WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12: Jains are gearing up for the holiest day of the year today by starting Paryushana / Paryushan Parva, a self-cleansing ritual that lasts eight days.*
Observant Jains try to set aside all negativity for eight days. They try to ensure that they harm no living being—even bugs or microscopic bacteria. When not at the temple or reading scripture, practicing Jains who aren’t fasting consume only dried beans or lentils: It’s believed that eating anything fresh is harming the plant it came from, and even fermented foods are teeming with living bacteria that would otherwise be eaten. (Hear it from Jains in this article in the Times of India.)
On the holiest day of the year—Samvatsari—devotees have been cleansed through Paryushana and proceed to ask forgiveness from every living being. It was from Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar, that Jains learned that no food should be consumed until forgiveness is obtained. (Wikipedia has details.) The phrase “Micchami Dukkadam” means in rough English translation: “If I have cause you offence in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.”
Jain monks in monsoon climates begin seeking shelter during Paryushana, and fittingly enough, this also provides community members the opportunity to listen to the monks’ sermons. (Are you near metro Detroit? Check out the Jain Society schedule. Near New York? Grab a meal courtesy of Paryushan Meals.)
In the temple, laypeople and monks alike pray to reject vices and improper desires, all the while studying holy texts. Even traditional postures are practiced while meditating, all for one purpose: leading the soul closer to salvation. The faithful hope to rid their souls of all attached karmic matter; they live by the motto, “Live and Let Live.”
*Note: Due to the many sects of Jains, Paryushan dates differ by region and group. In addition, the two main Jain sects—Shwetambar and Digambar—observed Paryushan almost one month apart this year due to the emergence of two “adhik” months in the Hindu calendar. Thus, some Jains marked Paryushan last month.