Paryushan Parva: Jains practice festival of forgiveness, fasting and renewal

Bhandasar Jain Temple

The Bhandasar Jain Temple, in India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4: Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (beginning September 4, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (beginning September 11, this year), Paryushan Parva means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. (For Digambar Jains, the festival is also sometimes known as Das Lakshana.) In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too.

Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva, with some drinking only between sunrise and sunset and others consuming only water. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones. The end of Paryushan also brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification.

Did you know?  The word “Paryushan” has several meanings. One aspect is explained this way: Pari means “all kinds,” or “fully,” and Ushan means “to burn,” so during this time, a devotee “burns” “all kinds” of karma.

Though known by several different names, Paryushan Parva unites Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.” Evil is eradicated, and eternal bliss is realized.

IN THE NEWS: Current diet fads may be promoting the practice of fasting for health reasons, but most world religions have been utilizing this tool for thousands of years—and not just for physical health, but for spiritual health. As is pointed out in an article from Florida International University:

Jain fasting includes complete avoidance of food or eating only a partial meal, eliminating rare or expensive foods and avoiding sexual temptations. The holiday of Paryushan, observed annually around August to September, is the time when Jains connect communally on the core tenets of the faith through fasting and studying.

For eight to 10 days, Jains focus on the values of forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, truth, contentment, self-restraint, penance, renunciation, nonattachment and celibacy. Fasting is also possible throughout the year by individuals, but this celebration is the common communal embracing of fasting across sects.