Mahavir Jayanti or Mahavir Janma Kalyanak is the most important festival for members of the Jain religion. It celebrates the birth of Mahavira, the last Tirthankara (Teaching God) of the present epoch.
Before Mahavira was born, his mother Queen Trishala had either 14 or 16 auspicious dreams, all signifying the arrival a great soul. Mahavira was born into Ikshvaku dynasty as the son of King Siddhartha of Kundagrama. King Siddhartha ruled in Ganarajya (the kingship was unusual in that the king was chosen by vote).
According to tradition, Mahavira was born in a place called Ahalya bhumi where an area has not been ploughed for hundreds of years as this is believed to be the exact spot of his birth. Mahavira’s birth coincided with a period of increased wealth for Ganarajya, so he became known as 'Vardhamana', which means "One who grows".
To celebrate Mahavira’s birth his statue is placed in a chariot and becomes the focal point of a procession called rath yatra. As the procession progresses, bhajans (religious rhymes) are recited. During the celebrations Jains are expect to engage in charitable activities such as making donations to the poor or to animal welfare charities (Jains are strict vegetarians and ensuring animal welfare is an important part of their faith). Many Jains will visit temples to meditate, offer prayers and listen to lectures by monks and nuns on this special day.