Jainism: Lord Mahavira is often credited with the advent of Jainism in India. However, Jainism existed even before Lord Mahavira was born. He is supposed to be the twenty-fourth (last) Tirthankara according to the Jain philosophy. A Tirthankara is an enlightened soul who is born as a human being and attains perfection through intense meditation. Born as Vardhamana Mahavir, he later came to be known as Bhagvan Mahavir.

Lord Mahavira was born in the royal family of Bihar near Patna in what is now Bihar state in 599 B.C. His father was King Siddhartha and mother Queen Trishala. Mahavira was called Vardhamana and also ‘Jina’ meaning the big winner and from this name was derived the name of the religion. In many senses Jainism is similar to Buddhism. Both developed as a dissension to the Brahmanic philosophy that was dominant during that period in north-east India. Both share a belief in reincarnation which eventually leads to liberation. Jainism is different to Buddhism in its ascetic beliefs. Both these religions emphasize non-violence, but non-violence is the main core in Jainism.

Jains believe that life breathes through every thing: stones, sand, trees etc. Mahavira who believed that every thing has life and also believed in non-violence nearly died due to self-induced starvation. After years of hardship and meditation he attained enlightenment; thereafter he preached Jainism for about 30 years. Once he realized this knowledge, he traveled to the remotest places in India preaching whatever he had learnt. All through his wandering, he was barefoot and refrained from eating too often. His simple living and high morals attracted believers from all walks of life, which included kings, paupers, priests and untouchables. His teachings were based on the concept of self-realization for ultimate attainment of Moksha. He taught people how to gain freedom from misery, pain and the cycle of birth and death. Lord Mahavira was known to be omniscient, which means he knew everything about past and future. Mahavira was also extremely ascetic and walked around completely naked because of his renouncement of life.

He died at Pava (also in Bihar) in 527 BC. Currently, 0.5% of India's population are Jains.