Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Mahavira Mean?

Bhagavan Mahavira, credited as the father of historical Jainism, was a fully realized yoga master in the Jain tradition. His name means “brave” and “courageous.” He was the 24th and last of the great Jain sages (tirthankaras). Mahavira, whose birth name was Vardhamana, was born around 600 B.C.E., making him a contemporary of Buddha.

According to Jainism, tirthankaras were humans who, through meditation and Self-realization, attained enlightenment. Mahavira is revered as the key prophet of Jainism, an ascetic faith that believes in non-violence toward all living things and beings.


Yogapedia Explains Mahavira

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:

  1. Non-violence (ahimsa)
  2. Truthfulness (satya)
  3. Non-stealing (asteya)
  4. Chastity (brahmacharya)
  5. 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.

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Bhagavan Mahavir


Bhagavan Mahavira

Vardhamana Mahavira

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