Vardhamana, known to his followers as
Maharira (the Great Hero), was an elder contemporary of the Buddha.
Although the legends surrounding his life are less attractive than those
surrounding the Buddha�s, being even more formalized and unreliable, he
was undoubtedly a historical person. Under the name of Nigantha Nataputta,
he is often mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures as one of the Buddha�s
The second son of Siddhartha, a Kshatriya
chieftain, Mahavira was born around 540 BC at Kundagrama, near modern
Patna in Bihar, and died in 468 BC according to scholarly opinion; but the
tradition says 599-527 BC.
On both sides of the family he belonged to
the ruling warrior classes which were a powerful force at the time.
Educated as a prince, according to one tradition Mahavira remained a
bachelor for life; according to another he married a princess who bore him
a daughter. Either way, at the age of twenty-eight, on the death of his
parents, he renounced his family life to become a beggar and ascetic,
seeking liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
At first he followed the ascetic practices
of a group founded some 250 years earlier by a certain Parsva. Parsva is
known as the twenty-third and Mahavira as the twenty-fourth of the
Tirthankaras, the `Ford-makers�, �Path-makers� or great teachers of
Jainism, who guide their followers across the river of transmigration, For
over twelve years Mahavira wandered from place to place, living a life of
the greatest austerity and engaging in disputation. At first he wore only
a single piece of cloth, but after thirteen months he discarded even that
encumbrance and for the rest of his Life went about naked.