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Festival of Fasting: Paryushan Parva

Published: 01.09.2003
Updated: 02.07.2015

According to Jain tradition, among the 12 types of penances, the first four

  • anashan (fasting),
  • unodari (eating less),
  • vritti-sankshepa (selective eating) and
  • rasa-parityaga (taste-selection)

are particularly good for health.

Fasting is more than mere abstinence from food. US scientist Selton says: “Food intake leads to accumulation of toxicants in the body which adversely affect health”. Fasting is one way of getting rid of toxic subs-tances from the body since it provides rest to the digestive system. A faulty digestive system can have a negative effect on the functioning of the respiratory system, leading to breathing problems.

Those who cannot fast, should practise unodari, that is, eat less than what is needed to satisfy one’s hunger. It is a proven fact that by eating less, one can lead a healthy, long life. Continuously stuffing the stomach is the cause of many illnesses - it can even reduce one’s lifespan. Unodari is not less important than fast- ing. Temperance in eating is a very important formula for good health.

Having one meal a day is a good way to minimise food intake - Ekabhattam Cha Bhoya-nam. Restraint in eating was the main component of Mahavira’s self-mortification. A controlled diet helps us conserve energy. The vital energy, prana urja, is produced around the navel. It is called the samana-prana in Hatha Yoga. The navel is the centre which produces the vital energy. That energy is reduced in persons who overeat. Over-eating and constipation have a close connection because food does not get digested as it should. This leads to other problems like sleeplessness, depression and restlessness. Bhagvan Mahavira explained in the language of his times that the food intake of a healthy person consists of 32 morsels. Eating a couple of morsels less means unodari.

The third way of penance that is good for health is vritti-sankshepa. The number of items to be eaten can be limited in many ways - you can decide not to eat more than five items; to avoid certain foods or not eat on certain days. You could opt to eat only at select places. Vritti-sankshepa gives protection against many illnesses.

The fourth way to maintain health is to avoid eating foods of a certain taste. Or stagger their intake on different days. The body would be strengthened by maintaining such a balance and will facilitate the ejectment of toxicities from the body.

Once these four ways of penance are followed, you might never need a physician. But there are other factors that are responsible for illnesses like the atmosphere, season, bacteria, virus, resistance etc. Fasting and eating less are more beneficial than over-eating. This leads to saving vital energy, and conserving stren-gth. Several other penances like navakarasi, paurushi, purimaddha, ekasana, and 10 pratyakhyanas are practised in the Jain tradition. All these are ways of saving the vital energy. According to Ayurveda, food is digested best after 10 a.m. when the bile’s function becomes more effective.

Acharya Hemachandra wrote in the Yogashastra Astangate Divanathe that the digestive system becomes less active after sunset. The sun is the greatest source of energy. Systems of vital physical energy remain active only because of the sun. As the sun sets, all these systems become sluggish. Food eaten after sunset is not conducive to health.

Temperance in eating, regular regimen to facilitate ejection of toxicities and following a timetable for fasting are three ways of maintaining good health in the Jain tradition. Following a balanced diet alone is not enough - internal cleansing and fasting are also important for good health. For this, we have to practice both fasting and eating.

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Hemachandra
  3. Anashan
  4. Ayurveda
  5. Body
  6. Ekasana
  7. Fasting
  8. Hatha Yoga
  9. Hemachandra
  10. Navakarasi
  11. Prana
  12. Unodari
  13. Yoga
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