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On the 13th day of the bright fortnight of Chaitra Mahavir Jayanti (birthday) is celebrated. Vardhaman Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar (guide), is the great hero of the Jam religion. He lived from 540 to 468 B.C. Rishabhadeva, the first Tirthankar, is believed to have been the founder of the lain religion. Dr Radhakrishnan writes,
“There is no doubt that Jainism prevailed even before Vardhaman or Parshvanath.” In the 12th century A.D. King Kumarapala was won over to Jainism and made Gujarat a model Jam state. Today the followers of the lain religion form a community of more than one million and a half living in India.
Mahavir is the “Jina” or “Conqueror”, under whose guidance his devotees are encouraged to conquer the karma-rebirth cycle, this being the goal of the lain religion. Mahavir was a kshatriya prince (warrior caste) of North Bihar in Northern India. At the age of 30 he became a wandering ascetic. Thirteen years later he reached illumination. His followers form four orders: monks (muni or sadhu), nuns (sadhvi), laymen (shravaka) and lay-women (shravika).
Digambaras and Shvetambaras
Around the year 80 AD the Jains split into two sects:
Digambaras (space clothed) and Shvetambaras (clothed in white). Digambaras hold that sadhus must be naked as a sign of total renunciation. Other doctrines held by the Digambaras but rejected by the Shvetambaras are 1. Only men can obtain final liberation (moksha), women must be reborn as men. 2. The images of the Tirthankars must be represented with downcast eyes, nude and unadorned. 3. Mahavir never married. 4. Once the highest stage of knowledge is reached, a saint can sustain life without eating, and 5. By the 2nd century AD the entire canon of sacred books was lost.
The holiest feast of the Jains is Dashlaxanparva, which is celebrated by the Digambaras from the 5th to the 14th of the bright half of Bhadrapad. During these days there is an atmosphere of joy in every lain temple. Every day in the morning after taking bath all men and women go to worship in the temple. Then each day there is a lecture on each of the ten chapters of the holy book “Shritatvarth Sutra”. These ten chapters dwell on the following ten duties (dharma): 1. Kshama (forgiveness), 2. Mardava (humility), 3. Arjava (simplicity and frankness). 4. Shaucha (cleanliness), 5. Satya (truthfulness), 6. Samyama (self-control), 7. Tap (austerity), 8. Tyag (renunciation). 9. Akimchanya (detachment), and 10. Bramhacharya (celibacy). On the day dedicated to “tyag” gifts are offered to social service institutions, and on the first day of the dark half of Ashvin, at the end of the celebration, all the men come together and embracing each other they ask pardon for the of-fences committed during the past year.
The 14th day of the bright half of Bhadrapad is known as Anant Chaturdashi (endless fourteenth). This is a very important day for the Jains, this being the last day of the Dashlaxanparva. According to Jam scriptures one can gain much merit by observing a vow on this day. The Jains of the Shvetambara sect celebrate the Paryushan Feast, from the 12th of the dark half of Bhadrapad to the 4th of the bright half of Ashvin.
Ahimsa and Karma
“Ahimsa” or non-hurting” of life is the main principle of Jainism.
“Even unintentionally and the involuntary stepping on an ant may have serious consequences for the soul... Not only living things, but everything in nature must be respectfully treated.”
“There is no place for God in Jainism, which has con-structed a complicated theory of ‘karma’ and karmic mat-ter. Karma is that general energy of the soul that causes its attachment to matter and its subsequent defilement, a kind of link between matter and spirit. All the effort at liberation, therefore, must be directed to controlling karma, and all by autonomous activity. Any mediation of divine grace or forgiveness is rejected as evading the problem of sin, suffering and redemption. Each person must work out his own deliverance.” According to Jain tradition the wheel of time in this visible world is forever turning. The flow of time is without beginning and without end.
Whatever may be said about the philosophy of Jainism, it must be acknowledged that its practice to a large extent seems to achieve results.