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.
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.
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:
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’.
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.
Rite of offering lamps to the image of a Jina, usually performed to finish worship. As part of material worship, āratī is thus something that not all Jains do.
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.
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing.
A gathering of believers that has come together to perform group acts of worship.
An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.
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.
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 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.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:
A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.
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.
Lake Pushkar in modern-day Rajasthan is one of the five holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus, who associate it with the Hindu trinity of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. The god Brahmā killed a murderous demon with his weapon, the lotus flower. Three petals fell to the earth, each creating a lake now dedicated to each of the principal gods. Devotees believe that bathing in the lakes cures many skin diseases.
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.
In Hindu cosmography, the ocean of milk surrounds the continent known as Krauncha and is the fifth of the seven oceans that surround loka or inhabited space. In Hindu myth the gods and demons use the snake-king Vasuki to churn the ocean of milk for a thousand years so that the nectar of immortality and other precious objects will rise to the surface.
A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
'Introspection’ in Sanskrit. The elaborate ritual of confession and repentance that involves reciting liturgical texts and performing set gestures at dawn and dusk. It is one of an ascetic's six daily duties – āvaśyaka. For many lay people, pratikramaṇa is the essence of Jainism.
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.
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.
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.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.
Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā.
Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:
All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders.
British Library. Or. 13342. Unknown author.
British Library. Or. 5149. Unknown author. 1464