Mahavir Jayanti: A Jain Celebration

Left: A statue of Lord Mahavira. Right: Lord Mahavira after achieving enlightenment.

The Jainism holiday of Mahavir Jayanti, celebrated on April 13th this year, is considered to be the most important festival and religious holiday for Jains because it celebrates the birth of Lord Mahavira, the founder and reformer of Jainism.  Lord Mahavira (sometimes referred to as Vardhamana) was born into royalty between 599 BC and 615 BC. When he was 30, he turned away from all worldly possessions and spent many years preaching non-violence and the respect of all living beings in addition to his realization of knowledge, power, peace and bliss which resulted in his name. He attained nirvana at the age of 72. Mahavir Jayanti, the anniversary of Mahavira’s birth, is celebrated in late March or early April of every year.

Jainism, a religion that was founded on a virtuous path of non-violence towards all living things and Mahavir Jayanti observes those foundations during the sacred festival in addition to truthfulness, chastity and non-attachment. Throughout the festivities, many Jains perform charitable acts that include the distribution of personal possessions from their homes and donations collected for missionary work like saving animals from slaughter along with donations for feeding and sheltering the poor.

Mahavir Jayanti also includes prayers and lectures that are held in temples or shrines. Through prayer and meditation during this festival, Jains are able to focus on the path of virtue and Ahimsa (“to not injure”) that Lord Mahavira lived and taught. During Mahavir Jayanti, many Jains visit ancient temples to join the celebrations.

Along with these festivities, there usually are statues of Mahavira that are given a ritualistic ceremonial bath performed as a devotion to Mahavira. These statues are sometimes placed in frames that are decorated to celebrate the day and then carried in a type of parade or procession. Traditional Jainism food is eaten during the celebration which includes a vegetarian diet that does not include any root vegetables because insects are killed during harvest. Onions and garlic are not part of the Jainism diet because they increase sexual desire.

Although divided into multiple sects, all Jains recognize Mahavir Jayanti as an extremely important day. There are an estimated 4.2 million Jains throughout the world with the largest numbers found in India. Other countries that have recognized Jainism populations include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Kenya.

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