Chapter 31 – Jain Festivals and Celebrations
Jainism has a rich tradition of rituals and festivals. Jain rituals and festivals emphasize the spiritual aspects of Jainism. During Jain festivals, many events of Lord Mahävir’s life are acted out in symbolic form to bring out the message of Lord Mahävir in a simpler way. Rituals and festivals involve the practice of Jainism as well as revitalization and strengthening of our beliefs in Jainism. The Jain festivals are known as Parvas. The word “Parva” means auspicious day.
Paryushan Mahä Parva:
Paryushan Parva consists of eight days per Shvetämbar tradition and ten days per Digambar tradition. It starts on twelfth or thirteenth day of the dark half of the month Shravan. The month of Shravan is in the monsoon season. Jain monks and nuns do not stay at one place more than a few days during non-rainy season. Monsoon showers and torrential rains, however make it impossible for the monks to travel across the country. This coupled with the principle of Ahinsä or non-violence, make it difficult for them not to trample on and squash insects and other forms of life that emerge in the monsoon. According to our scriptures, the last of Paryushan Parva known as Samvatsari day is celebrated on 50 th day of the monsoon season. Monks and nuns must settled during this time period and remain at that place for the remaining Monsoon season of next 70 days.
Meaning of Paryushan
The word “Paryushan” has several different meanings:
1. Pari + Ushan = all kinds + to burn = to burn (shed) our all types of Karmas. To shed our Karmas, we do twelve different types of austerities including fasting.
2. Another meaning of “Ushan” is to stay closer. To stay closer to our own soul from all directions and to stay absorbed in our own-self (soul), we do Swädhyäy (self-study), meditation, austerities,
3. Pari + Upashamanä = Upashamanä means to suppress, to suppress our passions (Kashäyas – anger, ego, deceit and greed) from all directions.
Therefore, the real purpose of the Paryushan is to purify our soul by staying closer to our own soul, to look at our own faults, to ask for forgiveness for the mistakes we have committed, and take vows to minimize our sins. We should try to forget about the needs of our body (like food) and our business so that we can concentrate on our soul during Paryushan.
Recitation of Kalpa Sutra
Per Shvetämbar tradition, there are regular ceremonies in the temple and discourses of Kalpa Sutra (one of the sacred books) in the Upäshray during this time. Kalpa Sutra, which contains a detailed account of Mahävir’s life in addition to the lives of other Tirthankars. It is read to the Jain congregation by Guru maharaj. On the third day of the Paryushan Parva, the Kalpa Sutra receives a very special reverence and may be carried in the procession. On the fifth day at a special ceremony, the replicas of auspicious dreams of Mahävir’s mother, queen Trishalä, are exhibited to the people, which are then honored by them. Listening to the Kalpa Sutra, among others are the most important activities that should be performed by Jain during Paryushan. Scripture define that Shrävaks and Shrävikäs should perform following five essential activities during Paryushan.
1. Amäri Pravartan (Spread the message of non-violence)
2. Attham Tap (Fast for three consecutive days)
3. Chaitya Paripati (Go for a visit and prayers to different Derasars in town in group)
4. Swami Vätsalya (Honor and respect fellow Jains)
5. Kshamäpanä (Extend and ask for forgiveness by performing Pratikraman)
Samvatsari or Day of Forgiveness
The final day of Paryushan, called Samvatsari, is the most important of all. This is the day when Jains perform Samvatsari Pratikraman and ask for forgiveness to family, friends and foes alike for any wrongful acts they might have committed towards them during the year. Therefore this annual opportunity of repentance and forgiveness is very important. Many perform different penances and austerities during the days of Paryushan day these individuals eight are specially honored.
To ask for forgiveness is probably the most difficult thing to do. Therefore, our great Ächäryas have said: “Kshamä Virasya Bhushanam, Kshamäväni Michchhämi Dukkadam” To ask for forgiveness is a great quality of the brave ones and if I have committed any mistake, knowingly or unknowingly, I ask for your forgiveness.
There are several great aphorisms (Sutras) to ask for forgiveness with the unity of the body, speech and mind, and one of them is as follows:
Khämemi Savva Jiva, Savve Jiv Khamantu Me
Mitti Me Savva Bhuesu, Veram Majjham na Kenai.
I forgive all the living beings of the universe,
May all the living-beings forgive me for my faults.
I do not have any animosity towards anybody, and
I have friendship for all living beings.
The process of shedding our Karmas really begins by asking for forgiveness with true feelings, and by taking vows not to repeat mistakes. The request for forgiveness requires humility (Vinay – absence of ego) and elimination of hatred.
Dash Lakshana Mahä Parva
Digambars celebrate the festival known as DASH LAKSHANA MAHÄ PARVA (Festival of Ten cardinal virtues) for ten days starting a day after the last day of Shvetämbar Paryushan. “
What are these cardinal virtues which Digambars Jains celebrate during this festival?
Shaucha (content – absence of greed)
Sanyam (restraint of all senses)
These cardinal virtues are the inherent qualities of a soul. They are various forms of right conduct. The practice of observing these virtues is not limited to one particular religion or sect only. They belong to the universal faith. The results of observance of these virtues are equally beneficial to all mankind and not only to a follower of the Jain faith only.
- Forgiveness (Kshamä):
Kshamä means forgiveness – forbearance. This means not to allow anger to rise and in case it does, then to render it ineffective through internal power. For cultivating forbearance, five ways have been suggested:
(a) by way of considering whether or not the cause of anger lies in oneself
(b) by way of considering the harm that follow from an angry mood
(c) by way of considering the childish nature of the offender concerned
(d) by way of considering the whole affair to be a consequence of one’s own past karma
(e) by way of considering the merits of forbearance
Total lack of anger with a state of equanimity is defined as the supreme forgiveness. “Forgiveness is the virtue of the brave and not a coward”
“KSHAMÄ VIRASYA BHUSHANAM”
Forgiveness is the virtue of the brave
Anger is the greatest enemy of the soul and it is the root of all evils. Real forgiveness comes from within, without any feelings of reward. To forgive because of respect for elders and upbringing is not the highest kind of forgiveness, it is merely good behavior.
- Humility (Märdava):
Lack of pride, selfishness or ego is humility. Pride is the attitude of a superiority complex. Flattery is the main cause of pride. To show humbleness because of poverty or weakness is meekness, lowliness and not a true humility. To accept what one is, is humility. A person should understand the difference between self-respect and pride and not confuse them.
- Straightforwardness (Ärjava):
Lack of cunningness or a fraudulent attitude is defined as simplicity or straightforwardness. Only a weak person will resort to deceit, because he is afraid of being caught. To hide his deceit, he will resort to further deception. There is no synchrony between the thoughts, speech and actions of a cunning person. He thinks one thing, says something else, and acts absolutely in a different fashion.
- Contentment (Shaucha):
Lack of greed is contentment. Greed is a desire to possess. Greed is the one of the root causes of all sins. Greed is as dangerous as anger for the spiritual welfare of a person. It is the strongest vice and the last one to conquer, persisting almost to the end of the spiritual path of purification. With eradication of greed, the soul is practically passionless. Contentment is the highest and purest of all the virtues.
- Truthfulness (Satya):
Lack of falsehood is truthfulness. Truthfulness for most people means not to lie. Absolute truth is in knowing the thing as it is, and not just to differentiate bad from good.
6. Self-Control (Sanyam):
Control over violence caused by thoughts speech or physical means against all living beings and control over worldly pleasures is the true definition of self-control. Self-control can lead to liberation.
7. Austerity (Tapa):
Austerity or penance is the repentance of one’s sins. It is the fire, which burns and reduces the forces of karmic dust to ashes. Austerities are of two kinds: a) the external types, which consist of physical restraints and, b) the internal types, which deal with mental purification.
- Renunciation (Tyäg):
Renunciation is defined as giving up possessions, both internal and external. Charity should not be mistaken for renunciation. Charity means giving up things, which belong to you. It is done for the benefit of the recipient. Renunciation, on the other hand, does not need a donor. It is primarily done for the benefit of self. There is no need for a second or third party as in charity.
- Detachment (Aparigraha, Äkinchanya):
A lack of possessions is detachment. External possessions are wealth, house, etc. Internal possessions are attachment, aversion and desire. To lack in internal possessions is the ultimate virtue.
- Celibacy (Brahmacharya):
Absolute restraint from all sensual pleasures by mind, speech, and body is the ultimate celibacy.
One must always remember that the powers of the sense organs are limited to recognizing the outer world and mundane knowledge, not the real inner self. Self-realization is the mother of all the supreme virtues. Without it, virtues are not supreme but mere acts of good behavior and still the cause of bondage.
Mahävir Janma-Kalyänak (Mahävir Jayanti):
This is the birth anniversary of Bhagvän Mahävir. We celebrate this day in various ways At present the birth event is celebrated by expressing Bhagvän Mahävir’s message through cultural activities like play, songs, and dances. This day reminds us the supreme compassion of Bhagvän Mahävir and the path to liberation he has preached. There is no universally acceptable consensus on the exact date of Bhagvän Mahävir. According to the Digambar tradition, Lord Mahävir was born in the year 615 B.C, in the city of Vaishäli. However most scholars and Shvetämbars believe that He was born in 599 B.C. In the city of Kshatriya kunda in Lachhavad district. On this day we get together to hear Mahävir’s message expounded, so that we can follow his teachings and example. According to the Indian calendar, it was the thirteenth day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra. He was the son of Siddhärtha and Trishalä. The expectant mother had fourteen auspicious dreams per Shvetämbar tradition (sixteen per Digambars) before the child was born. Astrologers interpreting these dreams stated that the child would be either a supreme king or a Tirthankar.
Diwäli is the most important festival in India. For Jains, Diwäli marks the anniversary of the attainment of Moksha by Mahävir-swami in 527 BC. The festival falls on the last day of the month of Ashvin, the end of the year in the Indian calendar. But the celebration starts in the early morning of the previous day as Lord Mahävir commenced his last sermon (final discourse known as Uttarädhyayan), which lasted until the night of Diwäli. At midnight, he soul left his body and attained liberation, Moksha. Eighteen kings of northern India were present in his audience at the time of His final sermon. They decided that the light of their master’s knowledge should be kept alive symbolically by lighting of lamps. Hence it is called Deepävali or Diwäli, (Deep means a lamp and avail means series or multiple). But the light of Lord Mahävir’s knowledge cannot be kept alive by just lighting the lamps. That is an external approach. Realistically, we should light up our internal lamps – awaken our inner vision by practicing the path preached by Lord Mahävir. As a traditional Diwäli lamp needs a clay bowl, oil, and cotton wick. The inner lamp needs the right faith, right knowledge, right conduct and right Tap (austerity). External lamps needs oxygen while internal lamp needs self-effort. The resolution to adopt the practice of good conduct is the way to celebrate the Diwäli. Some fast for two days as Lord Mahävir did. Some people recite “Shri Mahävir Swami Sarvajnäya Namah” on every bead of the rosary (108 beads in one rosary) first followed by 19 rosaries of reciting “Shri Mahävir Swami Päragatäya Namah” on each bead. In brief, Diwäli is for enhancing the spiritual wealth.
From a social aspect it is celebrated in traditional Indian fashion by greeting and offering sweets to family, friends and neighbors. Jain businessmen would close their accounts for the year and perform a simple Pujä for the new account books.
Lord Mahävir’s chief disciple, Indrabhuti Gautam, had not been able to overcome his attachment to his master and that prevented him from achieving Kevaljnän. The barrier was only broken after a period of grief over his master’s Nirvän. He at last managed to achieve the highest degree of non-attachment, which enabled him to attain the stage of omniscience, the full enlightenment, in the early morning of the first day of the New Year. The Jains begin the New Year with a prayer of Guru Gautam Swämi; and listen with devotion to the nine Stotras (Nav-smaran) and the auspicious Räs (epochal poem) of Gautam Swami. Some people fast for three days including New Year’s day. The real wish should be “may the whole year be filled with realistic Dharma, intellectual serenity and equanimity”.
Bhäi Bija (Festival day for brothers):
King Nandivardhan, the brother of Bhagawän Mahävir was in great sorrow due to the Nirvän of Mahävir. His sister Sudarshanä took him to her house and comforted him. This happened on the day after New Year’s day. This day is observed as Bhäi Beej. This festival is like Raksha Bandhan. On the day of Raksha Bandhan, the sister goes to the brother and ties the Raksha; but on this day, the sister invites her brother to her house to show her respect and love for him.
Jnän Panchami (The holy day for worshipping knowledge):
Jnän Panchami is the name given to the celebration that takes place on the 5th day of the first month of the Indian calendar year. This day is designated for the worship of pure knowledge. On this day, the scriptures, which impart knowledge to the people, are worshipped with religious devotion by offering Väskshep (sandalwood powder). Swädhyäy, meditation, and Pratikraman are also carried out on this day. Moreover, the books preserved in the religious libraries are cleaned and refurbished as may be necessary. To pay respect to educational material, notebooks,pens, pencils etc. are offered during Pujä.
Twice a year, falling in March/April (Chaitra) and September/October (Ashwin), the nine-day Oli period of semi-fasting called Äyambil is observed by taking only one meal a day of very plain food (without any spices, salt, milk, oil, butter, fruits or vegetables). It is observed to meditate upon Pancha Paramesthi, Jnän, Darshan, Chäritra, and Tapa, which are collectively known as Navapad. The importance of Navapad is preached by the sermons given during these days. King Shripal and Mayanasundari were ardent devotees of Navapad.
It falls on the eleventh day of the bright half of the month of Magshara during November/ December when a day of complete silence and fasting are observed and meditation is directed towards the Tirthankars whose various Kalyänaks (auspicious life events) fall on this day.
This yearlong austerity (Tapa) consists of fasting every other day followed by only one or two meal on the next day. This yearlong austerity signifies the event in the life of our first Tirthankar who did not get Gochari (alms) for one year after his initiation (Dikshä).
Mastaka Abhisheka (The Head Anointing Ceremony):
Perhaps the most famous example of Pujä performed on a grand scale in Jainism is the Mastaka Abhisheka (head anointing) ceremony held every twelfth year in Shravanbelgola. This honors the spiritual hero Bähubali, who is represented by a colossal fifty seven-foot image carved from rock nearly a thousand years ago. Thousands of Jains of both traditions come to pay homage during the several weeks during which the celebration goes on; Bähubali thus receives the kind of adoration otherwise reserved exclusively for Tirthankars. The image depicts Bähubali as standing erect, free of clothing and immersed in deepest meditation. For the period of the Mastaka Abhisheka, temporary scaffolding is built behind the huge statue, terminating in a platform just atop the head; thus the faithful can anoint Bähubali in the proper manner, by pouring various sacred substances (such as purified water and sandalwood paste) over the statue from above. The festivities associated with this ceremony continue for several weeks; participation in them is said to bring great merit and perhaps to make possible the experience of Samyag Darshan (Right perception) itself.