Mahavira was born a prince near the present day town of Patna in Bihar, a state in eastern India. The holiday marking his birth is especially popular in Bihar. A large celebration is also held in Calcutta at the Parasnatha temple.
When he was 30 years old, Mahavira left his family, gave up his possessions and became a monk. He spent the next 12 years in silence, meditating and fasting. It was at this time that he developed his spiritual powers and realized perfect enlightenment (keval jnana). He then spent 30 years traveling around the country preaching and teaching how to achieve liberation from the life-death cycle, a permanent bliss state known as nirvana or moksha, among other names, depending on the tradition. Mahavira also emphasized love for and non-harm of all living things and beings, a key Jain concept.
The five vows or principles that Mahavira taught are still followed today:
- Non-violence (ahimsa)
- Truthfulness (satya)
- Non-stealing (asteya)
- Chastity (brahmacharya)
- Non-attachment (aparigraha)
Mahavira's preaching drew in people from all walks of life, both men and women. His disciples compiled his sermons in the "Agam Sutras," which were originally passed down orally.
Mahavira Jayanti, the most important holiday in Jainism, celebrates the birth of Mahavira.