Jainism is a very scientific culture. Jain Fasts are very austere and require a lot of skill, strength and devotion. Fasting is just one of many forms of penance (tapasya) and its purpose is usually to strengthen and purify the soul by shedding or weakening the karma attached to it and reminds the practitioner of Mahavira’s emphasis on renunciation and asceticism, because Mahavira spent a great deal of time fasting.
There are many types of fasts which people might undertake daily, on holy days( like Paryushan), or whenever they feel like doing it. There are no special fast for girls or boys or for job or anything else. Some people take vows to fast X times per week, or Y days every year, and stick to that schedule.
An important thing to keep in mind is that no one is ever required to fast. To fast is a personal choice, and most Jains accept that each individual’s circumstances and karmas affect the extent to which he or she can fast. Those who can’t fast are sometimes encouraged to limit the amount or variety of the food they consume on certain holy days, but even this is optional.
Forcing oneself to fast for the sake of social appearances or out of obligation is not spiritually useful for Jains.
Different types of Fast are:
- Upvas: To give up only food for the whole day.(starting from previous sunset to 2nd day sunrise – approx 36 hrs)
- Chauvihar Upvas: Like Upvas, to give up food as well as water.
- Digambar Upvas: One may drink water only once a day, before sunset.
- Shwetambar Upvas: One may drink boiled and cooled water after Porsi, provided this is done before sunset.
- Tihivar Upvas: One may drink boiled water between sunrise and sunset.
- Ekasana: To eat one meal a day at one sitting and drink boiled water as desired between sunrise and sunset.
- Beasana: To eat two meals a day in two sittings and drink boiled water anytime between sunrise and sunset.
And many more like Bela(2 days), Tela(3 days), Athai(8 days), Navai (9 days), Masakshaman (a month), etc.
This post is a part of series in Discovering the Cultural Significance of various rituals and festivals in India.