The 8-day long Jain festival of Paryushan, observed in the month of August is a time for celebrating the qualities and essence of the soul. Unlike most festivals that involve feasting, fun and merry making with friends and family, this auspicious celebration offers an opportunity to reflect on spirituality, sacrifice, fasting, penance and endurance. It emphasises on keeping aside daily routine activities to give time to self-introspection, increase love, kindness and forgiveness towards humanity.
Explore the festival of Paryushan through objects and art in our collection
Good omens herald a spiritual journey. The Ashtamangala are the eight divine symbols, which have been depicted in the Kalpasutra, the most holy of Jain scriptures, and are believed to bring good luck and well-being. Also used widely in Hinduism and Buddhism, these symbols appear as decorative and religious motifs in a wide range of artistic media.
Swastika is the symbol of prosperity, the Shrivatsa is the flower of compassionate universal love, the Samputaka or heap of jewels symbolise virtues and wisdom, the Darpan is the mirror of truth and introspection. The Bhadrasana is the sacred seat of a monarch, while the Kalasha, holy pitcher, symbolises one perfect in virtues. Mina-yugala, pair of fish symbolise fertility freedom and fearlessness, and the Nandyavarta is the nine-pointed icon of divinity of a universal monarch.
The most important part of Paryushan is daily meditation and prayer, which provides an opportunity for looking within and looking toward the teachings of the tirthankaras for guidance.
The act of giving of dana or charity is considered especially beneficial, as the use of kind speech and inspiring virtues.
Jainism mentions a four-fold charity known as Chaturvidha Dana, i.e. Ahara-Dana (gift of food), Aushadhi-Dana (gift of medicine), Abhaya-Dana (gift of shelter, protection from danger, attack or threat) and Shastra-Dana (gift of books and imparting of knowledge). Jainism extends the concept of non-violence not only to human beings but also to animals, plants, microorganisms and all who have potential of life. Life in all forms is divine and has a right to live without fear. The Jain scriptures suggest that protection of life (Abhaya-Dana) is the highest form of charity.
The study, recitation and veneration of sacred scriptures are a primary religious focus during the period of Paryushan.
Important sermons and texts were transmitted orally long before being committed to writing. It is uncertain as to when Jain texts began to be written and illustrated; the oldest surviving examples date from around the 10th-11th century.
The earliest Jain manuscripts are inscribed and painted on palm-leaves and bound with cords passing through holes in the folios. The folios are encased in wooden covers that are often decorated with religious or historical themes. Book covers continued to be made in later centuries.
It is customary for Jains to read from the Kalpa Sutra, a scripture which recounts the life of Mahavira—the fourteen dreams of his mother before his birth, followed by the story of his birth, his renunciation, attainment of knowledge and finally his liberation.
It also recounts the lives of other tirthankaras and the rules of Paryushan.
In the Jain scriptures, there is mention of five auspicious events in the life of every tirthankaras. These are termed as the Panch Kalyanakas.
The first is the auspicious decent of the soul to take birth as a human being. At this moment of decent, the conceiving mother dreams of fourteen auspicious things. It is known as the Chyavan Kalyanak.
The second is the event of taking birth. After the auspicious birth goddesses of 56 directions descend to do the post birth ceremonies. The king of Gods Indra creates a look alike baby and takes the actual baby tirthankara to Mount Meru for celebrations and anointing. This is the Janma Kalyanaka.
When the tirthankara renounces his mundane live and proceeds to become a monk, gods and humans assemble at the spot of initiation. Here, the tirthankara gives away his worldly possessions, ornaments, clothes, and pulls out five fistfuls of his hair with his own hands. This is the Diksha Kalyanaka, the auspicious renunciation.
By destroying all his karma by the practice of discipline, penance, meditation and fasting, the tirthankara acquires all enlightened knowledge and perception, becoming omniscient. He then preaches in the divine hall. This enlightenment is called the Kewalajnana Kalyanaka.
When the soul of the tirthankara leaves his physical body, by destroying all karmas the moment is celebrated as attainment of final liberation or Moksha. This is the Nirvana Kalyanaka.
Paryushan stands for some of the most important Jain practices like nonviolence (Ahimsa), engaging in self-discipline (Sanyam), partial or complete fasting penance (Tapah), study of scriptures (Swadhyaya), introspection (Pratikraman) and repentance (Prayaschitta).
Samvatsari or the last day of Paryushan marks a special day in Jainism, and Kshamapana (forgiveness) is one of the most significant parts of celebrating this festival.
Jains believe that forgiveness is the other name of non-violence (Ahimsa) which shows the right path of ‘Live and Let Live’ to one and all. Forgiveness teaches us Ahimsa (non-violence) and through ahimsa we should learn to practice forbearance. Samvatsari is also called as Kshamavani.
On this sacred day, every member of the Jain community approaches everyone, irrespective of religion, and asks for forgiveness for all their faults or mistakes, committed either knowingly or unknowingly. Forgiveness is also sought from all living forms like plants and microorganisms for they may have been harmed by our routine activities. Thus, it is believed to give a fresh start to life, and marks the beginning of a peaceful co-existence with others. This act is not merely a traditional ritual, but a step towards spiritual purification.