The Great Ashtanika Festival

Dinesh – Brother Jinesh, will you like to chew beetle-leaves ?

Jinesh – No.

Dinesh – Why ?

Jinesh – You don’t know this is the eighth day of the second half of Kartik month. The great Ashtanika festival begins today.

Dinesh – So what? Festivals are for eating and drinking. On festivals people eat good things, put on good dresses and live at ease. And you…………. ?

Jinesh – This is not a festival of enjoyments, it is a religious festival. People live with abstinence, worship the Lord and indulge in discussions over the nature of the self. It is a festival for the pursuit of the soul. The purpose of religious festivals is to develop feelings of detachment from worldly affairs.

Dinesh – Why is this festival called Ashtanika ?

Jinesh – The festival is observed for eight days and, therefore, it is called Ashtanika.

Dinesh – Is this observed for eight days of Kartik only ?

Jinesh – Yes, it falls in Kartik every year, but it is celebrated thrice every year. Heavenly beings go to Nandeeshware Island on the last eight days each of Kartik, Fagun and Ashad. We celebrate it here from the eighth day of the second fortnight of Kartik, Fagun and Ashad, thrice in a year. We cannot go to Nandeeshwar Island and, as such, worship our deities with reverence here only.

Dinesh – Where is Nandeeshwar Island ?

Jinesh – You have read the lesson on the Three Worlds. The Central World has countless islands and seas. This is the eighth island.

Dinesh – Why can’t we go there ?

Jinesh – The third Pushkar Island has a mountain named Manushottar. Human beings cannot go beyond that. Therefore, it is called Manushottar.

Dinesh – What is there that attracts the heavenly beings ?

Jinesh – There are fifty-two beautiful self-made Jain temples, where they come and engage themselves in pursuit of the soul by offering worship, adoration and indulging in religious discourses. Since we cannot go there, we arrange various religious performances here, in order to realise our souls.

Dinesh – Where and how do people celebrate this in our country?

Jinesh – The Jain community of the whole of India celebrates this great festival with great religious fervour. In many places religious ritual of Siddhachakra Vidhan is arranged. Scholars from outside come to speak on subjects of life and soul. In a way the whole community is under the influence of the religious atmosphere.

Dinesh – What is this Siddhachakra ? What is there in its text ?

Jinesh – Have you never seen and listened to it?

Dinesh – No.

Jinesh – The Siddhas are the completely liberated souls. Those who have shattered worldly bondage and developed Eternal Consciousness, Perception Sentience, Perfect Bliss and Perfect Potency, those that are bereft of the eight karmas, those that are free from the bondage of attachments and aversions and those that stay on the border line of this world in countless numbers are the Siddhas and their collective existence is called Siddhachakra. In the ritual we worship and glorify the Siddhas. In the last verses of adoration (Jaimala) are included religious teachings beneficial to the progress of the soul, which deserve understanding.

Dinesh – Jaimalas contain adorations only ?

Jinesh – Yes, there are adorations, and along with path of liberation of the soul is shown and also how the Siddhas attained that state of psychic bliss.

Dinesh – Can you explain me the meaning of the text ?

Jinesh – No, when the ritual is arranged and scholars from outside come to deliver discourses, we should understand the meaning of the text from them.

Dinesh – What is the good of their worship and adoration ?

Jinesh – We can understand from their nature that our own souls are also of pure and unblemished nature, and we can also attain eternal omniscience and bliss by following their foot-prints. After Dashlakshan this is the second great festival of the Jains.

Dinesh – I have learnt that leprosy is cured by the worship of the Siddhas. It is said that Shripal and seven hundred of his companions were cured of leprosy with this only. His wife Maina Sundari arranged the ritual of the Siddhas, sprinkled holy-water over these patients and they were completely cured of the dreadful disease.

Jinesh – To limit the glory of Siddhachakra to the cure of leprosy alone is to minimise its greatness. Leprosy is only a physical ailment, while the ailments of the soul are attachments, aversions and delusions. If we regard our souls as those of the Siddhas and absorb ourselves in them, we can cure the great diseases of birth and death, as well as attachments, aversions and delusions.

The real effect of the adoration of the Siddhas is the development of detachment from worldly affairs, because they themselves are completely detached. The real devotee of the Siddhas does not desire worldly gains from their worship. Still then he attracts meritorious karmas and worldly pelf and pleasures come his way of their own, but he does not attach any importance to them.

Dinesh – I thought festivals are meant for enjoyment alone, but I have understood today that religious festivals are for developing detachment, abstinence and pursuit of the self. I shall also lead a life of abstinence during this period and shall try to realise my soul.

Dr. H.C. Bharill