Article: Akṣaya-tṛtīyā

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Hindu tradition

Akṣaya-tṛtīyā is still a date in the Hindu religious calendar and is considered to be especially auspicious for making religious donations. Thus there is a common element in the understanding of both religious traditions.

On the other hand, the name Akṣaya-tṛtīyā is not found in early non-Jain inscriptions, except for one doubtful case, which could date back to the fourth century. In Hindu historical documents, the term Akṣaya-tṛtīyā is mentioned more regularly from the 12th century onwards.

Thus the celebration of this day in both faiths is probably the result of social interactions and mutual influence over the centuries.

Festival practices

Women chanting hymns in the temple. Singing hymns of praise to the Jinas is one of the main elements of worship and is a crucial part of most religious ceremonies.

Women singing hymns
Image by Dey – Dey Alexander © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Celebrations of Akṣaya-tṛtīyā focus on replicating the key ritual of fast-breaking, which has two parts – the ending of the varṣītap fast with the faster's accepting alms. This rite is likely to have been central from the earliest times, since the strong elements of commemoration found in Jain festivals mean that today's practices are probably very similar to what happened in the past.

The course of events of Akṣaya-tṛtīyā broadly follows the normal routine of Jain festivals. For example, this rare report of the festival, referring to 12 May 1948, states in general terms:

Akṣaya-tṛtīyā is observed as a sacred day by all Jains. It is spent in worship, meditation, spiritual studies and religious discourses

The Jaina Gazette
volume 45, number 6, June 1948, page 55

Listening to the tale of the event that the festival marks is a key part of Jain holy days. Regularly accounting for religious practices and sharing tales of faith help bind together a community, refreshing religious devotion and cultural and social unity.

The other elements of the routine during Akṣaya-tṛtīyā are:

  • making donations and offering gifts to the tapasvīs – those who observe the varṣītap fast – while in turn they offer alms to monks
  • going to the temple to worship Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha's image and sing hymns of praise, often ones specially composed for the end of the varṣītap.

Making a pilgrimage is a growing aspect of this festival. Ending the fast on Akṣaya-tṛtīyā has traditionally been celebrated in a temple dedicated to Ṛṣabha, often a local temple. However, travelling to one of the major Ṛṣabha temples in Shatrunjaya and Hastinapur for Akṣaya-tṛtīyā has become increasingly popular over the last half-century.

Re-enacting the key event

Whether mendicants or lay people, Jain devotees reproduce the mythical event of alms-giving in two stages. By copying Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha's fast and also the breaking of it, they identify with the Jina himself.

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