Jains count Mahavira as the last of 24 modern founders, or Tirthankaras, with the first being Rishabha. Mahavira traveled from village to village preaching his doctrine and at the age of seventy passed away, according to some traditions he died of starvation. The life of the Tirthankaras appears in the Jain texts, which are manuscripts in palm leaves that are considered the oldest original manuscripts of India.
Mahavira, the son of king Siddhārtha of Kundapura near Vaishali in the state of Bihar is said to have been contemporary with the last of the divine ascetics of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha after which the vedic era began that absorbed these two primitive religions into the fold of Hinduism. In the puranas appears a mention of the Jain religion. Jainism can be considered as a philosophy rather than a religion, which continued till vedic scriptures in the form of hinduism took over in the same lines.
Hinduism is more than a single religion in the strict sense as you can consider a number of religious currents and theological speculation, ways of behaving, daily habits often heterogeneous, having a common core of values and religious beliefs, but different from each other depending on how they interpret the tradition and its religious literature, and depending on which aspect becomes the object of focus for the individual currents.
The term Hinduism, was in purely geographical origin since it derives from the ancient Iranian word used to indicate the Indus River and the region and its inhabitants. The river and the region, in turn, is called Sapta Sindhu. With the British colonization, the English term Hinduism was therefore used to indicate a variable pattern of cultural and religious events in the Indian Subcontinent, and then translated into the main European languages. Then the Indians themselves came to use the term Anglo-Saxon coinage, hinduism indicating their national identity as opposed to that of the colonizers, a term that does not appear in any ancient or modern traditional Indian vocabulary.
Indeed, some scholars place this religion even in the pre-Vedic period, which explains why Jains consider their religion eternal. Already in the Rigveda is mentioned Rishabha, who is considered the first man in jainism. Historians believe that the mentions of the Jain religion that appear in some puranas show that the vedic texts are not so ancient as modern Indian scholars claim.
Jainism has elaborate cosmology and beliefs filled with names, categories, classes, hierarchies, degrees, orders, among others. They also believe in pananism, that all reality is life.
Not much is known about the origin of Jainism, although according to its followers it is one of the oldest religions of the world, of prehistoric origins before 3000 BC and the beginning of Indus culture, with its mysterious, now ruined, cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. It has been speculated that, like many traditions in Hinduism, Jainism could have its origin in the Indus Valley Civilization, being a sample of the native spirituality of that area prior to the migration in India of Aryan people.
Jainism is an ancient non-theistic religion that is least known in the world codified at the time of Buddhism, probably dating back to the Indian prehistory and early history, and its influence has been significant. It is believed that the pre-vedic period may have ended, when it absorbed influences of Buddhism and Jainism and began to metamorphose in the religions of India. Like Buddhists, Jains deny the divine origin and authority of the Veda and Vedic rites as useless.
The historians have so far fully recognized the truth that Tirthankara Mahavira was not the founder of the religion. He was preceded by many tirthankaras. He merely reiterated and rejuvenated that religion. It is correct that history has not been able to trace the origin of the jain religion but historical evidence now available and the result of dispassionate researches in literature have established that jainism is undoubtedly an ancient religion.
There is some evidence that jain traditions may be even older than the Buddhist traditions and that Vardhamana rather than being a founder per se was, rather, simply a primary spokesman for much older tradition.
And it should be remembered that the jainism and the buddhism are fundamentally contemporaries of hinduism and it would have been better if men had not been so inclined to divide, and to emphasize differences rather than similarities. For a long time among Western scholars, Jainism and Buddhism was seen as derived from Hinduism.
Jains adopt an essentially atheistic perspective that no deity exists who has taken upon himself the task of creating the world. There is no god who has moved for the creation of the world and even one accepts the idea that the world is the result of illusion that, if it could not create effects of pain and suffering that everyone experiences.
The originality of Jain thought, the combination with traditions such as those of Carvaka and Ajivikas, maintain its clear profile through the centuries and its undoubted antiquity tradition make this one of the most valuable evidence of thought in the Indian subcontinent. In contrast to the notion that the followers of the Charvaka doctrine were opposed to what is good in the vedic tradition, the Charvaka was also called Lokayata in pre vedic ages that meant what was most popular among the people or prevalent in the world. In particular, they criticize the economic benefits obtained by the vedic priests by means of religious services.
Jains reject the Vedic tradition and in fact believe erroneous beliefs of Aryans, but there are no irreconcilable conflicts, although in vedic literature and cultural tradition there are cases of Jains being represented as an emblem of dirt and contamination. Jains deny value to the religious ablutions, cremate their dead and are characterized by the Ahimsa, as against the Vedic tradition that abounds in sacrificial rituals.
The Jains came from southern India, spreading across the entire southern part of the peninsula and are the founders of Tamil literature. Then came a great movement through southern India, in which the followers of Siva, came preaching and chanting across the country, appealing to that deep emotion of the human heart, which Jains had ignored so much.
They came singing of Shiva and Vishnu, chanting their praises, especially invoking the cure of diseases in their name, and before these wonderful cures and the torrent of devotion that awoke with their chants and prayers, many of the same Jain customs became absorbed and in southern India Jainism practically extinguished. Such is its history in the south. Such is the way of its disappearance.
In this same line, Jainism requires both laymen and monks of all their sects and currents to adopt vegetarianism. In some Indian regions the influence of the Jains has been so strong that most modern day Indians in the area have also become vegetarians. Jains are strict vegetarians who only consume nonsensical beings without nervous system, mainly of the vegetable kingdom.
While the jain diet involves the annihilation of mindless things such as plants, this is seen as the way to survive that causes the least violence towards living things. Some forms of vegetables, such as fruits, are consumed by Jainis because it simply involves the removal of a part of the plant and not its total destruction as occurs if roots or shoots are eaten like in case of potato and others.
Jainism has a striking resemblance to Buddhism in its monastic system, its ethical teachings, its sacred texts, and in the history of its founder. Jainism in its origin is independent of Buddhism and perhaps is the oldest of the two. These writings are less extensive, less varied, than Buddhists, and although the latter closely resembles, they place great emphasis on bodily mortification. The Jainis, like the Buddhist takes for granted the doctrine of Karma and its implicit rebirths.
But while primitive Buddhists sought the realization of the end in the extinction of conscious, individual existence, the Jains always tenaciously held on to the traditional primitive belief in a final abode of happiness.
For the Jains, there is no omnipotent creator of the universe, since the law of reward for actions performed is sufficient to explain the fate of men, who can be reborn with a demonic, animal, human, or divine condition, for the same purpose. For Jainism the universe is a living totality. Every being has a soul, more or less complex, diaphanous or heavy. From earth or wind, to insects or mammals, all beings reflect the universe and are worthy of respect.
The doctrine of Jainism has a more severe character than Buddhism. Jain monks are obliged to tread lightly and gently on the ground in the face of the possibility of crushing insects and small life forms. They had to sweep the ground with peacock feathers to free it from tiny beings.
The important distinction in Jainism is between the Digambara who are located mainly in the south and Svetambara who predominate in north India with the main difference between them is that the Digambaras traditionally go naked. When the Muslims arrived in India, the jains were forbidden to walk naked.
Beyond the rigorousness of Jain lifestyle, it is undeniable that their code of morality and tolerance towards their neighbors is admirable. And being one of the oldest religions in the world, there is no history in the history of cases of violence, intolerance, genocides or wars carried out by Jainism.
The well-known Amarakosha, for example, is a Jain work that every student in Sanskrit learns from beginning to end. Outside the canonical scriptures there is an enormous amount of literature from Puranas and Itihasas, which closely resemble the Puranas and Itihasas. They are said to be more systematized than the Hindu versions.
It is possible that the teachings proposed by Mahavira or Vardhamana rests on previous nuclei, transmitted by figures of which are known few names, like parsva, the Tirthankara, to whom we can probably give historical boundaries, or that refer to mythical dimensions, as the first Tirthankara, Rsabha, whose identity is lost in legend and in which some scholars have wanted to see a connection with the pre-aryan civilization that of the Indus valley civilization, given the importance of taurine and bovine figures in vallinda civilization evidenced by the performances of the famous vellindi seals and the meaning of the term Rsabha, which is precisely that of bull.
From the epistemological point of view, Jainism is relativistic, which argues that knowledge of the world can only be approximated and that, over time, even its own religion will eventually disappear. The Jain philosophy and culture were an important cultural force, philosophical, social and political life since the dawn of civilization in South Asia, and its former influence has been identified beyond the borders of modern India, in the regions of the Middle East and Mediterranean, which were later absorbed by other religions that grew on the thesis of inculcating fear of the unknown, supernatural beings and divinity in the minds of people.