Like Buddhism, Jainism also originated at a time when the Later Vedic period (1000 BC-600 BC) had come to an end and there was a rise of republics and small kingdoms. The rise of the first kingdoms was marked by the emergence of the ruling class in each kingdom, which belonged to the Kshatriya or the warrior caste. While the Kshatriyas ruled these kingdoms and protected the rest of the masses, the Brahmin or the priestly caste catered to the religious and educational needs of the people, as well as sanctified the rule of the Kshatriyas.
Mahavira (540 BC-467 BC) was the founder of Jainism. He founded this religion after attaining Enlightenment. The teachings of Mahavira revolve around leading a pious life, to shun all violence, and to be austere.
Mahavira was born in 540 BC in a Kshatriya royal family in Vaishali (present-day Bihar). His father was a local ruler of a small kingdom. Mahavira left his home at the age of thirty in search of knowledge. He performed severe and rigorous penances and attained Nirvana or Enlightenment after a period of twelve years. Mahavira came to be known as the 24th Tirthankara or the great Jain spiritual leader. However, there is not much literary evidence of the previous Tirthankaras except Parsvanath, who was the 23rd Tirthankara.
PRINCIPLES OF JAINISM
Mahavira denounced the Vedas and the Brahmanical order. Jainism was opposed to the caste system and conducting of sacrifices. It preached that all its followers should refrain from hurting animal life. It also preached vegetarianism, austerity, purity of body and soul to attain liberation from the sufferings of the materialistic world. Shedding all material possessions and actions, which hurt other beings, can only attain purity. Jainism is based on three broad principles or the three jewels (Ratnas): Right Faith, Right Knowledge, and Right Action. The followers of Jain faith have to take the Five Vows:
- Non-injury to living beings
- Non-ownership of property
- Practice of chastity
The early teaching of Jainism passed from generation to generation through the oral tradition. A religious council was held in Pataliputra (present-day Patna) in third century BC, where all Jain teachings were recorded and compiled. This collection was later on edited in fifth century AD. The followers of Jainism slowly began to move to the southern parts of the country. The differences that rose subsequent to the migration of the monks to the south led to the division of Jainism into two sects-the Digambars or the sky-clad and the Svetambars or the white-clad. The monks belonging to the sky-clad sect are naked, while the monks belonging to the white-clad sect wear white garments. There is hardly any major difference between the two sects. Jain monks practice non-violence to the extent that they put a white cloth over their mouths to prevent them from accidentally inhaling insects.
Jainism became popular amongst the royal dynasties like the Ganga, Kadamba, Chalukya and the Rashtrakuta. The rich merchants of Gujarat have patronized this religion.