Paryushan is one of the two most important religious periods for Jains, the other festival is Diwali (the Celebration of Light). According to the Western Calendar, it begins this year on August 22; depending on the sect of Jainism, it can last from eight to ten days.
In India, the native land of the Jain religion, Paryushan comes during the annual monsoon, or rainy season. During this season, the land teems with new life--earthworms, frogs, mosquitos, and other insects come out of hibernation. Since Jains view all life as sacred, including even insects, extra care must be taken not to harm any living creature. Since the simple act of walking can cause one to inadvertently step on an insect, extensive travel is prohibited for monks and nuns. They stay in town for a period of about four months.
During the Paryushan period, monks and laity observe fasting for up to eight days. Those who can’t observe fasting eat only one or two times during the day. When Jains fast, no solid or liquid food is consumed and only boiled water is used from sunrise to sunset. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse oneself of bad karma (the accumulation of bad deeds and their consequences). During this time period Jains do not eat green and root vegetables. They eat lentils, wheat, rice, and other similar foods. They also cut down on cooking activities, since lighting a fire kills living organisms in the air. Jains believe that life exists in plants, earth, fire, water and air so they reduce the consumption of any of these.
Jains observe complete holidays during this period as they go to temples to pray to god, and to listen to sermons given by monks. They do Samayik and Pratikraman:
Samayik means sitting down at one location for a minimum of forty-eight minutes. During this one cannot eat or drink or do any mundane chores. Instead, one should meditate, read holy books and scriptures, listen to sermons, chant mantras, or count rosary beads.
During Paryushan Jains do Pratikraman twice a day, once in the morning before the sunrise and other one after the sunset. Pratikraman means “turning back, confessing, and asking for forgiveness.” They reflect on their daily lives based on five principles to see if they have done anything wrong. These five principles are non-violence, truth-telling, non-stealing, celibacy, non-attachment to wealth and materialistic things in life, and attitudes expressed toward others—including anger, egotism, deception, and greed. Jains ask for forgiveness from everyone, mentally and verbally, and forgive others who may have behaved unjustly toward them.
The last day of the Paryushan is called Samvastari. It is an annual confession day. Everyone fasts for that day. On the last day of the Paryushan all Jain families get together and do Samvastari Pratikraman following the same daily ritual of Pratikraman, but with special emphasis placed on examining life based on the five principles and behavior with others for the entire year. They extend forgiveness to others, including strangers. They also ask for forgiveness from all the living beings on the planet. Jains believe someone who is a stranger to you in this life may have known you in the past life and you may not have asked for forgiveness during that life time. So asking for forgiveness from everyone during this life time cleanses all the bad karma of all the past lives.
Jains believe that if you have not asked for forgiveness and granted forgiveness to everyone, at least once a year during Samvastari, then your cycle of birth and death will continue forever. You have to break the cycle of life and death to attain Nirvana or Moksha (Enlightenment).
There are about 150,000 Jains in North America and about 30 Jain Temples and Jain Centers. At major Jain centers, scholars from India are invited who will discuss various Jain scriptures for those eight to ten days. Most will stay at the temple from morning until evening reading religious books, doing meditation, and listening to sermons.
The day after Samvastari, which is ninth day, people break their fast and celebrate the end of the Paryushan. They also give a donation to poor and needy.
The following prayer of forgiveness, Khamemi Save Jiva, is recited at the end of each Pratikraman:
I grant forgiveness to all living beings,
May all living beings grant me forgiveness.
My friendship is with all living beings,
My enmity is totally non-existent.
Let there be peace, harmony, and prosperity for all.
Featured Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo Above Right: Flickr User Eyton Z captures religious observance in a Jain temple in India.
Kirit Daftary is a Trustee of the Parliament of the World Religions, Board member of Greater Waco Interfaith Conference, President of Anuvibha of North America, and the Past President of JAINA (Federation of Jains Association in North America).