The Veil of Mahavira and Jainism

Jains count Mahavira as the last of 24 modern founders or Tirthankaras. Rishabha is considered the first man in Jainism. Mahavira traveled from village to village preaching his doctrine. At the age of seventy, he passed away. According to some traditions, he died of starvation. The life of the Tirthankaras appears in the Jain manuscripts in palm leaves. These are considered the oldest original manuscripts of India.

Mahavira was the son of king Siddhārtha of Kundapura near Vaishali in the state of Bihar. He is said to have been contemporary with the last of the divine ascetics of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha. After this, the Vedic era began that absorbed these two primitive religions into the fold of Hinduism. In the Puranas, there appears a mention of the Jain religion. Jainism can be considered as a philosophy rather than a religion. It continued till the Vedic scriptures in the form of Hinduism took over in the same lines.

Hinduism is more than a single religion in the strict sense. You can consider a number of religious currents and theological speculation, ways of life, and daily habits that were often heterogeneous. They have a common core of values and religious beliefs. They are different from each other depending on how people interpret the tradition and its religious literature. It also depends on which aspect becomes the object of focus for the individual currents.

The term Hinduism was of purely geographical origin. It derives from the ancient Iranian word that was used to indicate the Indus River, the region, and its inhabitants. The river and the region, in turn, is called Sapta Sindhu. After the British colonization, the English term Hinduism was used to indicate a variable pattern of cultural and religious events in the Indian Subcontinent.

It was 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. Hinduism is a term that does not appear in any ancient or modern Indian vocabulary.

Indeed, some scholars place Jainism in the pre-Vedic period, which explains why Jains consider their religion eternal. Rishabha was mentioned in the Rigveda. Historians believe that the mention of the Jain religion that appears in some Puranas show that the Vedic texts are not so ancient as modern Indian scholars claim.

Jainism has elaborate cosmology and beliefs. It is filled with names, categories, classes, hierarchies, decrees, and 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. It is of prehistoric origins that originated before 3000 BC and the beginning of Indus culture, with it's 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. It was a sample of the native spirituality of that area prior to the migration of Aryan people in India.

Jainism is an ancient non-theistic religion that is least known in the world. It was codified at the time of Buddhism. It probably dates back to the Indian prehistory and early history when 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 Vedas and Vedic rites.

The historians have so far recognized the fact that Tirthankara Mahavira was not the founder of Jainism.


Mahavira 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. The historical evidence now available and the result of dispassionate researchers 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. Vardhamana rather than being a founder was simply a primary spokesman for a much older tradition. And it should be remembered that Jainism and Buddhism are fundamentally contemporaries of Hinduism. 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 to have been 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. They accept the idea that the world is the result of the illusion that could not create effects of pain and suffering that everyone experiences.

The originality of Jain thought was the combination of traditions such as those of Carvaka and Ajivikas. They maintain it's clear profile through the centuries. Its undoubted tradition makes this one of the most valuable evidence of thought in the Indian subcontinent. It is 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. It meant of 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. There are no irreconcilable conflicts. 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 and cremate their dead. They are characterized by the Ahimsa, as against the Vedic tradition that abounds in sacrificial rituals.

The Jains came from southern India. They spread 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 Shiva and Vishnu, came preaching and chanting across the country, appealing to that deep emotion of fear in 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 after these magical cures and the torrent of devotion awoke with their chants and prayers, many of the same Jain customs became absorbed. In southern India, Jainism practically extinguished. Such is its history in the south India. 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 a nervous system, mainly of the vegetable kingdom.



The Jain diet involves the consumption 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 Jains simply because it involves the removal of a part of the plant and not its total destruction as occurs if roots or shoots are eaten like in the case of potato and others.

Jainism has a striking resemblance to Buddhism in its monastic system, ethical teachings, 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 Jains, like the Buddhist, takes for granted the doctrine of Karma and its implicit rebirths.

While ancient Buddhists sought the realization of the end in the extinction of conscious and individual existence, the Jains 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. The law of reward for actions performed is sufficient to explain the fate of men, who can be reborn as a demon, animal, human, or divinity. For Jainism, the universe is a living totality. Every being has a more or less complex, diaphanous or heavy soul. The earth, wind, insects or mammals 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 have 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. 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, 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 rest on previous nuclei. These were transmitted by figures like Parsva, and the Tirthankara, to whom we can probably give historical boundaries. It refers to mythical dimensions, as the first Tirthankara, Rsabha, whose identity is lost in legend.

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 the Indus Valley civilization. It is also evidenced by the performances of the famous Indus Valley 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 the knowledge of the world can only be approximated. Over time, even its own religion will eventually disappear. The Jain philosophy and culture were an important cultural, philosophical, social and political life force since the dawn of civilization in Asia.

Its former influence has been identified beyond the borders of modern India, in the regions of the Middle East and Mediterranean. It was 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.