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 undone.
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 the soul.
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 solar calendar.
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
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 time.
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 socio-economical status.
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 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.