Article: Festivals

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Religious observances

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

For the laity, festivals are an opportunity to take on restrictions that are not always observed at other times. The aim is to be temporarily as close as possible to the mendicant’s way of life. The usual religious observances during festivals include:

Dietary restrictions

Various kinds of dietary restrictions or fasts are commonly completed during festivals:

  • not eating after sunset
  • excluding certain kinds of food
  • partial fasting, for example taking one meal a day instead of two
  • complete fasting, taking only boiled water
  • complete fasting for a limited period of time.

Not eating after dark is a basic food rule in theory, but is not practised by all Jains so a festival offers a chance to observe this rule.

Many Jains take a vow to avoid certain foods or types of food. One of the most severe fasts of this kind is āyambil, which is eating very bland food, without any spices.

Partial fasting is often completed over several days. Three-day fasts – aṭṭham – and eight-day fasts – aṭṭhāī– are often observed during Paryuṣaṇ.

Fasting totally for the duration of a festival is probably the most demanding fast to keep. To survive, the fasters drink only boiled water. As there is no danger of its containing minute beings, this is the only acceptable liquid from the religious point of view.

Other devotees may vow to fast completely for a short time, such as a day or so. In this case, they will not take any food or liquid.

Confession

This detail of a manuscript painting shows a monk offering forgiveness to a junior. Repentance – pratikramaṇa – is the most important of the six 'obligatory actions' – āvaśyaka – mendicants perform each day

Scenes of forgiveness
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

Jain monks and nuns are supposed to complete numerous rituals of confession and repentancepratikramaṇa – each day. When lay people do this, they are imitating part of a mendicant’s daily routine, which helps them reflect on their conduct and mental attitudes.

Going through numerous confession rituals is a key part of many festivals. Indeed, they are defining elements at the centre of Paryuṣaṇ and Daśa-lakṣaṇa-parvan, which both end with asking for forgiveness.

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