Significance of Paryushan
By Seema Singhvi Jain
Paryushan, the celebration of spiritual awareness, is the most important festival of Jain religion. This annual event occurs sometime in August or September. While Shvetambar Jains observe Paryushan foreight days, Digambar Jains observe it for ten days. The latter also call it Dash Lakshan, the celebration of ten ultimate virtues. Paryushan is a time for self-analysis and soul searching. During Paryushan, Jains exercise selfdiscipline and do penance to purify their souls to the best of their individual capacities.
Paryushan has been prescribed as part of the code of conduct for monks in the last section of the sacred Jain scripture, Kalpa Sutra. During Paryushan, the monks stay in one place. This provides the householders with an opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of Jainism from them. It is a fact that even if we make a serious effort to live within the framework of high moral standards, we cannot avoid mistakes due to the complexities and hardships of life. During the auspicious occasion of Paryushan, we Jains review our activities of the past year in light of the teachings of Jainism and resolve to lead a spiritually cleaner life in the future. This is the purpose of celebrating Paryushan.
During Paryushan we Jains observe the vows of nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possessiveness to a greater extent than during the rest of the year. We engage in self-discipline (Sanyam) and perform penance (Tapah) such as study of scriptures (Swaadhyaaya), partial or complete fasting, introspection (Pratikraman) and repentance (Praayashchitta). We observe modesty, forgiveness and renunciation. Throughout Paryushan, we Jains attend religious discourses given by scholars. We also resolve to make a greater effort towards spiritual progress in the coming year. Many Jains do not eat after sunset because sunlight is a natural disinfectant and thus bacterial content in the atmosphere is less during the daytime. Some Jains do not eat vegetables grown underground because entire plants are destroyed in obtaining them. During Paryushan, most Jains observe these rules and do not eat green vegetables. Some Jains observe an eight-day fast (Athaai), drinking only boiled water. Others observe a complete fast (Anashan) for a day, or partial fast (Ekaashan - eating once a day, or Be-Asan - eating only twice a day). During these fasts, one's thoughts and feelings should be pure and free from passions such as anger, pride, intrigue and greed.
The first three days of Paryushan are devoted to the three jewels of Jainism - rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct. The fourth day of Paryushan is known as Tapah Divas (penance day). The fifth day is Sapana Divas (day of dreams). On this day, the fourteen dreams of Trishala Devi are displayed and Bhagwaan Mahaveer's birth is celebrated. The sixth day is the day of self-control (Sanyam) and the seventh day is the day of purification of soul (Atma Shuddhi). On the last day of Paryushan which is known as Samvatsari, we Jains perform collective introspection (Pratikraman).
This is called Saamvatsarik Pratikraman. In the Digambar tradition, Paryushan is a celebration of the following ten ultimate virtues (Dash Lakshan) :
1. Ultimate Forgiveness (Uttam Kshama)
2. Ultimate Modesty (Uttam Maardav)
3. Ultimate Straightforwardness (Uttam Arjav)
4. Ultimate Truthfulness (Uttam Satya)
5. Ultimate Cleanliness of thoughts and feelings (Uttam Shauch)
6. Ultimate Self-control (Uttam Sanyam)
7. Ultimate Penance (Uttam Tapah)
8. Ultimate Renunciation (Uttam Tyaag)
9. Ultimate Non-attachment (Uttam Akinchan)
10. Ultimate Purity of body and mind (Uttam Brahmcharya)
Each day one chapter from Acharya Umasvati's Tattvaarth Sutra is recited and its meaning is explained and discussed. Further, each day the importance of one of the ten ultimate virtues is elucidated.
At the end of Paryushan, Jains, with a clear conscience, request forgiveness from each other and from all living beings of the universe for our thoughts, speech and actions by which we might have hurt others' feelings. We recite the following Universal Forgiveness Prayer known as Kshamaapana Sutra:
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.
The celebration of Paryushan is espied all over the world. Jains are held in high esteem on account of their belief in nonviolence and their practice of austerities, especially during Paryushan. The great Mogul Emperor Akbar was deeply impressed by Jainism. Because of the influence of Shvetambar Jain Acharya Shri Hiravijaya Suri, he had issued a proclamation prohibiting the killing of animals during Paryushan. Paryushan brings about spiritual awareness and progress.