Article: Paryuṣaṇ

Paryuṣaṇ is the most important Śvetāmbara Jain festival. It falls in late August or early September on the cusp of the months Śrāvaṇ and Bhādarvā, and lasts eight days.

This festival begins the winding down of the year in the traditional calendar. The end of the old year and the start of the new year is celebrated at Divālī some weeks later.

Paryuṣaṇ features increased ritual observance and participation, particularly in sermons and fasting. Public recitation of the Kalpa-sūtra, fasting and restricted eating, greater focus on religious obligations, and auctions centred around religious objects or activities to raise funds are all characteristics of this festival. Communities celebrate Paryuṣaṇ in activities at both the temple and at home. It is an important public event that demonstrates active membership of both a local congregation and the wider sect of Śvetāmbara Jains.

Digambara Jains celebrate a similar festival called Daśa-lakṣaṇa-parvan, beginning the day after Paryuṣaṇ is completed.

Days and main events of Paryuṣaṇ

The festival of Paryuṣaṇ – often known as Paryushan to contemporary Jains – is the main Śvetāmbara Jain festival. It falls in late August or early September on the cusp of the months Śrāvaṇ and Bhādarvā. Most Śvetāmbara groups celebrate the festival from Śrāvaṇ dark 14th through to Bhādarvā bright 5th. However, the Tapā-gaccha Jains celebrate the festival one day earlier, beginning on Śrāvaṇ dark 13 and ending on Bhādarvā bright 4.

Paryuṣaṇ lasts eight days, with certain rituals taking place at set times. The two central festival days are Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, on the fifth day, and Saṃvatsarī, which is on the last day. These two days see celebrations involving the whole congregation.

Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, or the celebration of the birth of Mahāvīra, centres around the public recitation of the Kalpa-sūtra text of the birth of Mahāvīra and the public veneration of objects showing significant scenes and symbols in the story. Taking part in Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas celebrations marks one’s membership of a particular congregation.

On Saṃvatsarī Śvetāmbara Jains perform the annual rite of confession. It is expected that all Jains take part unless they physically cannot participate. Attending the ritual of confession indicates a lay Jain’s membership in the wider Śvetāmbara Jain community.

Paryuṣaṇ is notable for the following points:

  • the central place given to the Kalpa-sūtra
  • the emphasis on fasting and restrictions on eating
  • the paying of more attention to religious obligations, especially fulfilling five specific duties
  • the important role of religious auctions.


A painting from a 15th-century manuscript of the Kalpa-sūtra shows Queen Triśalā and her newborn son. He will grow up to become Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. This is a conventional way of illustrating the birth of a baby who will become a Jina

Mahāvīra and his mother Triśalā
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

At the centre of the annual festival of Paryuṣaṇ is the recitation of the fifth-century Kalpa-sūtra and its 17th-century commentary. This commentary is a translation into Gujarati of the Sanskrit commentary of Vinayvijay. The recitation takes five days and has three rituals or observances that are particularly significant.

The first observance takes place on the fourth day of the festival. It consists of the procession of the Kalpa-sūtra manuscript to the location where the recitations will be performed and then the opening performances.

The second ritual is in the afternoon on the fifth day of the festival. It is the recitation of the story of the conception and birth of Mahāvīra, as told in the Kalpa-sūtra. Monks may also display pictures of the story to the congregation. This day – Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas – revolves around the celebration of Mahāvīra‘s birth.

The third observance takes place in the morning of the eighth and last day of the festival. It is the auspicious unbroken recitation of the core text of the Kalpa-sūtra, the ‘Barsā-sūtra’ – the ‘1200 verses’.

Fasting during Paryuṣaṇ

Panchmela dal – five lentil curry – is a popular Rajasthani dish, especially during the Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ. Lasting eight days, the festival is marked by fasting and food restrictions. Many Jains give up all vegetables during Paryuṣaṇ.

Panchmela dal
Image by sarverr62 © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Both lay and mendicant Jains limit the types and amounts of food they eat. A vegetarian diet is the cornerstone of Jain restrictions on food while fasting is widespread, particularly for lay women and ascetics. Restrictions on food and fasting are often the focus of vows that both lay and ascetic Jains may take.

It is particularly common for Jains to introduce extra food restrictions or to complete fasts during Paryuṣaṇ. At the least, all those who take part in the annual rite of confession are expected to fast the night before the ceremony. However, most Jains will perform some kind of food restrictions beyond this. For example, most families will give up all vegetables during the eight days of the festival, living entirely on grains, pulses and dairy products. In addition, on any given day – most commonly the first and last day of Paryuṣaṇ – many Jains will perform a full fast or a version of limited eating.

The fasts most associated with Paryuṣaṇ are the three-day fast – Aṭhṭham – and the more difficult eight-day fast – Aṭhṭhāī. During these fasts, the faster takes only water and even the times for drinking water are limited.

These fasts and other longer fasts are organised to end at the same time as the fast-breaking on the morning after Saṃvatsarī, the last day of the festival.

Religious obligations during Paryuṣaṇ

A Śvetāmbara monk and a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which symbolises his role and authority as teacher. It holds a scripture in protective cloth. He sits on a low plaform while pupils sit on the floor. Religious beliefs were originally passed on orally

Monk and pupils
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Paryuṣaṇ has a set of five religious obligations that is emphasised in daily sermons, especially on the first days of the festival. They are:

  1. to stop killing – amārī pravārtan
  2. to show affection for other Jainssādharmik vātsalya
  3. to perform a formulaic apology – kṣamāpanā
  4. to complete a three-day fastaṭhṭham tap
  5. to go on pilgrimagecaitya paripāṭī.

Most Jains try to at least partly fulfil these obligations. For example, the obligation to stop killing might be met by contributing to charitable organisations, supporting animal rights or by publishing an advertisement to encourage vegetarianism. Affection for other Jains is shown primarily through sponsoring and attending communal meals for one’s own congregation or through giving out tokens of affection and appreciation, including coins, sweets or gifts at events during the festival. Even though most Jains do not perform the three-day fast, many will undertake some kind of fasting during Paryuṣaṇ.

Throughout the festival, Śvetāmbara Jains make a special effort to uphold ritual observances. For example, many Jains make a point of worshipping daily at their temple, attending sermons by resident monks or nuns and, at the least, fasting after the confession on Saṃvatsarī. Congregations that have mendicants staying for the rainy season will hear additional sermons.  Where no mendicant is in residence, congregations will often invite a mendicant to give sermons for these eight days.

Religious auctions

One Jain practice that is especially visible at Paryuṣaṇ is the bolī or religious auction. Lay Jains bid for the privilege of performing certain rituals or of supplying the materials needed to run a temple. The public auction is a prestigious way to fulfil the Jain religious obligation to support Jain institutions. Though Jains are not required to make public donations, the public nature of the Paryuṣaṇ auctions encourages everyone to donate and helps to glorify the tradition at the same time.

The auctions allow Jain lay people to fulfil their obligation to religious institutions and promote Jain values through donation. Those who give money through the auctions gain personal merit through donation. They also create more chances for gaining merit for themselves and others by establishing and supporting the institutions which make possible the full practices of Jainism.

On a practical level, the auctions serve to supply the running budget for the temple for the year ahead. They also provide extra funds from which the congregation can draw to make charitable contributions as a group or to add to and repair the temple and its surroundings.

While auctions often take place for the rituals carried out each day during the festival, the grandest and most public auction is that performed at Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas.

Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas

Jains take part in the lamp ceremony – āratī – in the evening of Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas. This celebration of the birth of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, takes place on the fifth day of the eight-day festival of Paryuṣaṇ, the most important Śvetāmbara festiva.

Paryuṣaṇ lamp ceremony
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

Though Mahāvīra’s official date of birth is in the spring, Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, or the celebration of the birth of Mahāvīra, is a spectacle revolving around the birth of the 24th Jina. On the fifth day of Paryuṣaṇ a prominent ascetic recites the passages of the Kalpa-sūtra that tell the story of Mahāvīra’s conception and birth to the whole local community. The lay Jains publicly venerate objects representing the conception and birth.

The most significant rituals associated with Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas are the auctions – bolīs – that are run to decide the privilege of carrying out certain ceremonies.

On Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas, the morning recitation of the Kalpa-sūtra stops just before the story of Mahāvīra’s conception and birth. The congregation then returns home and prepares for the afternoon’s celebration. Women and children dress in their finest clothing. Soon after lunch the congregation gathers in a hall for the main event. The afternoon’s recitation of the birth of Mahāvīra is embedded in a series of rituals, of which the auctions form a key part.

Fourteen dreams

This manuscript painting illustrates Devānandā having the auspicious dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The discs of the sun and moon are just above her left hand,

Devānandā’s 14 dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

During her pregnancy, Mahāvīra’s mother experiences 14 dreams, which are the focus of much of the ritual activity of Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas. The dreams are:

  1. an elephant
  2. a bull
  3. a lion
  4. the goddess Lakṣmī
  5. a flower garland
  6. the moon
  7. the sun
  8. a temple
  9. a water pot
  10. a lotus lake
  11. an ocean of milk, usually signified by a ship
  12. a heavenly chariot
  13. a pile of gems
  14. a flame.

These dreams are each pictured on 14 silver or gold plaques, which are venerated in turn.

There are bids to perform various rites associated with the 14 dreams, such as garlanding each plaque with flowers and carrying it to the display table. Leading families try to win at least one of the number of auctions that takes place at this point in the day, as a mark of their piety and prestige. The most significant and expensive auction regards the honour of being the family who takes home the image of the baby Mahāvīra for the last three days of the festival.

After the dreams have been venerated and all of the auctions completed, the Kalpa-sūtra recitation continues to the birth of Mahāvīra. At this point, men in the congregation break coconuts to mark Mahavira’s birth and feed pieces of these coconuts to each other in celebration. The congregation will also all push forward to have the chance to rock the silver image of the cradle holding the newborn Mahāvīra.

After the auctions and associated rituals, many Jains will attend the evening lamp offering in the temple. Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas and Saṃvatsarī are often the nights with the most elaborate temple decorations.

Śvetāmbara Jains focus their celebration of Mahāvīra’s birth on Mahāvīr Janam Dīvas rather than on Mahāvīr Jayanti. Taking place in the spring, this latter festival remains a minor holiday with few extra observances.


A white-clad faster is ceremonially fed to break his fast. Fasting is a key part of Jain practice and is frequently undertaken during festivals or to fulfil a vow. Fasters gain great religious merit – puṇya – as do the relatives who help break their fasts

Breaking a fast
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

The last day of Paryuṣaṇ is called Saṃvatsarī. On this, the eighth day of the festival, Śvetāmbara Jains perform the annual rite of confession. It involves reciting the Saṃvatsarī confession, or pratikramaṇ, preferably while taking part in the gathering of local devotees. The recitation takes several hours and includes confessing and doing penance for all the possible errors one might have made during the past year.

It is expected that all Jains perform this rite unless they are physically unable to carry out the ritual.

At the start of the ritual Jains begin a total fast until the following morning. This fast, alongside the longer Paryuṣaṇ-related fasts, is broken on the morning following Saṃvatsarī. For those who have performed longer fasts, fast-breaking celebrations are organised in which family and friends of the person completing a fast ceremonially feed the faster and gain merit by doing so. In some communities, those who have finished lengthy fasts are brought on a parade around the city on the day after Saṃvatsarī.

As part of this confession ritual, Jains say the Prakrit phrase Micchāmi Dukkaḍaṃ. This means ‘May no harm come from my actions’ and fulfils the requirement of formulaic apology that is part of the duties of Paryuṣaṇ. This apology is recited to all beings and then to the whole congregation.

Following the ritual confession, Jains will usually greet each other with a related saying: Boli Cali Micchāmi Dukkaḍaṃ. This means ‘Let no harm come from anything that was said or done’. Many will try to see as many of their family members, friends and work acquaintances as possible in the next few days to repeat this greeting to them. If they cannot meet in person, Jains will usually make phone calls and send letters expressing the same sentiment.


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