SIGNIFICANCE OF MAHAVIRA
Tirthankara Mahavira, after the attainment of omniscience at the age of forty-two, toured different parts of the country for a continuous period of thirty aears, met people from various urban, rural and tribal societies, and preached the principles and rules of conduct as laid down by 3ainism. The personality and preachings of Tirthankara Mahavira created a tremendous impact on the minds of all sections of people and especially on the down-trandden sections of the population. He not only revealed to them the path of Liberation i.e. the path to attain the eternal happiness, which was the main object of the people, but also showed the actual means through which all people, irrespective of any distinction of class or status, can achieve this objective. His sincerity of purpose, way of approach, method of explanation, divine speech and philosophical and ethical doctrines appealed to the people to such an extent that with a firm conviction of mind they began to adopt Jaina religion as lay followers or as ascetics. The number of confirmed adherents to Jaina religion began to increase steadily. In this way Tirthankara Mahavira ushered in a new era of hope and aspirations for the common people and succeeded in considerably changing the life, outlook and values of the people. He introduced various new concepts and ideas which revolutionised the entire course of life of the people. The significance of Tirthankara Mahavira lies in successfully effecting a social
change and in making institutional and other arrangements for the perpetuation of his new social order.In order to solve the pressing problems of the time, he made several important salient contributions from a social point of view which are briefly out-lined here.
(1) Establishment of Social Equality:
The most significant contribution in the social field made by Tirthankara Mahavira was the establishment of social equality among the four Varnas,’ i.e. classes, prevalent in the society. Mahavira succeeded in organizing his large number of followers into a compact social order quite distinct from that of the Brahmanic social order of the Vedic period.
The Vedic society was composed of four classes, viz. Brahmana, Rajanya, Vaishya and Shudra. They were said to have come from the mouth, the arms, the thighs and the feet of the Creator, Brahman. The particular limbs ascribed as the origins of these divisions and the order in which they were mentioned indicated their status in the society of the time. The fact that the four classes were described as of divine origin could be taken as a sufficient indication that they were of long duration and very well defined. Not only the four classes were distinct and separate, but they were also affected by the spirit of rivalry among themselves. Even in the early Rigvedic times the Brahmanical profession had begun to set up claims of superiority or sacredness for itself and , accordingly we find that different rules were prescribed for different
classes. Thus the Shatapatha Brahmana laid down different modes of address for the four classes, differing in degrees of politeness, as ehi, agachchha, adrava and adhava. The Taittiriya Brahmana recommended the spring season to the Brahmins for the performance of sacrifices, the Summer to the Kshatriyas, and the autumn to the Vaishyas. The Atharva Veda proclaimed in the strongest language sin, peril and ruinous consequences for insulting Brahmins and robbing them of their property. This inordinate extension of the pretensions and prerogatives of the sacerdotal class naturally created cleavages in the Society. The Kshatriya were assigned a position next to Brahmins, and Vaishyas and Shudras were comparatively neglected. Thus the Vedic Societry was completely class-ridden in the sense that unusual importance was given to the Brahmin class to the detriment of other classes and that no body was allowed to change his class’ which he had got on the basis of his birth it, that class.
Against these glaring practices based on the acceptance of social inequality and on the wide observance of social dis-crimination, Tirtharikara, Mahavira launched his attack. He recognized the division of society into four classes but based them on the nature of activities carried out by the people and not on the basis of their ‘ birth. He gave full freedom to one and all, including women and Shudras, to observe common religious practices prescribed for all and admitted them into his religious order: In this way Tirthankara Mahavira threw open the
doors of Jainism to all and gave equal opportunity to everybody irrespectives of his class or birth, to practice religion according to his capacity. Those who followed religion as householders were known as Shravakas and Shravikas and those who observed the religion fully by leaving their houses and becoming ascetics were called as Sadhus and Sadhvis.
After Mahavira, various Jaina Acharyas made no distinction whatsoever among people in the matter of following religion arid conceived that the Varna system, that is, the division of society into four Varnas or classes, is based upon differences in professions.In their view birth played no part in determining the Varna or class of a particular person. As regards the division of Society into four Varnas, Acharya Jinasena states (in Adi Purana Parva 38, 45, 48) in the following manner :
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The Brahmanahood of best ascetics as well as of ordinary people is considered on their actions and not on their birth in the Brahmana class. No class has been despised. The actions alone lead to good prosperity. Gods regard a Chandala, i. e. an outcaste, as a Brahmana, if he follows religious mode of life. The epithets of classes and Chandala, which are applied to mankind are famous in this world due to differences in their ways of life.