On many occasions, Jains remember and celebrate what they call the five “auspicious moments” in the life of each Tirthankara: conception, birth, renunciation, enlightenment, and final liberation at death. Two of the great holidays of the Jain festival year are especially dedicated to the life and achievement of the Tirthankara Mahavira. Mahavira Jayanti celebrates his birth, and Divali celebrates his final liberation or nirvana.
On April 24, 1994, Jains celebrated the 2,592nd birthday of Mahavira. In India this day, Mahavira Jayanti, is a national holiday. In America, it is far from a national holiday, but is a very important festival day in the life of the Jain community. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the children of the Tulsa Jain Sangha help to perform the Snatra Puja, bathing the image of Mahavira. In San Francisco children perform a dance-drama on the fourteen dreams Lord Mahavira’s mother had just before Mahavira was born. In North Carolina the children put on a cultural program including recitals and dances. In Florida Jains from Miami, Fort Myers, and Jacksonville all celebrate together at the Ramblewood Middle School in Coral Spring. The day’s speaker stresses the importance of Mahavira’s teachings in a world that sees so much war and conflict.
Shvetambar Jains also celebrate Mahavira’s birth during the annual eight-day festival of Paryushan, which takes place in the month of August or September. On this occasion, silver images of the fourteen dreams of Mahavira’s mother are honored; and among Murtipujak Shvetambars, the Kalpa Sutra, which contains the scriptural account of Mahavira’s birth-story, is read. Nonetheless, Mahavira Jayanti, in the month of March or April each year, remains the official birthday.
The nirvana of Mahavira is celebrated with a festival called Divali, a fall festival of lights. In the Hindu tradition, this is a festival associated with Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. A multitude of lights are lit in homes and businesses to make them fine residences for the visit of Lakshmi. For Jains, the lights of Divali are also kindled, but their significance is to commemorate the illumination of the Tirthankara Mahavira. In entering into the state of nirvana at the time of his death, he attained perfect freedom, illumined by the clear light of the soul. This is the “wealth” that Jains honor on the festival of Divali. While Paryushan is more somberly spiritual, Divali is a truly festive Jain holiday. Jains will gather at night to light the lamps, chant mantras, and sing together.
In an article in the Jain Digest, an American Jain wrote to encourage the Jain practice of a form of meditation called Samayik, as an appropriate part of the observance of Mahavira’s nirvana. Samayik meditation is a forty-eight minute period of quieting the body and mind and attaining equanimity. It is an old Jain practice and is considered to be the inroad to the soul. He writes, “Our Samayik is the practice of equanimity. We may celebrate the Nirvana day of the Lord with the usual lights, etc. Let us, however, think of the dawning of the light within ourselves. For this purpose, let us decide on the eve of that occasion to regularly practice true Samayik and gain peace and tranquillity. Thereby we can show to others that Jainism is not simply a bundle of mechanical rituals. That would be the most fitting tribute to Lord Mahavir.”
|Mahavir Janma Kalyanak|
Vardhaman Mahavira image at Keezhakuyilkudi, Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.
|Also called||Translation: Birth Anniversary of Mahavira; Mahavir Janma Kalyanak|
|Type||Religious, India (National holiday)|
|Significance||Birth Anniversary of Mahavira|
|Celebrations||Going to the Jain Temple|
|Observances||Prayers, religious rituals|
|Date||Chaitra Sud Triyodashi (Vira Nirvana Samvat)|
|2017 date||9 April|
|2018 date||29 March 2018|
Mahavir Janma Kalyanak, is one of the most important religious festival for Jains. It celebrates the birth of Mahavira, the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankara of Avasarpiṇī[a]. As per the Gregorian calendar, the holiday occurs either in March or April.
Most modern historians consider Vasokund as Mahavira's birthplace. According to Jain texts, Mahavira was born on the thirteenth day of the bright half of the moon in the month of Chaitra in the year 599 BCE (Chaitra Sud 13). Mahavira was born in a democratic kingdom (Ganarajya), Vajji, where the king was chosen by votes. Vaishali was its capital.
Mahavira was named 'Vardhamana', which means "One who grows", because of the increased prosperity in the kingdom at the time of his birth. In Vasokund, Mahavira is much revered by the villagers. A place called Ahalya bhumi has not been ploughed for hundreds of years by the family that owns it, as it is considered to be the birthplace of Mahavira.
Mahavira was born into Ikshvaku dynasty as the son of King Siddhartha of Kundagrama and Queen Trishala. During her pregnancy, Trishala was believed to have had a number of auspicious dreams, all signifying the coming of a great soul. Digambara sect of Jainism holds that the mother saw sixteen dreams which were interpreted by the King Siddhartha. According to the Svetambara sect, the total number of auspicious dreams is fourteen. It is said that when Queen Trishala gave birth to Mahavira, Indra, the head of heavenly beings (devas) performed a ritual called abhisheka, this being the second of five auspicious events (Panch Kalyanakas), said to occur in the life of all Tirthankaras.
The idol of Mahavira is carried out on a chariot, in a procession called rath yatra. On the way stavans (religious rhymes) are recited. Statues of Mahavira are given a ceremonial bath called the abhisheka. During the day, most members of the Jain community engage in some sort of charitable act. Many devotees visit temples dedicated to Mahavira to meditate and offer prayers. Lectures by monks and nuns are held in temples to preach the path of virtue as defined by Jainism. Donations are collected in order to promote charitable missions like saving cows from slaughter or helping to feed poor people. Ancient Jain temples across India typically see an extremely high volume of practitioners come to pay their respects and join in the celebrations.
Ahimsa run and rallies
Ahimsa runs and rallies preaching the Mahavira's message of Ahiṃsā are taken out on this day.
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- ^descending half of the worldly time cycle as per Jain cosmology which is actually current now