Paryushan Parva: Jains ask forgiveness during principle festival

Building with white pillars, gray-and-white tiles on floor of outdoor area

The Parasnath Jain temple in Calcutta, in India. During Paryushan, many Jains spend more time in temples. Photo by Jyotirmai, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30: Forgiveness plays a central role in many world religions, but for Jains, it’s the focus of the most important festival of the year: Paryushan Parva.

Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (Aug. 22-29, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (Aug. 30-Sept. 8, this year), Paryushan Parva means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. 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. (Learn more from Jain World and Digambar Jain Online.)

Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. The end of Paryushan brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. (Wikipedia has details.) 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? Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva. Some drink only between sunrise and sunset; others consume only water. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones.

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:
JAIN STOCK INDEX REQUESTED FOR ADHERENTS

There is public discussion of creating an index of stocks of companies complying with Jain religious structures, reported Business-Standard, and officials are seriously considering the requests. Similar to the Islamic Shariah index, which avoids liquor companies, a Jain index would, for example, avoid companies that deal in food products that are not strictly vegetarian. With increasing numbers of Jain investors, officials say religious scholars would first need to provide an assessment of which stocks to include in the index.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaJain

Ganesh Chaturthi: Hindus observe beloved deity’s rebirth with pomp and color

Elephant's eyes carved in figure with crown and surrounding vibrant colors

The favored Lord Ganesh is front-and-center during the festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi. Photo by Ishan Manjrekar, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29: Months of preparation and the handiwork of thousands of artisans culminate today with the launch of the Hindu festival: Ganesh Chaturthi. Named for its principle deity, Lord Ganesha, Ganesh Chaturthi lasts 10 days in most of India, although the extent of this festival varies by region.

The auspicious festival promises sweet dishes, spiked with coconut and dried fruit; processions, singing and dancing; colorful statuary in every size; and vibrantly decorated homes. For Hindus, Lord Ganesh is a god for everybody. Wealth, class or caste placement bears no interest in the eyes of Ganesh and for this trait the deity has earned many followers. He is known as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune—and, if invoked during his festival, brings fortune to any devotee beginning a new venture. In Hindu legend, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati.

MAKINGS OF A LEGEND:
SANDALWOOD PASTE & LORD GANESHA

Though traditions vary, legend has it that while taking a bath one day, Parvati wished for someone to stand guard by her door. Sculpting a son of sandalwood paste and breathing life into him, Parvati set her creation—Ganesha—to stand guard. Ganesha turned away every stranger who came by the door, including Parvati’s husband, Lord Shiva, when he returned home. Though the young boy did not know Lord Shiva, Parvati’s husband became enraged when forbidden from entering his own home. Finally, Lord Shiva severed Ganesha’s head. (Read more from Taj Online.)

Upon seeing her headless son, Parvati was distressed. Shiva promised to bring the boy back to life, but upon searching the lands, no human head could be found. Only the head of an elephant was available to save the boy. Shiva secured the elephant’s head onto Ganesha’s body.

FESTIVITIES, DECORATED FIGURES
AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Giant, colorful statue of elephant god sitting on chair, being paraded down crowded street

An enormous figure of Lord Ganesha is paraded down a street during Ganesh Chaturthi. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Months before the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, artisans craft models of Lord Ganesh, in all sizes and of varying materials: clay, Plaster of Paris, papier mache, stone and more. Intricately detailed and painted in a palette of bold colors, the models serve as sacred statues that are ceremoniously installed and, later, immersed in water.

Lord Ganesh is depicted in a variety of poses, in models ranging from less than an inch to 117 feet tall. (Wikipedia has details.) Many communities host a pandal (temporary structure), which is lavishly decorated and set in high competition against the pandals of nearby localities. Priests chant mantras, invoke the presence of Ganesha into the statues, and laypersons make offerings to the statues.

For several days, participants feast on sweets like modak (a dumpling of rice flour, stuffed with coconut and dried fruits) and karanji. From India to Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand to Europe, the United States and Canada, Hindus celebrate in temples and close the festival by immersing the Ganesha statues into local bodies of water.

In recent decades, devotees have been urged to discontinue some of the non-biodegradable Plaster of Paris figures that were causing environmental concern. Today, more and more adherents are choosing to immerse their idols into a tub or bucket; or, others are producing idols made of environmentally friendly materials. In Goa, the sale of Ganesh figures made from Plaster of Paris is banned by the state government.

IN THE NEWS:
LONDON FESTIVAL TO ATTRACT THOUSANDS;
ARTISANS COMPLETE MASSIVE GANESHA MODEL

A festival in Hounslow for Ganesh Chaturthi, now in its seventh year, attracts thousands of people, according to London news reports. Claiming the title of “largest in west London,” this party for Ganesh brought in more than 4,000 visitors during the festival weekend last year. In 2014, events will kick off with the arrival of a Lord Ganesh—straight from India.

Artisans in Hyderabad, India, are wrapping up one of the tallest figures of Ganesha for this year’s celebrations, as the statue pushes a height of 60 feet. Crafted by 125 workers for more than 50 days, the figure began as a 1-foot model in 1954, and has been slowly built upon and utilized for Ganesh Chaturthi every year since. (Read the story here.) Organizers say the sacred statue now reaches 60 ft. high and 28 ft. wide, weighing in somewhere between 45 and 50 tons.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Senior Citizens Day: Say ‘thank you’ to members of a changing demographic

Elderly couple standing beneath an orange umbrella

Senior citizens have become the largest—and fastest-growing—segment of the U.S. population. Photo by Sarah Thomas, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, AUGUST 21: Thank an elderly person in your life—or, one you just met—today, on National Senior Citizens Day. As the nation’s elderly population swells, the contributions of seniors cannot be denied: healthier lifestyles are leading to more active later years, and volunteering at unprecedented levels. What’s more, this national holiday celebrates the achievements and accomplishments of the approximately 40 million older Americans alive today. (Learn what some Boomers really think about the “senior” label in this article, from Delaware Online.)

The year was 1988; President Ronald Reagan created National Senior Citizens Day with a proclamation, declaring that, “Throughout our history, older people have achieved much for our families, our communities, and our country. That remains true today, and gives us ample reason this year to reserve a special day in honor of the senior citizens who mean so much to our land. (Read more here.) In a discussion on the topic, he stated, “For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute.”

What can I do? On National Senior Citizens Day, visit a senior living center, an elderly relative or an older neighbor. Take an older person who can no longer drive to a movie, shopping, or to see a friend. Volunteer your time at a nursing home, and encourage others to do the same! Sunrise Senior Living suggests hosting a luncheon or outdoor activity for the seniors in your community.

Being a senior in the United States definitely has its perks, too—this article lists all of the discounts and freebies available from age 50, 55, 60 and more. Medicare, Social Security and AARP benefits are among the most widely known, but more discounts can be found on websites like SeniorDiscounts.com. Government programs available for seniors can be found at Benefits.gov.

The United Nations International Day for Older Persons is observed annually on October 1.

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Categories: National Observances

Krishna Janmashtami: Celebrating the birthday of a popular Hindu deity

Pyramid of boys wearing red shirts in a street alley, with top boy reaching for pot hanging from strung rope

A team of youngsters attempts to reach the handi pot, on Krishna Janmashtami. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, AUGUST 18: Break out the handi pots, fast in reverence and join the anxious wait for the midnight birth of a Hindu deity on Krishna Janmashtami. Many of the world’s more than 900 million Hindus mark this magnificent holiday with sweets, butter, Dahi Handi and uriadi events, and dramatic enactments of Krishna’s life.

Renowned for his playfulness and mischievous youth, the eighth avatar of Vishnu is believed to have been born in 3228 BCE. Prior to his birth, a prophesy declared that the eighth child of Princess Devaki—Krishna—would kill the murderous king, Kansa. The prophesy inspired the hiding of the child Krishna, and as foretold, the grown Krishna returned home to take Kansa’s life.

HANDI POTS AND
ROARING KRISHNA’S NAME

From the morning of Krishna Janmashtami, devotees fast and place images of Krishna’s infancy in swings and cradles. Temples are decorated, and throughout India, groups of youngsters travel to areas where handi pots—earthen pots, most commonly filled with buttermilk—are hung high. Each group forms a human pyramid, from which the topmost child attempts to break the handi pot, which is hung high above the ground. (Wikipedia has details.) Prizes are offered for the group that breaks each pot, and large sums of money have attracted more competitors in recent years. In some regions, local celebrities and Bollywood actors participate in the activities, all in attempt to recall the child-god Krishna’s affinity for stealing butter.

At midnight, festivities culminate in the temple, where Hindus gather for devotional songs and dance. Kirtans are sung or played, and offerings of flowers, coins and food are made. Excitement builds, and some begin to bellow the kirtans for Krishna.

The following day is called Nanda Utsav, for the celebration of Krishna’s foster parents.

Celebrating at home: Even without a temple, anyone can celebrate Krishna Janmashtami. Krishna.com suggests decorating the home with garlands and balloons; playing music and listening to bhajan recordings; reading stories of Krishna’s life; and bathing figures of Krishna in yogurt, honey and ghee. Temple goings-on can be viewed online, here.

Why Krishna? Krishna is revered by devotees for his personable ways and for his reputation for mischief making, passion and empathy. It’s believed that Krishna responds to and reciprocates the innermost desires of his worshippers.

IN THE NEWS:
AGE RESTRICTIONS LIFTED,
TALLEST KRISHNA TEMPLE CONSTRUCTION BEGINS

A Mumbai High Court decision to ban children under age 18 from participating in the pyramid-building of Dahi Handi was lifted mere days before Krishna Janmashtami, when the Supreme Court lowered the age restriction to 12. The pyramids can reach heights that can cause injury or even death, if participants fall. In its ruling, the court directed organizers to supply helmets, safety belts and layers of cushions to participants. (Indian Express reported.) The court also asked organizers to have emergency medical help available.

Work will begin on the world’s tallest Krishna temple this Janmashtami, for a building expected to reach 210 meters on 70 acres of land. Located in Vrindavan, India, the temple will also be home to a museum, library, park, forests and luxury villas. (Read the story here.)

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Categories: Faiths of India

Centennial of United Negro Improvement Association; birth of Marcus Garvey

Black-and-white photo of seated adult Marcus Garvey

Today, Rastafari and followers of Marcus Garvey celebrate his birth anniversary; this year, many also mark the centennial of the organization Garvey founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, AUGUST 17: Global celebrations, this summer, mark the centennial anniversary of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Exhibits in his name, lectures and events are drawing Rastafari devotees as well as families of Jamaican heritage and those interested in African-American history. In the midst of that observance, today marks the August 17, 1887, birth of Marcus Garvey.

Regarded as a prophet the likes of St. John the Baptist in the Rastafari religion, Garvey was born in Jamaica. During his lifetime, Garvey attracted millions of followers and built an enormously popular organization that honored African heritage in the Americas. Though his politics and viewpoints were regarded as controversial by many, Garvey earned the title of Jamaica’s first national hero and left an undeniable imprint on history.

LIFE AND TIMES:
THE STORY OF MARCUS GARVEY

Born the youngest of 11 children, Marcus Garvey developed a devotion to reading during childhood. After departing from Jamaica in 1910, Garvey worked as a newspaper editor, and began traveling; he attended college and, in 1914, organized the UNIA. As the organization grew, Garvey’s popularity soared—although opposition to his philosophies and ideas accompanied his success.

When the UNIA’s business, the Black Star Line, drew charges of mail fraud, the consequences would later haunt Garvey. Nonetheless, during that same time, the UNIA’s membership continued to grow—surpassing 4 million members. (Wikipedia has details.) Garvey tried to develop Liberia as a permanent homeland for the African Diaspora and spoke frequently on education, economics and independence.

During speeches in the 1920s, Garvey often spoke of looking to Africa for a black king who was to be crowned. When Haile Selassie I was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, many regarded Garvey as a prophet. The followers of this philosophy, who call themselves Rastafari, still believe Garvey to be a prophet.

In 1940, Garvey died in London, at age 52. Primarily, Garvey is memorialized globally for advancing a global mass empowerment focused on Africa and blacks of the Diaspora. Martin Luther King commented, in a speech in 1965, that Garvey “was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody.”

IN THE NEWS:
UNIA CENTENNIAL

Last month, the Jamaican Embassy in Washington, D.C., praised the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the UNIA, duly noting Garvey’s heroic status in Jamaica and the continuing influence of his life in the lives of people in the Diaspora. (Atlanta Black Star reported.) This month, the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will be exhibiting a gallery of original photos, magazines, books and posters dedicated to Garvey’s cause and the UNIA. The exhibit will also showcase the UNIA’s current membership and activities. (Read more in this article.)

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Categories: AnniversaryRastafari

Christian: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dormition of the Theotokos

Painting of woman in sky, crowd of people beneath her

The Assumption of the Virgin, a painting by Peter Paul Rubens. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 15: The Eastern Orthodox Dormition Fast has ended, and Christians bow their heads, today, for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul. Whether or not Mary died before being assumed does vary by tradition—for Catholic Christians, the question remains open, while for Orthodox Christians, firm belief holds that she did, in fact, die a mortal death.

No evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, yet the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. With no scriptural evidence, the Church points, instead, to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those fallen asleep after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

THE ASSUMPTION: THROUGH THE CENTURIES

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. (Wikipedia has details.) Theological debate continued in the centuries following, and though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for quite some time, it wasn’t until 63 years ago—on November 1, 1950—that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.

EAST AND WEST: THE DORMITION VS. THE ASSUMPTION

In the East: Eastern Christians believe that the Virgin Mary died a natural death, and that her soul was received by Christ upon death. Three days following, Mary’s body was resurrected, and she was taken up into heaven, bodily. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Orthodox Church in America.)

In the West: Catholics are divided in thought as to whether or not Mary died, bodily, as this theory has not been dogmatically defined either way. (Global Catholic Network has more.)

To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

No details suggest the day or year of Mary’s Assumption, though it is believed that when Mary died, the Apostles flocked to her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ descended, and carried her soul to Heaven.

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Categories: Christian

Hungry Ghost Festival: Also known as Vu Lan, Ullambana, Chugen or Obon

Lit stages, several levels, at nighttime in Taiwan

Cities light up for the (Hungry) Ghost Festival; pictured, a building in Taiwan. Photo by Wm Jas, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, AUGUST 10: A fresh season, autumn harvest and hope for rebirth among ancestors—all of these themes culminate in the (Hungry) Ghost Festival. (Alternatively, the Ghost Festival is Vu Lan in Vietnam; Ullambana in Buddhism; Chugen, or Obon in Japan; and in Taiwan it is known, simply, as Ghost Month. Wikipedia has details.)

Scholars cannot identify a single, clear origin of the festival. Some point to Buddhist and Taoist texts; others point to stories in Chinese folklore—many of which are strikingly similar. In some regions, the traditions of these are mixed and the festivals celebrated together. Activities are most auspicious on the 15th day of the lunar month, but in many places, the Ghost Festival lasts an entire month.

Why the 15th day of the seventh lunar month? Following the three-month rains retreat, which had just recently ended, traditional stories say that monks greeted the Buddha. Most often, these stories indicate, this took place on, or around, the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. The monks had newfound understanding, learned from the deep meditation of the past few months. Buddha was extremely pleased with the number of monks that attained enlightenment during this time.

Among Buddhists, and in several other Asian cultures, the seventh lunar month is unique: The gates into the afterlife are opened, and ghosts are free to roam the earth. Buddhist monks and devotees pray for deceased parents of seven generations past. Honor is shown to parents as altars are prepared, extra food is set on the table and symbolic joss paper is shaped into auspicious objects and burned as offering. Participants hope to assist spirits in their journey to the next world. (Read more here.) Also on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month—translated into the Gregorian calendar, that is today, this year—services are held to pray for those who died suddenly or unexpectedly, in the understanding that their souls could not have adequately passed into the afterlife as a result.

ULLAMBANA: A BUDDHIST TALE

Buddhist tradition tells of an accomplished disciple of Buddha who began searching for the spirit of his deceased mother. Seeing that she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he desired to help her. The Buddha instructed the monk to make elaborate offerings to the Buddha and Sangha on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, and that by the virtue of the Sangha, his mother’s soul would be spared. The monk followed the Buddha’s instructions, and saw his mother saved. (Read the Ullambana Sutra here.)

The festival comes to a close with a beautiful lantern ceremony, when people float their lanterns on nearby bodies of water, hoping to direct the ghosts back to the realm of the dead.

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Categories: BuddhistInternational Observances