Holy Days and Celebrations
There are many festivals in the Jain calendar. The most important of these are Mahavir Jyanti (birth of Lord Mahavir), Diwali (Enlightenment of Lord Mahavir) and Paryushan or Daslakshan (festival of forgiveness). The dates follow the lunar calendar and not the Christian calendar so they vary from year to year. The festivals are celebrated at temples and community centres wherever Jains live or if such facilities are not available then local community halls are hired for this purpose. They are always celebrated collectively and Jains make a point of coming together during these special days.
For example, during the eight day Shvetambara festival of Paryushan, there is a lot of fasting. It is a time to apply a handbrake on life and focus on personal salvation and liberation. The ideal fast is for the full eight days without any food whatsoever – it is not compulsory but many endeavour to do this at least once in their lives. There is a daily communal prayer and lectures and readings from the sacred scriptures. The eighth day is the day of forgiveness. On the ninth day, there is large and colourful fast-breaking ceremony where people come to ‘spoon-feed’ those who have fasted for the eight days.
The distinctive feature of these celebrations is the way in which they spiritually recharge individuals and the community. Faces light up and spirits are lifted and rejuvenated. They play a key role in the renewal of commitment to faith and the uniting of the community. None of these events are exclusive.