Jainism has a very rich life of rituals and festivals.
It is important to remember that these are not simply empty play- acting
but all have a deep significance which is of benefit to the participant or
onlooker. The rituals should fix the mind on the great religious truths:
the individual should seek to understand the deep meaning expressed in the
quiet or crowded and colorful rituals. The events of Mahavira's life are
repeated frequently in symbolic form and the symbols, actions, words and
images, unite to bring the Jain follower's mind and spirit into an
understanding of, and union with, the life and message of Mahavira. For
many people to whom the more abstruse aspects of religious philosophy are
a closed book the rituals provide a direction, a focus, for the expression
of devotion to the Tirthankara. The devotee worships with his or her mind
concentrated and pure, free from violence and harm, and in a condition to
disperse the accumulated karma from the soul. The rituals are not, of
course, only for simple and unlettered people, but they bring together
those whose learning gives them an understanding of the deepest
significance of the rituals with those content to lose themselves in the
quiet ecstasy of devotion.
The daily life of a pious Jain will be interwoven with
ritual acts. Spreading grain for the birds in the morning, filtering or
boiling water for the next few hours' use, these are ritual acts of
charity and non-violence. Samayika, the practice of equanimity, loosely
translated 'meditation', is a ritual act undertaken early in the morning
and perhaps also at noon and night. It lasts for forty-eight minutes (one-
thirtieth part of the day, an Indian unit of time) and involves usually
not just quiet recollection but also usually the repetition of ritual
prayers. Pratikramana should be performed in the morning in repentance for
wrongs committed during the night, again in the evening, and additionally
at certain points in the year. During this, the Jain expresses contrition
for harm caused, wrong done, duties left undone.
Worship before the Jina image has been described in the
previous chapter. Bowing to the image, and lighting a lamp before it, is a
fitting start to the day. More elaborate worship (pug), as described, is a
regular daily ritual, perhaps in the temple (which the worshipper enters
with the words 'Namo Jnanam' 'I bow to the Jina', and, repeated three
times, 'Nisihi' to relinquish thoughts about worldly affairs), but the
simpler surroundings of the household shrine can provide a suitable
Worship, or puja, can take many forms. The ritual
bathing of the image (Snatra Puja) is said to go back to the bathing of
the newborn Tirthankara by the gods (or heavenly beings, not gods in the
omnipotent, eternal sense). (A simple symbolic act is to touch one's
forehead with the liquid used to bathe the image . ) Bathing the image
also takes place during the Panch Kalyanak Puja, a ritual to commemorate
the five great events of the Tirthankara's life, conception, birth,
renunciation, omniscience and moksa. Antaraya Karma Puja comprises a
series of prayers to help to remove that karma which deludes and hinders
the soul. A lengthy temple ritual which can take three days to complete is
the Arihanta Puja, respect to the arihant (arhat) or omniscient souls, and
to a long sequence of other beings. 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 of perception,
knowledge, conduct and austerity.
It must be said that there is a narrow dividing line
between symbolism and superstition. Some people, claiming to be
'rational', will dismiss all ritual acts as superstitious. That is to
misunderstand their nature completely: the Jina image has no miraculous
powers. Ordinary life is full of rituals, from simple greetings to the
ritualized conduct of a public meeting. Religious rituals must not be seen
as an end in themselves: they express, in simple or elaborate symbolic
form, the individual's desire and intention to follow the example and
teaching of Mahavira. 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 they should not scorn
those who value them.
In India the European calendar is generally used for
business and government matters but religious festivals are usually fixed
according to the 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 European calendar based on the sun.
The serious Jain will fast, more or less completely,
and undertake other religious practices, on many days in the year. Ten
days in the month of the Indian calendar are kept as fasts by the pious
(though others may keep 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 Tirthankara.
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 Caitra. In the
European 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 image of Mahavira is ceremonially bathed and
rocked in a cradle. In many places 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. One custom associated with the
celebrations is to break a coconut at the end and distribute small pieces.
Paryusana is the most important period in the Jain
year. This is the eight-day period of fasting and religious activities
which falls in the months of Sravana and Bhadra (August or September).
During the rainy season in India Jain monks cease walking from one town to
another and settle in a fixed location with the purpose of reducing the
prospect of injury to the living things now springing to life. Often a
town will invite a respected monk to stay in its vicinity during the rainy
season (sometimes with a beautifully written manuscript invitation) and
the people will receive him with great pomp and rituals. A course of
lectures or sermons by a monk or other respected person is a regular
feature of Paryusana.
The word Paryusana is derived from two words meaning 'a
year' and 'a coming back': it is a period of repentance for the acts of
the previous year and of austerities to help shed the accumulated karma.
Austerity, it must be remembered, is not an end in itself, but the control
of one's desire for material pleasures is a part of spiritual training.
During this period some people fast for the whole eight days, some for
lesser periods (a minimum of three days is laid down in the scriptures),
but it is considered obligatory to fast on the last day of Paryusana.
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
meditation halls during this time and the Kalpa Sutra (one of the Jain
sacred books: 'sutra' means a religious book), which includes a detailed
account of Mahavira's life, is read to the congregation. On the third day
of Paryusana the Kalpa Sutra receives special reverence and may be carried
in procession to the house of one member of the community who has made a
generous donation in recognition of the honor, where it is worshipped all
night with religious songs. On the fifth day, at a special ceremony, the
auspicious dreams of Mahavira's mother before his birth are demonstrated.
Listening to the Kalpa Sutra, taking positive steps that living beings are
not killed (perhaps paying money to butchers to cease slaughtering),
brotherhood to fellow Jains, forgiveness to all living beings, visits to
all neighboring temples, these are the important activities at this time.
The final day of Paryusana is the most important of
all. On this day those who have observed the fast rigorously are sometimes
specially honored to encourage others to follow their example. This is
also the day when Jains ask forgiveness from family and friends for any
faults which they have committed towards them in the previous year. It is
regarded as a definite stage in the spiritual life not to harbor ill-will
beyond the space of one year so the annual occasion for repentance and
forgiveness is important. Shortly after Paryusana it is the custom to
organize a Swami Vastyalaya dinner at which all Jains are welcome and sit
together whatever their social position.