In this article we will discuss about the origin of Jainism.
The origin of Jainism is shrouded in obscurity. The followers of Jainism believe that their religion is as old as the Vedic religion. In fact, we have reference to Rishabha and Arishtanemi, two of the Jain Tirthankaras in the Vedic literature. The former is considered to be the founder of Jainism. In the Vishnu and Bhagvata Puranas also Rishabha is depicted as an incarnation of Narayana.
On the basis of these references it can be said that the Jain religion is as old as Vedic religion. According to the followers of Jainism the teachings of their religion are the work of twenty-four Tirthankaras and as Mahavira was their last Tirthanakara. They further say that the first Tirthankara was a king who renounced his kingdom in favour of his son Bharata and became an ascetic.
According to them our country is named after this Bharata. Certain scholars hold that though there are scanty references about the earlier Tirthankaras, in the Vedic literature but they bear no historical foundation. They accept only Parsva Nath and Mahavira as true historical figures.
According to Prof. Jacobi. Parsva Nath was the real founder of Jainism and has been described in the Puranic texts as one of the twenty-four incarnations of God. Parsva Nath was the son of Asvasena, the King of Kashi.
He became an ascetic at the age of 30. After performing a penance for 84 days he was enlightened. He died at the ripe age of hundred years. He devoted the last 70 years of his life to the service of Jainism. Parsva Nath was not in favour of Yojnas or worship of gods and goddesses. He was also opposed to caste system and animal sacrifices and held that every person could attain salvation in spite of his caste.
He stood for an equal status for women in the religious sphere. In the main he insisted on four vows, non-injury to the living beings, truthfulness, non-stealing, and non-possession. He also established an organisation for preaching principles.
Mahavira was greatly influenced by the doctrine of Parsva Nath during his youth and became one of the reformers of this religion. He devoted his life to the popularization of Jainism in Magadha and Anga.