Major Figures: Lord Mahavira, Acharya Tulsi, & Shree Chitrabhanu


Lord Mahavira

The twenty-fourth Tirthankara Mahavira was born around 599 BCE in northeast India as Prince Vardhamana, the son of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, who is said to have had many auspicious dreams during her pregnancy. According to Jain tradition, Mahavira was placed in the queen’s womb by Indra, the king of the Vedic gods. Mahavira was allegedly so dedicated to nonviolence that he did not kick in his mother’s womb, in case he caused her pain.

According to one tradition, Mahavira was a life-long bachelor. But others believe that he married a princess called Yashoda, who bore him a daughter named Anoja. At age 30, Prince Vardhamana left the palace to live as an ascetic, renouncing material comfort and devoting himself entirely to meditation. He wandered naked, lived only on what little food he received as alms, spent most of his time in silence and frequently stood totally still with his body like a statue. During his travels, the Prince encountered great tribulations, as people mocked and ridiculed him. For example, when he was meditating, villagers are said to have treated him miserably to make him leave:

Once when he [sat in meditation], his body unmoving, they cut his flesh, tore his hair, and covered him with dirt. They picked him up and then dropped him, disturbing his meditational postures. Abandoning concern for his body, free from desire, the Venerable One humbled himself and bore the pain.

After 12 years he reached enlightenment and became a great teacher, with the new name Mahavira. His first message after this is found in a Buddhist text, the Majjhima Nikaya:

I am all-knowing and all-seeing,

and possessed of an infinite knowledge.

Whether I am walking or standing still,

whether I sleep or remain awake,

the supreme knowledge and intuition

are present with me- constantly and 


Mahavira began to teach others, including eleven Hindu Brahmins, who one after the other heard of this new teacher and came to challenge him in debate. They were all converted by Mahavira’s wisdom and explanation of the Vedas and became his main disciples. Founding a large community of Jain monks and nuns, Mahavira molded Jainism into its current form. He organized his followers into four groups: monk, nun, layman, and laywoman. The group as a whole became known as the Jains. Mahavira died at the age of 72 at the town of Pava in Bihar, India, and is said at this point to have broken the bonds of karma and attained moksha, release from the cycle of death and rebirth. His senior disciples took over leadership of the movement, and by the 5th century CE the Jains were an influential force within India.



Acharya Tulsi

Acharya Tulsi (1914-1997) was a prominent Jain religious leader. He is known as the founder of the Anuvrat Movement and the Jain Vishva Bharti Institute and is also well renowned for his spiritual writings. Tulsi was initiated into monkhood at age 11. In 1936, Tulsi was nominated to be the successor of Kalugani, the eighth Acharya of the Terapanth Sangha. During his leadership, Tulsi initiated over 750 monks and nuns.

In 1949, the Anuvrat Movement was begun by Acharya Tulsi to enlist people of all faiths and nationalities to commit themselves to anuvrats (“small vows”). He developed these to help people rejuvenate strong moral standards of self-restraint in the midst of ethically unhealthy society. The small vows include these: to avoid willful killing of any innocent creature, to refrain from attacks and aggression and to work instead for world peace and disarmament, to avoid discrimination on the basis of caste or race, to eschew religious intolerance, to avoid false business and political practices, to limit acquisition of possessions, to eschew addictive substances, and to avoid wasting water or cutting down trees.

In 1995, Tulsi renounced his own position as the leader of his order by installing Acharya Mahapragya as his successor. His self-description is an indication of the internal qualities which keep Jain faith alive:

I am an ascetic. My asceticism is not bound by inert rituals… I follow a tradition, but do not treat its dynamic elements as static. I derive benefit from the scriptures, but do not believe in carrying them as a burden… In my consciousness there is no bondage of “yours and mine.” It is free from it. My spiritual practice is not to “worship” the truth, but to subject it to minute surgery. The only mission of my life is boundless curiosity to discover truth… It is not an external accoutrement. Like a seed it is sprouting out of my being. 

In the 1970’s, Tulsi conducted extensive research and compiled translations and commentaries on the Jain Agamas. He also sought to unify the Jain community, proposing harmonious cooperation among the various sects. As a result of his efforts, Samana Suttam, a religious text, was compiled and accepted by all sects.

Throughout his life, Tulsi received endless praise and recognition for his work. He won countless awards/honors, including Title of Yug Pradhan in 1971, Bharat Jyoti Award
Vakpati Award, and The Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1993. On 20 October 1998, the vice-president, Krishna Kant, created an Indian commemorative three-rupee postage stamp of Tulsi. Kant said that Tulsi “gave a new and contemporary direction to the high ideals of Jainism.”

Attached below, please find a video clip of a song led by Acharya Tulsi at one of his sermons.



Shree Chitrabhanu

In the 20th century, Jainism was carried to the outside world by several teachers. One of them, Shree Chitrabhanu, was a monk for twenty-nine years, who walked barefoot over 30,000 miles of Indian soil to teach Jain principles to the populace.

He was a prominent figure in American Jainism.Born on July 26, 1922, Chitrabhanu was raised in the Pali district of Rajasthan, India. As an adult, he went on to study psychology at Banglore and eventually became a Jain monk at the age of 20.

As an adult, he was invited to address the Temple of Spiritual Understanding Summit Conferences in Switzerland and the United States in 1970 and 1971. However, Jain monks are traditionally not permitted to travel overseas. His controversial decision to attend in person marked the first time in Jain history that a Jain monk had traveled outside of India. He was forced to give up his monkhood to attend the Summit, eventually becoming an ordinary shravaka. In 1971, he married a woman name Pramoda, and the couple had two sons, Rajeev Chitrabhanu and Darshan Chitrabhanu. He later established Jain meditation centers in the United States, Brazil, Canada, Kenya, the United Kingdom, and India, helping to further the spread of his religion. Under his guidance, a federation of all Jain associations termed JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations in North America) was founded which became an overarching organization with more than 100,000 members. For his unprecedented journey to bring the Jain tradition of ahimsa to the Western Hemisphere, Chitrabhanu received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award.

Photo Citations:

Lord Mahavira. Photograph.

Acharya Tulsi. Photograph.

Shree Chitrabhanu. Photograph.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s