Article: Three Jina festivals

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Dates connected with events in the lives of all Jinas are all potential dates for festivals. Although they are all holy for the Jains, only some of them are the focus of public celebrations – Mahāvīr Jayantī and Dīvālī are the most prominent of these. The holy days of Maunaikādaśī, Poṣa-daśamī and Meru-trayodaśī do not have the same wide impact, but they display some of the same characteristics.

The features that are typical of most Jain festivals can be found in these three smaller festivals, including the close association of certain numbers with a holy day. As with all Jain festivals, the dates on which these smaller religious events take place vary year by year, because they are calculated in the lunar calendar. There are standard festival routines involving attending the local temple or mendicant dwelling-hall to listen to sermons and stories about the relevant Jina, particularly on the events in the Jina's life that have inspired the festival. Performing hymns of praise to the Jina is a common activity, along with carrying out rituals. Devotees also take part in the common festival activities of fasting, donating money to the temple and taking the opportunity to reflect on the example of the Jina. They may also go on pilgrimages, timed to end when the festival begins. The side effects of festivals' promoting fellow feeling among the Jain community and presenting a coherent identity to non-Jains are also found.

In addition, the Meru-trayodaśī festival is interesting because it shows the continuing development of religious practice. The major holy days have been such for centuries but the emergence of newer festivals such as Meru-trayodaśī illustrates the elastic qualities of the Jain religious calendar.

Maunaikādaśī

Digambara statue of Aranātha or Lord Ara in a temple. A fish – the Digambara emblem of the 18th Jina – is on the pedestal. Jains believe he was also a cakravartin. Ara's initiation is marked in the festival of Maunaikādaśī

Image of Ara
Image by Ramesh Kumar © Jain Sites in Tamilnadu

Usually falling around early December, Maunaikādaśī takes part of its name from the Sanskrit term for the date in the month it starts. Meaning 'Silence Eleventh', Maunaikādaśī takes the other part of its name from the vow of silence that some Jains take for this day.

It is closely associated with the five auspicious events that characterise the lives of all Jinas and above all with three Jinas:

  • Aranātha or Lord Ara
  • Mallinātha or Lord Malli
  • Naminātha or Lord Nami.

Numbers are full of meaning in Jain philosophy and particularly so in this festival.

On this day, the Jain faithful will generally follow the customs shared by all the festivals in the religious calendar, including performing austerities such as fasts, listening to sermons and stories, and singing hymns. Reflection and meditation are also encouraged in Jain festivals.

Date and origin

Maunaikādaśī is the Sanskrit form of what is known in Gujarati as 'Maun Agyāras' or 'Silence Eleventh'. It refers to the 11th day of the bright half of Mārgaśīrṣa, which is called Māgsar in Gujarati and is roughly from November to December in the Western calendar.

Maunaikādaśī is one of the richest days of the Jain religious calendar because some of the five auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – in the lives of three different Jinas took place on this date.

Auspicious Jina events associated with Maunaikādaśī

Auspicious event

Jina

Number of Jina

Initiation as a monk – dīkṣā

Ara

18

Birth, initiation and omniscience

Malli

19

Omniscience

Nami

21

This day has further numerical significance, being associated with the number 150. Numerology and mathematics are important aspects of Jain religious thought.

As well as the 24 Jinas in the Two and A Half Continents of Jain cosmology who live in the present era, there are other Jinas. They live in other continents in eras other than the current descending cycle of time. Counting the five auspicious events in the lives of all the Jinas, the total of auspicious events taking place on this date adds up to 150.

This total comes from the following calculation:

Maunaikādaśī marks 150 auspicious Jina events

5 auspicious events

x

5 lands of Bharata

25

5 auspicious events

x

5 lands of Airāvata

25

Total auspicious events in all lands

50

50 events

x

3 times (past + present + future)

Total auspicious events in all lands and all times

150

This is the reason traditional teachers such as Ratnaśekhara-sūri and Bhuvanavijaya give Maunaikādaśī a special place, regarding it as a kind of essence of all festivals. They say that the 22nd Jina Neminātha or Lord Nemi responded thus when his cousin Kṛṣṇa asked which festival was the most important.

Main activities

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 festival of Maunaikādaśī shares several key elements with the other Jain holy days. Many lay people take vows relating to temporary restraints on food. Attending sermons at the local temple or gathering-hall strengthens community bonds as well as passing on religious ideas. Hearing retellings of the events and individuals that have inspired the festival and singing hymns are also customary activities. However, the defining feature of this holy day, which gives it its name, is taking a vow of silence – mauna. This vow is mostly taken by monks and nuns (Cort 2001: 179).

The general atmosphere of Maunaikādaśī is one of serenity and self-restraint. As in other Jain festivals, the notions of self-control and dietary restrictions are prominent. Lay Jains often choose to keep vows relating to food during Maunaikādaśī. Vows regarding food restraints take three possible forms:

  • dietary restrictions
  • partial fasting
  • complete fasting.

The first one is the lowest type of restraint and consists of not eating certain kinds of food for the period of the festival. The second kind is the average level and relates to the quantity of food. It usually means taking one meal a day instead of two or three. The final kind is at the extreme end of religious austerity. Only boiled water passes the lips of the devotees, who fast completely for a limited period of time. The water they drink must be boiled because only then can they be sure there is no life in it. It is therefore the only acceptable liquid from the religious point of view, since otherwise they may unknowingly commit violence.

As with all Jain festivals, on Maunaikādaśī lay Jains listen to sermons given by mendicants. The monks and nuns also give accounts of the Jinas and five auspicious events that have inspired the festival.

Devotees sing hymns of praise to the three Jinas celebrated in this festival:

  • Aranātha or Lord Ara, the 18th Jina
  • Mallinātha or Lord Malli, the 19th Jina
  • Naminātha or Lord Nami, the 21st Jina.

There are many devotional songs that have been composed for this occasion by several authors.

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