Article: Candanbālā

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

The Candanbālā Fast

White-clad nuns from the Aṅcala-gaccha sect receive alms from lay women. Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak monks and nuns beg alms twice a day. Finding suitable alms that are correctly offered may take hours.

Lay women give alms to nuns
Image by Khetshi N. Shah © Khetshi N. Shah

The involuntary fast Candanbālā undergoes in her life story has inspired a three-day fast among Śvetāmbara Jains. Just as Candanbālā does, the faster offers alms to an ascetic before breaking her fast. At this point the faster usually re-enacts the binding of Candanbālā and her offering of the lentils to the mendicant. The Candanbālā Fast is performed only by women, who choose to do it because many Śvetāmbaras believe that, as well as reducing karma, it enhances beauty and is an auspicious fast for attaining a good marriage.

The Candanbālā Fast involves three days and nights without eating. Fasters can only drink boiled water and that only during daylight hours. The defining feature of this Jain fast is the offering of alms before the fast is broken. After the mendicant has been offered boiled black lentils as alms, the faster then ends the fast by eating the same kind of lentils.

In practice, the fast-breaking of the Candanbālā Fast involves some degree of acting out the Candanbālā story. Usually the lentils are offered to a mendicant by the faster from the corner of a winnowing fan. Customarily, the faster's hands or feet are tied together to symbolise Candanbālā's chains. The faster is often dressed in white as well. The dramatisation of the story might include full-length dance-dramas, the building of a hut from which Candanbālā comes out to feed the mendicant or real chains to bind the faster's hands and feet.

Effects of the Candanbālā Fast

Jains consider the Candanbālā Fast to be effective in lessening karma, as with all fasts. Only women undertake this fast, partly because it is widely believed to make the faster more beautiful, enhancing her hair especially. This increased beauty is seen as an asset in making a good marriage and the Candanbālā Fast is often named as a suitable fast for ensuring successful marriage agreements.

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