The New International Encyclopædia/Mahāvīra

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MAHĀVĪRA, mȧ′hävē′rȧ (Skt. mahā-vīra, great hero). Name of the founder of the sect of the Jains. (See Jainism.) He is known also as Vardhamāna ‘the Exalted,’ Vīra ‘the Hero,’ or as Jina ‘the Victorious.’ He is regarded as the twenty-fourth and last in the long list of deified masters recognized in Jainism, and he appears to have been an elder contemporary of Buddha. His birthplace was at Kotigama (now Vasakund), in Northeastern India. His legendary history is given in the Kalpa-Sūtra (q.v.) and the Mahavīra-Charitra, two works held in great authority by the Jainas. According to these works, Mahāvīra's first birth occurred at a period infinitely remote; it was as a nayasara, head man of a village, that he first appeared in the country of Vijaya, subject to Satrumardana. He was next born as Marichi, the grandson of the first Jaina saint Rishabha; he then came to the world of Brahma, was reborn as a worldy minded Brahman, and after several other births—each separated from the other by an interval passed in one of the Jaina heavens, and each period of life extending to many hundreds of thousands of years—he quitted the state of a deity to obtain immortality as a saint, and was incarnate toward the close of the fourth age, when seventy-five years and eight and one-half months of it remained. After he was thirty years of age he renounced worldly pursuits, and departed to practice austerities. Finally, he became an Arhat or Jina; and at the age of seventy-two years, the period of his liberation having arrived, ‘he resigned his breath,’ and his body was burned by Indra and other deities, who divided among them such parts as were not destroyed by the flames. The ashes of the pile were distributed among the assistants; the gods erected a splendid monument on the spot, and then returned to their respective heavens.