Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions


The Antiquity of Jainism
Jain Heroes
Jaina Order and Literature
Fundamental Beliefs
  The Human Predicament
  The Doctrine of Karma
  The Doctrine of Man
  The Denial of God
  Jaina Ethics and Morality
  Three Spiritual Paths
  Response to Contemporary Issue
  Social Issues
  The Economic Order
  The Idea of Ahimsa and Vegetarianism

Jain Heroes



The tradition states that time is infinite and follows repetitive cycles of ascents and descents.  During the phase of ascent there is a gradual increase of truth and goodness, and during the period of descent there is a decrease of happiness and righteousness.  It is held that at the end of the third division of the period of descent fourteen propounders of the faith appeared and that during the fourth division of decline, sixty-three heroes arrived of whom there were twenty-four Tirthankaras.

The fourteen propounders are credited for their progressive work.  The Manu Nabhi, the last member of this ground had a wife named Marudevi, who gave birth to a son named Rsabha who is generally credited with being the first Tirthankara.  Tradition calls him the �harbinger of civilization.�  Having performed his role of educating the people in all aspects of culture, Rsabha renounced the world he had civilized and retired to the forest where he attained supreme knowledge (Kaival-Jnana) and became a Jina.  He then spent his time preaching his creed of love.  In the end he attained nirvana at Mt.  Kailasa.

Rsabha was succeeded by twenty-three other Tirthankaras, The historical character of these heroes is not clear; even so historian J. P. Jain has been able to link these personalities to pivotal milestones of ancient Indian history.  All of them preached the Jaina values of nonviolence, truth, nonstealing, nonpossessiveness, and dedicated their lives to the service of suffering humanity.  Parsva, the twenty- third Tirthankara, was exceptional, his influence extended to Central Asia and Greece.  Under the impact of his teachings, Vedic sacrifice diminished and the spiritualistic philosophy of the Upanishads began to rise.  Lord Parsva is often described as the real founder of Jainism.

The last of the twenty-four Tirthankaras was Vardhamana Mahavira (the Great Hero), a contemporary of Lord Buddha, born of royal parents in the year 599 B.C.  His boyhood became the stuff of legends because of his expansive compassion toward all creatures.  At the age of thirty, he renounced the world and became a monk.  After twelve years of deep meditation and severe austerities, Mahavira attained the state of supreme knowledge.  At the age of forty-two he became an Arhat, a Jina, a Tirthankara.  From then on he preached the tenets of the Sramana cult in the popular language of the masses (Prakrit).  He also introduced several innovations such as the vow of Brahmacarya (celibacy) and the constitution of the community into a four-fold order consisting of monks, nuns, male householders, and female householders.  His religion is aptly described as Sarvodayatirtha (an order for the upliftment of all).  The doctrine of Sarvodaya characterizes Mahavira�s order as one in which everyone has an equal opportunity to rise; everyone may attain the highest position; everyone has the full right to knowledge and happiness.  Having spent his entire ministry spreading the principle of Ahimsa and self-realisation, Mahavira attained nirvana (salvation) at the age of seventy-two in the year 527 B.C.  The event was celebrated with lights, signifying his friendship for all living beings.  The celebration is continued today through the famous festival of Dipavali.