It is that time of the year when Jainas celebrate Paryushana. This is the most holy celebration in the Jain calendar. It is the time when Jain laity take on vows of study and fasting with spiritual intensity similar to temporary monasticism.
I belong to the Shvetaambar (meaning white-clad, so nuns and monks dress in white) sect of Jainas and we will celebrate this occasion from 2nd September to 9th September this year, and Ksamavani will be celebrated on 9th. Other sects (Digambar – sky clad monks do not wear clothes and Sthanakvasi – who do not worship idols) may celebrate on different dates in the same month. For more information on Jainism you may wish to check this link https://www.india-religion.net/jainism.html
Swamiji wrote about the festival last year, and I have included this below:
Of the many religions indigenous to India, three stand out as the most ancient:
Of these the Jaina religion is the epitome of ahimsa, non-violence at all levels. It is the most pious and most ascetic. Its monks are still today masters of ascetic life.
The Jaina religion was established by a succession of twenty-four founding Masters, tirthankaras (fjord-makers) dating back to lost periods of antiquity.
The monks of all three of the above religions wander and then take a period of sojourn at one place during the four months of the monsoons; it is called chaaturmaasya (simply, ‘four months’). This is a time for contemplation, meditation, deep study and other observances. This is also the time when they take new initiates.
For Jaina religion, the start of this period is celebrated with great devotion by the laity. It is called paryusana (lit., fasting). It is eight days of fasting, sacred readings, select recitations, listening to the monks and so forth.
Ninth day is the day of seeking forgiveness. Kshamaapana or kshamaavani (other variations in various state languages of India). It occurs on 4th day of waxing moon in bhadrapada month, approximately August-September.
On this day, everyone (a) grants forgiveness and (b) asks for forgiveness. This includes renunciation of condemnation, judgment of others, irritation, anger.
The word kshamaa is derived from Sanskrit verb root ksham. The verb root means to have capacity, to be capacious. This requires the ability to absorb and dissolve all assaults. The word kshamaa is also one of twenty-one names of earth in the Vedas. It means for one to be as forgiving, as all-absorbing, as the earth that withstands and forgives all our trampling and digging into.
Here I may present an oft-quoted Sanskrit proverb:
kShamaa veerasya bhooShanam
forgiveness is the adornment of the brave.
This concept is re-enforced in other human experiences such as
• in India, holi festival celebrated as the day of forgiving the year’s aggressions and transgressions;
• in Thailand’s culture, every child is taught that anger is bad manners and the adults follow that in daily practical life and interpersonal relations;
• in Africa, in the training and initiation of spiritual guides in traditional African religions it is essential for the guide to conquer anger – as per my personal investigations.
• there are many such examples in world cultures that we all need to emulate.
In the Jaina day of forgiveness, the kshamaapana-sutra is recited in the ancient Prakrit (sister of Sanskrit) language:
khAmemi savve jIvA savve jIvA khamantu me.
mittI me savvabhUesu veraM majjhaM Na keNa vi
I forgive all living beings, may all of them forgive me.
I have friendship with all, enmity with none.
evamahaM AloiyaM nindiyaM grahiyaM duguNchhiyaM sammam
tiviheNaM padikkanto vandAmi jiNaM chauvvIsam ..
Thus, I truly reflect, reproach, censure and abhor (my wrong doings)
I atone threefold (for my acts of mind, speech and body) and pay obeisance to the 24 Jinas (Founding Masters of Jaina Tradition).
This festival should become part of the worldwide human community without restriction of nations and religions.
As a young child I would just do what I was asked and thought it was quite funny to say those unfamiliar words. As an adolescent I would do this shyly, not quite knowing why I was feeling shy to say these words and gesture by bringing the palms together. As a teenager I became sceptical about the whole thing of asking for forgiveness because I felt that even if I did ask for forgiveness it did not stop me from not liking someone, and I still found that people did gossip, and judge, etc. As I grew up it seemed a pointless thing to do because I felt I did not mean it.
I remember how my mother used to be so enthusiastic and go to this festival every year without fail, wearing her best saris and she would come back home in the evening beaming with happiness and on the last day I would go to the celebrations with my sisters and we would say Michchhami Dukkadam to our mum and she would so enthusiastically and lovingly greet us back. At that time I wished I had the same enthusiasm and love and wondered why it was absent in me.
Now, under the influence of Swamiji and his teachings, I have come to understand the power of forgiveness, the need to do this regularly. I have also come to appreciate the festival of Paryushan and the significance of the last day of Kshamaapana. Of course there is a long way to go but it is a good start. Swamiji always asks us to recite 7 Gayatris as pryaschit (atonement) for having hurt someone by thought, word or deed. Also, as I am sure is the case in a lot of other cultures, we would ask for forgiveness from a very ill or dying person if we happen to be there and similarly the person would also reciprocate the sentiment if they can.
To forgive is to forget the harm or misdeed, or hurt that one has suffered and not to have any a grudge or ill will against the perpetrator. When one asks for forgiveness, one also has to have the attitude of not repeating the act for which one has asked for forgiveness and asking is done with humility and sincerity. This is not easy and requires courage, faith and humility. Forgiving and asking for forgiveness can also be done in the form of a silent prayer.
I also feel that meditation is a form of forgiving and asking for forgiveness because one is not accumulating any karma during that time, good or bad.
The Jain community is now spread all over the world and with modern technology, communication and coordination of celebrating festivals has become easier.
In the UK, the community is widespread so different areas have different venues. Some hire halls; in some places, like London and other big cities, they have their own community halls and temples (Jain temples are called Deraasar or Apaasro).
In the mornings for two hours either there is a lecture, or the Kalpa-Sutra (sacred book) is read. It consists of biography of Tirthankar Mahavir, and other Tirthankaras. Mostly the biography of Tirthankar Mahavir is read.
The other sacred book called Tattvartha Sutras written by Archarya Ummaswati is also read if there is someone present who can teach the text.
In the evenings (from 6 to 8 pm) people sit to do Pratikraman (means turning back. It is a form of meditation where one reflects on his spiritual journey and renews his faith) for two hours, except on the last day when it lasts for four hours. Here is a link for more information on this https://sites.google.com/a/dfwjains.org/education/paryushan. Now the Pratikraman is also conducted in English for the benefit of the younger generation who do not understand Gujarati.
After Pratikraman, there is Aarti, Mangal Divo (means auspicious lamp), and on some days folk dancing. Most of the younger generation come to this later event after returning from their jobs.
On the 5th day, there is a special celebration in the evening when normally there is a play celebrating the birth of Tirthankar Mahavir and the 14 auspicious dreams of Mother Trishla before he was born. Most of the ladies will wear Red or Green coloured saris on that day.
People wear their best clothes and gold jewellery to come to these occasions. There is a sense of happiness and goodwill amongst everyone.
On the 7th day, all the tapasvis (people who have been fasting for the whole period on water only) will be honoured and given a gift(s) by community members. A lot of people fast to their capacity, some 1 day, some 3 days, some six days; some may eat only one meal a day during that period, some may give up certain foods. Generally people would refrain from using onions and garlic in their cooking.
On the 8th and last day, there is a 108 diva Aarti. Every day people pledge money to have the honour of holding the Aarti and especially so on the last day. A lot of money is collected which is then used to pay for hiring the halls and other expenses like inviting guests like Aarcharyas from India to give discourses and read sacred texts.
Then everyone will greet each other with this phrase “Michchhami Dukkadam” which is in Prakrit language and means – may all the evil that has been done be fruitless. People do this with palms joined together and head slightly bowed.
People will call their elders and loved ones by phone, email, or letter if not present during this festival.
Samvatsari is celebrated in following few days as convenient, mostly over weekends when the whole community eats a meal together. This is either donated by one family, or a few families share the honour, or if no donations are received it would be given by the community. It is considered meritorious to donate in these occasions.
During this festival lots of people volunteer to offer their services.
In ending this article, I join my palms and say michchhammi dukkadam to all.