Diwali – Deepavali

October 26, 2011

November 5, 2010

October 17, 2009

October 28, 2008

“Since the light of intelligence (Varhamana Mahavira) is gone,
let us make an illumination of the material matter.”

On the darkest evening in the month of Ashvin (October/November), Hindus around the world fill the night with candles, lamps and firecrackers to celebrate the Festival of Lights known as Diwali.

Diwali, or Deepavali, means literally, a row of lamps. Deep meaning lamp or light, avali meaning array.)

These lights are ubiquitous during Diwali, symbolizing the victory of Inner Light over Darkness.

The third and most auspicious day of the five-day celebration falls on the new moon of the month of Ashvin.

The legends that different regions cite as the origin of Diwali are too various to recount them all.

In the north of India, Hindus celebrate Diwali as the return of the ancient King Rama to his home in Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. The Prince Rama had been forced into exile by his stepmother, Queen Keykayee, who wanted her own son to inherit the throne.

In exile, Rama’s wife Sita was abducted by the ten-headed demon Ravana, who took her back to his kingdom in Sri Lanka. Rama built a bridge from the tip of India to Sri Lanka, slayed Ravana, and returned with his wife to their homeland. The people of Ayodhya were so anxious for his return, lamps were lit all across the nation to welcome him home.

In the South, Hindus recall the defeat of the powerful Narakasura by Lord Krishna and his wife Sathyabhama, as recorded in the Puranas.

Diwali is associated with the rice harvest. One of the most popular Diwali treats is a pounded semi-cooked rice dish known as Poha.

The second and third days are traditional times to invoke the goddess Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort and the goddess of light, beauty, and prosperity. Women sweep and clean the house to allow Lakshmi a clear path of access. One staple of Diwali is the lighting of firecrackers, but Hindus are careful not to do so during aarti, (ie. invoking the goddess). For Lakshmi prefers tranquility and peace, so a small bell works better than the a loud clap preferred by other gods.

Lakshmi, Goddess of Good Fortune
Lakshmi, Goddess of Good Fortune

Diwali is considered the New Year and one of the holiest days in the Jain religion. It’s known as Maharvira Nirvana, in honor of the moment the great Mahavira reached Nirvana at age 71.

Celebrants take ritual oil-baths during the festival, symbolic of the cleansing of the soul, in the hopes of a prosperous new year.

“…On this day of Dipavali we worship the Supreme God who is the source of all conceivable virtues, goodness and prosperity, which is symbolised in illumination, lighting and worship in the form of Arati and gay joyous attitude and feeling in every respect.”

Swami Krishnananda


Regional Names and Traditions of Diwali in India

Lakshmi Puja

Lord Mahavira’s Nirvana

Paryushana – Jainism

August 26-September 1, 2011

Talk to the hand.

But not just any hand. The hand above symbolizes the concept of Ahimsa, the central component of the Jain religion. It means the practice of non-violence, but far beyond our common perception of it. Ahimsa is the absence of harm toward any living being, human or animal. For this reason vegetarianism is a essential part of Jainism. In fact, during special festivals, such as Paryushana, some Jains restrict themselves to eating those parts of plants that do not endanger the plant itself. (However, “fruitarian” diets are not necessarily practiced throughout the year.)

Ahimsa also means practicing the self-discipline not to cause harm to one’s own soul. And that means no sin. States the Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya 4.42:

All sins like falsehood, theft, attachment and immorality are forms of violence which destroy the purity of the soul. They have been separately enumerated only to facilitate their understanding.

The circle in the palm of the Jain hand represents the cycle of reincarnation, and the 24 spokes are the 24 Tirthankars, great prophets of Jain, the last of whom, Mahavira, lived over 2500 years ago.

The name of this week’s festivities, Paryushana, literally means to close in, to remain near to one’s self and soul. Paryushana stems from the tradition of monks to stay in one place, in the towns, during the rainy season. The rainy season could last four months, but the minimum duration for Paryushana was 70 days.

The period of Paryushana commences by Bhadrapada Shukla panchami, the fifth day (panchami) of the bright/full moon (Shukla) of the month of Bhadrapada (August/September).

During this time people replenish their faith through meditation, self-control, and through the wisdom of the Dharma.

There are two sects of Jainism. Digambara and Svwetambara (pardon my pronunciation.)

The Digambaras observe a 10-day festival starting on today (although the date can vary slightly by sect and location). Digambara Jains use this time to focus upon the Dashalakshana vrata—the 10 components of the Dharma:

Forbearance – Kshama
Gentleness – Mardava
Uprightness – Arjava
Purity – Shaucha
Truth – Satya
Restraint – Sanyam
Austerity – Tapa
Renunciation – Tyaga
Lack of possession – Akinchanya
and Chastity – Brahmcharya

The Svwetambara Jains celebrate an 8-day festival which ends today. During this time the Kalpa Sutra is recited. The Kalpa Sutra recalls the birth, life, and journey toward Nirvana of Mahariva.

The holy festival closes with participants seeking forgiveness for their sins of the last year.

I grant forgiveness to all living beings
May all living beings grant me forgiveness
My friendship is with all living beings
My enmity is totally non-existent
Let there be peace, harmony, and prosperity for all

Living Jain: Daily

Pluralism.org – Jain

The Significance of Paryushana Mahaparva

The Paryushana Parva

Mahavira Jayanti

April 16, 2011
March 28, 2010
April 11, 2009

I say with conviction that the doctrine for which the name of Lord Mahavir is glorified nowadays is the doctrine of Ahimsa. If anyone has practiced to the fullest extent and has propagated most the doctrine of Ahimsa, it was Lord Mahavira.

Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Mahavira Jayanti, in honor of the birthday of Lord Mahavira, who spread the Jainism religion and philosophy in India in the 6th century B.C. The holy day falls on the 13th day of Chaitra. The date varies in the Gregorian Calendar.

Mahavira was the last of the 24 Tirthankars, or “ford makers,” whose teachings form the basis of Jain Dharma, and he is one of only two for which we have concrete records of their lives.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, influencing both Hindusim and Buddhism. Jainism stresses self-control, non-violence, ascetic living, and the the divine potential in every soul. Jainists are noted for their high level of literacy throughout history. They are also known for their vast libraries going back to antiquity.

Jainism does not revolve around any one prophet or God but around the central tenant that God is an amalgamation of the qualities within each and every soul that are pure and divine.

Mahavira was a title meaning “Great Hero.” Maharvira was born to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala in the kingdom of ancient Vaishali, in what is now Northeast India. His name, Prince Varhaman (Varhaman meant “increasing”) is believed to refer to how all good things in nature flourished prior to his birth. Of course, if he was born in April, that’s no real shocker.

What was surprising was that at age 30 the wealthy, priveleged Prince suddenly renounced his family, his inheritance, and all his worldly possessions to live an ascetic life and to devote his life to the spiritual and achieving enlightenment, or Keval Gyan.

Throughout the remainder of his life he traveled across India, with no possessions, often without even footwear or clothing, and preached the principles of Jainism to the people of India.

At one point he was said to have amassed nearly half a million followers. His teaching solidified the shape of Jainism that would persist for over 2500 years. He died at the old age of 72, the last of the Jain prophets.

Though far more people practice Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism is still one of the most populous religions of the world, with over 4 million followers.