Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions
Mahavira's Teachings
The Early Centuries of Jainism
Jainism In Indian History
Jainism Enters The Modern Age
Doctrines of Jainism: Part 1
  Doctrines of Jainism: Part 2
  The Jain Path In Life: Part 1
  The Jain Path In Life: Part 2
  Daily Practices and Recitations
  Rituals and Festivals
  Pilgrimage and Sacred Places
  Jainism and Other Religions

Rituals and Festivals


Paul Marett

Diwali is a most important festival in India and in Jainism it is second only to Paryusana. For Jains Diwali marks the anniversary of the attainment of moksa by Mahavira at the end of his life on earth in 527 B.C. (and also of the achievement of total knowledge, omniscience, by his chief follower, Gautama Indrabhuti). The festival falls on the last day of the month of Asvina, the end of the year in the Indian calendar (in October or November), but the remembrance starts in the early morning of the previous day, for it was then that Mahavira commenced his last sermon which was to last until, late in the night of Diwali, he left his earthly body and achieved liberation. It is narrated that eighteen kings of northern India who were in his audience decided that the light of their master's knowledge would be kept alive symbolically by the lighting of lamps. Hence it is called Dipavali, from dipa, a lamp, or Diwali. Mahavira's chief disciple, Gautama, had not been able to overcome his attachment to his master and this had prevented his achieving enlightenment. The barrier was only broken after a period of grief when he at last managed that highest degree of non- attachment which allowed him to reach the stage of omniscience, enlightenment.

Jains celebrate the two days with religious fervor: some fast for two days as Mahavira did. Others celebrate Diwali in traditional Indian fashion. Diwali itself is a great day of celebration with sweets and presents for the children, and of course the lights which mark this day throughout India. On this day too, a Jain businessman will make up his accounts for the year and a simple ceremony of worship is held in the presence of the account books. The New Year begins the next day and is the occasion for joyful gatherings of Jains, with everybody wishing each other a Happy New Year. The fifth day of the New Year is known as Jnana Pancham, the day of knowledge, when the scriptures, which impart knowledge to the people, are worshipped with religious devotion.

The best-known prayer of the Jains has already been mentioned and is given in full in the previous chapter. This is the Panca Namaskara, the formula of obeisance to the five categories of great beings, arhat, siddha, religious leader, teacher and monk. It is often known as the Namaskara Mantra ('mantra' means a religious formula or prayer). The Namaskara Mantra, repeated perhaps seven or eight times, will be the first prayer of the Jain on getting up in the morning and the last before going to bed at night. It commences temple and private rituals and is used as a focus for meditation by many people (who may count the repetitions on a rosary of 108 beads). Every Jain will learn this prayer in childhood and it will stay with him or her all through life. Another noble prayer translates as follows:

Let the whole cosmos be blessed,

Let all beings be engaged in one another�s well-being,

Let all weaknesses, sickness and faults be diminished and vanish,

Let everyone everywhere be blissful and peaceful.

It will be learned, of course, in the original tongue, so that all Jains, whatever their own language, can understand it:

Shivmastu sarva jagatah,

Parahita nirata bhavantu bhutaganah,

Doshah prayantu nasham,Sarvatra sukhi bhavatu lokah.

It is impossible in the space available to describe all the rich variety of Jain rituals and festivals. Ceremonies attend the diksa or initiation of a monk, the consecration of a temple or the installation of an idol. The last two, temple consecrations or idol installations, are crowded and exciting affairs marked by prayers and rituals and hymns and chants. Lay people bid excitedly for the privilege and merit of taking the leading parts and large sums may be raised for the work of the temple by this means. (Money raised in this way must be used only for temple building and renovation: funds for other purposes like meetings or dinners or meditation halls are raised and accounted for separately.) Jainism has no priests as such though sometimes Hindus of the priestly Brahmin caste may perform ceremonial functions for the Jains. Monks and nuns take an important part in some ceremonies (and they are, of course, active as religious teachers). But it is very noticeable that the Jain laity, both men and women, take a most active part in all aspects of religious life, including the rituals in the temples or elsewhere.

Let us end this chapter with the Jain prayer of forgiveness. Jains seek forgiveness, not from an almighty god, but from those living beings they have harmed.

I forgive all living beings,

Let all living beings forgive me;

All in this world are my friends,

I have no enemies.

Khamemi savve jive,

Sawe jiva khamantu me;

Mitti me sawa bhuesu,

Veram majza na kenai.