Life of Lord Mahavir and his Teachings

Lord Mahavira

One night mother Trishla is sleeping in her soft and cozy bed. Suddenly she dreams of auspicious things and gets up. She is filled with an hitherto inexperienced joy and ecstasy. She had fourteen wonderful dreams. Her dreams filled her with wonder. She never had such dreams before. She narrated her dreams to King Siddharth. The king called the soothsayers for the interpretation of dreams and they unanimously said, "Sir, her Highness will be blessed with a noble son. The dream augur the vast spiritual realm, the child shall command. Her Highness will become the Universal Mother."

Nine months and fourteen days passed by. It was spring time and the nature was in full bloom. The atmosphere was clean and pure. Cool and fragrant breeze infused joy in every particle in the nature. In the soundless quietude of the midnight, the sky was fluorescent with milky moonlight. The auspicious date was the thirteenth of the bright half of the month of Chaitra. The moon was in conjunction with the Uttaraphalguni Nakshatra (lunar mansion), the sign of victory. At that auspicious moment Mother Trishla gave birth to a divine child.

Immediately after the birth of prince Vardhaman, Indra, the King of Heaven, arrived with other gods and goddesses. He hypnotized the whole city including mother Trishala and King Siddharth. He took baby Vardhaman to Mount Meru and bathed him. He proclaimed peace and harmony by reciting Bruhat Shanti during the first bathing ceremony of the new born Tirthankara. At dawn a maid named Priyamvada rushed to king Siddharth and announced, "Congratulations Sire! Many congratulations! Queen Trishla has given birth to a male child." Filled with joy and ecstasy the king gave away all the ornaments on his body, save state emblems, to Priyamvada. He also released her from slavery. Thus, a slave woman was freed of her life long slavery just because she was the bearer of the good news of the birth of the Tirthankar.

King Siddharth called his prime minister and ordered, "Tell the officer-in-charge of celebrations to organize unique and special birth celebrations." After the kings order, all the highways, roads, and lanes in the town of Kshatriyakund were cleared, perfumed water was sprayed, and buntings, garlands, and leaves were lavishly put everywhere. Sweets and gifts were distributed. People danced with joy. The whole town echoed with felicitous songs and music. Maharaj Siddharth had an inspiration. He called the prime minister and said, "The celebrations of child birth in the royal family are part of the tradition. However, on this particular occasion I want something new, something unique."

The minister humbly submitted, "Sire ! Express your wish and it will be carried out like an order." King Siddharth said, "Today announce a general amnesty. Free all the prisoners; right off all the debts; distribute money to the needy; allow fifty per cent subsidy on all purchases from all traders; open centers for distribution of food and clothes to the poor, old, and invalid; and liberate old and sick slaves. Thus let the townsfolk join the celebrations free from misery, hunger and bondage. The order of king Siddharth was carried out. The celebrations continued for ten days with unprecedented enthusiasm. People hailed the occasion and muttered, " Some divine great soul has descended on the earth to liberate the world from pain and misery." When the name giving ceremonies approached, king Siddharth said to Devi Trishla, "Devi! There has been a continued increase in our wealth, power and happiness. As such I think we should name the child as Vardhaman (ever increasing)."

Queen Trishla consented with joy, "Maharaj ! You are absolutely correct. This child is certainly going to accelerate our all around development." On the twelfth day after the birth of the child, king Siddharth organized a great feast and invited all his relatives and friends. After meals and other state courtesies, king Siddharth addressed the guests, "Since the day this child was conceived, our family has been blessed with increasing goodwill, respect, wealth, and mutual affection. Cash, gold, and gems have increased in our treasury. The public has gained health, peace, happiness, and goodwill. Thus since the moment this soul has descended, there has been a continued enhancement in our glory, wealth, health, and fame. As such I and Devi Trishla have thought of a befitting name for this child ‘Vardhaman’."

King Siddharth’s suggestion was unanimously approved and the child was formally named Vardhaman.

Dreams and their Significance

Queen Trishala, mother of Lord Mahavir at midnight saw fourteen (sixteen according to some) beautiful and auspicious dreams after conception. They were:

  • Elephant
  • Bull
  • Lion
  • Goddess Laxmi
  • Garland of Flowers
  • Full Moon
  • Sun
  • Large Flag
  • Silver Urn
  • Lotus-Lake
  • Milky-Sea
  • Celestial Air-plane
  • Heap of Gems
  • Smokeless Fire


The first dream Queen Trishala saw was of an elephant. She saw a big, tall, and impetuous elephant. It had two pairs of tusks. The color of the elephant was white and its whiteness was superior to the color of marble. It was an auspicious elephant, and was endowed with all the desirable marks of excellence. This dream indicates that her son will guide the spiritual chariot, and save human beings from misery, greed, and attraction of life.


The second dream Queen Trishala saw was of a bull. The color of the bull was also white, but it was brighter than white lotuses. It glowed with beauty and radiated a light all around. It was noble, grand, and had a majestic hump. It had fine, bright, and soft hair on his body. Its horns were superb and sharply-pointed. This dream indicates that her son will be a spiritual teacher of great ascetics, kings, and other great personalities.


The third dream Queen Trishala saw was of a magnificent lion. Its claws were beautiful and well-poised. The lion had a large well-rounded head and extremely sharp teeth. Its lips were perfect, its color was red, and its eyes were sharp and glowing. Its tail was impressively long and well-shaped. Queen Trishala saw this lion descending towards her and entering her mouth. This dream indicates that her son will be as powerful and strong as a lion. He will be fearless, almighty, and capable of ruling over the world.

Goddess Laxmi

The fourth dream Queen Trishala saw was of the Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, prosperity and power. She was seated at the top of mountain Himalaya. Her feet had a sheen of golden turtle. She had a delicate and soft fingers. Her black hair was tiny, soft, and delicate. She wore rows of pearls interlaced with emeralds and a garland of gold. A pair of earring hung over her shoulders with dazzling beauty. She held a pair of bright lotuses. This dream indicates that her son will attain great wealth, power, prosperity.

Garland of Flowers

The fifth dream Queen Trishala saw was of a celestial garland of flowers descending from the sky. It smelled of mixed fragrances of different flowers. The whole universe was filled with fragrance. The flowers were white and woven into the garland. They bloomed during all different seasons. A swarm of bees flocked to it and they made a humming sound around the region. This dream indicates that the fragrance of her son's preaching will spread over the entire universe.

Full Moon

The sixth dream queen Trishala saw was of a full moon. It presented an auspicious sight. The moon was at its full glory. It awoke the lilies to bloom fully. It was bright like a well polished mirror. The moon radiated whiteness like a swan. It inspired the oceans to surge skyward. The beautiful moon looked like a radiant beauty-mark in the sky. This dream indicates that her son will have a great physical structure, and be pleasing to all living beings of the universe.


The seventh dream Queen Trishala saw was of a huge disc of sun. The sun was shining, and destroying darkness. It was red like the flame of the forest. Lotuses bloomed at its touch. The sun is the lamp of the sky and the lord of planets. The sun rose and an put to end the evil activities of the creatures who thrive at night. This dream indicates that the teaching of her son will destroy anger, greed, ego, lust, pride, etc. from the life of the people.

Large Flag

The eighth dream Queen Trishala saw was of a very large flag flying on a golden stick. The flag fluttered softly and auspiciously in the gentle breeze. It attracted the eyes of all. Peacock feathers decorated its crown. A radiant white lion was on it. This dream indicates that her son will be great, noble, and a well respected leader of the family.

Silver Urn

The ninth dream Queen Trishala saw was of a silver urn (kalash) full of crystal-clear water. It was a magnificent, beautiful, and bright pot. It shone like gold and was a joy to behold. It was garlanded with strings of lotuses and other flowers. The pot was holy and untouched by anything sinful. This dream indicates that her son will be perfect in all virtues.


The tenth dream Queen Trishala saw was of a lotus lake (padma-sagar). Thousands of lotuses were floating on the lake which opened at the touch of the sun's rays. The lotuses imparted a sweet fragrance. There were swarms of fish in the lake. Its water glowed like flames of fire. The lily-leaves were floating on the water. This dream indicates that her son will help to liberate the human beings who are tangled in the cycle of birth, death, and misery.


The eleventh dream Queen Trishala saw was of a milky sea. Its water swelled out in all directions, rising to great heights with turbulent motions. Winds blew and created waves. A great commotion was created in the sea by huge sea animals. Great rivers fell into the sea, producing huge whirlpools. This dream indicates that her son will navigate through life on an ocean of birth, death, and misery leading to Moksha or liberation.

Celestial air-plane

The twelfth dream Queen Trishala saw was of a celestial airplane. The airplane had eight thousands magnificent gold pillars studded with gems. The plane was framed with sheets of gold and garlands of pearls. It was decorated with rows of murals depicting bulls, horses, men, crocodiles, birds, children, deers, elephants, wild animals, and lotus flowers. The plane resounded with celestial music. It was saturated with an intoxicating aroma of incense fumes. It was illuminated with a bright silvery light. This dream indicates that all Gods and Goddesses in heaven will respect and salute to his spiritual teaching and will obey him.

Heap of Gems

The thirteenth dream Queen Trishala saw was of a great heap of gems, as high as Mount Meru. There were gems and precious stones of all types and kinds. These gems were heaped over the earth and they illuminated the entire sky. This dream indicates that her son will have infinite virtues and wisdom.

Smokeless Fire

The fourteenth dream queen Trishala saw was of a smokeless fire. The fire burned with great intensity and emitted a radiant glow. Great quantities of pure ghee and honey were being poured on the fire. It burned with numerous flames. This dream indicates that the wisdom of her son will excel the wisdom of all other great people.

Early Life and Youth of Lord Mahavira

Lord Mahavira was born 2600 years ago. His father was king Siddhartha the ruler of Videh, and queen Trishla was his mother. Queen Trishla gave birth to Lord Mahavir in March/April on Mahavir Jayanti day in 599BC. They named him Vardhaman which means ‘one who brings prosperity’. Legend has it that 56 maidens from Indralok performed holy rituals and danced to celebrate this auspicious occasion. Attending this ceremony, along with the other gods, was Indra who carried Vardhaman to Mount Meru, where everyone sang the infant’s glory.

Since the day he was conceived, new dimensions were added to the prosperity of Videh. State coffers overflowing with money, silver, gold and gems. So, when he was born, he was given the name 'Vardhman.' Mahavira is known by a number of names, which are Vardhman, Shramana, Mahavira, Sanmati, Vira, Ativira and Ghathaputra . He has been mentioned as Nathaputra in Buddhist scriptures.

There are many stories of Mahavir’s boyhood. They illustrate that from early childhood, Mahavir believed in practicing non-violence. He did not use force to control even wild and dangerous animals. He knew that all living beings understand the language of love. Once young Mahavir was playing with friends when a snake appeared. His friends were scared and they ran away. On another occasion, Mahavir was not scared of an angry elephant. The elephant eventually became calm and docile.

At seven when Vardhaman was playing with friends an evil demi-god took the form of a cobra and tried to frighten the kids. Brave Vardhaman boldly grabbed the snake and flung it far away. On another occasion, the demi-god joined the children in the disguise of a child. According to the rules of the game, Vardhaman had a chance to ride on the child’s back. As Vardhaman climbed onto his back the child transferred himself into a demon. Vardhaman controlled him with his mighty fists. The demon appeared in his true form and praised Vardhaman for his bravery and called him ‘Mahavir’ meaning very brave.

Seeing the prince in the prime of his youth, king Siddhartha initiated moves for the marriage of his son. But Mahavira was indifferent to all things mundane right from his childhood. So he did not agree to the proposal to get married with Yashodaya the daughter of king Jitshatru. The royal parents put heavy pressure on Mahavira to accept the proposal. He had great regards for his parents and did not want to hurt their feelings, so reluctantly he accepted it, and also resolved that as long as his parents lived, he would not renounce the family, although he was strongly inspired to renounce wordly things.

Once, Mahavira was in deep meditation. He unfolded the depth of the inner consciousness and transcended into the astral realms. He re-capitulated the memories of his past lives' existence; certain events of his past impinged themselves upon his consciousness. He saw by his intuition that his parents, the followers of Lord Parshawa had decided to self-embrace yogic death. Thanks to the very high affection exuded towards him by his parents, as also his own reciprocation for twenty-eight years, their demise gave rise to much anguish in the affectionate heart of Mahavira.

Following the demise, when his uncle Suparshwa and elder brother Nandiwardhan learnt about his views to renounce the household, they tried to change his mind, but in vain. However, experiencing the compassion of his uncle and elder brother he agreed to stay for two years with a pre-condition that he be allowed to follow his own spiritual course. During these two years, he practised non-violence, truth and celibacy. He practised meditation, contemplation, non-attachment, that opened up the virtues of self-realisation.

Monastic Life As An Ascetic

Mahavira left his hom in search of emancipation. He renounced for the rest of his physical life, all acts that happen to be sinful. For about twelve-and-a-half years he had undergone severe penance and attained Kevalyagyan , the total enlightenment. He suffered a great deal of physical pain and torture from various sources. Among them, the most severe was the biting by the highly poisonous snake Chandkaushik. Mahavir remained calm and peaceful in the midst of these torturous events. He never lost his serenity and never developed hatred for anyone.

During this period he mostly observed silence; fasted and maintained a state of total awareness for twenty-four hours a day. He did not sleep for more than 50 minutes in total in his twelve years of Sadhana . He conquered sleep by meditation. He usually did meditation in a standing posture. He had full control over his tongue and conquered taste.

Meditation and fasting , were the two main aspects of his sadhana . The general perception of Mahavira is that of an ascetic than that of a great meditator. The reason for his long fasting was that he wanted to establish that the power of soul is unlimited in comparison to mind, mind to subtle body, and subtle body to the gross body. He had proved that this body can survive without food and water once the connection with the soul is established. He was so absorbed in meditation that hunger and thirst sensations were weakened within him. During this period of penance, most of the time he was either in meditation or kayotsarga (deep relaxation) having experiences of body and soul as being different. In this way, two phases of Mahavira's life - the householder's and of an ascetic's ended at the age of forty-two years.

The Lord sat in Godohika posture. He was fasting for two days. He experienced renewed vigour. It seemed the veil over existence was going to be torn in no time. He was exposing himself to the warmth of the sun. He experienced the profound meditative state described as Sukla Dhyana . Ultimately, he stood face to face with reality without the veil. The sun of enlightenment rose to stay forever. Lord was now the enlightened, the omniscient and clairvoyant. He had full knowledge of everything, and its modes near and far were automatically projected in his awareness.

He had performed severe meditation having destroyed the four Ghatya Karma (Darshanavarnia, Gyanavarnia, Mohniya and Antrya ), and reached the highest state of consciousness, wisdom and intuition. Having attained Kevalya , which is infinite, supreme, complete and full of wisdom, he became Jina or a conqueror of Karma, the eight great enemies of the soul.

The Tirthankar

At the age of forty-two he attained omniscience, Kevalgyan. He became Jina, the twenty-fourth Tirthankar of the present era. As omniscient he knew everything of the past, present and future. As the last Tirthankar, he revived the religious order, or Jain Sangh, of monks, nuns, shravaks and shravikas. His first disciple, called Gandhars, was Gautamswami, a well-known Brahmin scholar in that time. Lord Mahavir had eleven Gandhars, who compiled twelve scriptures based on what Lord Mahavir had taught. These scriptures are called Agams. They were passed verbally from preceptor to pupil for a long time. They were put into writing about 890 years after Mahavir.

On the first day of his preaching, 1500 Brahmin scholars and their disciples were initiated. After the initiation of Chandanbala, the doors of ladies' initiation were opened. There were thousands of men and women followers from the householder circle. In this way he had four classes - the monk, the nun, the laymen and the laywomen - all formed into Tirtha ( Sangha ). In this way he became Tirthankar . He brought into Sangha rules of self-discipline rules and management. He divided the work among seven categories of his disciples.

  1. Acharya
  2. Upadhyaya
  3. Sthavir
  4. Pravartak
  5. Gani
  6. Gandhar
  7. Ganavchedhak

He travelled and preached for thirty years. He had been equipped with the power to comprehend all objects. He could know all conditions of the world and the thoughts of men. He had reached the highest knowledge and intuition. Before commencing his travels, Gautam Indrabhuti and his ten great scholars along with hundreds of students were initiated by Lord Mahavira by reading their mind. Their doubts, which had never been touched upon by any other person, were cleared. In devotion and satisfaction, they surrendered to him and become his disciples.

During his sermons, Lord Mahavira preached the doctrine of Jainism and Nirvana to people following different creeds and religions. He asked them to shed their wrong beliefs and follow the true path of bliss and Nirvana . He travelled in the northern states of India. Many kings become his disciples.

The 7 categories of disciples were made responsible for education, spiritual courses, service, propagation of religion, movement of the saints and other necessities of the Sangha. As the Sangha progressed and developed, different progressive directions were brought in. The Lord decentralised monasticism by dividing it into categories. Indrabhuti and others ganadhars were the heads of these groups. The first seven Ganas (groups) were led by one leader each. At the time of his Nirvana there were fourteen thousand monks and thirty-six thousand nuns under his order.

In the end, at the age of seventy-two, on the Dipawali day, the last Tirthankar of this epoch Bhagwan Mahaveer, abandoned this physical frame and attained Nirwan (complete liberation). The same day, his chief disciple Indrabhuti Gautam achieved omniscience. According to Jain tradition, the great festival of Deepawali is celebrated in honour of the liberation of Bhagwan Mahaveer and attainment of complete sentience by his chief disciple Gautam.

Facts on Lord Mahavira

Name: Bhagwan Mahaveer Swami
Father: Shri Siddharth
Mother: Matha Trishala
Symbol: Lion
Family Name: Ikshvaku
Source of Descent: Pranat
Date of Descent: Ashadh Vad 6
Place of Birth: Kshatriyakund
Date of Birth: Chaitra Sud 13
Place of Enlightenment: Rijubaluka River
Date of Diksha: Mangsar Sud 10
Date of Enlightenment: Vaishakh Sud 10
Place of Nirvana: Pavapuri
Date of Nirvana: Kartik Sud 15
Period of Practices: 1/2 Years
Age: 72 Years
Chief Disciple: Indrabhuti
Number of Disciples: 11
Number of Ascetics: 14 Thousand
Head of Female Ascetics: Chandanbala
Number of Female Ascetics: 36 lac
Male Laity: 1.59 Lac
Female Laity: 3.18 Lac
Body Colour: Golden
God of Organisation: Brahmashanti
Goddess of Organisation: Siddhayika

Five Great Vows: (Maha-vratas)
Right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct are the three most essentials for attaining liberation.

In order to acquire these, one must observe the five great vows:

Non-violence - Ahimsa
Truth - Satya
Non-stealing - Achaurya or Asteya
Celibacy/Chastity - Brahmacharya
Non-attachment/Non-possession - Aparigraha
Non-violence (Ahimsa): Among these five vows, non-violence (Ahimsa) is the cardinal principle of Jainism and hence it is called the highest religious principle, or the cornerstone of Jainism.
Non-violence is the supreme religion (Ahimsa parmo dharma)
It is repeatedly said by all Tirthankaras in Jain literature: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being."

According to Jainism all living beings, irrespective of their size, shape, or different spiritual developments are equal. No living being has a right to harm, injure, or kill any other living being, including animals, insects, and plants. Every living being has a right to exist and it is necessary to live with every other living being in perfect harmony and peace. Nonviolence is based on love and kindness for all living beings. Nonviolence in Jainism is not a negative virtue. It is based upon the positive quality of universal love and compassion. One who is actuated by this ideal cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others.

Violence of every type should be completely forbidden. Mental tortures by way of harsh words, actions, and any type of bodily injuries should also be avoided. Even thinking evil of some one is considered violence in Jainism. Practically, it is impossible to survive without killing or injuring some of the smallest living beings. Some lives are killed even when we breathe, drink water, or eat food. Therefore, Jainism says that minimum killing of the lowest form of life should be our ideal for survival.

In the universe, there are different forms of life, such as, human beings, animals, insects, plants, bacteria, and even smaller lives which cannot be seen even through the most powerful microscopes.

Jainism has classified all the living beings according to their senses as follows:
five senses - human, animals, birds, heavenly, hellish beings
four senses - flies, bees, etc.
three senses - ants, lice, etc.
two senses - worms, leaches, etc.
one sense - vegetables, water, air, earth, fire etc.
The five sense are, touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.
It is more painful if a life of the higher forms (more than one sense) are killed. All non-vegetarian food is made by killing a living being with two or more senses. Therefore, Jainism preaches strict vegetarianism, and prohibits non-vegetarian foods.

Jainism explains that violence is not defined by actual harm, for this may be unintentional. It is the intention to harm, the absence of compassion, and the ignorance that makes an action violent. Without violent thought there can be no violent actions. Non-violence is to be observed in action, speech, and thought. One should not be violent, ask others to do so, or approve of such an activity.

Truth (Satya)

Anger, greed, fear, jokes, etc. are the breeding grounds of untruth. To speak the truth requires moral courage. Only those who have conquered greed, fear, anger, jealousy, ego, frivolity, etc., can speak the truth. Jainism insists that one should not only refrain from falsehood, but should always speak the truth which should be wholesome and pleasant. One should remain silent if the truth causes pain, hurt, anger, or death of any living being. Truth is to be observed in speech, mind, and deed. One should not utter an untruth, ask others to do so, or approve of such activities.

Non-stealing (Achaurya or Asteya)

Stealing consists of taking another's property without his consent, or by unjust or immoral methods. Further, one should not take anything which does not belong to him. It does not entitle one to take away a thing which may be lying unattended or unclaimed. One should observe this vow very strictly, and should not touch even a worthless thing which does not belong to him. When accepting alms, help, or aid one should not take more then what is minimum needed. To take more than one's need is also considered theft in Jainism.

The vow of non-stealing insists that one should be totally honest in action, thought, and speech. One should not steal, ask others to do so, or approve of such activities.

Celibacy / Chastity (Brahmacharya)

Total abstinence from sensual pleasure is called celibacy. Sensual pleasure is an infatuating force which sets aside all virtues and reason at the time of indulgence. This vow of controlling sensuality is very difficult to observe in its subtle form. One may refrain from physical indulgence but may still think of the pleasures of sensualism, which is prohibited in Jainism. Monks are required to observe this vow strictly and completely. They should not enjoy sensual pleasures, ask others to do the same, nor approve of it. There are several rules laid down for observing this vow for householders.

Non-attachment / Non-possession (Aparigraha)

Jainism believes that the more worldly wealth a person possesses, the more he is likely to commit sin to acquire the possession, and in a long run he may be more unhappy. The worldly wealth creates attachments which will continuously result in greed, jealousy, selfishness, ego, hatred, violence, etc. Lord Mahavir has said that wants and desires have no end, and only the sky is the limit for them.

The Lord directed monks to lead a life of non-possession (renunciation). Non-possession or non-acquisition relates with the mind. Possession is of two kinds: one for things, and the other is attachment. So the attachment with things is the external acquisition, and the internal acquisition is attachment.

He classified the persons in 'possession' into four groups.

  • One who has nothing in possession but has attachment for them, is a possession lover person.
  • One who has got to carry on with his life and has many possessions but no attachment for them, is a person of self-restrain.
  • One who has neither attachment nor any possession, is a non-acquisitive person.
  • A man has got attachment as well as possession is acquisitive.

Attachments to worldly objects results in the bondage to the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, one who desires of spiritual liberation should withdraw from all attachments to pleasing objects of all the five senses.

Monks observe this vow by giving up attachments to all things such as:

Material things: Wealth, property, grains, house, books, clothes, etc.

Relationships: Father, mother, spouse, sons, daughters, friends, enemies, other monks, disciples, etc.
Feelings: Pleasure and painful feelings towards touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing objects. They have the equanimity towards music and noise, good and bad smells, soft and hard objects for touch, beautiful and dirty sights, etc.

They do not eat food for taste but for survival with the intention to destroy his karma with the help of this body. Non-possession and non-attachment are to be observed in speech, mind, and deed. One should not possess, ask others to do so, or approve of such activities.
Jainism has laid down and described in much detail these five great vows for the path of liberation. These are to be observed strictly and entirely by the monks and nuns. Partial observance is laid down for the householders with an additional seven vows.