1. His First Sermon and Ganadhara :
After the attainment of Kevalajnana, (i. e. omniscience), which included the subtle and comprehensive nature of the entire field of knowledge, Mahavira became known as ‘Kevali’._ i. e. the knower of Kevalajnana and as ‘Jina’, i.e. the Conqueror (of passions). He was also to be Tirthankara. i. e. the Great Guide or the Great Teacher because he was to preach, with the help of his knowledge, the path of salvation to the mankind. People eagerly awaited to hear ‘Divya-Vani’, i. e. the heavenly speech of Kevali Mahavira revealing the basic principles of religion and the infallible way to achieve eternal happiness. In fact to hear this heavenly speech a beautiful and spacious Audience Hall or preaching Area known as ‘Samava-Sharana’ was specially constructed according to the jaina tradition. In the ‘Samava-Sharana’ there were three Circles, four Gates on four sides with a ‘Mana-Stambha’, i. e. a pillar of glory, at each Gate, a Vedika, i. e. a raised platform, known as ‘Gandhakuti’, in the centre, and a Simhasana, i. e. throne, on the Gandhakuti. On all sides of the Gandhakuti twelve large enclosures were formed for accommodating different kinds of human beings, animals, birds etc. who would be coming to hear the heavenly speech. The peculiarity of ‘Samava-Sharana’ was that the animals having enmity towards each other (e.g. lion and cow) forgot their enmity and became quite peaceful. The ‘Simhasana’ i. e. throne on the Gandhakuti was meant for Kevali Mahavira so that his heavenly speech could be easily heard by all living beings assembled there.
The news about the construction of ‘Samava-Sharana’ on the banks of the river Rjukula spread far and wide and people from longer distances hastened to assemble there and were extremely eager to hear the heavenly speech of Kevali Mahavira as Nirgrantha Mahavira had observed complete ‘Mouna’ i. e. silence, during the preceding twelve years of his ascetic life. But the entire congregation was greately disappointed because Kevali Mahavira did not utter even a single word. People expected that Kevali Mahavira would deliver his first Sermon the next day. But that expectation was not realised. After some days Kevali Mahavira left Rijukula and started his Vihara, i.e. wandering from place to place. ‘Samava-Sharana’ was constructed at each place of his halt but to the great surprise of all Kevali Mahavira did not give up his ‘Mauna’ i.e. silence. In his ‘Vihara’, one day Kevali Mahavira came to Vipulachala mountain near the Capital city of Rajagriha and as usual a large number of different categories of living beings had assembled in the ‘Samava-Sharana’ specially constructed there for the purpose. Here the entire congregation became very happy and felt extremely blessed as they could hear the ‘Divya-Vani’, i.e. heavenly speech, of Kevali Mahavira. Thus kevali Mahavira delivered his first Sermon and became Tirthankara Mahavira. ‘This great event took place on the Vipulachala mountain in the early hours of the first day of the dark half of the month of Shravana corresponding to Saturday lst July 557 B.C. It meant that Mahavira observed ‘Mauna’, i. e. silence for 66 days after the attainment of Kevala-Jnana, i. e. omniscience. This day of Tirthankara Mahavira's first Sermon was highly appreciated by the people as the ‘Vira shasana Day', i.e. the day of the promulgation of religion by Mahavira, and was observed for many centuries as the New Year's Day.
Even after the attainment of ‘Kevalajnana’, i. e. omniscience, Mahavira had to wait for a period of 66 days delivering his first Sermon due to one special reason. Mahavira felt that in all ‘Samava-Sharanas’ upto the ‘Samava-Sharana’ at Vipulachala mountain, there was no learned and competent disciple who possessed the rare capacity to record the truth revealed by him and to interpret his thoughts in the most satisfactory manner to the people. When at Vipulachala Mahavira got such a disciple, he delivered his First Sermon. That important disciple was the renowned Brahmin Scholar, Indrabhuti Gautama. He was considered as the authority on the Vedic lore and was regarded as the most talented scholar as he imparted instructions in vedic literature to more than 500 students. Indrabhuti was a staunch follower of Vedic religion. But when he came to Vipulachala mountain to discuss certain meanings of scriptures with Mahavira, his excessive pride about his knowledge disappeared immediately after the sight of Mahavira and at once became Mahavira's follower. Recognising Indrabhuti’s unusual abilities, Mahavira initiated him as a Nirgrantha Muni, i. e. a naked ascetic and made him his first Ganadhara, i. e. the Chief Disciple. With the initiation of Indrabhuti Gautama, the problem of interpretation was solved and then immediately Mahavira delivered his First Sermon on the Vipulachala mountain.
The example of Indrabhuti Gautama was followed by his two brothers, Vayubhuti and Agnibhuti, who were also reputed scholars of Vedic lore and renowned teachers as each of them used to impart instructions to 500 students. Both Vayubhuti and Agnibhuti were highly impressed by the personality and preachings of Mahavira and they, along with their followers, were admitted to the ascetic order by Mahavira. Considering their capacity, scholarship and devotion, Mahavira made both Vayubhuti and Agnibhuti as his Gandharas, i.e the Chief Disciples.
In his ascetic order Mahavira gave great importance to the Ganadharas as their services were extremely useful in explaining in a convincing manner to the common masses the basic principles of religion preached by him. The Ganadharas were also expected to record in their memory the fundamental tenets of religion and philosophy as revealed to them by Tirthankaras Mahavira and to pass them on in a very faithful way to the next generations. Apart from these three Ganadharas, Tirthankara Mahavira appointed eight more Ganadharas. Thus in Tirthankara Mahavira's ascetic order there were eleven Ganadharas, i.e. apostles or chief disciples, as follows :-
1. Indrabhuti-Gautaman 7. Putra,
2. Vayubhuti 8. Maitreya,
3. Agnibhuti 9. Akampana,
4. Sudharma 10. Achelaka, and
5. Mourya, 11. Prabhasaka.
Among these Ganadharas, the first chief disciple Gautam, Ganadhara, rendered distinctive services both to Tirthankara Mahavira and to the Jaina religion. That is why even today when Jainas offer their salutations, they offer first to Tirthankara Mahavira and then to Gautama Ganadhara only.
2. His Preaching Tour and Followers :
After his first Sermon at Vipulachala, Tirthankara Mahavira undertook the work of ‘Dharmachakra-Pravartana’ i. e. he set in motion the wheel of religion, and continued it relentlessly for a long period of thirty years till the end of his life. In fact Tirthankara Mahavira attached utmost importance to this work of spread of religion and of conveying the right path of attaining salvation to common masses because he had virtually planned his early life for this purpose only. It was the mission of his life to see that all kinds of people placed their unflinching faith in the fundamental principles of religion and led their lives in accordance with the tenets of religion.
With a view to spread the message of religion to the maximum possible extent among the general population, Tirthankara Mahavira invariably used the medium of Ardha-Magadhi language for his Sermons and discourses. This created a close intimacy between Tirthankara Mahavira and the common masses, in particular, as the people easily understood the principles of religion preached by him. The use of common and intelligible language by Tirthankara Mavavira had far-reaching effects on the people because it entirely removed the social distance between the teacher and the taught.
Further, in this language of the masses Tirthankara Mahavira used to explain in his sermons the basic philosophical and ethical aspects of Jaina religion. In his philosophical discourses he showed that jiva, i. e. life and Ajiva i. e. non-life, are the basic constituents of the universe and that their mutual contact creates problems of life. In this connection he propounded the Six Dravyas, i. e. six substances, and Seven Tattvas, i. e. seven principles and on their basis explained the nature of all the objects and their activities. In view of these fundamental things, he revealed the Karma theory and pointed out the way of getting the Atman, i. e. the soul, freed from the bondage of Karma. Along with philosophical dispositions, Mahavira laid much emphasis on ethical aspects involving actual practices of behaviour. He gave detailed exposition of Grihastha-Dharma and Muni-Dharma, i. e. rules of behaviour to be observed by house-holders and by ascetics. In his ethical discussions Mahavira invariably laid utmost stress on the observance of non-violence in actual life and on the strict avoidance of violent practice like performance of animal sacrifices, eating flesh, killing animal for sports and other purposes, etc.
Moreover, Tirthankara Mahavira keenly desired that his views should be communicated in an effective manner to different categories of persons. Accordingly he traversed on foot various parts of the country and delivered his sermons not only to urban and rural people but also to the tribal people living in the most interior hilly and forest regions. In this connection Acharya Jinasena in his “Harivamsha-Purana” has stated that “just as Bhagavana Rishabhadeva toured different parts of the country for bringing people on the path of religion, similarly Bhagavana Mahavira also visited countries (a) like Kashi, Kaushala, Kaushalya, Kusandhya, Ashvashtha, Salva, Trigarta, Panchala, Bhadrakara, Patachchara, Mauka, Matsya, Kaniya, Surasena and Vrkarthaka from central regions of India; (b) like Kalinga, Kurjangal, Kaikeya, Atreya, Kamboja, Valhika, Yavanashruti, Sindhu, Gandhara, Sauvira, Sura, Bhiru, Dasheruka, Badavana, Bharadvaja and Kvathatoya from the coastal regions of India, and (c) like Tarna, Karna, Prachchhala etc. from the Northern regions of India and spread the message of religion among the peoples of these countries.”
It is really very difficult to identify the names of these countries with the regions of India at present. But from other literary sources we could note the exact names of countries, cities and places visited by Tirthankara Mahavira and the names of particular Kings, Queens, Merchants, Military Officers etc. who became actual followers of Mahavira or extended their patronage and help to Mahavira as follows :-
(1) Rajagriha, the Capital of Magadha, was visited many times by Mahavira. Shrenika or Bimbisara, the Emperor of Magadha, and his Queen Chelanadevi were the staunch followers of Mahavira. Queen Chelana was related to Mahavira in the sense that she, being the daughter of King Chetaka of Vaishali, was the maternal aunt of Mahavira. Many citizens of Magadha also followed the example of this King and Queen in this regard.
(2) As a result of Mahavira's visit to the Kingdom of Shravasti in the Southern Himalayan region, the influence of Ajivika sect there began to decline. King of Shravasti viz. Prasenajita (alias Agnidatta) showed his regard to Tirthanakara Mahavira and his Queen Mallika built an audience hall for holding religious discussions among Jainas, Brahmins and others.
(3) King Vijaysena of Polashapura from North India respectfully welcomed Tirthankara Mahavira to his country and his son, Prince Aimatta, adopted asceticism at the hands of Tirthankara Mahavira.
(4) Many residents of the Kingdom of Anga took pride in becoming the followers of Tirthankara Mahavira and their General Kunika had extended a great welcome to Tirthankara Mahavira to the city of Champa.
(5) King Shatanika of Kaushambi, being greatly impressed by the teachings of Tirthankara Mahavira, entered the ascetic order of Mahavira during the latter’s visit to Kaushambi. King Satanika, through his wife Mrugavati, was -closely related to Mahavira as Mrugavati was the younger sister of Trishala, the mother of Mahavira.
(6) King Jitashatru of Benaras showed special regard to Tirthankara Mahavira and Princess Mundika and many citizens of Benaras like Chulastipiya and Suradeva adopted Jainism.
(7) King Jitashatru of the Kingdom of Kalinga was the husband of Mahavira's paternal aunt (i. e. sister of King Siddhartha) and he had greately celebrated the visit of Tirthankara Mahavira to Kalinga City. King ultimately became a Nirgrantha Muni, i. e. a naked ascetic.
(8) The residents of Pundra, Banga, Tamralipti and other countries adjacent to Kalinga also became the devotees of Tirthankara Mahavira during his visit to these countries.
(9) When Tirthankara Mahavira visited Rajapura, the Capital of Hemanga country (i. e. near Mysore State) in southern India, its brave King Jivandhara became a Nirgrantha Muni, i. e. a naked ascetic, joined the ascetic order of Tirthankara Mahavira and went to the North along with the ‘Sangha’ of Mahavira.
(10) During Tirthankara Mahavira's visit to the country of Ujjain in Central India, its King Chanda-Pradyota became a devoted follower of Mahavira and entered the ascetic order of Mahavira as a Nirgrantha Muni, i. a. a naked ascetic.
(11) The King and citizens and of Dasharna country, near Ujjain, in Central India, extended a very respectful welcome to Tirthankara Mahavira.
(12) King Udayana of Sindhu Sauvira country joined the ascetic order to Tirthankara Mahavira during the latter's visit to his country.
(13) During the visit of Tirthankara Mahavira to Mathura, the Capital city of Saura country in North India, its King Uditodaya gave a warm welcome to the Tirthankara.
(14) When Tirthankara Mahavira visited Kampila or Kampilya, the Capital of Panchala country in North India, its King by name Jaya became a Nirgrantha Muni, i.e. a. naked ascetic.
In this way Tirthankara Mahavira visited different parts of India and especially the important centres in Eastern and Northern India. His visit and preachings created so deep impressions on the minds of the people that they, of their own accord, readily became his followers. Different categories of people like Kings, Princes, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Sudras etc. gladly embraced Jainism either as ascetics or as lay followers. Even ladies did not lag behind in joining Mahavira’s followers as they had equal opportunities, like males, in the practice of religion. Hence males and females of all castes and classes became ardent devotees of Tirthankara Mahavira and were admitted into his ‘Sangha’, i.e. organisation. The fact that many kings like Chetaka, Udayana, Satanika, etc., Princes like Abhayakumara, Varishena, etc. and Brahmin scholars like Indrabhuti, Vayubhuti, Agnibhuti etc. became Nirgrantha Munis, i.e. naked ascetics, and that many princesses like Jyeshtha, Chandana, etc. became “Sadhvis’ i.e. female ascetics showed the extraordinary effect produced by Tirthankara Mahavira’s preachnigs on the people.
Further, with a view to ‘forge a sense of unity among his varied followers and to keep them together Tirthankara Mahavira formed a ‘Sangha’, i.e. an organization, of them. In fact there was an established tradition among the earlier Tirthankaras to form a ‘Chaturvidha Jaina Sangha’, i.e. a fourfold organization of the followers of Jaina religion. Tirthankara Mahavira continued the same tradition and divided his follower into four categories according to the sex and the strictness with which the members practise the injunctions laid down by the Jaina religion as follows :
1. Sadhus, i.e. male ascetics,
2. Sadhvis, i,a. female ascetics,
3. Shravakas, i.e. male laity, and
4. Shravikas, i.e. female laity.
Acharya Gunabhadra in his “Uttara-Purana” has stated that in Tirthankara Mahavira's ‘Sangha’ there were about
1,00,000 Shravakas and
Acharya Gunabhadra further mentions that the ‘Sadhus’ i.e. the male ascetics, were not of one type but belonged to different categories according to their levels of spiritual attainments as follows :
11-Ganadharas, i.e. the Chief Disciples.
311-ascetics well-versed in the ‘Angas’.
400--ascetics known as ‘Anuttaravadis’.
500-ascetics possessing ‘Manahparyaya-Jnana, i.e. the knowledge of the thoughts and feelings of others.
700-ascetics possessing a special trait of ‘Vikriya’.
1300-ascetics possessing ‘Avadhi-Jnana’, i.e. the knowledge of the remote or past, and
9900-ascetics meant for teaching.
Further Tirthankara Mahavira laid down various rules and regulations for the proper conduct and governance of these four orders and especially for the first two orders of ‘Sadhus’ and ‘Sadhvis’. In the ‘Sangha’ of the ‘Sadhus’, there were 11 Ganadharas, i.e. the Chief Disciples and the first Chief Disciple among them, viz. Indrabhuti-Gautama, worked as the Head of the Sadhus. Similarly, Chandana, the well-known female ascetic and the maternal aunt of Mahavira, worked as the Head of the Sadhvis. It was the duty of these Heads of the Orders to see that the detailed rules of ascetic life are faithfully observed by all ascetics. These ascetics were not only required to make progress in their individual spiritual attainments but were also expected to keep constant and intimate contact with the two orders of the lay followers, to see that they follow the injunctions of religion laid down for them, to impart instructions in religion and morality to them, and to strive to increase their numerical strength by encouraging the general population to adopt the Jaina religion as propounded by Tirthankara Mahavira. The ‘Shravakas’ and ‘Shravikas’ on their part, also showed utmost devotion to their practices of religion, aspired to enter the ascetic order in course of time and invariably took great pains for the protection of the two Orders of the ascetics so that they can carry out their difficult ascetic activities in a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Thus the two Orders of the ascetics and the two ,Orders of the lay followers were supplementary to each other and the four Orders together formed a unified and active organization. In this connection it can be stated that the foundation of four Orders in the Jaina Community with their leaders to look after and supervise the conduct of members comprising the Order shows that there was a pretty good arrangement to govern and organise the Jaina Community from the earliest times.
3. His Last Sermon and Parinirvana:
Tirthankara Mahavira continued his preaching tour in an uninterrupted manner for nearly 30 years. In his epoch-making tour he visited distant and different areas of the country and through his “Divya-dhvani”, i.e. divine voice, preached the principles of Jainism to all sections of people. In this tour when Tirthankara Mahavira reached Pavapura, the place known for its scenic beauty, in the Malla Ganarajya, i.e. the republic of the Mallas, he realised that it would be his last place of visit. He, therefore, delivered his last Sermon to the assembled people at Pavapura and advised them in the following manner : “If yon want to attain the real and eternal happiness, you will have to see that your ‘Jiva’ i.e. soul, attains its pure nature. As your ‘Jiva’ is mixed with ‘Pudgala’, i.e. matter, all the sufferings and trans- migrations of life occur. You will have to realise the basic principle that “Jivah Anyah, Pudgalah anyah” i.e. Soul is separate and matter is separate and that by removing the matter from Soul you can get eternal happiness. This stage of liberation of soul from Karmic bondage can be achieved by you by conquering your passions and by following right conduct based on right faith and right knowledge. As a part of right conduct you will have constantly to practise ‘Samyama’ i.e. restraint and to observe ‘Pancha Vratas', i.e. five vows, viz.
(i) Ahimsa, i.e. non-injury,
(ii) Satya, i.e. truth,
(III) ‘Asteya’, i.e. abstinence from stealing,
(IV) ‘Brahmacharya’, i.e. Chastity, and
(V) ‘Aparigrahu’, i.e. non-attachment.
You should remember that out of these five vows, the first one of ‘Ahimsa’ is the most important, for by its implication the other four vows also came within its purview. Since life is deer and sacred to all living beings, we should respect it and should refrain from doing harm or injury to other living beings. Hence Ahimsa is the highest religion. That is why every one should try to deal with others like one’s own self and should extend love and fellowship to all, respect to the elders compassion for the needy and toleration towards the perverse views. In brief, ‘live and let live’ should be the greatest motto of life and every one should try to realise the aim of life to the best of one’s ability.”
This last Sermon was delivered by Tirthankara Mahavira on the thirteenth day of the dark half of the month of Kartika. After the Sermon on the same day he set on a clean slab of stone in a beautiful park studded with pleasant lotus ponds and for attaining final liberation started ‘Yoga-nirodha’, i.e. restraining the activities of his mind, speech and body. This Yoga nirodha’ continued for two days. Thus while he was plunged in ‘Sukla-dhyana’ i.e. pure meditation, Tirthankara Mahavira quitted the mortal coil and became a ‘Siddha’, i.e. a liberated soul. This great event known as Mahavira’s ‘Pari-nirvana’ i.e. liberation, took place in the 72nd year of his life in the ‘Brahmamuhurta’ i.e. the early hour before the sun-rise, when the Moon was in the ‘Svati’ Nakshatra i.e. constellation. on the last (i.e. fifteenth) day of the dark half of the month of Kartika corresponding to Tuesday, the 15th October 527-B.C.
After Tirthankara Mahavira's Parinirvana his body was worshipped by his followers in accordance with the last rites known as “Antyeshthi-Antima-Puja” rites and was cremated on the funeral pyre made up of sandle-wood, camphor and saffron. A huge congregation of persons silently witnessed the funeral rites and applied with devotion the ‘Bhasma’ i.e. ashes of burnt body, on their forehead.
Tirthankara Mahavira's process of Parinirvana was commenced by his Yoga-nirodha, on the 13th day of the dark-half of the north of Kartika and was completed by his ‘Mukti’ i.e. liberation, on the 15th day of the dark half of the month of Kartika. Further on the Pariniryana day of Tirthankara Mahavira, his first Ganadhara, i.e. the Chief Disciple, Indrabhuti Gautama attained ‘Kevala-Jnana’, i.e. omniscience. With a view to celebrate the two significant events viz. the Parinirvana i.e. the liberation of Tirthankara Mahavira and the ‘Kevalajnana-Prapti’ i.e. the attainment of omniscience, by Ganadhara Indrabhuti Gautama, the people assembled on that day expressed their utmost joy by various means like shouting slogans, playing musical instruments, lighting lamps, etc. King Hastipala, the chief of the ‘Malla Ganarajya’, i.e. the Republic of the Malla Kshatriyas, the Chiefs of 18 other ‘Ganarajyas’ i.e. the Republics, of Kshatriyas like Lichchhavis, Vajjis, Ikshvakus, etc. and the Kings of 9 Kingdoms participated in these colourful and happy celebrations.
These celebrations are being observed even today by the followers of Tirthankara Mahavira. Every year the days from the 13th to the 15th of the dark half of the month of Kartika constitute the most important festival days of the year for the Jainas. The 13th day of the dark half of the month of kartika is termed as ‘Dhanya –Trayodashi’, i.e. the blessed 13th day,because on that day Tirthankara Mahavira started his ‘Yoga-nirodha’ to achieve liberation. This day ‘Dhanya –Trayodashi’ later on became known as ‘Dhana-Trayodashi’ i.e. ‘the day of wealth’, in the sense that on that day Tirthankara Mahavira made a beginning to get ‘Lakshmi’, i.e. Wealth in the form of ‘Moksha’, i.e liberation. As a remembrance of that day, people still worship wealth in the material forms like money, ornaments, etc. on the ‘Dhana –Trayodashi’ day.