Class 6 History

New Questions and Ideas: Mahavira & Ashrama System

Life of Mahavira

Mahavira came at the same time as Buddha. He was the 24th tirthankar of the Jainism. Mahavira was a kshatriya prince of the Licchavi. He belonged to the Vajji sangha. When he was about 30 years of age; he left his home. He roamed in forests in pursuit of the ultimate truth of life. He lived a lonely and tough life. After spending a long period of 12 years of hardships; Mahavira attained enlightenment.

Preaching of Mahavira

Mahavira too preached in prakrit. The use of the language of the common people helped in making a better connect with the common people. The followers of the Jainism had to live a simple life. They had to do begging for food. A jain had to be absolutely honest. He must desist from stealing. The followers of Mahavira had to observe celibacy, i.e. the person was not allowed to marry. Men had to give up everything; including clothes.

It is obvious that sticking to the rules of Jainism was very difficult for most of the people. In spite of that, thousands of men and women left their homes to become followers of Mahavira. Many others supported the monks and nuns and provided them with food.

The trading community made the largest supporter base for Jainism. But for farmers, it was not possible to follow the rules because farmers needed to kill pests for improving crop production.

Jainism spread to different parts of north India and to Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. For many years; the teachings of Mahavira and his followers passed down orally through generations. About 1500 years ago, they were composed in written form. They are presently available in that form at Valabhi in Gujarat.


Mahavira and Buddha arranged for sanghas where their followers could stay together. A sangha was an association of those who left their homes. Both Mahavira and Buddha believed that leaving one’s home was must to find the ultimate truth.

The rules for the Buddhist sanghas are contained in a book called Vinaya Pitaka. Some of the rules are as follows:

Life in the Sangha

People living in a sangha had to live a simple life. Most of the time was spent in meditation. The members of a sangha could go to the cities or villages for begging for food. There was fixed timing for begging. They were known as bhikkhus and bhikkhunis (which are the Prakrit words for beggars).


The Jaina and Buddhist monks travelled from one place to another; spreading the preaching of the enlightened ones. But traveling was not possible during rainy season. Hence, they had to stay at some place during rainy seasons. Many of their supporters built temporary shelters in gardens. Many monks also lived in natural caves in hilly areas. With gradual elapse of time, many monks and their supporters felt the need for a permanent shelter. So, monasteries were built for them. These monasteries were called the Viharas. Rich merchants, landowners and kings donated land and money for building the Viharas. Initially, the Viharas were made of wood. Later on, they were made of bricks. Some monasteries were built in caves; especially in the western part of India.

The System of Ashramas

Around the same time, the Brahmins also developed a new system of ashrama. As per the ashrama system, life was divided into four stages or four ashramas. They are as follows:

  1. Brahmacharya: This stage encompassed the early years of life. During this stage, a person was supposed to lead a simple life and study the Vedas.
  2. Grihastha: This stage began at the beginning of adulthood. During this stage, one was supposed to marry and lead a domestic life. He had to take responsibilities of a family.
  3. Vanaparastha: During this stage, one had to live in the forest for meditation.
  4. Samnyasa: During this stage, one had to renounce everything.

The ashrama system was made for Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. Women were not allowed to study the Vedas. Women could not choose a particular ashrama. Women had to follow the ashrama as per the husband’s stage of life.