Jains meditating during Paryushan Parva

The Jain celebration Paryushan Parva continues this week until Friday.

Differing sects of Jainism observe the start date on slightly different days and observe the festival in slightly different ways, but certain central tenets remain common among them. This year’s Gregorian dates based on the Hindu calendar place the festival August 22-29.

Jainism is a religion that arose out of Hinduism about the same time as Buddhism, around 600BCE. The three religions still share some foundational beliefs. Today about 3 million Jains live mostly in India.

History and Significance

As revealed by Lord Mahavira, the founding father of Jainism, all life remains in a cycle of birth, death and reincarnation until it has achieved nirvana through correctly following the three jewels: having the right belief, seeking and obtaining the right knowledge, and following the right conduct. The Jain religion is believed to lead to the obtaining of these jewels.

Jains observe numerous holidays, with Diwali and Paryushan foremost among them. Diwali is a celebration of the life of Lord Mahavira and his obtaining of nirvana. Paryushan is the self-purification festival at which Jains meditate on and attempt to bring their soul in line with universal virtues including forgiveness, contentment, and peace. This festival especially emphasizes ahimsa, the highest Jain value of non-violence.

This holiday claims to have been observed since before recorded history began, because people have always practiced self-improvement and the giving up of worldly pleasures.

Traditions

Observation of this festival includes reading of Jain scriptures, fasting, and completing a meditation ceremony called Pratikraman. The scriptures are a collection of twelve influential writings of Lord Mahavira. Other works that may be read include modern Jain writers and poets. Even non-Jains appreciate hearing the scriptures read aloud, as they urge unity and non-violence toward all.

Many Jains fast for the duration of Paryushan or some combination of days, although the only requirement is to fast for the final day.

On the last night of Paryushan they also ask forgiveness of friends and family members for intentional and unintentional sins throughout the year, and seek atonement for wrongs. This practice is known as the Samvatsarik Pratikraman and includes withdrawing into self, offering certain prayers, reflecting on one’s sins, and making resolutions for the coming year.

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