RITUALS AND FESTIVALS
Jainism has a very rich life of
rituals and festivals. It is important to remember that these are not simply
empty shows but they have a significant meaning for the benefit of the
participant as well as viewers. The rituals should imprint the religious
principles onto the peoples minds forever. Many events of Mahavira's life are
acted out frequently in the symbolic form and the symbols, actions, words and
images unite to bring the message of Mahavira to the Jain followers.. For many
people to whom the more complex aspects of religious philosophy are a closed
book, the rituals provide a direction, a focus for the expression of devotion
to the Tirthankara. The worships with the deep concentration and pure thoughts
free of violence and harm disperse the accumulated karmas from the soul.
The rituals are interwoven with
the daily life of a pious Jain. Spreading the grain for the birds in the
morning, filtering or boiling the water for the next few hours' use are ritual
acts of charity and non-violence. Samayika, the practice of equanimity,
translating to meditation, is a ritual act undertaken early in the morning and
perhaps also at noon and night. It lasts for forty-eight minutes (Two Ghadis -
one-thirtieth part of the day, an Indian unit of time) and involves usually
not just quiet recollection but also usually the repetition of routine
prayers. Pratikramana should be performed in the morning for the repentance of
violence committed during the night, and in the evening for the violence
during the day and additionally on certain days of the year. During this, the
Jain expresses remorse for the harm caused, or wrong doing, or the duties left
Worship before the Jina idols,
bowing to the idols, and lighting a lamp in front of the idols is an ideal way
to start the day for many Jains. More elaborate forms of worship (puja), as
described, is a regular daily ritual usually done in the temple. The
worshipper enters the temple with the words 'Namo Jinanam' 'I bow to the Jina',
and repeats three times, 'Nisihii' (to relinquish thoughts about worldly
affairs). The simpler surroundings of the household shrine can als provide a
suitable setting. The members of some sects of Jainism donít believe in
worship of the Jina image. They believe in meditation and silent prayers.
Worship, or puja, can take many
forms. The ritual bathing of the image (Snatra Puja) is symbolic to the
bathing of the newborn Tirthankara by the gods (celestial beings). A simple
symbolic act is to touch one's forehead with the liquid used to bath the idol.
Bathing the idol also takes place during the Panch Kalyanak Puja, a ritual to
commemorate the five great events of the Tirthankara's life, namely
conception, birth, renunciation, omniscience and moksa. Antaraya Karma Puja
comprises a series of prayers to remove those karmas which obstruct the
spiritual uplifting power of the soul. A lengthy temple ritual which can take
three days to complete is the Arihanta Puja, paying respect to the arihants.
There is a ritual of prayer focused on the siddhachakra, a lotus-shaped disc
bearing representations of the arhat, the liberated soul, religious teacher,
religious leader and the monk (the five praiseworthy beings), as well as the
four qualities namely perception, knowledge, conduct and austerity to uplift
It must be said that there is a
narrow dividing line between the symbolism and the superstition. Some people,
claiming to be rational, dismiss all the ritual acts as superstitious. That is
to a big misunderstanding. The Jina idols have no miraculous powers but the
splendor of the temple, the beauty of the words and chants, all help the
worshipper towards a reverent state of mind. Some people can do without these
external props but others should not scorn those who value them.
In India the solar (European)
calendar is generally used for the business and government matters but
religious festivals are usually dated according to the lunar (Indian)
calendar. This calendar is quite straightforward but, as it is based on the
phases of the moon, dates are not always the same from year to year as in the
The serious Jain layman fast,
more or less completely, and undertake other religious practices on many
auspicious days throughout the year. As many as ten days in a given month are
observed for the fasts by the pious Jains (though others may observe a lesser
number). The first day of the three seasons in the Indian year is also of
special sanctity. Twice a year, falling in March/April and September/October,
the nine-day Oli period of semi-fasting is observed when Jains take only one
meal a day, of very plain food. Maunagiyaras falls in November/December when a
day of complete silence and fasting is kept and meditation is directed towards
the five holy beings, monk, teacher, religious leader, arhat and siddha. This
day is regarded as the anniversary of the birth of many of the Tiirthankaras.
Mahavira was born most probably
in the year 599 B.C. and the exact date is given in the scriptures as the
thirteenth day of the bright half (i.e. when the moon was waxing) of the month
of Chaitra. In the solar calendar this will fall in March or April. The
festival to commemorate this, known as Mahavira Jayanti, is an occasion for
great celebration. Jains gather together to hear Mahavira's message expounded,
so that they can follow his teachings and example. The dreams of his mother
before his birth may be dramatically presented and the circumstances of his
birth, as narrated in the scriptures, explained to the assembled people. The
idol of Mahavira is ceremonially bathed and rocked in a cradle. In many places
the processions take place through the streets with the image having the place
of honor, and in some regions in India this is a general public holiday.
The Paryusana Parva is the most
important festival for the Jains. This is the eight-day period during which
many Jains fast and carry out the religious activities. This period falls in
the months of Sravana and Bhadra (August or September). During the rainy
season in India Jain monks stop walking from one town to another and settle in
a fixed location with the purpose of reducing the injury to the living things
now springing to life. Often a township invites respected monks to stay in its
vicinity during the rainy season (sometimes with a beautifully written
manuscript invitation) and the people receive them with great pomp and
rituals. A course of lectures or sermons by a monk or other respected person
is a regular feature of the Paryusana Parva.
The word Paryusana is derived
from two words meaning (gada) Ďa yearí and Ďa coming backí. It is a period of
repentance for the acts of the previous year and of austerities to help shed
the accumulated karmas. It should be remembered that the austerity is not just
to shed of the karmas, but to control the desire from the sensual pleasures as
a part of the spiritual training to prevent the accumulation of the new
karmas. During this period some people fast for the all eight days, some for
the lesser periods (a minimum of three days is suggested in the scriptures),
but it is considered obligatory to fast on the last day of the Paryusana Parva.
Fasting usually involves complete abstinence from any sort of food or drink,
but some people do take boiled water during the daytime.
There are regular ceremonies in
the temple and discourses of Kalpa Sutra (one of the sacred books) in the
Upashraya during this time. Kalpa Sutra contains the detailed account of
Mahavira's life, is read to the congregation. On the third day of the
Paryusana 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
auspicious dreams of Mahavira's mother, queen Trishala, are demonstrated.
Listening to the Kalpa Sutra, taking active steps to prevent the animal
killing, asking and offering forgiveness to all living beings, visiting the
neighborhood temples, etc. are some of the important activities during this
The final day of Paryusana is
the most important of all. On this day those who have observed the fasts are
specially honored. This is also the day when Jains ask for forgiveness to the
family, friends and foes alike for any acts they might have committed towards
them in the previous year. Therefore this annual occasion of the repentance
and forgiveness is very important.
Shortly after Paryusana it is
the custom to organize a Swami Vastyalaya dinner when all the Jains get
together and renew their friendship with each other regardless of their
Diwali or Deepawali is the most
important festival in India. For the Jains, it is the second most after the
Paryusana Parva. For Jains Diwali marks the anniversary of Mahavir's moksha.
Mahavir attained moksha on this day 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 Ashvina, the end of the
year as per Indian calendar (in October or November), The celebration starts
in the early morning of the previous day, for it was then that Mahavira
commenced his last sermon which lasted till late in the night of Diwali. It is
narrated that the 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 lighting of the lamps. Hence it is called Dipawali, (dipa
means lamp), or Diwali.
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 Panchami, the day of knowledge, when the scriptures, which
impart knowledge to the people, are worshipped with devotion.
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
All in this world are my
I have no enemies.
Khamemi savve jive,
Sawe jiva khamantu me;
Mitti me sawa bhuesu,
Veram majza na kenai.