by Dr. Venugopal Menon


Jainism is one of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions. Its ancient Indian tradition can be traced to twenty-four spiritual leaders or Thirthankaras, the earliest ones from time immemorial, the 23rd one Parshvanantha, whom the historians date to 8th century BC and the 24th Thirthankara, Mahavira around 600 BC.

Jain dharma or principles are ahimsa (non-violence), anekantavada (many-sidedness), aparigraha (non-attachment), asceticism (abstinence from sensual pleasures), and believes that the function of the soul is to help one another. The Jain ethics are five; non-violence, truth, not stealing, celibacy and non-possessiveness.

Their practice of non-violence towards all living beings has led to the Jain culture of vegetarianism, fasting for prescribed periods (upavasa, Tapasya, vrata) during many auspicious festivals, meditation, and many rituals. Of the 24 Tirthankaras, the Jains worship predominantly four: Mahavira, Parshvantha, Neminata, and Rishabhanantha.

Jainism has a very rich life of rituals and festivals, with significant meaning for the benefit of the participants. Their rituals are woven into their pious life, like spreading the grain for the birds, filtering the water, the practice of equanimity and repentance for any harm caused. The principal festivals that people of the Jain faith celebrate are, Paryushan, Mahavir Jayanti, Mahamastakabhisheka, Diwali, Bhai Beej, Jnan Panchami, Karthik Poornima, and Maun Ekadashi.




The Paryusana Parva is the most important festival for the Jains. It is celebrated from the 12th day of the waning moon in the lunisolar month of Bhadrapada, typically during August/September. During the eight days, Jains fast and pray, emphasizing their five vows, making an active effort to stop cruelty to all forms of life.

The last day is focused on prayer and meditation sessions known as Samvatsari. This is the time for atonement, granting forgiveness to others, seeking clemency from others. The literal meaning of Paryushana is ‘abiding’ or ‘coming together. During these days, the spiritual preceptors read out and explain the Kalpasutra, the sacred scripture of the Jains, as the members listen to it, overwhelmed with emotions.


Mahavir Jayanti


Also called Mahavir Janma Kalyanak, is one of the most important festivals of Jainism that celebrates the birth anniversary of the 24th Thirthankara Mahavir, who played a significant role in preaching Jainism. It is celebrated on the 13th day of the lunisolar month of Chaitra that falls in March/April. The festivities include visiting Jain temples, pilgrimages to the shrines, reading scriptures, and processions of Mahavira by the Jain community. Mahavira was born in 599 BCE, to his mother Trishala, and at the time of his birth, the surroundings became peaceful and serene, even the Gods offering reverence to the Thirthankara. He was given the name Vardhaman. At the age of 30, he left earthly pursuits and began meditating under an Ashoka tree for 12 years, following which, he was enlightened. Mahavira travelled across the country, preaching Dharma, non-violence, moral and ethical values, and honesty, and conveying lessons to eliminate superstitions. The event celebrating Mahavir’s birthday takes place in temples of Pawapuri in Bihar, Girnar and Palitana in Gujarat, and Parasnath temple in Kolkata. There would be lectures spreading the goodness of Jain doctrine along with feasting with customary food and serving the needy.



The ‘Grand Consecration’ refers to the abhisheka, anointment of the Jain images, held on a large scale. The most famous of such consecrations is at Sravanabelagola in Karnataka, of the Bahubali Gommateshwara statue. This important festival is held once every 12 years, as an integral part of the ancient and composite Jain tradition. The festival is held in veneration of the 58 ft monolithic statue of Siddha Bahubali, in a posture of meditation, accessible through a flight of 700 steps. The first event started in 981 CE and the next one, the 89th, should be in 2030. Bhagwan Bahubali is the son of Rishabhananda, the first of the Tirthankaras, who is worshipped for his living with exceptional qualities. The process involves pouring purified water and sandalwood paste, carried in 1008 prepared vessels or kalasas. The statue is also bathed with milk, sugarcane juice, saffron paste, turmeric, and vermillion. Offerings are made of petals, gold and silver coins, and precious stones. Similar anointments of Jain images take place at Jain temples all over India.

Diwali has a special significance in Jain tradition, marking the anniversary of Nirvana, or the final release or liberation of Mahavira’s soul, the 24th and last Thirthankara, being celebrated like the Hindu festival of Diwali. The Jain's light lamps symbolize keeping the light of Lord Mahavira’s knowledge alive. It is assumed that the Lord discarded the body of bondage of all karmas and attained mukthi or deliverance. Participants observe fast especially on the 14th day (Chaturdashi) and new moon day and listen to the Uttaradhyayan Sutra, which contains the final message of Mahavir. There is singing of hymns and recitation of bhajans as well as participating in charitable feasting, and sweets are distributed along with gifts.


Bhai Dooj

This is the festival days of honoring brothers (Bhai). When Raja Nandivardhan, the brother of Bhagwan Mahavir was in sorrow and on account of the latter’s nirvana (attainment of Mukti), his sister, Sudarshana took him to her house and comforted him. This happened on the second day of the fortnight of the waxing moon, in Kartik.

This day is observed as Bhai Beej. This festival is like Raksha Bandhan. On the day of Rakshabandhan, the sister goes to the brother and ties the Raksha; but on this day, the sister invites her brother to her house to felicitate him.


Jnan (Gyan) Panchami

This is the holy day for acquiring knowledge, the name given to the celebration that takes place on the 5th day of the fortnight of the waxing moon in Kartik (the 5th day after Diwali). This day has been assigned for the worship of pure knowledge; and on this day, there is fasting, devavandan, offering veneration to Gods, and meditation. Moreover, the books preserved in the religious libraries are cleansed and worshiped.


Kartik Poornima

On the full moon day of Kartika, the Chaturmas (the holy four months) begins as Ashadh Chaturdashi comes to an end. After this, the Jain Sadhus and Sadhvis begin their wandering Padyatra, traveling on foot. A pilgrimage to Shatrunjay - Palitana on this day is considered to be of great importance. Thousands of Jains go on pilgrimages on this day.


Maun Ekadashi


The holy day for observing silence, Maun Ekadashi falls on the 11th day of the fortnight of the waxing moon in the month of Margashirsha, in December. This is an important day for Jains on which they observe total silence-Maun and carry out austerities as Paushadh vrat, fasting, worshipping of gods, meditation, etc. This is the day on which the great events relating to the one hundred and fifty Jineswaras are celebrated through holy recitation. The story of Suvrat Shresthi is connected with this day.