Article: Three Jina festivals

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Poṣa-daśamī

Women chanting hymns in the temple. Singing hymns of praise to the Jinas is one of the main elements of worship and is a crucial part of most religious ceremonies.

Women singing hymns
Image by Dey – Dey Alexander © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

One of the most widely worshipped Jinas is the 23rd, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. Falling in late December or early January in the Western calendar, the festival of Poṣa-daśamī celebrates his birth and is thus also known as Pārśvanātha-jayantī.

The standard festival activities of fasting, worship, sermons and meditation feature in celebrations of Poṣa-daśamī. Special decorations are used to honour idols of the Jina and a lamp with 108 wicks is reserved for performance of the lamp ceremony. However, these are not required to mark the festival. Jains belonging to all sects observe Poṣa-daśamī and it is not strongly connected with any particular place, though some Gujarati Śvetāmbaras may go on a pilgrimage.

Date and origin

Poṣa-daśamī or 'Poṣa Tenth' is the day that commemorates the birth of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. The name of this celebration comes from its traditional date, represented, for instance, by the account in the Kalpa-sūtra or in Hemacandra's Triṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra. In the latter's words:

On the tenth of the dark half of [the month of] Pauṣa, [the moon] in rādhā [Vaiśākhā], she bore a son, dark blue in color, marked with a serpent, like the ground at the foot of a mountain bearing a jewel

Johnson’s translation, volume V, page 380, 1962

This date is valid for the areas which follow the north Indian calendar, which 'begins with the dark half of the month and ends with the full moon' (Cort 2001: 179). But in Gujarat, which conforms to the south Indian calendar, the month starts in the bright half of the month and ends with the new moon. Thus according to the calculation of the Gujarati calendar, Pārśva's birth is the tenth day of the dark half of the month of Mārgaśīrṣa, or Māgsar in Gujarati.

Main activities

The infant Pārśva and his mother are shown in this 15th-century Śvetāmbara manuscript painting. Pārśva's birth is celebrated in the festival of Poṣa-daśamī. Also called Pārśvanātha-jayantī, the festival falls in late December or early January each year.

Pārśva's birth
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Poṣa-daśamī does not demonstrate any very unusual celebrations. In common with other Jain festivals, Poṣa-daśamī is characterised by both communal and individual actions. This religious event therefore helps to generate community feeling among the local Jains and create a coherent Jain cultural and religious identity for outsiders. Devout lay people may individually choose to keep vows for the duration of the festival, usually relating to food. Activities involving the whole community of local Jains take place chiefly in the neighbourhood temple or mendicant dwelling-hall. Lay Jains visit the temple to hear the monks and nuns deliver sermons and stories relating to the subject of worship, Pārśvanatha or Lord Pārśva.

The Jina Pārśva is at the centre of worship during Poṣa-daśamī – his temples, his images and legendary episodes of his career. Statues of the Jina are hung with special ornaments and a dedicated lamp with 108 wicks may be used for the lamp ritual performed during regular evening worship. Although this festival can be celebrated anywhere, places with temples dedicated to Pārśva are especially popular.

For Gujaratis who want to practise a three-day fast – aṭṭham – Śankheśvar is a favourite destination. This is a favoured pilgrimage site in which to observe a three-day fast because it recalls a legendary episode. It is said that Kṛṣṇa, the cousin of the 22nd Jina Nemi, performed this fast there. This led him to obtain the Śankheśvar image of Pārśva, which was instrumental in his defeat of his enemy Jarāsandha (Cort 2001: 180).

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