Along with Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism is one of the major religions of India. It started thousands of years ago, but in its actual form, this religion was founded in northern India in the IVth century BC by Mahavira, or "The Great Hero".
Mahavira was born in 599 BC, near Patna, in a leading family from the Kshatriya home and was named Vardahamana.After the death of his parents, he gave up everything to follow a spiritual path.He ripped-Off his hair (now jainist monks shave the hair their heads) and led an austere life.After 13 years, he received enlightment and he became Tirthenkara.
Tirthenkara means „enlighted man” or „creator of ways”, and his purpose is to clense souls.
Jainist people think that Mahavira is only the newest of the enlighted wisemen which they call Tirthenkara and that 23 more Tirthenkara existed before him. The history of there Tirthenkara is written in Kaipa Sutra, but the details and facts are few. The first one, considered the founder of the traditional jainist belief,was called Risababbanatha(Rsabha) and his name appears in VEDE and in Purana. There are no informations about the other Tirthenkara until Parsava,the one before Mahavira. It is believed that Parsava died in the 8th century BC.
Jainist disciples do not believe in a creator God. They have gods but they are not as important as Tirthenkara is. For the gods to be worshiped, they should become humans and to pass the purifying process of meditation, leading an ascetic life in order to become Tirthenkara. The main purpose is to achieve Nirvana, a blessing state and an eternal life where souls live free forever. This could require more lives and, as in Hinduism, the life in which a person is reborn reflects the quality of his past life. In Jainism, „Karma” (the effect of past actions) is seen almost physically: it binds the soul to the body drawing particles of matter that set on the soul. The less a person is concerned with the purification of the soul, the more it is forced to return to Earth several times.
Conception of time and Jainist followers
Jainists believe that time is eternal and whithout shape. It is conceived as a wheel with 12 spires called „Ara” or ages, rising to six on one side as the man grows in stature, knowledge and happiness and descending on the other side as the man falls. The world is seen in 2 halfs: Ajiva-inanimate substances and Jiva-the soul and its lifeforms.
Long ago, jainist disciples walked naked and they were called „ the air dressed” or „the dressed by the sky”. They gave up all possession, they kept nothing, not even a bowl from which to eat. They received the food which they would beg for in their hands. Women were not allowed to walk naked and they were no considered worthy of salvation. The Jainist monks follow the few simple rules Mahavira gave: do not be violent, do not steal, do not lie, do not hide anything and be celibate. At a deeper level, they aspire to pure austerity in order to keep an immaculate soul.