Article: Paryuṣaṇ

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Religious obligations during Paryuṣaṇ

A Śvetāmbara monk and a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which symbolises his role and authority as teacher. It holds a scripture in protective cloth. He sits on a low plaform while pupils sit on the floor. Religious beliefs were originally passed on orally

Monk and pupils
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Paryuṣaṇ has a set of five religious obligations that is emphasised in daily sermons, especially on the first days of the festival. They are:

  1. to stop killing – amārī pravārtan
  2. to show affection for other Jains – sādharmik vātsalya
  3. to perform a formulaic apology – kṣamāpanā
  4. to complete a three-day fast – aṭhṭham tap
  5. to go on pilgrimagecaitya paripāṭī.

Most Jains try to at least partly fulfil these obligations. For example, the obligation to stop killing might be met by contributing to charitable organisations, supporting animal rights or by publishing an advertisement to encourage vegetarianism. Affection for other Jains is shown primarily through sponsoring and attending communal meals for one’s own congregation or through giving out tokens of affection and appreciation, including coins, sweets or gifts at events during the festival. Even though most Jains do not perform the three-day fast, many will undertake some kind of fasting during Paryuṣaṇ.

Throughout the festival, Śvetāmbara Jains make a special effort to uphold ritual observances. For example, many Jains make a point of worshipping daily at their temple, attending sermons by resident monks or nuns and, at the least, fasting after the confession on Saṃvatsarī. Congregations that have mendicants staying for the rainy season will hear additional sermons.  Where no mendicant is in residence, congregations will often invite a mendicant to give sermons for these eight days.

Religious auctions

One Jain practice that is especially visible at Paryuṣaṇ is the bolī or religious auction. Lay Jains bid for the privilege of performing certain rituals or of supplying the materials needed to run a temple. The public auction is a prestigious way to fulfil the Jain religious obligation to support Jain institutions. Though Jains are not required to make public donations, the public nature of the Paryuṣaṇ auctions encourages everyone to donate and helps to glorify the tradition at the same time.

The auctions allow Jain lay people to fulfil their obligation to religious institutions and promote Jain values through donation. Those who give money through the auctions gain personal merit through donation. They also create more chances for gaining merit for themselves and others by establishing and supporting the institutions which make possible the full practices of Jainism.

On a practical level, the auctions serve to supply the running budget for the temple for the year ahead. They also provide extra funds from which the congregation can draw to make charitable contributions as a group or to add to and repair the temple and its surroundings.

While auctions often take place for the rituals carried out each day during the festival, the grandest and most public auction is that performed at Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas.

Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas

Jains take part in the lamp ceremony – āratī – in the evening of Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas. This celebration of the birth of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, takes place on the fifth day of the eight-day festival of Paryuṣaṇ, the most important Śvetāmbara festiva.

Paryuṣaṇ lamp ceremony
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Though Mahāvīra’s official date of birth is in the spring, Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, or the celebration of the birth of Mahāvīra, is a spectacle revolving around the birth of the 24th Jina. On the fifth day of Paryuṣaṇ a prominent ascetic recites the passages of the Kalpa-sūtra that tell the story of Mahāvīra’s conception and birth to the whole local community. The lay Jains publicly venerate objects representing the conception and birth.

The most significant rituals associated with Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas are the auctions – bolīs – that are run to decide the privilege of carrying out certain ceremonies.

On Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, the morning recitation of the Kalpa-sūtra stops just before the story of Mahāvīra’s conception and birth. The congregation then returns home and prepares for the afternoon’s celebration. Women and children dress in their finest clothing. Soon after lunch the congregation gathers in a hall for the main event. The afternoon’s recitation of the birth of Mahāvīra is embedded in a series of rituals, of which the auctions form a key part.

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