poisonous eyes and reduces them to ashes. It would be better if you took the other path." The Lord thought–"Caṇḍakauśika is a magnificent being, hence through awakening he will certainly gain knowledge" and he moved on that same path with the intention of redeeming Caṇḍakauśika.

In his past life, Caṇḍakauśika was an ascetic. One day, to break his fast, he left with his disciple for alms. Suddenly a frog was crushed under the monk's feet on the way. Seeing this the disciple said – "Oh teacher, crushed by your feet the frog is dead." The monk said nothing. The disciple thought that the teacher would repent for this in the evening at the time of ritual confession (pratikramaṇa). But when the monk did not repent for this bad deed in the evening the disciple again reminded him of the death of the female frog and asked him to repent. The monk got angry with the disciple reminding him repeatedly to repent and went to kill the disciple. In a fit of anger, he hit himself against a pole and died at once. After death, he became a jyotiṣkagod.

Completing his life there, he was born as the son of the chief ascetic of the Kanakhamala hermitage named Kauśika. He was of a violent temperament since childhood, so was called Caṇḍakauśika. Later, Caṇḍakauśika became the chief ascetic of the hermitage. He was so deeply attached to the forest surrofemale-monkding that hermitage that he would not let anyone pick a fruit from there; hence, people left that hermitage to live elsewhere. Once, the princes of a nearby city destroyed the forest. When Caṇḍakauśika learnt of it, he ran behind them with his axe to hit them. In anger, he fell into a pit and the axe severed his head. Caṇḍakauśika died at once. Because of the past life deeds, he began to protect that same forest in a rage. Roaming around day and night Caṇḍakauśika would turn to ashes with his poison even animals and birds wandering in the forest. Fearing Caṇḍakauśika people stopped going to that forest.

In order to redeem Caṇḍakauśika through his awakening, Lord Mahāvīra entered that forest fearlessly. There he stood meditating. Seeing him, Caṇḍakauśika started hissing, watching him with angry eyes. However, Lord Mahāvīra was unaffected. Seeing this Caṇḍakauśika got angrier and he bit his feet with his poisonous teeth. The Lord stood unagitated. Instead of blood, milk started flowing from his feet. He did not show any anger towards him. Surprised, Caṇḍakauśika kept staring at the Lord without blinking an eyelid. All his anger died down. Seeing Caṇḍakauśika calm down the Lord went into meditation and said – "Oh Caṇḍakauśika! Calm down! Arise! Because of the past life karmas you are a snake, be cautious at least now, otherwise you will have to wander about in bad circumstances." Hearing the Lord's words, Caṇḍakauśika's realized his inner self. His mind was aglow with the light of discrimination. Remembering his past lives, he made a resolve in his mind – "I shall not trouble anyone anymore, nor will I eat anything." He went into his bill. The Lord too, left.

Caṇḍa stopped coming out of his bill. There was peace in the forest. People started to pray to Caṇḍa. They would pour milk, sugar and vermillion powder, flowers, etc. Caṇḍa would not even touch them, hence, attracted by them, ants gathered there. Caṇḍa was so still with his hood upright as if he was lifeless. Gradually, the ants started to bite him, enveloping him, but Caṇḍa remained unshaken, bearing with all the pain with equanimity and completing his life in pure feeling, he obtained to the eighth heaven.

Wandering and a boat ride

After redeeming Caṇḍakauśika, wandering, the Lord reached Vācālā. There he broke his fifteen-days' fast by accepting rice pudding from Nāgasena. Leaving from there, he reached Śvetāmbikā city, where the king Pradeśī gave him a respectful welcome and honours. Leaving Śvetāmbikā city, the Lord moved towards Surabhipura. River Gaṃgā came mid-way. The Lord had to sit on a boat to cross Gaṃgā. The moment the boat moved, an owl sitting on the right side, hooted. Hearing the owl's hoot the soothsayer Khemila, sitting in the boat, said –"A great trouble is expected, but on account of the strong good deeds of this Lord nothing untoward will happen." After going a little further, the boat got stuck in a whirlpool due to a strong windstorm. The passengers were worried, but the Lord sat fearlessly and unmoved, in meditation. The storm subsided after a while and the boat reached the riverbank. In his previous life as Tripṛṣṭa, the lion in the he had killed, his Lion) soul in the form of god Sudaṃṣṭra, out of enmity, caused the windstorm in the river. When Mahāvīra crossed Gaṃgā, two Nāga princes Kambala and Śambala served the Lord to get over this calamity.

The Interpretation of Puṣya

Alighting from the boat the Lord reached the vicinity of 'Sthūṇāka'. There he stood in meditation at a place. Seeing the Lord's footprints, a soothsayer in that village named Puṣya said – "A person of these footprints must be a cakravartī. Perhaps on account of a difficult situation he is wandering alone, let me go help him."  Thinking thus, following the footprints he came to the Lord. Seeing a monk in the place of an emperor or prince, he was surprised as to how could a person, with all the qualities of a cakravartī, is a monk? Are the scriptures wrong? At that point Devendra appeared and said –"This is not an ordinary person; he is a great dharma-cakravartī (a spiritual emperor) who is venerated by gods and Indras alike." The soothsayer saluted the Lord and left.

The entry of Gośālaka in the Lord's service

Wandering this way, the Lord reached Rājagṛha and came to a shed in Nālandā for the rainy season halt. The Lord's broke his first month fast at merchant Vijaya's house. There was a divine sound in the sky with a show of five auspicious things. With a pure feeling, the merchant Vijaya left this world and became a resident of the realm of gods. Everywhere in Rājagṛha people spoke of the layman Vijaya. Maṃkhaliputra Gośālaka was also on rainy season halt at this time. Gośālaka saw the glory of the Lord's penance and went to him. During the rainy season halt, the Lord had begun to practise month-long fasts. He broke his second months fast at the house of votary Ānanda. The third month's fast breaking took place at śravaka Sunanda's house with rice pudding.

On the full moon day of Kārtika month, on the way to seeking alms, Gośālaka asked the Lord – "What will I get in alms today?" Siddhārtha said – "You will get stale rice with millet, sour buttermilk and a fake rupee." To disprove the Lord's speech Gośālaka went to richest homes but he did not get anything there. In the end at an ironsmith's house, he got sour buttermilk, stale rice and fake one rupee. This made such an impression on Gośālaka's mind that he became a fatalist. Bhagavatī Sūtra does not refer to this aspect.

After the cāturmāsaperiod, the Lord left Nālandā and broke his last monthly fast at the home of 'Bahula Brahmin' near Kollāga. When the Lord left Nālandā, Gośālaka had gone out seeking alms. On return to the weaver's shed, he did not see the Lord. He gave his clothes, pitcher, painting, etc to the Brahmins and, shaving his head, went in search of the Lord and reached Kollāga. When he heard of Bahula Brahmin's alms giving from people, he knew this was the effect of the Lord's penance. He saw the Lord outside Kollāga at Praṇīta-bhūmi. Delighted, he paid obeisance to the Lord and said – "From today, you are my religious teacher and I am your disciple." After a lot of pleading, knowing the future, the Lord accepted Gośālaka's plea. Gośālaka stayed with the Lord for six years.

The third year of mendicancy

Leaving Kollāga, the Lord went towards Svarṇakhala with Gośālaka. They saw some herdsmen on the way, cooking rice pudding. Gośālaka's mind was on the rice pudding. He told the Lord – "Lord, if we stay a while we can have the rice pudding and leave." Siddhārtha Deva, i.e. Mahāvīra said–"The rice pudding will fall to the ground even before it is cooked as the pot will break." Gośālaka alerted the herdsmen and stopped for the rice pudding, but the Lord moved on. Despite all care, the pot broke when the rice pudding was boiling over and the pudding fell on the soil. With a small face, Gośālaka joined the Lord.

Thereafter, the Lord reached the 'Brahmin village' divided into two parts in the name of the important persons there, 'Nanda' and 'Upananda', as Nandapāṭaka and Upanaṃdpāṭaka. Lord Mahāvīra went to Nandapāṭaka for alms to Nanda's house. There he got curd rice. Gośālaka went to Upananda's house at Upanandapāṭaka and received stale food at the hands of the house cleaner, which he refused. At this, Upananda told the house cleaner, "If he does not accept alms throw it on his head." The house cleaner did just that and angered Gośālaka, who cursed the householders, and left. According to the Āvaśyakacūrṇi, Gośālaka cursed them that a fire may burn Upananda's house. With the effort of the penance, to prove his words, he took help from the vyaṃtaragods to burn Upananda's house to prove the effect of his curse.

After leaving the Brahmin village the Lord came to Campā and there completed his third monsoon stay. At that time, the Lord observed a two month fast and observed different postures (āsanas) and meditation practices. His first two months fast breaking happened in Campā and the second two-month fast was broken outside Campā.

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