It came into prominence tinder the 24th Tirthankar Vardhamana Mahavira (540 B.C. to 468 B.C.)
According to Jaina tradition there were 24 `Tirthankara', the first Tirthankara was Rishabhnath who find mention in the Rigveda, Vayu Purana and Bhagwat Purana.
The twenty-third Tirathankara was Parsvanath, who was the son of the lkshvaku king Asvansena of Kasi.
Vardhamana Mahavira is the last Tirthankara.
He belonged to the Jantrika Kshatriya clan and was born at Kundagram in Vaishali.
His father's name was Siddhartha and mother's name was Trishala, who was the sister of the Lichchavi prince Chetak of Vaishali.
Mahavira was married to his cousin Yashoda.
He left home at the age of 30 and wandered for around 12 years.
His got `kevalya' (knowledge) at the age of 42 under a sal tree on the bank of the river Rejupalika near village Jimbhikagrama.
He died at Pavapuri.
At first Mahavira followed the practices of an ascetic group called the Nirgranthas (free from wants), which had been founded some 200 years earlier by Parsavanath.
Mahavira believed in the dualistic philosophy and held that matter and soul are the only two ever existing elements.
Five doctrines of Jainism are (i) Satya or do not speak lies (ii) Ahimsa or do not commit violence (iii) Aparigraha or do not own property (iv) Asetya or do not steal and (v) Brahmacharya or celibacy. Mahavira had added the last one; the earlier four were already in existence.
Mahavira's first discipline was Jameli.
The three jewels of Jainism are right knowledge, right faith and right action.
Jainism like Buddhism is fundamentally atheistic, though not denying the existence of gods, it refuses to give them any importance in the universal scheme of things and places them lower than Jina (the conqueror).
The world of the Jainas is not created, maintained or destroyed by any deity but functions only according to universal scheme of law and it is eternal.
Nayavada of Jainism states that reality can be approached from different viewpoints which are therefore relative, and knowledge cannot be absolute. Truth can therefore be affirmed only with a degree or probability which is called Syadavada in Jainism.
During Magadha famine in the reign of Chandragupta Maurya, some Jain Monks under Bhadrabahu migrated to Karnataka. Since then the southerners came to be called Digamber (the Sky clad) and the Magadha's Swetambar (the white clad).
According to Swetambars the original doctrine taught by Mahavira was contained in 14 old texts called `purvas' which was passed orally for 200 years.