What is it?
Mahavir Jayanti is the most important religious holiday in Jainism.This is a “gazetted” holiday which means that government offices and most businesses are closed.The holiday is celebrated on the 13th day of the waxing (rising) half of Hindu month of Caitra which usually occurs in either late March or early April in the Gregorian calendar. This year Mahavir Jayanti is on 19th April.
What is it about?
Mahavir Jayanti celebrates the birth of Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha, and the 24th and last Tirthankara (great sages). Mahavira (known originally as Vardhamana) was born in either 599 BC or 615 BC. The Digambar school of Jainism say that lord Mahavira was born in the year 615 BC, but the Swetambaras believe that he was born in 599 BC. However, both sects believe that Mahavira was the son of Siddhartha and Trisala. He disappeared in 527BC at the age of 72.
According to the legend, Devananda, wife of a Brahmin named Rishabhdeva, conceived him, but the gods transferred the embryo to the womb of Trisala.
According to Swetambara sect the expectant mother was believed to have seen 14 auspicious dreams. (According to Digambara sect it was 16 dreams). Astrologers interpreted these dreams and predicted that the child would be either an emperor or a Teerthankar.
For over a decade, he was an ascetic, wandering about, begging for food, and wearing little. Then he found enlightenment, became a Tirthankara and taught for 30 years before his death.
Present-day Jainism revers Mahavira as their key prophet and is practiced by over 3.5 million people. They follow a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Some may wear face masks to prevent the chance of inadvertently killing an insect while breathing in.
How is it celebrated?
Mahavir Jayanti is a festival marked with prayers and fasting. There is a traditional bath for a dirty of lord Mahavira following which the deity is carried in a parade or grand procession throughout the region. The day is often marked with mass celebrations involving elephants, horse carts and camel carts. The holiday is especially popular in the eastern state of Bihar, where Mahavira was born near the modern town of Patna. A large celebration is held at the Parasnatha temple, Calcutta.
It is celebrated with much fervour at Jain temples across the country.Shrines and temples are decorated with flags for the occasion. There is also a custom of donating money, food and clothing to the poor. Some Jain organisations, or even individuals, arrange free food and drink for all passers by.