Diwali: India’s biggest festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and global citizens

Round golden tray with lit candles

Diya lamps and candles lit for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Pexels

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7: The festival of lights launches from India today and crosses the globe, in the ancient celebration of Diwali. In recognition of the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali bears great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. As awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world. (Note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region. In some regions—such as Texas, U.S., Auckland, New Zealand and Manchester, England—festivals are already taking place.)

Extra! FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis adds more about Diwali—plus a delicious recipe!

PREPARATIONS AND CELEBRATIONS

Man in white Indian tunic making circle of light with sparkler firecracker

Happy Diwali! Photo by Varun Khurana, courtesy of Flickr

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance, so a flurry of pre-Diwali activity can be seen in most cities of India. In a shopping extravaganza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps, filled with oil) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. The night’s extravaganza is a sky ablaze with fireworks, and families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts. Tonight, the diyas will remain lit through the dark hours.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj, celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

ATMAN: THE SOUL

Several Hindu schools of philosophy teach the existence of something beyond the physical body and mind: something pure and infinite, known as atman. Diwali revels in the victory of good over evil, in the deeper meaning of higher knowledge dissipating ignorance and hope prevailing over despair. When truth is realized, one can see past ignorance and into the oneness of all things.

DIWALI AMONG JAINS AND SIKHS

On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple, fireworks and more.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHinduJainSikh

Paryushan Parva: Jains fast, observe 10 key virtues during forgiveness festival

A temple against changing sky colors

A Jain temple in India. Photo courtesy of pxhere.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 7 to MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24: 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 (Sept. 7-14, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (Sept. 15-24, 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. The end of Paryushan 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? 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.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaJain

Diwali: Hindus, Jains and Sikhs mark dazzling festival of lights

Girl poses with candle-lit bowls of oil

A girl with diya lamps lit for Diwali. Photo by Partha Sarathi Sahana, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19: The ancient Hindu celebration of Diwali—a global festival of lights—launches from India today. In acknowledgment of and gratitude for the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali holds great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. As awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world. (Note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region.)

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance: In a shopping bonanza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India, while at home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

Did you know? Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit dipa (“light,” or “lamp”) and avali (“series,” “line” or “row”). For Diwali, rows of earthen lamps—filled with oil—are lit in homes and temples.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. To receive the blessings of Lakshmi on this night means a good year ahead. On Diwali evening, families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts and the sky is ablaze with fireworks. Tonight, the diyas will remain lit through the dark hours.

News from Delhi, 2017: In efforts toward a smoke- and noise-free Diwali, the sale of fireworks has been banned in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) this year. Read the story in the Times of India.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj (also spelled Bhai Dooj) celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

DIWALI, MAHAVIRA & BANDI CHHOR DIVAS

For Jains: On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness. Today, many Jains fast, meditate on Mahavira and chant this Tirthankar’s words during Diwali.

For Sikhs: Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and 52 Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple, fireworks and more. For some Sikhs, Diwali also is a time to remember the martyrdom of Sikh scholar Bhai Mani Singh in 1737, and the eventual establishment of the Khalsa rule.

EXTRAS

Find a kid-friendly approach to teaching about Diwali from National Geographic.

Access recipes, poems, wallpapers and more at DiwaliFestival.org.

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Categories: Hindu

Paryushan Parva: Jains enter period of supreme forgiveness, meditation

Temple of stone with worshippers people walking out

Adherents leave the Jain temple at Ranakpur, one of the holiest Jain sites. This temple contains more than 1,000 columns, of which none are identical. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 18: Forgiveness plays a central role in many world religions, but for Jains, it’s the focus of the most important festival of the year. This spiritually intense period is known as the festival of Paryushan Parva, or Paryushana. For eight or 10 days (Swetambar Jains observe Paryushana for eight days; Digambar Jains observe for 10), adherents fast, study sacred texts and make a renewal of faith. A vital element of this festival is the asking of forgiveness—from other persons, animals and any other form of life, whether the offense is known or not. This ritual may be referred to as the rite of universal friendship.

Glass of water on white

Photo courtesy of Free Stock Photo.biz

Did you know? Jains ask forgiveness with the words “Micchami Dukkadam,” or “Uttam Kshama,” which conveys the meaning: “If I have cause you offense in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.”

Jainism incorporates an especially deep concern and respect for all living beings, from animals and insects, to plants and root vegetables (Jain monks uphold this value to the highest level). 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. Jains hold that only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.”

Fast fact: Swetambar Jains observe the festival as Paryushana; Digambar Jains refer to it as Das Lakshana. Some Jains in the United States observe the festival for 18 days, which combines the Swetambar and Digambar periods.

PARYUSHAN: DAILY OBSERVANCES

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. Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. During the eight-day festival for Swetambar Jains, the Kalpa Sutra is recited, which includes a portion on the birth of Mahavira, the final Tirthankara, or spiritual exemplar. Some Swetambar Jains recite the Antagada Sutra, which describes the lives of men and women who attained moksha, or soul liberation, during the era of Mahavira. In many communities, a procession is made to the main temple during Paryushana.

The end of Paryushan 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.

NEWS: Last month, 5,000 Jains in India chanted the Navkar Mantra 36 lakh times in two hours, creating a record in the city. Read the story here.

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Categories: Jain

Hindu, Jain: Observe ‘never diminishing’ Akshaya Tritiya

Sugarcane juice

Cool cups of sugarcane juice ready for the holiday.

FRIDAY, APRIL 28: It’s an auspicious day for Hindus and Jains today: It’s “the never diminishing” Akshaya Tritiya. The most common ways to celebrate? Buy a bit of gold or make an investment to celebrate in the Hindu manner. Or, sip a cool cup of sugarcane juice to appreciate Jain traditions.

As its Sanskrit translation indicates, Akshaya Tritiya is a day traditionally believed to bring success to anyone who begins a new venture, performs a work of service or makes an investment. Although both Hindus and Jains observe Akshaya Tritiya, their reasons for marking the holy day are different. (Wikipedia has details.)

For Hindus, a variety of legends surround this sacred day. Many turn to the god Vishnu on Akshaya Tritiya, as it’s believed Parashurama—the sixth Avatar, or incarnation, of Vishnu—was born. Another Hindu tradition holds that the river Ganges descended to Earth from heaven today, and so a dip in the most sacred Indian river is common. Still others believe Akshaya Tritiya is the day Veda Vyasa began declaring the epic Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha.

How seriously is this tradition held in Indian communities? Answer: Pretty seriously. The Times of India recently reported that the real-estate market in the Mumbai area is expecting a boom around the holiday. Meanwhile, Business Standard reports that sales of gold jewelry will rise.

Jains call to mind the first Tirthankara, or enlightened spiritual leader, named Rishabhadeva. Jains believe the first Tirthankara gave up his kingship in Ayodhya to become a Jain monk, but that as he traveled the countryside, he became hungry because the people offered their former king gold, jewels and expensive garments instead of food. Finally, Rishabhadeva’s grandson understood his need and gave him sugar cane juice. On Akshaya Tritiya, it’s common for Jains to break a fast with sugar cane juice, too.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Paryushan Parva: Jains enter period of intense meditation and forgiveness

White temple agains sunset sky

The Manas Mandir Jain Temple in India. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

MONDAY, AUGUST 29: The deepest spiritual period of the year arrives for Jains today with the festival of Paryushana. For eight or 10 days (Swetambar Jains observe Paryushana for eight days; Digambar Jains observe for 10), adherents fast, study sacred texts and make a renewal of faith.

In comparison to other world religions, Jainism incorporates an especially deep concern and respect for all living beings, from animals and insects, to plants and root vegetables. (Learn more from Jain World.) Jain monks uphold this value to the highest level.

Did you know? Swetambar Jains observe the festival as Paryushana; Digambars refer to it as Das Lakshana. Some Jains in the United States observe the festival for 18 days, which combines the Swetambar and Digambar periods.

During the eight-day festival for Swetambar Jains, the Kalpa Sutra is recited, which includes a portion on the birth of Mahavira, the final Tirthankara, or spiritual exemplar. Some Swetambar Jains recite the Antagada Sutra, which describes the lives of men and women who attained moksha, or soul liberation, during the era of Mahavira. In many communities, a procession is made to the main temple during Paryushana.

Looking for recipes? Many observant Jains already keep a vegetarian diet, but during the period of Paryushan Parva, additional dietary restrictions are practiced. Find 35 delicious Parushan recipes at Archana’s Kitchen, and Indian food blog website.

Indian boy standing against concrete wall holding basket

A young Jain stands outside of a temple in India. Photo by Meena Kadri, courtesy of Flickr

THE FESTIVAL OF FORGIVENESS

A vital element of the Paryushan Parva is the asking of forgiveness—from other persons, animals and any other form of life, whether the offense is known or not. Jains ask forgiveness with the words “Micchami Dukkadam,” or “Uttam Kshama,” which conveys the meaning: “If I have cause you offense in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.” This ritual may be referred to as the rite of universal friendship.

For the duration of this festival, Jains are expected to uphold 10 specific virtues:

  • Forgiveness
  • Modesty/humility
  • Straightforwardness
  • Contentment/purity
  • Truth
  • Self-restraint
  • Penance
  • Renunciation
  • Non-attachment
  • Supreme celibacy
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Categories: Faiths of IndiaJain

Anant Chaturdashi: Jains practice forgiveness, Hindus immerse Ganesha

Statue colorful of Lord Ganesha over massive crowd agains grey stormy sky

Traditionally, statues of Lord Ganesha are paraded down the streets before being immersed in water on Anant Chaturdashi. Photo courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: For Hindus and across India, the past 10 days have filled homes, temples and the streets with colorful and vivid Ganeshotav figures, offerings of sweet modak treats and prayers to the beloved deity. Today, thousands of figures of Lord Ganesh are carried to rivers, lakes and other bodies of water in singing and dancing processions, to complete a final ritual for Ganesh Chaturthi. Today is known as Anant Chaturdashi—the day that Lord Ganesha departs, until next year’s festival.

Did you know? Lokmanya Tilak (1856-1920 CE) changed Ganesh Chaturthi from a private to a public event, to “bridge the gaps between Brahmins and non-Brahmins.”

On Anant Chaturdashi, Hindus carry Ganesh statues to bodies of water for immersion. In parts of India, a special bowl containing milk, curd, jaggery, honey and ghee is meant to symbolize an “Ocean of Milk.” (Wikipedia has details.) A thread containing 14 knots—and representing Lord Anant—is swirled through the milk mixture, and then tied to the right arm (for a man) or the left arm (for a woman). The Anant thread is kept tied to the arm for 14 days.

The legend behind Anant Chaturdashi tells of a woman named Sushila and her husband, Kaundinya. While journeying, Sushila came across a group of women performing “Anant’s Vow,” which included, among other things, the 14-knot string tied to the arm. Sushila took the vow, and she and Kaundinya became very wealthy—until Kaundinya doubted the power of Sushila’s thread and threw it into the fire. Courses turned, and the couple came to live in extreme poverty. Finally, Kaundinya realized his error and attempted penance. After much effort, Kaundinya realized that Vishnu was Anant. Vishnu promised Kaundinya that if he would make a 14-year vow, his sins would be forgiven and he would obtain wealth and happiness, once again.

JAINS: FORGIVENESS AND THE END OF PARYUSHANA

Jains observe Anant Chaturdashi as the end of das lakshan parva, or Paryushana—the eight-day festival of meditation, fasting and purification. Many adherents take measures to observe all religious restrictions on Anant Chaturdashi (fasting, observing the 10 Virtues, etc.), and temples are filled with Jains in prayer and meditation. The faithful ask forgiveness of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and enemies, with some offering puja to the Tirthankars (spiritual exemplars).

NEWS: A COLLISION OF MAJOR HOLIDAYS & A MEAT BAN

Authorities are issuing warnings in anticipation of possible conflicts between the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Sept. 23, sunset) and Ganesh Chaturthi (Sept. 17-27). (Times of India has the story.) As both are major holidays for their respective religions, authorities urge groups to keep to themselves and take respective measures, such as keeping Anant processions on traditional routes.

This year, more than five Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states of India have banned the sale of meat during the Jain festival of Paryushana and, in some regions, on Anant Chaturdashi. (Hindustan Times reported.) The slaughter and sale of meat, fish and poultry has been banned during these festival days, and hotels and restaurants may not serve any non-vegetarian dishes.

 

 

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHinduJain