Vardhamana Mahavira, the twenty fourth and the last 'Tirthankara' of the Jains was the elder contemporary of Buddha. He was the second son of a Ksatriya chieftain in Magadha, presently in Bihar. Vardhamana, the Kshatriya of the 'Jnatri' clan, was a native of Kundagram which was a suburb of the town of Vaishali (near Patna). Vardhamana was born in 599 B.C and was a Kashyapa. His parents were pious Jains who were the worshipper of Parshva. He was the founder of the Jain Church that existed in unaffected status more than twenty five centuries. Nigantha Nataputta was his earlier name which was mentioned in the early Buddhist records. Information related to his personal life has been vague but it was known from the Buddhist record that he was a leader of the Niganthga community.
The comparatively relevant source of the life and works of Vardhamana was "Bhagabati Sutra". Later the information related to Vardhamana was accumulated by the then Jain authors and published in the form of a book named as "Lives of the sixty-three Supermen." Among these works the most well known is the Trishashti- Shalakapurushacharitra of Hemachandra. The tenth of this work occupies the history of Vardhamana. Hemachandra, one of the most learned persons among the Jains, attached the predominant and relevant episodes of Vardhamana's life including the myths and legendary milestones. According to the Svetambaras the soul of Vardhamana had first descended into the womb of the Brahmani named Devananda. According to the mythology, Vardhamana in the initial period descended from heaven in Devananda's womb and later transferred to the womb of Trishila. Vardhamana himself revealed the incident of the transference of the fetus to his disciples. This incident is depicted in the "Bhagavati Sutra".
The five major events in the life of Vardhamana are- his conception, birth, renunciation of home life, attainment of supreme knowledge and demise occurred when the moon was in conjunction with the asterism Uttarphalguni, gave him the name Vardhamana. He was knotted with Yashoda. Yashoda gave birth to a female child and she was christened as Anojja (also known as Priyadarshana). At the age of thirty, Vardhamana lost his parents. He resided at their paternal home till the death of his parents but after the death of his parents the property was passed down to his elder brother Nandi-vardhana.
Before the initiation of his spiritual attainment, Vardhamana was travalling in eastern India. The long twelve years of 'sadhana' was led with tremendous difficulty for Vardhamana. 'Jinadasa's churni', written before the 7th century A.D, gives every details of the spiritual life of Vardhamana. Vardhamana initiated his career in spirituality at the age of twenty eight.
In the second year of his journey, Makkali Goshala came to be the companion of Vardhamana. During this period they traveled many places and often were misunderstood by people. So they had to stand the ill treatment of the people. When the two proceeded towards Ladha and traveled in Vajjabhumi and Subbhabhumi, Vardhamana had to undergo torment of crucial sorts. "Acharonga Sutra" depicts the incidents of his suffering and critical situation which he had undergone during this time. Vardhamana after a long torment reached Jambhiyagama. There on the northern bank of the river Ujjuvaliya, in the farm of the householder Samaga, under a Shala tree, in the north-east of Veyavatta shrine ,Vardhamana achieved the spirituality and omniscience or 'kevala' on the bright tenth day of Vaishakha.
During his strict schedule in his spiritual life, for twelve years he practiced life of austerities, consistency and 'sanyam'. He at the time of his spiritual practice, even visited the wild tribes of the country, called Radha. After his achievement of the spirituality, he was recognized as omniscient. He was also revered as a prophet of the Jainas or a Tirthafikara (the founder of the path). He was venerated with the titles of Jina which suggests spiritual conqueror, Mahavira that depicts the meaning 'great hero'. Vardhamana at the period of last thirty years spend his time in teaching religious system and organising his order of ascetics. After the completion of twelve years, Vardhamana was inclined to meditation and religious journeys. During the period of his devotion because of his deep contemplation and spiritual thoughts he attained the state of omniscience or 'kevala' which corresponds to the 'bodhi' of the Buddhists.
After the attainment of "Kevala", a religious conference or a 'Samavarsana' was held on the bank of the river Ujjuvaliya. Vardhamana remained unsuccessful in his first preaching to the mass. After the transition of twelve 'Yojanas', Vardhamana returned to Majjhima Pava. In Majjhima Pava a second 'Samavarsana' was convoked in the garden of Mahasena. Vardhanmana was the expositor of the dogmatic thoughts and views of the Tirthankaras , the sages. Vardhamana was not the founder of any creed but the reformer of the previously remaining credo.
Under the regulation of Vardhamana, followers of two different creeds had joined the order. The one belong to the category who would acquiesce the complete renunciation of possessions even clothing. Another category belongs to the group of people who appreciated clothing as a necessity. This fact is depicted in the Uttaradhyayana' account of the union of the two churches of Kesi and Gautama. The subject of renunciation of clothing and the acceptance of cloths gave rise to the great schism and division of the Jains into the Svetambara (white robed) and the Digambara (skyciad or nude) sects. The division was made in A.D. 79 or A.D 82. These two different religious sections are differentiated by their ethical dogma not by their philosophical views.
The philosophy of Vardhamana comprises eight principal cardinals - among them three are metaphysical and five are ethical. The philosophy involves the thought of aggrandizing the quality of life. The principle of the philosophy is the revelation of exceptional unity of purpose, and aim at achieving spiritual excellence by ethically sound behaviour and metaphysical thought. The metaphysics which relates the thought of Vardhamana consist of three principles which are Anekantavada, Syadvada and Karma. His conception of his Panchavrats, which are five codes of conduct, encompasses Ahimsa, Asteya, Satya, Aparigraha and Brahmacharya. According to Vardhamana, Anekantavada is a basic principle of Jainism which deals with the fact that reality may be perceived differently from different point of views. Karma is the concept of action or deed in Dharmic religions understood as denoting the entire cycle of cause and effect described in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist philosophies. Ahimsa, literally means to abstain violence, is a Sanskrit term .Satya is a truth; Asteya is a Sanskrit word meaning avoidance of stealing or non-stealing. Jainism involves the endeavour of the five assertions which should be practiced by the followers of Jainism. Brahmacharya is a Sanskrit word, meaning the emancipation of the mundane life and Aparigraha is the Jain concept of non-possessiveness.
The preaching of Vardhamana reveals the enslavement of the souls in the captivity of the effect of Karma which incorporates the good and the evil deeds. Karma encourages the soul to strive for the worldly possessions temporary and illusory pleasure in materialistic possessions. The mundane thought initiates the deep rooted causes of self-centred violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and other vices. These result in further accumulation of Karmas.
The actual liberation of soul, according to the philosophy of Vardhamana, associates the necessity of right faith which is "samyak darshana", "samyak gyana" and "samyak charitra". Vardhamana opined the search for "Moksh" or search for the ultimate pleasure should be the real motive of every individual irrespective of men and women. People of all caste and age were welcomed by Vardhamana and were recognized with identical faith and admiration. The sermons of Vardhamana were accumulated by his disciples in "Agam Sutra" as they were orally conveyed.
There are some contradictory views about the period of the death of Vardhamana and according to the belief of the Jains the death of Vardhamana occurred in 527 B.C.