Article: Mahāvīr Jayantī

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

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Women celebrate the festival of Mahāvīr Jayanti, commemorating the birth of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. The golden Jina image has been ritually washed with perfumed water while to the left are silver plaques of the auspicious dreams of Mahāvīra's mother.

Offerings during Mahāvīr Jayanti
Image by Jayesh Gudka © Jayesh Gudka

Like several Jain festivals, Mahāvīr Jayanti is both a retelling and a restaging of the event at its heart. The actual celebration may differ from place to place and group to group, yet it has some defining elements.

Besides the birth proper, Mahāvīr Jayantī also celebrates Mahāvīra's incarnation in the womb of his mother Triśalā and the auspicious dreams she experienced. These dreams number 14 in the Śvetāmbara sect and 16 according to the Digambaras. In religious practice, the dreams are depicted in 14 or 16 silver or golden plaques, hung on a cord attached to the ceiling of the local temple. This aspect of the celebration is important because the dreams announce the greatness of the child that will be born.

In order to commemorate and restage the holy bath the gods give to the newborn child, people gather in the temple, preferably one dedicated to Mahāvīra. A Jain lay man and his wife embody the king of gods and his spouse. They have generally gained this honour through auctions bolī. They pour perfumed water on a small Jina image placed on a pedestal, which represents Mount Meru, and put some sandalwood paste on it. Then they distribute large amounts of money as charity and for the maintenance of the temple. Other members of the congregation take part joyously, singing hymns of praise to Mahāvīra, throwing flowers on the image and waving small lamps in front of it. Sometimes, images of Mahāvīra are taken in procession through the streets.

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