Article: Āyambil Oḷī

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Tale of Śrīpāḷ and Mayṇāsundarī

This manuscript painting shows three episodes in the colourful adventures of Prince Śrīpāla. A favourite Jain hero, Śrīpāla is closely connected with the worship of the navapada or siddhacakra, which aids him when he faces danger

Śrīpāla's adventures
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Jain ascetics often give the example of Śrīpāḷ and Mayṇāsundarī when they deliver a sermon on the siddhacakra. They concentrate on Mayṇāsundarī’s performance of the Navpad Oḷī Fast, which leads to the miraculous healing of Śrīpāḷ’s leprosy.

This narration echoes the preoccupation of the festival, which is marital happiness. It does not reproduce the structure of the epic – Śrīpāḷ Rājāno Rās – from which it is drawn, which includes many episodes tracing Śrīpāḷ’s adventures after he is healed.

Fasting

A Jain lay woman holds up her hands and bows her head in devotion. Jains do not ask for things when they pray. For Jains praying is always joyful and means reverencing the qualities and example of the Jinas

Woman praying
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

A major element of the twice-yearly Āyambil Oḷī festival is the fast, of which there are three types. Fasting is accompanied by a structured series of additional devotional and ascetic practices, including twice-daily confession, extensive temple worship focused on the siddhacakra yantra, recitation of the Navkar-mantra and study of the Śrīpāḷ and Mayṇāsundarī narrative.

Each day the participants gather for the better part of the afternoon to eat their single meal together, to study the story of Śrīpāḷ and Mayṇāsundarī and to perform the evening confession as a group. This sociability contrasts with the ascetic nature of these practices and, in this case, the tasteless food.

Generally, this fast is seen as a married women’s fast. While there are men who perform occasional, single-day āyambil fasts they virtually always do so at the behest of their wives. This almost imitates Śrīpāḷ’s performance of siddhacakra worship after his wife Mayṇāsundarī convinces him.

Types of fast

Within the Āyambil Oḷī fast complex, there are three related fasts. Each suggests varying degrees of commitment, but all are understood to aim at the shared goal of well-being of the family. The fasts differ primarily in terms of their length:

  • a single āyambil fast
  • the nine-day Āyambil Oḷī
  • the Navpad Oḷī, which is a series of nine āyambil olīs.

An āyambil fast is a one-sitting fast involving the eating of only tasteless foods. It is therefore more of a restriction on diet than a fast as it is generally understood. The fact of the lack of taste, of course, makes the austerity of an āyambil fast substantially greater than a one-sitting fast of regular food.

Āyambil fasts are predominantly performed during the biannual nine-day Oḷī festival, but are also performed on those days where fasting is a requirement for Jains. Many mendicants take nearly constant āyambil vows. Lay Jains will sometimes take an āyambil vow so that mendicants can receive alms at their house.

Oḷī means ‘a line’ and the Āyambil Oḷī fast is a line of nine days of āyambil fasts performed back to back during the Āyambil Oḷī festival.

The Navpad Oḷī is a series of nine consecutive nine-day Āyambil Oḷīs performed during the spring and autumn Āyambil Olī festivals. This results in 81 days of āyambil fasting over four and a half years.

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Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images

  • Siddhacakra

    Siddhacakra

    British Library. Or. 13622. Vinaya-vijaya and Yaśo-vijaya. 17th to 18th centuries

  • Double homage and preaching

    Double homage and preaching

    British Library. Or. 13622. Vinaya-vijaya and Yaśo-vijaya. 17th to 18th centuries

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