The festival of Paryushana has already passed, but next year’s festival dates have already been set. For those who are unaware of the Jain festival, Paryushana is more commonly known as the festival of forgiveness according to the Jain faithful: an eight-day or ten-day festival (depending on whom you ask) where Jains of both of the prominent sects – Svetambara and Digambara – have significant fasting periods and ultimately seek to atone for sins they have committed upon others.
Fasting and forgiveness are the two focal points of Paryushana, the pinnacle of holy events in the Jain religion. Originating from and practiced mostly in India, Jainism teaches its followers to achieve liberation by way of non-violence (ahimsa) and renunciation or non-possession (aparigraha). Similar to Buddhism, Jainism believes in a cycle of reincarnation that will ultimately lead to the liberation of and true bliss of the soul when one has truly achieved these and the other three major mahavratas of brahmacarya (chaste living or sexual restraint), satya (truthfulness) and asteya (non-stealing) – cumulatively known as the Five Great Vows.
The celebration of Paryushana itself has no strict protocol, and it only suggests that its followers practice as they are able. Typically common in either sect, however, is the recital of several chapters from holy text. For the Svetambara (also known as the “white-clad”), followers often recite from the Kalpa Sutra, a collection of biographies of Tirthankaras – saviors and spiritual teachers – or of the Antagada Sutra to learn of those who had achieved moksha – spiritual liberation from the cycle of karma, similar in concept to Buddhism’s nirvana. The Digambara (the “sky-clad”) often recite from the Tattvartha Sutra, which compiles a rich philosophy of Jainism in the span of ten chapters. This text is generally regarded as one of the authoritative texts on Jainism as a whole, and is held in high esteem between both the Digambara and the Svetambara.
Both Digambara and Svetambara also celebrate Paryushana by way of fasting, and this only has slight differences between the two factions. Digambara often practice this by consuming food or water no more than once per day. Svetambara recognize this by consuming only water, also boiled, between sunrise and sunset. Fasting for Jains is said to be a process of purifying the body and the soul, and that the act of fasting in itself will not suffice for Jains – one who truly follows this spiritual path during a fast must also restrain themselves from having the very desire of eating and drinking, or else the fasting is viewed as worthless.
The other major component and reason of Paryushana, forgiveness, falls in line with the great vow of ahimsa – non-violence. For both Svetambara and Digambara, the final day of the festival of Paryushana culminates in a mass prayer for forgiveness of all offenses. Jains of both sects often practice this by chanting, “Micchami dukadam.” Roughly translated, this means, “If I have offended you – knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, in word or in action – then I seek your forgiveness.” Because Jains actively ask for forgiveness, essentially, from all living beings – not only friends, family or strangers – some also refer to this act as the “rite of universal friendship.”