The name of two Jain Tirthankaras (prophets or gurus), Rishabha & Arishtanemi, are found in the Rigveda.
The Vishnu Purana & the Bhagavat Purana describe Rishabha as incarnation of Narayana.
There were 24 tirthankaras, all kshatriyas & belonging to the Royal family.
The first was Rishabha, the founder of Jainism & the last twenty fourth was Mahavira.
Swami Parshavanath the twenty-third Tirthankara was son of Ashvasena, the king of Kashi. He was born about 250 years before Mahavira.
Mahavira adopted prakrit language which was the language of common people. Religious literature was written in Ardh magadhi.
Mahavira was born in village Kundagrama, a suburb of Vaishali in district Muzzaffarpur (Bihar) in a kshatriya family in 540 B.C (according to some historian he was born in 599 B.C. & according to some others in 568 B.C.).
His father Siddhartha was the head of the Jnatrika clan & mother Trishala was sister of the renowned Lichchavi king Chetak.
Married to Yashoda & had a daughter Anojja (also called as Priyadarshana) whose husband, Jamali, became the first disciple of Mahavira.
Became an ascetic at 30 after the death of his parents & attained perfect knowledge at 42 under a sal tree at Jrimbhikagrama on the banks of River Rejupalika.
From now on-wards he was called Jaina or Jitendriya (one who has conquered his senses), Nirgrantha (free from all bonds) & Mahavira (the brave) & his followers were named Jain.
For the remaining thirty years Mahavira moved from place to place & preached his doctrine in Kosala, Magadh, Mithila & Champa etc.
At the age of 72, he attained Kaivalya (death) at Pava, near Patna in 468 B.C.(according to some historians in 527 B.C.).
Teachings of Jainism:
He rejected the authority of the Vedas & its associated rituals & advocated an austere & simple life.
Believed in dualistic philosophy & held that matter & soul are the only two ever existing elements.
Did not believe in the existence of God & for him Universe was a product of nature- the outcome of cause & effect.
Did not oppose Caste System & believed in karma & transmigration of soul.
Syavada – truth can be approached from different view points & thus can be affirmed only with a degree of probability & is never final.
Five cardinal principles of Jainism (Panch Mahavratas) –
Ahimsa – Non-Violence.
Asateya – No Stealing.
Aparigraha – Non-possession.
Satya – Truth.
Brahmacharya – Celibacy.
Ratnatraya (Three Jewels)- Right knowledge, Right Faith & Right Action.
In Jainism the devotees (siddhas) have been classified in five categories, in the descending order-