Article: Kārttika Pūrṇimā

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Falling in October to November, the 'full moon day of Kārttika' comes approximately two weeks after Dīvālī. It is a holy date for the Jains but also for Hindus. For both Jain mendicants and lay people, the festival of Kārttika Pūrṇimā marks the end of the rainy season and the start of ordinary activities, which had come to a stop during the cāturmāsa.

Monks and nuns

This illustration from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows Digambara monks preaching to lay men. Sitting on low platforms above their listeners, the monks hold up scriptures. The bookstands in front underline their role as religious teachers

Monks preach to lay men
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

When Kārttika Pūrṇimā comes, monks and nuns can leave the areas where they have spent the four-month rainy season and begin their normal wandering life.

Just as the communities of Jain lay people enthusiastically greet their arrival, so the departure of the mendicants is another occasion for celebration. This serves as an expression of gratitude for the teachings and contact that have been so intense during the rainy season. It takes the form of spectacular processions (Cort 2001: 177).

Lay people

On the southern summit of Mount Shatrunjaya is the main enclosure – tunk – of the pilgrimage centre. Called 'Mūlanāth', 'Dada ni Tunk', 'Vimal vasahi' or 'Marudeva Shikhar', the enclosure houses the site's chief temple, called the Adishvar Temple

Main enclosure at Shatrunjaya
Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kimiya

During the rainy season lay people normally take on many vows and voluntary restrictions in their daily life. This reaches a peak for Śvetāmbaras during the eight days of the Paryuṣaṇ festival. Kārttika Pūrṇimā marks the end of such restrictions.

The rainy season is also not the time for pilgrimage, which is an important religious practice for Jains. When the monsoon ends, pilgrimages can start again. This is why on this very day many Śvetāmbara Jains symbolically undertake a pilgrimage to Mount Shatrunjaya, the most sacred place for this sect. It is considered an activity that gains a large amount of merit.

As with many Jain festivals, an event in a story has inspired its regular commemoration. In this case, the mythical event connected is the liberation of Drāviḍa and Vālikhilla. Grandsons of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, these two monks attained final liberation on this day, along with a large number of other monks.

Kārttika Pūrṇimā means that economic activity starts again at full speed after the rainy season. Joyful groups of people visit the many local fairs held on this day, because it is also very meaningful in the Hindu tradition (Cort 200: 176).

Jina image in procession

Putting an image of a Jina on a chariot and taking it through the streets – ratha-yātrā – is a major part of several Jain festivals and is recognised as meaningful by various religious treatises. However, in many places it is a central element of Kārttika Pūrṇimā:

The laypeople celebrate this day by putting an image of the Jina into an immense, beautifully decorated wooden vehicle (ratha) and pulling it by hand through the streets of the city. The procession, headed by [the] monks and nuns [who are about to depart], begins at the local temple and winds its way through the city to a park within the city limits. Here a prominent monk gives a sermon, and the leading laypeople call for generous donations in support of the various social and religious projects (such as building temples, libraries or hospitals) that have been inspired by the presence of the mendicants. The procession then returns to the temple, and the people go home in a festive mood

Jaini 1986 / 2000, pages 251 to 252

There are obviously several variations on this general picture. For example, the vehicle can be pulled by tractor and not by hand. The Jina image is sheltered in a mini-shrine on the chariot and is surrounded by devotees on foot. Leading lay people stand or sit on the chariot next to the image, a right they have won through auctions – bolī.

Images

  • Monks preach to lay men This illustration from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript shows monks preaching to lay men. Though dressed in white, like monks of the Śvetāmbara sect, the mendicants are Digambaras. Sitting on low platforms above their listeners, the monks hold scriptures in their hands. The bookstands before them underline their role as religious teachers. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Main enclosure at Shatrunjaya On the southern summit of Mount Shatrunjaya is the main enclosure – tunk – of the pilgrimage centre. Called 'Mūlanāth', 'Dada ni Tunk', 'Vimal vasahi' or 'Marudeva Shikhar', the enclosure houses the site's chief temple, called the Adishvar Temple. This is dedicated to the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, who is also known as Ādinātha, meaning 'First Lord'.. Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kimiya

Further Reading

Śrī parvakathādi vividha viṣaya saṃgraha
Muni Bhuvanavijaya
Bhinmal, Rajasthan, India; 1980

Full details

Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India
John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

Full details

Jain Vrata-tap
Saryu Vinod Doshi
Rajkot, Gujarat, India; 2002

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

Jaina Iconography
Jyotindra Jain
and Eberhard Fischer
Iconography of Religions – Indian Religions series; volume 13: 12 and 13
Institute of Religious Iconography, State University of Groningen; E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1978

Full details

‘Festivals’
Jyoti Prasad Jain
Religion and Culture of the Jains
Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī granthamālā: English series; volume 6
Bhāratīya Jñānapītha; New Delhi, India; 1975

Full details

‘Jaina Festivals’
Padmanabh S. Jaini
Collected Papers on Jaina Studies
Motilal Banarsidass; New Delhi, India ; 2000

Full details

Śrāddhavidhiprakaraṇa
Ratnaśekhara-sūri
Śreṣṭhi-Devacanda-Lālbhāī-Jaina Pustakoddhara Fund series; volume 106
Surat, Gujarat, India; 1960

Full details

Historical Dictionary of Jainism
Kristi L. Wiley
Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series; series editor Jon Woronoff; volume 53
Scarecrow Press; Maryland, USA; 2004

Full details

Glossary

Ascetic

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.

Devotee

An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.

Donor

A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.

Festival

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. 

Hindu

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.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

Mokṣa

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.

Monk

A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

Pilgrimage

A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.

Puṇya

Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.

Rainy season

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.

Ṛṣabha

First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.

Sermon

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.

Shrine

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.

Śvetāmbara

'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.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Yātrā

A pilgrimage, especially to a sacred place or tīrtha.

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