By Nithin Sridhar
Amidst raging debates and protests regarding the meat ban, especially in Mumbai, the Jains have started the celebration of Paryushana festival worldwide. It is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Jain community. Before analyzing the merits or demerits of the meat ban and arguments that are being made against such a ban, let us first look into the philosophy and essence of the celebration of Paryushana.
Paryushana- the festival of “Self-Purification”
“Paryushana” means “Self-Purification.” It is usually defined as “Parismantadushayante dhante karmani yasimannasau paryushnm” which means “The celebration through which the Karmic matter attached to the soul is totally burnt or vanquished (both internally and externally) is known as Paryushana.”
The festival is rooted in the practice of Chaturmasya of monks that is common to both Jain and Hindu monks. The monks who always wander otherwise, stay at a place for 2-4 months during the rainy season.
During the rainy season many organisms become more active and the monks do not want to injure them. The monks spend their time in meditation, self-control, and self-introspection. Hence, the festival of Paryushana that is rooted in the Chaturmasya also involves intense meditation, self-control, and self-introspection.
The festival is celebrated for 8-days by the Swetambara Jains and for 10-days by the Digambara Jains. The Swetambaras call the festival as Paryushana Parva and it ends with Samvatsari on September 18 this year. The Digambaras call the festival Dasha-Lakshana Parva and will celebrate it from September 18 to September 27.
The aim of the festival is to remind the practitioners that the inner self is to be purified by burning all the karmic attachments that create bondage to the self. The Karmic attachment is of two types– attachment to the body and bondage to the mental passions like anger, lust, hate, and others.
A person commits various Adharma (non-righteous actions) like violence, cheating, and others because of the influence of these mental impurities, therefore, the goal of the festival is to help a person to do Prayashchitta (repentance) for the wrongdoings committed in the past by asking for Kshama (forgiveness) and to purify oneself from emotions like anger, hate, and frustration.
Forgiveness is one of the central features of this festival. But, forgiveness alone cannot bring about complete purification. Jain scriptures speak about 10 tenets of Dharma (duty/righteousness) that they call as Dasha Lakshana.
These 10 tenets should ideally be practised every day. But, during the festival, these 10 tenets are given special importance and they should be practised to the best of one’s ability.
These 10 tenets are Kshama (forgiveness), Mardava (humility), Arjava (straightforwardness), Shaucha (cleanliness), Satyam (truth), Samyama (restraint of all senses), Tapa (austerity), Tyaga (renunciation), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and Brahmacharya (celibacy).
The utmost importance of the practice of these virtues during the festival can be understood from the fact that Digambaras practice a 10-day Dasha-Lakshana Parva dedicated completely to the practice of these tenets of Dharma after the end of the 8-day Paryushana celebration taken by Swetambara Jains.
The 8-day festival ends with a ritual of forgiveness, where the practitioners ask forgiveness from everyone and in turn forgive others. One of the common sutras that is used for asking forgiveness says: “I forgive all the living beings of the universe and may all the living beings forgive me for my faults. I do not have animosity towards anybody and I hold friendliness towards everyone.”
Meat ban: Much ado about nothing
Earlier this week, the Brihan, Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), imposed a ban on the sale of meat for four days. A similar ban, but for the whole 8 days, was imposed by Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation in Thane. Rajasthan has also imposed a meat ban.
Following the ban, many people took to Twitter to express their outrage. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) protested against the ban by selling chicken and fish on Thursday. The criticism that is being heaped against the ban ranges from calling it a violation of the fundamental rights to branding it as an attempt by the BJP to appease a particular community.
Before proceeding further, let us first look at the history of the ban. The ban on meat during the Jain festival was first implemented in 1964 when the BMC passed a resolution to that effect.
The ban was stipulated for two days at that time. Then, in 2004, the Congress-NCP government passed another resolution endorsing the two-day ban. It is only after that, the Mumbai observed a four-day ban on meat.
Hence, any attempts at calling it a BJP ban or BJP’s attempts to appease a community falls flat on the face. The fact is that there has been neither protest nor outrage since the enforcement of the ban in 1964. It is only this year that the issue is being blown out of proportion. This clearly points towards political opportunism and a deliberate attempt at maligning BJP.
Now, coming to the merits of the ban itself, let it be categorically stated that the ban itself was quite unnecessary. Jains, who are vegetarians, have no practical benefit from the meat ban.
Besides, many Hindus who are vegetarians also practice fasting without calling for a ban. Also, there is merit in the argument that people have a right to decide what they want to eat. But, is the meat ban such a big violation of rights that it required such a big outrage?
People don’t feel outraged when hundreds of children die due to malnutrition or farmers die due to the burden of debt. Yet, a simple ban on the sale of meat for a few days is making it to the headlines.
Have Indians become so addicted to meat that they cannot even live a day or two without eating it? Or, is the addiction actually symbolic of managing a hue and cry on every non-issue?
Hence, a simple prohibition on the sale of meat cannot be a justifiable reason for such an enormous outrage. Every person protesting against the ban must ask himself/herself whether his/her outrage is even necessary? The arguments against the ban have merit, but the question remains, was there a necessity to make a mountain out of a mole?
Indians are known for their generosity and tolerance. The government, for example, provides Haj subsidy for those devout Muslims who want to go to Haj. It spends a significant portion of taxpayers’ money to fund religious pilgrimages to Manasarovar and other spots. These are all acts of generosity towards those sections of society. Similarly, can the Indian society not show some generosity to the Jains as well by taking this ban in a positive way and not as a violation of fundamental rights?
The very central tenet of the Jain festival of Paryusham is forgiveness. But, the whole essence of the practice has been sidelined due to the noise generated by this outrage against the meat ban. It is true that in a democracy, no action should be forcefully imposed. But, have Indians become so rigid that they cannot go beyond their own self-serving desires and viewpoint?
Forgiveness is not a tenet unique to Jains. It is shared by Hindus and Buddhists as well. In fact, it is among the universal virtues that are applicable to every human.
Hence, won’t it be more useful, if the non-Jains also get involved in this practice of forgiveness during Paryushana? After all the practice is aimed at self-purification and hence it will help everybody.
As a first act of forgiveness, people can then forgive the government itself for imposing the ban. The gist of the argument is that, even though the ban was unnecessary, it has been practised for a few years now, after a certain section of Jains requested for such a ban.
Instead of taking the ban negatively and wasting time and energy in protesting and venting out one’s frustration, it would be more useful if people consider the ban as a show of generosity towards a peaceful community.
Going one step further, non-Jain Indians can join the Jains in their celebration of forgiveness and truth. This will not only strengthen the Dharmic unity that upholds this nation, but also will help each such individual to purify oneself and become a better human.