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Type of Holiday: Religious (Jain)
Date of Observation: August-September; Hindu month of Bhadrapada
Where Celebrated: India
Symbols and Customs: Ten Cardinal Virtues ORIGINS

Paryushana is a religious holiday in Jainism, which originated in India around the same time that Buddhist thought developed. Jains believe in a sequence of reincarnations: animals must become human and lay people must become monks in order to attain salvation from the world. Salvation, called mokhsa, is attained by liberating the soul from the contamination of matter (karma). This liberation results in omniscience and bliss for eternity.

One of the fundamental doctrines of Jainism is the separation of living matter (called jiva) and non-living matter (called ajiva). In order to achieve freedom from karma, Jains must completely avoid harming any living thing and practice perfect asceticism. Three concepts govern the affairs of the Jain people. These are known collectively as the Triratna (Three Jewels) and consist of right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct.

The name Jain comes from the Sanskrit word Jina, which means Conqueror. The conquerors honored by the Jains are people who have overcome and won enlightenment. The name Jinas also applies specifically to twenty-four spiritual guides from history and the legendary past who are collectively called the Tirthankaras (which means ford-markers). Each of the Tirthankaras achieved liberation, and by his model taught others how to do the same. There is no personal god in Jainism. Although several gods and goddesses are recognized (and a few of them are also included in the Hindu pantheon), they take a subordinate position to the twentyfour Tirthankaras.

Jainism teaches that the universe is eternal-it was not created, it has no beginning and will have no end. It passes through cycles during which civilizations rise and fall, men attain large size and life-spans lengthen. In each cycle, twenty-four Tirthankaras appear. The last (twenty-fourth) Tirthankara was Vardhamana Mahavira who lived about the same time as Buddha. Jain sects place the date of his death in 527 B . C . E ., and some researchers place the event in 477 B . C . E . Mahavira taught a path of passionless detachment and, according to Jain teaching, had achieved omniscience (knowledge of all things) before he started preaching.

The followers of Jainism, also known as the Faith of the Conquerors, devote their lives to conquering themselves and their own human weaknesses. They adhere strictly to certain rules, the first of which (known as ahimsa) is that they cannot kill or hurt any living thing. This means that they can't eat meat or swat a mosquito. They can't go to war or retaliate against anyone who attacks them. They can't even be farmers, because plowing the fields would kill worms and insects. To avoid injuring living creatures, they often carry a small broom or brush with which they can sweep them out of harm's way. The growth of Jainism and the scattering of its followers eventually led to a division over whether or not their monks should be allowed to wear clothing. One group believed that they should avoid any concession to human comfort, and that the body should not be protected from heat, cold, or rough surfaces. This group became known as the Digambaras, which means "clad in the four directions"-in other words, naked. The other group, known as the Svetambaras ("clad in white"), believed that a single white garment was permissible.

During the month of Bhadrapada in the Hindu calendar, the Jains observe an eightday fast known as Paryushana. They confess their sins and ask forgiveness for any harm they might have caused, consciously or unconsciously, to any living thing. The fast, which allows them to eat only once a day, is observed by both the Svetambar and Digambar sects at different times. Svetambar Jains begin their fast on the thirteenth day of the waning half of the month, ending on the fifth day of the waxing half. Digambar Jains begin their observation on the fifth day of the waxing half and end on the thirteenth lunar day. They spend this period analyzing themselves and criticizing their own behavior. They beg forgiveness from one another for offenses they may have committed, whether deliberately or unknowingly, in the hope that they can restore lost friendships. They also worship the Tirthankaras or "crossing-makers"-the twenty-four great teachers of the Jain religion.


Ten Cardinal Virtues

A major focus of the self-examination that goes on during Paryushana is what are known as the Ten Cardinal Virtues: forgiveness, charity, simplicity, contentment, truthfulness, self-restraint, fasting, detachment, humility, and continence. Jain leaders lecture on the importance of pursuing these virtues and stress their cultivation. The process of cultivating the Ten Cardinal Virtues symbolizes man's emergence from an evil and depraved world to one of spiritual and moral refinement.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Crim, Keith R. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. Gaer, Joseph. Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.


The Pluralism Project at Harvard University


August-September; Hindu month of Bhadrapada
Like most other Jaina festivals, the Paryushana festival is observed by focusing on the 10 cardinal virtues: forgiveness, charity, simplicity, contentment, truthfulness, self-restraint, fasting, detachment, humility, and continence. Believers ask those whom they may have offended to forgive them, and friendships that have lapsed during the year are restored.
The Paryushana festival is observed all over India in the month of Bhadrapada (August-September), but on different dates. The Svetambara Jainas observe it for eight days, and then the ten-day celebration of the Digambara Jainas begins.
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 520
OxDictWrldRel-1997, p. 737
RelHolCal-2004, p. 195