Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting
Āyambil Oḷī refers to both a twice-yearly festival and the fast associated with that festival. The nine-day festival takes place in the spring and autumn and is marked by a fast for the length of the festival. Daily activities are a feature, especially sermons in the autumn Āyambil Oḷī.
Strongly connected with married women, the Āyambil Oḷī festival revolves around the veneration of the siddhacakra and the story of Śrīpāḷ and Mayṇāsundarī. Jains believe that the fasts and associated rites foster happiness in married life and good health for all the family, particularly regarding preventing and healing skin diseases.
Each year the Āyambil Oḷī festival falls in the spring during Caitra bright 7 to 15 and in the autumn during Aso bright 7 to 15. The autumn festival is celebrated by more people, in part because at that time of year Jain mendicants frequently stay near local communities during the rainy season retreat.
Principal themes of the Āyambil Oḷī festival are marital happiness and the good health of all the family. It focuses on religious practices and goals associated primarily with married women, such as the practice of fasting. Therefore it is almost exclusively married women who take part in and concern themselves with this festival.
The Āyambil Oḷī festival is strongly linked to the narrative of Śrīpāḷ and Mayṇāsundarī, the worship of the siddhacakra yantra and the recitation of the Navkar-mantra. Sermons on each of these elements are characteristic of the festival, particularly in the autumn.
The siddhacakra yantra is a symbolic representation of the nine things worthy of worship in the Jain tradition. Each of the nine days of the festival is strongly related to one of the nine points on the siddhacakra. Mendicants often structure their sermons to reflect on the particular part of the siddhacakra being venerated on that day. For example, the first position is Arhat – the enlightened ones – and the sermon on that day might focus on the nature of the arhats.
The siddhacakra is the visual form of the Navkar-mantra. Most Jains recite this mantra daily and it is considered a key Jain religious practice. If there is a mendicant in residence, he will give a daily sermon about the power of the Navkar-mantra and retell the Śrīpāḷ and Mayṇāsundarī story.
Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Grain or pulses cooked in water with salt, eaten once a day as part of dietary restrictions, especially among Śvetāmbaras.
Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history.
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.
A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.
An extraordinary event that cannot be explained by natural causes or human effort and therefore is believed to be caused by divine or supernatural powers.
Sanskrit for 'homage formula', the Namaskāra-mantra is the fundamental religious formula of the Jains. A daily prayer always recited in the original Prākrit, it pays homage to the supreme beings or five types of holy being:
Note that chanting the mantra is not praying for something, material or otherwise. Also known as the Pañca-namaskāra-mantra or 'Fivefold Homage mantra', it is also called the Navakāra-mantra or Navkār-mantra in modern Indian languages.
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.
The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.
The most common mystical diagram – yantra – in Jainism, which is believed to destroy karma and bring prosperity and good luck. There are nine parts, usually arranged in the shape of a lotus flower. The Five Highest Beings are depicted on five parts of the yantra. On the four other parts, there are sectarian differences.
Digambaras call it the navadevatā or navdevata or navpad. The other four elements for them are:
For Śvetāmbaras it is the siddhacakra or navapada or navpad, which has representations of:
Jain Tantric worship aims to control other people or counter evil influences. Tantric rituals try to placate the aggressive side of a deity's nature, encouraging the divinity to behave benevolently. If not worshipped correctly, the vengeful deity may cause harm. The devotee invokes the deity under his or her various names, places images of the deity on yantras – mystical diagrams – and meditates, repeating mantras.
Austerity or asceticism in general. A tapas is an act of austerity or self-discipline that produces bodily heat – tapas – that burns up karma. Austerities may be internal – mental – or external – physical. Both lay and mendicant Jains practise austerities. Fasting is the most common external austerity for lay people these days.
Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā.
Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:
All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders.
Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.
British Library. Or. 13622. Vinaya-vijaya and Yaśo-vijaya. 17th to 18th centuries
British Library. Or. 2126 ms. A. Ratnaśekhara. 1467