Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated by followers of Jainism to honor the birth and life of Lord Mahavira, an important religious figure to Jains.
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This holiday has much cultural importance, so public figures often greet celebrators via television and radio broadcasts. Mahavir Jayanti is not fixed to the Gregorian calendar, so its date varies. It is always celebrated in March or April. During this holiday, people celebrate the teachings of Mahavira. It is a day of humility and happiness.
The Life and Teachings of Lord Mahavira
Lord Mahavira was born into a noble family in Bihar, India during the 4th century BCE. During his life, Lord Mahavira was known as Vardhamana. In many ways, Vardhamana is similar to Buddhism’s Siddartha Gautama.
Like Siddartha, Vardhamana left his comfortable home to find truth in the world after being sheltered from the outside world. After mingling with people from various cultures and backgrounds, Vardhamana learned much about the world and the sources of suffering. Eventually, Varhamana decided to focus his efforts on fasting and meditation.
Through this process, Varhamana found enlightenment. He discovered that humans must eliminate greed and their connection to worldly possessions to end their limitless pursuit of desires. With his knowledge, Varhamana journeyed in India and other areas of Asia to spread Jainism. During this time, Varhamana’s kingdom experienced a period of extreme prosperity.
Many people converted to Jainism with the hopes that they would be able to experience a similar state of happiness. After achieving moksha, or purity of the soul, Varhamana died. In 425 BCE, Varhamana became known as Lord Mahavira, the final tirthanka and omniscient teacher of the dharma. Many people celebrate Mahavir Jayanti to reflect on their own actions and the teachings of Lord Mahavira.
After achieving enlightenment, Lord Mahavira preached five principles that would lead to prosperous living and inner peace. The first of these principles is ahimsa. The principle of ahimsa states that all Jains should refrain from violence in any circumstance. The next principle is satya. When following the principle of satya, people always tell the truth.
The third principle is asteya. People who follow asteya do not steal from others. These individuals live in moderation and only take what they are given. The fourth principle is brachmacharya. This principle requires Jains to exhibit traits of chastity; they must not excessively participate in sensual acts.
The final principle is aparigraha. This teaching connects all of the previous principles. By following aparigraha, Jains become mindful and eliminate their desires for possessions.
Jains participate in many activities that allow them to bond with their family members and show respect for Lord Mahavira.
Procession: One of the most popular activities for Mahavir Jayanti is the procession an idol of Mahavira. This activity involves Jain monks carrying a statue of Mahavira throughout the streets on a chariot. During this parade, communities gather to recite special rhyming prayers, or bhajans, that honor Mahavira
Statue Washing: People often wash statues of Mahavira with water and fragrant oils. This symbolizes the purity of Mahavira. It also serves the practical purpose of cleaning the beautiful religious statues for regular worship during the year.
Visit Temples: During Mahavir Jayanti, people from across the world visit Jain temples in India. In addition to visiting active temples, people also go to ancient historical sites that are related to Mahavira and Jainism. Some of the most popular locations are Gomateshwara, Dilwara, Ranakpur, Sonagiri and Shikharji.
Donations: To demonstrate their humble lifestyle choices, many Jains donate money, food, and clothing to temples during Mahavir Jayanti. The monks often take what they need and donate the remaining items to less fortunate people.