Mahavir Jayanti is the most significant festival of the Jains. It celebrates the birth anniversary of the last Tirthankara, Mahavir. He laid the foundation stone of Jainism based on simplistic principles and imbibed in human beings the values of tolerance and non violence.
His birthday is believed to have been on the thirteenth day of the Indian month of Chaitra in the year 599 BC during the rising phase of the moon.
In keeping with the values that Mahavir tried to instill his birth anniversary celebrations too are devoid of any grandeur or drama. Quiet ceremonies are held where his followers pay him tribute.
- Dates of Mahavir Jayanti in the next four years according to the modern day calendar:
- In 2018, the Mahavir Jayanti date is March 29.
- In 2019, the Mahavir Jayanti date is April 17.
- In 2020, the Mahavir Jayanti date is April 6.
- In 2021, the Mahavir Jayanti date is April 25.
- A brief background:
Mahavira was born in a royal family in the Vaishali district, which is now located in the Indian State of Bihar, to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala. There is a common belief that the Queen had some dreams of celestial nature during the months of her pregnancy that gave her an inkling that the baby who was about to come to the Earth was going to be a great leader. The occurrence of these auspicious dreams have been universally acknowledged by all the sects of Jains, however, as regarding the number of the dreams there is a difference of opinion. The Svetambara sect of Jains believe that the Queen had fourteen of these auspicious dreams, while the Digambara sect of Jains believe that there were sixteen. Regardless of this, the astrologers who were called upon by the King and the Queen to interpret the dreams and make a forecast were of the opinion that the child who was to be born would either become a great Emperor, or a celebrated spiritual leader. It is further believed that when the Queen finally gave birth to the child, Indra, the King of Gods, bathed the baby himself with celestial milk. This is the ritual that essentially marked the newborn as a Tirthankara (Spiritual Leader).
The baby was named Mahavir, which in Sanskrit means the Great Warrior. Mahavir earned his name because of the fact that even as a little boy he could tame a terrifying serpent and bring the serpent under his control. Many other titles were also bestowed upon him, line Vira and Sanmati. In ancient texts, Mahavir has also been referred to as Nataputta which when translated means the Son of the Natas, for he belonged to the clan of the Nattas. Being born in a royal family Mahavir grew up in a lap of luxury. As to his marital status, there is confusion too. According to one set of belief, he was a celibate, while another set of people believed that he was married off very young to Yashoda, with whom he had a daughter named Priyadarshana.
Mahavir reigned his kingdom with sincerity and dedication till the age of thirty. However, he had chosen penance, and as such had abstained from all the comforts and luxuries that the royal life offered him. At this age Mahavir is believed to have attained enlightenment. Then on he gave up on all things he considered superficial and redundant. He gave up wearing clothes, ate just from his hands, and focused instead on things that would actually make life more meaningful. He believed in the simple virtues of life and preached about always taking the path of truth and non violence. Much later he formulated his teachings into a religion. He named it Jainism. History is divided in opinion about when he attained Moksha. Jains believe that it happened in 468 BC, while recent scholars opine the time frame to be sometime around 425 BC.
- Type of Holiday in India:
Mahavir Jayanti is a gazetted holiday in the Indian States of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Local businesses, banks and transportation systems in the cities operate in full swing. However, certain institutions may opt to remain closed on this day.
- Observances to mark the occasion:
Jains all across the world celebrate the birth anniversary of the founder of their religion with great respect. Jain temples are decorated with flags and flowers, and a high volume of visitors crowd them all day through. Since Mahavir believed in having all things simple, many Jains keep the celebrations simple and quiet, while some others believe in adding grandeur to the ceremonies. The latter category takes out processions carrying the picture of Mahavir – these processions have bands, horses, elephants etc. The former category believes in silent prayers. However, every Jain essentially visits a temple on this day to offer their prayers. At the temples special ritualistic prayers are often organized after giving a ceremonial bath to the statue of Mahavir. Many people observe fast on this day. A ceremonial sweet dish of milk, sugar and rice (kheer) is made to mark the occasion and is presented as an offering at the temple. People also make offerings of fruits, milk, rice and flowers. At the temples, or other places of gathering, lectures are held that trace the life history of the great Tirthankara and also touch upon the basic principles of his preaching. Alms are given to the needy. Apart from that donations are also collected to serve a cause that is considered to abide by Jain principles, like feeding the poor, stopping the slaughter of animals etc. There are some people who observe a Maun Vrat (Pledge to Silence) on this day.
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