Fasting ritual in Jainism (India)

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.

Paryushan – A Festival of Forgiveness (Jainism India)

Paryushan is one of the most important festivals for Jains. Normally Shwetambar Jains refer it as Paryushan, while Digambar Jains refer it as Daslakshana. It lasts 8 days for shwetambars and 10 days for digambaras. It is a festival where the entire community strives towards self-purification through fasting and sacrifice. At the heart of the philosophy behind Paryushan are ten universal virtues that is believed to help us purify and rectify our minds.

The ten universal virtues are:

  • Forbearance, exercising self-control
  • Gentleness, being kind to the nature
  • Uprightness, being honest with oneself
  • Purity, having clean thoughts and actions
  • Truth, being truthful
  • Restraint, exercising control over desires
  • Austerity, consuming only according to necessity
  • Renunciation, learning to sacrifice
  • Lack of possession, donating excesses to needy
  • Chastity, sexual restraint.

Paryushan means, literally, “abiding” or “coming together”. It is more of following strict Jainism for 8 days. Most people observe fast during these days. They survive on boiled water, which is consumed only between sunrise and sunset for 8 days. Those who are not on fast try not to eat anything else than cereal and pulses (no vegetables, no fruits), as cereals and pulses are considered to have least number of organism whom you can harm. These 8 days are celebrated with great enthusiasm.

We also perform Pratikraman on these days.Though few people do it on a daily basis. Pratikraman means turning back. It is a form of meditation where one reflects on his spiritual journey and renews his faith.

For both Shwetambars and Digambars, it takes the form of periodic meditation. Jains are considered to perform atleats one annual Pratikraman on the last day of Paryushan. This day is called Samvatsari.

On this day we request each other for forgiveness for all offenses committed during the last year. Forgiveness is asked by telling “Micchami Dukkadam” or “Uttam Kshama” to each other.

It means “If I have caused you offence in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness“. This is my favorite part.


This post is a part of series in Discovering the Cultural Significance of various rituals and festivals in India.

Mahavir Jayanti

Mahavir Jayanti is celebrated as the birthday of Mahavir on Chaitrya Sud Triyodashi, which is falling on 19-20 April this year 2016. Mahavir is consider to be founder or proposer of modern day Jainism. I have provided a brief glimpse into the wide aspects of Jainism below.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions known today and its origins lie in India. Theologians often classify Jainism as a philosophy, a way of living life, rather than a religion.

Jainism is a non-theistic religion. There is no concept of God or spiritual beings. There’s no one to create, maintain or destroy the universe. The only thing which maintains the universe is, the universe itself. No one is superior to the laws of the universe. Jains believe that there were 24 great teachers, the first one named Rishabh Dev ji and the last of whom was Lord Mahavir who lived during 6th century B.C. Mahavir is regarded as the man who gave Jainism its present-day form. These twenty-four teachers are called Tirthankars– people who had attained all knowledge while living (Moksh) and preached it to the people. The Tirthankars were all humans once, they did some good deeds and were eligible for being a Thirthankar in next incarnation. Jinas are believed to reside in the top level of heaven, above the realm of the gods. Accordingly, liberated souls are revered more than the gods.

Jains believe in reincarnation and seek to attain ultimate liberation – which means escaping the continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The ultimate goal is to get rid of one’s karma on their soul so that they may end this cycle. Once this goal is reached their soul has attained all knowledge and it rests in the heavens forever (Nirvana). This is similar to the preachings of Buddhism, but the principle and path to achieve Nirvana are slightly different. It is a matter of lot of speculations between the historians to find, if any connection between Buddha and Mahavira.

The way to get rid of one’s karma is to follow certain rules of doing good somewhat similar to the ten commandments in Christianity or the eight-fold path in Buddhism.

These include the principles of:

  • Ahimsa – To protect all life (non-violence)
  • Satya – To speak truth
  • Asteya – To not steal
  • Brahmacharya – To not commit adultery
  • Aparigraha – To limit one’s possessions

Jains uphold these principles by practicing vegetarianism, non-violence in thought, deed, and action.

The three guiding principles of Jainism, the ‘three jewels’, are right belief, right knowledge and right conduct.

In present day India, large group of Jains can be found in States of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The two prominent pilgrim centres for Jains are Sikharji located in Jharkhand and Palitana in Gujarat. Both the pilgrim centres are located on hill stations and they take the test of Pilgrims.

Jain culture is divided into 2 sects:

  • Shwetambar : Shwet (White) + Ambar (Clothes)
  • Digambar: Dig (Sky) +Ambar (Clothes).

Both the sects have their own monks and nuns. Monks of Shwetambar sect wear white clothes with little to no stitches and Digambar monks live completely naked. This is because Digambars believe that one can only lead the life of a true monk by having no worldly possessions and by demonstrating indifference to earthly emotions such as shame. They consider themselves clothed by directions. Nuns of both the sects are white clothed.

Paryushan is another important festivals for Jain apart from Mahavir Jayanti. Read more about Paryushan here.


This post is a part of series in Discovering the Cultural Significance of various rituals and festivals in India.