Jain Festivals (Parva) & Jain Pilgrimage (Teerth yatra) - (A) Festivals

Posted: 08.07.2008
Updated on: 09.06.2015

Jain Festivals (Parva) & Jain Pilgrimage (Teerth yatra)

Both festivals and pilgrimages are the events / activities which provide us an opportunity to break the monotony of routine daily life and do things differently so that we get refreshed and move forward in life with greater enthusiasm. Jain philosophy being highly spiritual; emphasizes these events to expedite the purification of soul and attain bliss ultimately. Hence its festivals and pilgrimage aim to give its followers a deeper insight into the path of spiritual purification. To encourage the laities in observing these events as per the Jain sacred literature, its ācāryas have enumerated umpteen benefits like social, cultural, religious and philosophical accrued by the practitioner as a result.

So jayai jeņa vihiāsańvaccharacāumāsidha supavvā,
ņińda dhayāņa jāyai jasa mahāpāu dhammamai

Nemicandra Bhańdari Upadeśasidhańta Ratnamala 26

Hail those great monks and ācāryas who have established the celebration of festivals like sańvatśiri, aştanika, daślakşaņa etc due to which even the down trodden and condemned people become religious.

We shall briefly review these two important aspects of Jain rituals here.

 A. Festivals

Festivals are the occasions / events in our life which break the monotony of our daily routine life and invigorate us with new energy and thinking so that we can enjoy life and prepare ourselves to achieve our long-term objectives. These are the occasions when we get away from the ordinary and do extra-ordinary things. If we analyze our life sans festivals, we shall find that life is boring and without charm. Thus a festival is an occasion when we get out of the routine, take stock of our life, and learn new things or do undertake activities for long term forward movement of our life. Festivals are thus catalysts to provide a new direction, a new inspiration and look into life and world at large. When we observe festivals of a community, we can learn about its culture, its make up, objectives and principles propagated.

Every community has its own festivals and ways of celebrating them. Festivals are an integral part of human life in all societies in general and Jains in particular. Most of the communities think of acquiring new worldly objects, cleaning and decorating their dwellings, enjoying sumptuous foods, merry making etc to celebrate festivals. Since Jain philosophy aims at attaining the ultimate i.e. state of BLISS and eternal existence in that state; its festivals aim at taking its followers away from the worldly pleasures and bring them back to the path of spiritual purification for moving forward to attain BLISS.

The underlined theme of Jain thinking is, ‘We have been going through millions of birthdeath- birth cycles since beginning-less time and will continue to do so until we understand the nature of soul and give a turn to our knowledge and way of life to attain the pure soul state.’ Thus festivals for Jains are the opportunities to enhance their spiritual beliefs by shedding wrong beliefs (mithyātva), learning more about their religious practices and enhancing their conduct to be closer to the stated right conduct in the scriptures. True celebration of festivals for Jains implies enhancing self-control (sańyama), giving up sensual pleasures, knowing and experiencing more about pure soul.

 1.0 Peculiarities of Jain festivals

Jain religion is based on spiritual purification to attain its pure state. Thus in reality they aim at self-improvement. Accordingly its festivals have the following peculiarities:

a. Spiritual purification

It is the primary objective of Jain festivals. Therefore they try to minimize the four passions (anger, deceit, pride and greed) by adopting the three jewels i.e. right belief-knowledge and conduct. They practice nonviolence, non-stealing, speaking truth, non-possession and celibacy. Fasting, meditation, prolonged worshipping in the temples, reading holy texts and listening to the religious discourses by monks and scholars, donating money, food etc, giving up some normal foods or habits to attain greater self control and visiting holy places and people are some of the activities undertaken for enhancing spiritual purification.

b. Preaching right conduct

Self control, equanimity are the two principles taught by and practiced by Jains during festivals as against merry making and enjoying worldly pleasures by others. Association with monks, temples, pious laity and performing religious rituals enforce right conduct in us. Giving up, rather than acquiring more worldly wealth is the hallmark of Jain festivals. Similarly by being simple and renouncing worldly comforts, we develop equanimity with others and eliminate the discrimination between rich and poor etc.

c. Experiencing own nature and detachment.

We experience pain in our life all the time due to failures in our mission, separations, sickness etc. We try to find ways and means to minimize these pains. Festivals are the important occasions whereby we are exposed to such experiences and lessons from our holy people who have attained BLISS. Jainism believes in duality of existence i.e. living and nonliving beings. Living beings in pure state are endowed with infinite vision-cognition-bliss and energy so that they can experience these forever. Pain is due to the association of pure soul (living being) with non-living beings (karmas). Hence we learn the science of detachment of karmas from soul to attain pure soul status and experience our own nature as indicated by its four attributes above.

d. Others

Festivals also provide an opportunity for the community to know each other, take up community projects and understand each other better. Similarly celebrations of festivals provide a platform to all to present their knowledge, artistic skills, wealth and other attributes for the good cause of all and contribute to the propagation of Jain philosophy and culture. For example when we go on pilgrimage or to a celebration, we have no other occupation on our mind but to enhance our religious, cultural and social knowledge and skills.

2.0 Types of festivals

There are two types of festivals namely:

  • Eternal (nitya): i.e. those festivals that are being observed forever. They have no beginning. They can be also further sub-classified as those being observed annually / quarterly / fortnightly or daily.
  • Event oriented (naimittika) i.e. those festivals, which are associated with some event. These events are normally the five life stages (kalyāņakas i.e. conception, birth, renunciation, attaining omniscience and attaining salvation) of 24 tīrthańkaras or spiritual preachers of Jainism; significant events like removing the obstacles experienced by monks or religious people; creation of Holy Scriptures or building a new temple etc. These are mostly annual festivals.

Out of the 24 tīrthańkaras, only the birth and mokşa or salvation days of Bhagavāna Mahāvīra are celebrated as major festivals. We shall now look at some examples of both types of festivals of Jains. Some ācāryas have also classified festivals as auspicious and inauspicious. Most of the festivals we talk here fall in the category of auspicious only.

2.1.1 Eternal: Paryuşaņa / Dasa Lakşaņa

This is the most important (often called as mahāparva) of all Jains. Literally it means getting rid of or controlling / suppressing passions (anger, deceit, greed and pride) and sensual pleasures. All sects of Jains celebrate this festival with greatest enthusiasm, even though their timings and the reasons are slightly different. These occur three times a year i.e. after every four months (why?) but the one in the Hindi month of Bhādra (August-September) is the one considered most auspicious and celebrated with all vigor and activities. These days i.e. eight for Śvetāmbara and ten for Digambara are the most potent days for religious activities and spiritual purifications.

Śvetāmbara Jains believe that the end of third time period (period of enjoyment and no work) and beginning of fourth time period (period of less enjoyment and some work), the power of the wish-trees (kalpa) was diminishing. On the eighth day of the Hindu month Āşādha (declining fortnight) they saw simultaneously the red sun going down in the west and the full moon rising in the east. They got scared and went to their king (kulakara) who explained to them the meaning through the sermon of putting effort to get their wishes satisfied. The next day was taken as the first day of the new time period i.e. 4th time period of the declining epoch i.e. karmayuga.

Digambaras on the other hand consider the end of declining epoch (avasarpiņi) and beginning of utsarpiņi epoch. The first ten days of this transition see the end of fierce rains of fire etc and the beginning of normal rains of water, milk etc. The earth has vegetation growing and the remaining 72 couples (human beings) hiding in the caves come out and start inhabiting the earth again, i.e. they heave a sigh of relief and start leading normal lives. They celebrate this event for ten days to commemorate the beginning of human settlement in comfort.

Since Jains believe in continuous cycles avasarpiņi and utsarpiņi epochs; we say that they are eternal i.e. had been, are being and will always be celebrated.

Śvetāmbara Jains celebrate this parva from 12th day of the dark fortnight of Bhādra till fourth day of the bright fortnight of Bhādra month and call this festival as Samavatsiri. Digmabara Jains celebrate it as Dasa Lakşaņa from 5th day of the bright fortnight of Bhādra till 14th day of the same fortnight. They have one chapter of Tattvārathasutra taught to them every day. Also there are lectures on ten dharmas/ commandments, one each day by scholars or monks. The Jains keep fasts, from half day to the entire period depending on their willpower and capacity, go to the temples and perform pujā, listen to the sermons from monks etc. There are plays, story telling and other religious activities. On the last day, invariably every Jain donates hefty amounts of money for religious cause of their choice. Digambara Jains take out processions on the last day and have community lunch etc. A day after the last day is celebrated as the Day of Forgiveness when every one seeks forgiveness from one and all for the pains or miseries caused by them.

2.1.2 Eternal: Aşţānikā

Digambara Jains celebrate this festival every year for eight days in the months of Kārtika, Phālguna and Āşādha i.e. after every four months, from the eighth day to fourteenth day of the bright fortnight. It is said that angels with the right vision leave their kingdoms and go to Nandiśwara Island having 52 natural Jain temples and 5616 Jain idols to perform worship of siddhas. Human beings cannot go to Nandiśwara Island and hence build a replica of Nandiśwara Island in the temple and perform mass pujāof the siddhas for eight days to earn good karmas and hence good luck. Śvetāmbara Jains also celebrate it accordingly.

2.1.3 Others

There are other eternal celebrations, like 8th and 14 day of every fortnight for Digambara Jains; for Śvetāmbara Jains 2nd and 10th day when they keep fasts and spend the day in the temples. These occasions are known as Proşadhopavāsa. Similarly every day in the early morning and late evening, Jains do perform pujāor sāmāyika to start and end the day properly. If we study these festivals deeply, we shall see their relevance to the karma theory and the ethical postulates of Jains.

2.2.1 Event oriented: Akşaya trityā

It is an annual festival celebrated on the third day of the bright fortnight of the month of Baiśākha. Bhagavāna Ādinātha, the first tīrthańkara of Jains did not take any food for the first six months (?) of his monk hood, as no body knew how to offer food to the monks. It is said that he reached Hastināpura where King Śreyansa, through the remembrances of his earlier lives, knew how to offer the food and hence offered sugarcane juice properly to Ādinātha. He accepted it and then taught the laity the manner and the importance of giving food to the monks. Since then this day is celebrated as a festival, especially at Hastināpura. Lot of Jains keep extended fasts prior to this day, then go with their family to Hastināpura and let the new members of the family offer them sugarcane juice so that the tradition of offering food to the elders in the family continues.

2.2.2 Event oriented: Śruta pancami

After the emancipation of Lord Mahavira, the Jain canonical knowledge in the form of twelve limbs was getting lost due to the declining memory and laxity of conduct of the monks. So Ācārya Dharsena, around 1st century BC, while meditating at mount Girnāra in Gujarat and having partial knowledge of the most difficult and detailed twelfth limb, called Drişţivāda or Jain philosophy, felt that this knowledge may even get either lost or distorted after his death. So he called two most intelligent monks from South India, taught them all the knowledge he had and asked them to compile it in the form of a book so that it could be available to everybody in unchanged form. These two monks, known as Puşpa Dant and Bhootbali completed this canonical text, known as şaţkhandāgama of Digambara Jains, on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the month Jyestha. Since then this day is celebrated as Śruta pancami by Digambara Jains.

2.2.2 Event oriented: Diwali

This is the festival, known as festival of lights and all communities in India celebrate it. Indians celebrate Diwali like Christmas is by Christian. However we find little mention of this festival in Hindu literature even though they say that Lord Rāma, after defeating King Rāvaņa of Lanka and completing fourteen years of exile returned to Ayodhyā. The people in Ayodhyā celebrate his return by lighting their homes etc.

The Jain canonical literature and religious stories narrate this festival at great length. On this day, i.e. the last day of the dark fortnight of the month Kārtika, Bhagavāna Mahāvīra attained Nirvana and his principal disciple Indrabhuti Gautam attained omniscience. Jains consider Mokşa or Nirvana as the biggest wealth to be attained. Accordingly on that night Jains saw the town Pāvāpuri (in modern Bihar) lit by the divine light. Since then they burn earthen lamps and perform pujāof the two states i.e. ultimate wealth Nirvāņa and ultimate knowledge omniscience. Over the period of time, Hindus replaced these virtues by their own goddesses Lakşmi for wealth and Ganeśa for knowledge.

Jains start the day by going to the temple, worshipping Bhagavāna Mahāvīra and offer laddus, perform pujāat home or their business establishment, offer gifts to their family members and business associates and start new books of accounts etc. They decorate their home; make a special place for pujāwhere photo or replica of Bhagavāna Mahāvira and His religious conference (samośaraņa) is made using toys, statues of kings, animals and the holy pedestal. They also lighten up their homes and establishments as a mark of their happiness.

2.2.3 Mahāvīra Jayanti

13th day of The Hindu month Caitra bright fortnight is the day celebrated as the birthday of Bhagavāna Mahāvīra. The day starts with group pujāof Bhagavāna Mahāvīra, followed by exchange of pleasantries, community lunch etc. A procession of Bhagavāna Mahāvīra’s idol is taken with pomp and show through the streets to spread his message of non-violence, holding seminars on the life and teachings of Bhagavāna Mahāvīra later on. Similarly 11th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Sāvana, the day when Bhagavāna Mahāvīra’s first religious congregation and delivery of sermons  omniscience took place, is celebrated as Vīra Śāsana day i.e. the day when his teachings started benefiting the common human beings.

2.2.4 Event oriented: Rakşā bandhana

The story goes that King of Ujjain had four principal ministers who were strong critics of Jainism. They had to accompany the king to pay obeisance to a group of Jain sādhus visiting Ujjain. The sādhus were observing silence. So the four ministers started debating various Jain tenets with the sādhus who did not respond at all to their questions. To take revenge of their insult, they went at night with their swords to kill the sādhus. When they started to kill the sādhus, through divine grace, they were frozen to a standstill position. In the morning when the king went there, he felt highly insulted and threw all the four ministers out of his kingdom. All the four went to Hastināpura. There they got appointed to different important places by the king. One day, the king became happy with their work and gave them a boon of being the king for seven days. By chance the same ācārya with 700 sādhus visited Hastināpura. On knowing this, the ministers organized a major yajňa where human beings had to be sacrificed. Knowing this, one of the sādhus who had special divine powers, disguised him as a dwarf Hindu monk went to the ministers and asked for donations of three steps of land for worship. Seeing the small size of the monk, they granted his wish. So in first step the dwarf monk covered the entire country and was about to take the second step; when the ministers were shocked and begged forgiveness from the dwarf monk. So the fire put around the seven hundred sādhus was set aside and they were saved of their life. From that day onwards, this day is celebrated as Rakşā bandhana, the day when sisters primarily tie a thread around the fist of their brothers and seek a promise that they will protects them in times o difficulty.

2.2.5 Event oriented: Death or mŗtu mahotsava

Jain literature is abundant with details as to how a laity should die. Death is described as a special event when the soul sheds its old cloths (body) and acquires the new body as per the karmas it has accumulated. Hence the emphasis is on developing full detachment with all worldly things, including family and body, concentrate on the self and the virtues of pure soul so that the soul peacefully leaves the old body and acquires a good body for further purification. We shall review this separately as a full paper in details but the main activity is welcome death with open arms and voluntarily and happily shed the old body contemplating on pure soul status.

3.0 Conclusions

We thus see t//hat Jains celebrate their festivals primarily for the purification of their souls from the kārmika bondage. They do so by prolonged worships, keeping fasts, giving up some of their daily non essential habits, donating part of their wealth for the benefit of others and acquiring more knowledge from the their holy teachers and sādhus. However, today due to the social pressures and celebration of festivals by masses belonging to other religions/ faiths, the method of celebrating festivals by Jains is also changing. In all these we clearly see the importance being given to others than to one’s own benefit i.e. we believe and get involved in so called exhibitionism.


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