One of the most auspicious festival for Jains, the day marks the birth of Vardhamana Mahavira, 24th and the last Tirthankara (teaching God) of Avasarpini — half of the worldly cycle of time, according to the Jain cosmology. The day is said to occur in the month of March or April according to the Gregorian calendar, and this year, it falls on April 9.
According to Jain texts, Lord Mahavira was born on the 13th day of the bright half of the moon in the month of Chaitra in the year 599 BCE. He was named Vardhamana, which means “one who grows”. Several historians believe that he was born in a place called Ahalya bhumi, and it has not been ploughed for hundreds of years by the family that owns it.
Born to Mahavira King Siddhartha of Kundagrama and Queen Trishala, Mahavira belonged to the Ikshvaku dynasty. It is said that during his birth, the queen used to have a number of auspicious dreams of a great soul. While Svetambaras believe that the actual number is 14, Digambaras claim it is 16. The astrologers had predicted quite early that the child would either be a Chakravartin or a Tirthankara.
Celebrated widely by Jains in memory of the last spiritual teacher of the religion, the idol of Mahavira is carried in a procession called rath yatra. Reciting stavans or Jaini prayers, the statues of lord are given a ceremonial bath called abhisheka. The last Jain tirthankara taught ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-attachment) to his disciples and his teachings were called Jain Agamas. It is believed that the saint attained moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) at the age of 72. As the day proceeds, members of the Jain community meditate, chant prayers and offer food to poor people.