Article: Paryuṣaṇ

Contributed by M. Whitney Kelting

Fourteen dreams

This manuscript painting illustrates Devānandā having the auspicious dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The discs of the sun and moon are just above her left hand,

Devānandā's 14 dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

During her pregnancy, Mahāvīra’s mother experiences 14 dreams, which are the focus of much of the ritual activity of Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas. The dreams are:

  1. an elephant
  2. a bull
  3. a lion
  4. the goddess Lakṣmī
  5. a flower garland
  6. the moon
  7. the sun
  8. a temple
  9. a water pot
  10. a lotus lake
  11. an ocean of milk, usually signified by a ship
  12. a heavenly chariot
  13. a pile of gems
  14. a flame.

These dreams are each pictured on 14 silver or gold plaques, which are venerated in turn.

There are bids to perform various rites associated with the 14 dreams, such as garlanding each plaque with flowers and carrying it to the display table. Leading families try to win at least one of the number of auctions that takes place at this point in the day, as a mark of their piety and prestige. The most significant and expensive auction regards the honour of being the family who takes home the image of the baby Mahāvīra for the last three days of the festival.

After the dreams have been venerated and all of the auctions completed, the Kalpa-sūtra recitation continues to the birth of Mahāvīra. At this point, men in the congregation break coconuts to mark Mahavira’s birth and feed pieces of these coconuts to each other in celebration. The congregation will also all push forward to have the chance to rock the silver image of the cradle holding the newborn Mahāvīra.

After the auctions and associated rituals, many Jains will attend the evening lamp offering in the temple. Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas and Saṃvatsarī are often the nights with the most elaborate temple decorations.

Śvetāmbara Jains focus their celebration of Mahāvīra’s birth on Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas rather than on Mahāvīr Jayanti. Taking place in the spring, this latter festival remains a minor holiday with few extra observances.

Saṃvatsarī

A white-clad faster is ceremonially fed to break his fast. Fasting is a key part of Jain practice and is frequently undertaken during festivals or to fulfil a vow. Fasters gain great religious merit – puṇya – as do the relatives who help break their fasts

Breaking a fast
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

The last day of Paryuṣaṇ is called Saṃvatsarī. On this, the eighth day of the festival, Śvetāmbara Jains perform the annual rite of confession. It involves reciting the Saṃvatsarī confession, or pratikramaṇ, preferably while taking part in the gathering of local devotees. The recitation takes several hours and includes confessing and doing penance for all the possible errors one might have made during the past year.

It is expected that all Jains perform this rite unless they are physically unable to carry out the ritual.

At the start of the ritual Jains begin a total fast until the following morning. This fast, alongside the longer Paryuṣaṇ-related fasts, is broken on the morning following Saṃvatsarī. For those who have performed longer fasts, fast-breaking celebrations are organised in which family and friends of the person completing a fast ceremonially feed the faster and gain merit by doing so. In some communities, those who have finished lengthy fasts are brought on a parade around the city on the day after Saṃvatsarī.

As part of this confession ritual, Jains say the Prakrit phrase Micchāmi Dukkaḍaṃ. This means ‘May no harm come from my actions’ and fulfils the requirement of formulaic apology that is part of the duties of Paryuṣaṇ. This apology is recited to all beings and then to the whole congregation.

Following the ritual confession, Jains will usually greet each other with a related saying: Boli Cali Micchāmi Dukkaḍaṃ. This means ‘Let no harm come from anything that was said or done’. Many will try to see as many of their family members, friends and work acquaintances as possible in the next few days to repeat this greeting to them. If they cannot meet in person, Jains will usually make phone calls and send letters expressing the same sentiment.

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