Article: Paryuṣaṇ

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Paryuṣaṇ is the most important Śvetāmbara Jain festival. It falls in late August or early September on the cusp of the months Śrāvaṇ and Bhādarvā, and lasts eight days.

This festival begins the winding down of the year in the traditional calendar. The end of the old year and the start of the new year is celebrated at Divālī some weeks later.

Paryuṣaṇ features increased ritual observance and participation, particularly in sermons and fasting. Public recitation of the Kalpa-sūtra, fasting and restricted eating, greater focus on religious obligations, and auctions centred around religious objects or activities to raise funds are all characteristics of this festival. Communities celebrate Paryuṣaṇ in activities at both the temple and at home. It is an important public event that demonstrates active membership of both a local congregation and the wider sect of Śvetāmbara Jains.

Digambara Jains celebrate a similar festival called Daśa-lakṣaṇa-parvan, beginning the day after Paryuṣaṇ is completed.

Days and main events of Paryuṣaṇ

The festival of Paryuṣaṇ – often known as Paryushan to contemporary Jains – is the main Śvetāmbara Jain festival. It falls in late August or early September on the cusp of the months Śrāvaṇ and Bhādarvā. Most Śvetāmbara groups celebrate the festival from Śrāvaṇ dark 14th through to Bhādarvā bright 5th. However, the Tapā-gaccha Jains celebrate the festival one day earlier, beginning on Śrāvaṇ dark 13 and ending on Bhādarvā bright 4.

Paryuṣaṇ lasts eight days, with certain rituals taking place at set times. The two central festival days are Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, on the fifth day, and Saṃvatsarī, which is on the last day. These two days see celebrations involving the whole congregation.

Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, or the celebration of the birth of Mahāvīra, centres around the public recitation of the Kalpa-sūtra text of the birth of Mahāvīra and the public veneration of objects showing significant scenes and symbols in the story. Taking part in Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas celebrations marks one's membership of a particular congregation.

On Saṃvatsarī Śvetāmbara Jains perform the annual rite of confession. It is expected that all Jains take part unless they physically cannot participate. Attending the ritual of confession indicates a lay Jain’s membership in the wider Śvetāmbara Jain community.

Paryuṣaṇ is notable for the following points:

  • the central place given to the Kalpa-sūtra
  • the emphasis on fasting and restrictions on eating
  • the paying of more attention to religious obligations, especially fulfilling five specific duties
  • the important role of religious auctions.

Kalpa-sūtra

A painting from a 15th-century manuscript of the Kalpa-sūtra shows Queen Triśalā and her newborn son. He will grow up to become Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. This is a conventional way of illustrating the birth of a baby who will become a Jina

Mahāvīra and his mother Triśalā
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

At the centre of the annual festival of Paryuṣaṇ is the recitation of the fifth-century Kalpa-sūtra and its 17th-century commentary. This commentary is a translation into Gujarati of the Sanskrit commentary of Vinayvijay. The recitation takes five days and has three rituals or observances that are particularly significant.

The first observance takes place on the fourth day of the festival. It consists of the procession of the Kalpa-sūtra manuscript to the location where the recitations will be performed and then the opening performances.

The second ritual is in the afternoon on the fifth day of the festival. It is the recitation of the story of the conception and birth of Mahāvīra, as told in the Kalpa-sūtra. Monks may also display pictures of the story to the congregation. This day – Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas – revolves around the celebration of Mahāvīra‘s birth.

The third observance takes place in the morning of the eighth and last day of the festival. It is the auspicious unbroken recitation of the core text of the Kalpa-sūtra, the 'Barsā-sūtra' – the ‘1200 verses’.

Fasting during Paryuṣaṇ

Panchmela dal – five lentil curry – is a popular Rajasthani dish, especially during the Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ. Lasting eight days, the festival is marked by fasting and food restrictions. Many Jains give up all vegetables during Paryuṣaṇ.

Panchmela dal
Image by sarverr62 © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Both lay and mendicant Jains limit the types and amounts of food they eat. A vegetarian diet is the cornerstone of Jain restrictions on food while fasting is widespread, particularly for lay women and ascetics. Restrictions on food and fasting are often the focus of vows that both lay and ascetic Jains may take.

It is particularly common for Jains to introduce extra food restrictions or to complete fasts during Paryuṣaṇ. At the least, all those who take part in the annual rite of confession are expected to fast the night before the ceremony. However, most Jains will perform some kind of food restrictions beyond this. For example, most families will give up all vegetables during the eight days of the festival, living entirely on grains, pulses and dairy products. In addition, on any given day – most commonly the first and last day of Paryuṣaṇ – many Jains will perform a full fast or a version of limited eating.

The fasts most associated with Paryuṣaṇ are the three-day fast – Aṭhṭham – and the more difficult eight-day fast – Aṭhṭhāī. During these fasts, the faster takes only water and even the times for drinking water are limited.

These fasts and other longer fasts are organised to end at the same time as the fast-breaking on the morning after Saṃvatsarī, the last day of the festival.

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