Contributed by Nalini Balbir
Dīvālī – commonly spelled Diwali – or Dīpāvalī is the 'Festival of Lights'. It is a holy date falling in late September or October for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains alike but their understanding of it is totally different. For the Jains, this annual festival commemorates Mahāvīra's final liberation. It unfolds in various stages and corresponds to the beginning of the new year.
The Dīvālī festival celebrates two apparently contradictory features – the desirability of renouncing the world and of worldly values such as wealth and well-being. It is celebrated by Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras alike.
These are, firstly, Mahāvīra's final liberation and, secondly, Indrabhūti Gautama's enlightenment. The celebration of the emancipation of the 24th Jina takes place on the 15th day of the dark half of Āśvina, roughly September to October. Gautama's enlightenment is remembered on the first day of the bright half of Kārttika, roughly October to November. This day marks the New Year.
During this monsoon halt, in the fourth month of the rainy season, in the seventh fortnight, in the dark half of Kārttika, on the fifteenth day, that being his last, during the night, the Venerable Ascetic Mahāvīra passed away, went off, quitted the world, cut asunder the ties of birth, old age, death, became perfected, enlightened and liberated, the maker of the end; he entered into liberation and ended all misery.
Translation by K. C. Lalwani, page 70
Following the liberation, various kings of the region began setting up lights, which they saw as substitutes for the spiritual illumination that the teacher embodied:
During the night when the Venerable Ascetic Mahāvīra passed away […], during that night, the night of the new moon, nine Mallaki kings, and nine Licchavi kings, in all 18 confederate kings, from Kāśī and Kośala respectively, instituted a spiritual practice name[d] pārābhoga-poṣadha and said: 'As the light of intellect is gone out, so shall we light the light with material objects'.
Translation by K. C. Lalwan, page 72
The second event is described as well:
During the night when the Venerable Ascetic Mahāvīra passed away […], during that night, his senior disciple-monk Indrabhūti, of the Gautama line, was freed from the tie of attachment [towards the Master], and attained the supreme knowledge and faith, kevala by name, unprecedented, unobstructed, unlimited, complete and full.
Translation by K. C. Lalwani, page 71
As is customary, the date of Mahāvīra’s final liberation is given in the lunar calendar, but what is more noteworthy is that the year is also mentioned. It corresponds to 527 to 528 BCE, which marks the beginning of the Jain era known as Vīra-saṃvat, according to the Jain Śvetāmbara tradition. The year according to the Digambaras corresponds to 510 BCE.
Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Dīvālī on the same date as the Jains, but with a totally different understanding. Discussions, which can be considered relevant or pointless, have taken place about which religious group was the first to use this date for a festival of lights (see Gode).
Each year all Jains celebrate the liberation of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. However, the commemoration of the 2500th anniversary, which took place on the 13th November 1974, was carried out with special pomp.
Jains actively carried it beyond being a community festival with the support of the Indian government. Presided over by the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, a national committee was formed of representative Jains and non-Jains. Committees were also formed in the various states of India. These committees had various educational and intellectual objectives, namely:
The general aim of the committees was to 'encourage people to think about the life and message of the great prophet' (Upadhye 1974).
In fact, a Bhagavān Mahāvīra 2500th Nirvāṇa Mahotsava Samiti – the Association for the Great Celebration of the 2500th Anniversary of Lord Mahāvīra’s Emancipation – had been established as early as 1968. Intended to publish Jain books, the institution was set up at the initiative of the Mumbai Jain community. Indeed, various institutions published numerous books on this occasion, of various kinds and for different types of reader. See the section 'Further reading' for some examples.
But, in practice, the festivals are somewhat different, although there is great local variation. For example, during Paryuṣaṇ the focus is on religious observances and austerities whereas in Dīvālī there is more emphasis on social gatherings, rejoicing and festive meals.
Taking place over several days, Dīvālī can be thought of as a 'cluster of festivals' (Cort 2001, page 164). It begins on the 13th day of the dark half of Āśvina and lasts till the first day of the bright half of Kārttika.
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.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future.
One of the Lands of Action or Karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the Middle World where humans live. Bharata is also the name of the eldest son of the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, who succeeded his father as king.
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its fullest.
Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.
Formally recognised leaders within a religion. The clergy often perform rituals, lead worship and instruct believers in religious principles. Lay men and women usually complete formal study before being initiated into the clergy. Clerics are active among lay believers, often living in society. They may have specific roles or ranks and may progress through a hierarchy to become top leaders of the religious organisation.
Religious activity centred around a deity or saintly figure. Religious rituals are performed regularly to the god or goddess, who may be represented in images or relics or found in natural features such as springs and trees. Shrines and temples are frequently built at the site of a cult and pilgrims arrive to worship the deity.
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its smallest. It is so dark it is almost invisible.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
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.
The elephant-headed Hindu god, who is popular among believers in many Indian religions. He is known as the remover of obstacles, a god of new beginnings and patron of arts and sciences, intellect and wisdom. He is commonly invoked by Jain authors and scribes.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
The terms stavan, stavana, stava, stotra and stuti are all used for a prayer, song, chant or hymn to a Jina, a god or any other holy figure. Religious songs are always hymns of praise in Jainism. These devotional songs may be performed during daily rites or on special occasions, such as completion of a fast or a wedding. The hymns may be performed:
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Chief disciple of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. From a brahmin family, he was the first of Mahāvīra's 11 chief disciples. He became enlightened on the day Mahāvīra was liberated. He achieved liberation himself 12 years later.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.
The capital of the state of Mahārāṣṭra, the city of Mumbai is the biggest and richest in India. Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the centre of Indian film-making and commercial activities.
A small town in Gujarat that was a capital city in medieval times, a Jain centre of learning and art with beautiful temples. Some of these and remains of other structures can be seen today. Old name: Aṇahilla Paṭṭaṇa.
To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:
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.
Intricate pattern of coloured powders or rice believed to bring good luck. Flowers, petals and other materials may also be used. Created to celebrate a festival, wedding or other event, rangolis are made on the ground or floor by a gate or door, usually by women.
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 classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
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.
A small structure holding an image or relics, which may be within a temple or building designed for worship. A shrine may be a portable object. Worshippers pray and make offerings at a shrine, which is often considered sacred because of associations with a deity or event in the life of a holy person.
An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.
Follower of the Sikh religion. Important Sikh beliefs include:
Baptised Sikhs traditionally sport the Five Ks or articles of faith, which have practical and symbolic purposes:
The 11th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the rhinoceros. There is no historical evidence of his existence.
Hindu goddess of wealth, Śrī is the personification of spiritual energy and is closely associated with the lotus. Also a name for Lakṣmī, Hindu goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
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.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
British Library. I.O. San. 3177. Unknown author. 1437
British Library. Or. 13524. Matisāra. 1726