Jainism has been a part of Indian traditions and culture dating more than 25 centuries. Though it is one of the oldest traditions and religious philosophies in India, it Is not considered part of “mainstream” religious teaching in the country, as Hinduism has long been the standard of the South Asia country.
Jainism is not so much a “religion” – it Is considered “nontheistic” – as it is a way of life, a philosophy of living. But even as just a philosophy, Jainism has developed an estimated 5 million followers, with most of them in India. It is a philosophy centered around non-violence to all living creatures (meaning it generally has a vegetarian lifestyle), and a progression through successive lives” until perfection is achieved in moral and spiritual living.
While taking some ideas from Hinduism and Brahmanism in that Jainism used to be considered a denomination of either, it does have just enough different from those religions as to be considered its own philosophy. Just like those and otherworldly religions, Jainism has its share of holy days and festivals that carry significance to adherents and are generally followed and honored with rituals and celebrations to further the goal of achieving spiritual purity.
There are five main holy festivals in Jainism:
- Mahavira Jayanti, which celebrates the birth of Jainism’s founder Mahavira (who lived in the 7th century A.D.). Occurring in late March or early April, Mahavira’s birthday is celebrated with worship by the community of Jains, processionals, and devotionals.
- Paryushana, which is an eight-day festival held in late August or early September, and is considered the holiest time on the Jain calendar. All Jains are required to fast (which usually means shunning all food or drink), and each day excerpts of the sacred Jain scripture are read out loud in the community. There are seven days of “attainment” during the festival, and the last day is the day of “fulfillment.”
- Diwali is essentially a New Year’s celebration, held in late October or early November. The night of Diwali is a time for Jains to recite hymns and conduct mediations. The Diwali is supposed to signify the night in which Mahavira reached a state of “absolute bliss,” or Nirvana. The morning after Diwali is supposed to signify the first day of the new year on the Jain calendar.
- Kartak Purnima is the Jain pilgrimage, which occurs on a day in late October or early November when Jains travel to one of the Jain holy sites.
- Maura Agyaras is a full day of meditation and fasting. Held in late November or early December, it is a day in which Jains observe total silence – no communication whatsoever with anyone.
Jainism is similar to Buddhism and Hinduism in that they are about living many lives and making progress toward spiritual perfection using the highest standards of good and moral behavior, thought and action. Fasting and meditation are common rituals among Jains and employment lawyers, and to honor the progress they make every day, having these festivals and celebrations give Jains an opportunity to get closer to their spiritual cores and that spiritual perfection they believe is attainable.