Jainism is a minority religion in India. 

It is estimated that less than 1% of the Indian population are Jains. Across the globe, a minuscule number of people identify themselves as followers of the Jain religion.
Till 2014, the identity of Jainism was disputed, but now it is legally recognized as a distinct religion.

Mahavira is the most well-known teacher of the Jain tradition. He lived around the 6th or the 5th century BCE. 

According to Jain mythology, the entire universe has a cyclical nature, but the inner truth of Jainism is eternal, and holds true across all space, through all periods of time. Jain believe that each half-cycle of time produces 24 tirthankaras: human beings destined to become omniscient teachers who uncover the eternal truth formalized within Jainism. These teachings are intended to help all beings in the fundamental goal of life, which is to break free from cycles of birth and death. In Jain belief, Mahavira was the 24th tirthankara of our times. Mahavira and the 23rd tirthankara, Parsvanatha are considered historical figures. Gautama Buddha and Mahavira were approximately from the same time period.
The Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, but Jainism existed before Mahavira’s time. The history of Jainism before Mahavira’s time is not very clear.

Jainism and Buddhism are known as sramana religions. 

There used to be many sramana religions in ancient India, but only Jainism and Buddhism have survived till today. The teachers and followers of the sramana traditions were opposed to the Vedic religious ideas and practices, and especially challenged the role of brahmins and priests. One view within modern scholarship frames sramana traditions as a reform of Vedic religion. Another view frames sramana traditions to have formed as an alternative way of religious query within the Vedic context which directly challenged the Vedic status quo. However, these views are not fully settled.
The Jain view and the view of a small handful of scholars is that the sramana traditions represent a broad category of pre-Vedic religious tradition within the Indian subcontinent.

Jains had a strong focus on non-violence, and denounced the Vedic animal-sacrifice rituals. 

Instead, they emphasized a strong personal ethic and meditative practices as the means to attain the final liberation, or moksha. The Jain ascetics followed a very austere way of life, while brahmin priests could potentially have lives of material comfort. Even today, Jain ascetics have distinctly frugal lives.
Jainism also explicitly denounces the notion of a creator-god.

Jains believe that every being has a soul that is potentially omniscient and capable of attaining a state of absolute bliss. 

While Jainism does not believe in a creator god, it does mention nature spirits and heavenly and hellish beings. However, the souls of these gods and demons are no different from the souls of plants, animals, microbes, and humans. The soul is thought to undergo various experiences and reincarnations in heavens, hells, and earth, in accordance with the laws of karma. While karma can loosely be translated to refer to any thought, speech or action, it also has a more specific meaning. In the Jain worldview, karmas are particles which get attached to the soul and obscure its omniscient nature and also bind it to the world.
The shedding of all karmas from the soul leads to moksha, which is a final release from cyclical reincarnations.

Jains equate absolute bliss with absolute knowledge. Since knowledge has a great significance in Jainism, the Jain tradition has historically placed a great importance on teaching and learning. 

The Vedic brahmins typically restricted the teaching and learning of the sacred texts to Sanskrit, which was largely used by the uppercaste groups of society. Moreover, there was also a taboo against writing: Vedic texts were primarily transmitted in oral form. The Jains challenged both these ideas. Jain ascetics typically preached in Prakrit dialects, which were understood by all classes of people. Moreover, Jains also pioneered the writing of texts and mapped Prakrit dialects to Brahmi and Brahmi-derived scripts.
Access to knowledge in easy linguistic forms helped various social structures, and this made Jains quite popular across classes throughout the subcontinent for large periods of history.

In Jain belief, every being has a partial, conditioned view into absolute truth.   

This way of viewing the world is known as anekantavada, and this has enabled Jains to coexist with various groups of people and has helped tide through a number of different historical circumstances. The fable of the six blind men and the elephant is often used in the Jain context to illustrate the significance of multiple viewpoints, and over time has become a core understanding within popular Jainism. This notion also helps the various groups and subgroups of Jains coexist.
There are largely two broad sects within the Jain community: the Digambaras and the Svetambaras. Both sects share core beliefs and practices.

The most senior Digambara monks adopt nudity as a part of their spiritual practice, while the Svetambara monks drape themselves with in white robes. Nuns of both sects also wear white robes. 

There are other differences in specific beliefs and practices between these sects. Notably, the Digambaras believe that the entirety of the original Jain texts distilled from Mahaviras teachings have been lost; they believe that any surviving teachings form a small fragment that have been passed down in partial form through ascetic lineages. The Svetambaras feels that while there has been some loss and modification of the original teachings, large parts of the texts have essentially survived. Another key distinction is that the Digambaras believe that beings can only attain moksha when born into human male bodies, while the Svetambaras believe that beings born into human bodies with any gender-expression can attain moksha. The exact history of the formation of these sects are also a matter of debate, but it is likely that there was a recognizable split very soon after Mahavira’s time. A number of different other sects and subsects have emerged and disappeared through the course of history.
A reform movement within the Svetambara sect led to the formation of the Sthanakvasi subsect, and a reform movement within the Sthanakvasi subsect led to the formation of the Terapanthi subsect. There are a handful of other Jain groups which do not fit into these clear categories.

Though Jains are a tiny minority, they are and have historically been an extremely influential group. 

Historically, Jains of both denominations have formed a part of the gentry across India and have typically financed kings and ruling classes. Within the Vedic religion, the priestly classes were placed at the top of the caste hierarchy, which was not always ideal for social mobility for the others. Jainism challenged the rigid caste system and the overall philosophical ideas and social supremacy of the Vedic brahmins. Therefore, ruler and trader communities often converted to Jainism. Also, Digambara Jain communities often have had agricultural backgrounds; direct association with agriculture is taboo within some Svetambara Jain communities.
Even today, Jains form a backbone of the economic and political systems.

Throughout recorded history, the Jains have had an impact that may not be obvious from today’s perspective. 

Throughout the subcontinent Jain relics are found in large numbers. Even today, new digsites are often found to contain relics such as tirthankara idols as well as Brahmi inscriptions. It may be argued that the Buddha himself was influenced by Jainism. Also, non-violence as a practical way of life is also likely a product of Jain influence. Historically, Vedic religion included animal sacrifice and diet of Vedic people included a variety of meats. The association between non-violence—and hence vegetarianism—was and continues to remain a key aspect of Jainism.
The focus on vegetarianism amongst Indic religious groups is possibly a result of persistent Jain influence. Even Mahatma Gandhi’s politics was profoundly influenced by Srimad Rajchandra, a Jain thinker.

In today’s time, Jainism is in a difficult place because in the context of industrial civilization and malicious political and economic systems, meaningful non-violence is extremely difficult. 

On the other hand, for the first time in recorded history, Jainism is prominently present outside the borders of India. There are people of different nationalities who not only have been studying Jainism extensively, but individuals and groups have even converted to Jainism. On one hand, ecological destruction, climate change, and humanitarian crises are on the rise.  An interest towards ecological movements, sustainability and regeneration practices, and political movements are emerging in response to various systemic crises. Also, a certain kind of surplus created over the last two centuries has also fuelled and interest towards non-violence, veganism, and personal wellness. Expansion of cultures across boundaries have also proliferated meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practises. Some of these ways of life which align with the ethical principles of Jainism. Of course, we have to also question where some of these movements arise from and how effective they really are. From one perspective, we are becoming increasingly aware of the interconnected nature of life, and of the nature of consciousness of all beings. In another view, it is perhaps increasingly evident that the only way out is within ourselves.
Perhaps at this junction of history we must investigate a question closely: what is Jainism and how is it relevant today?