Mahavir Jayanti – Birthday of the Tirthankara

Also known as Mahavir Janma Kalyanak, the festival of Mahavir Jayanti celebrates the birth of Lord Mahavir. Lord Mahavir was the twenty-fourth, and last, Tirthankara (Sage). According to the Gregorian calendar, the festival is celebrated in the months of March or April. 

According to the Hindu calendar, the festival of Mahavir Jayanti falls on the 13th day in the month of Chaitra in the year 599 BC. Mahavir Jayanti 2019 will be celebrated on April 17th. The festival is most widely celebrated in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, and New Delhi.

He was born to King Siddhartha and Queen Trisala in the kingdom of Vaishali. After coming of age, Lord Mahavir took over the kingdom and ruled it for over 3 decades. However, after ruling for 30 years, he decided to give up all the redundancies of life to seek enlightenment. 

The last Jain sage, Lord Mahavir, also known as Sage Vardhamana, helped establish the core tenets of Jainism.

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Lord Mahavir influenced his followers, by spreading the message of salvation and non-violence. To encourage peace among everyone, he developed a five-fold value system, which included traits like 'Ahimsa', 'Asteya', 'Brahmacharya', 'Satya' and 'Aparigraha'.

The first principle of Ahimsa states that people should refrain from violence in any circumstance.

The second principle is Asteya, which encourage people to not steal from others. It encourages people to live in moderation and be happy with whatever they have in life.

The third principle is Brachmacharya. This principle encourages people to exhibit traits of chastity and states that people should avoid excessively participating in sensual acts.

The fourth principle is Satya, which states that people should always tell the truth.

The fifth and final principle is Aparigraha. This principle connects all of the previous teachings. Lord Mahavir believed that by following aparigraha, people could become mindful, and this could help eliminate their desires for acquiring possessions.

Lord Mahavir, after achieving enlightenment, preached these five principles and believed that these would lead to prosperous living and inner peace. These principles are taught to members of the Jain community, to motivate them to follow these vows leading to a life of peace and harmony. These teachings that Lord Mahavir promoted were based on scientific explanations of nature, and the true meaning of life, which he learned during his search for enlightenment.  

Customs and Rituals associated with Mahavir Jayanti

There are a number of customs and rituals followed during the festival. Many devotees observe a fast throughout the day for the deity. Most Indian households have a separate and sacred place for prayers where the idols are kept. This pooja room is decorated with flowers on the day of Mahavir Jayanti, and the idol of Mahavir (or Mahabir) is immersed in water to give a ‘ceremonial bath’ to the lord. After the idol is dressed in new clothes, devotees offer flowers, rice, fruits, and pour milk on the idol. Many even visit Jain temples and donate clothes, money, and food items to the poor. Worshipers also chant Mahavir Jayanti prayers, and recite Lord Mahavira’s philosophy towards spiritual freedom, and encourage his values and ethics. 

Any festival or occasion is incomplete without a proper feast. Jains follow a Satvik diet, which includes preparing food items without using onion or garlic as ingredients. Jains believe in eating fresh meals, which does not include meat. However, to satisfy their sweet tooth, a popular delicacy, Kheer, is prepared and served on Mahavir Jayanti.

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