In Jain Dharma, Deepavali is celebration of Tirthankar Mahavira’s contributions to humankind; it commemorates his attainment of moksha or salvation in Bihar’s Pavapuri. Mahavira got enlightened through meditation and became omniscient. On this auspicious day his life was transformed into a spiritual journey of self-penance and sacrifice.
In Jainism, Deepavali was first referred to as Deepalika or splendour of lamps, in the Harivamsha Purana written by Acharya Jinasena. He mentions that the Tirthankars illuminated Pavanagari by lamps to mark the occasion. Since then, Deepavali, Mahavira’s parinirvana day, is celebrated with lighting of lamps. Tirthankars are also known as Jinendra.
Mahavira led a socio-spiritual, non-violent, evolution-revolutionary movement. He rejected superstitious practices, blind faith, caste system, and gender bias and encouraged scientific temper and gender equity. He promoted a radical economic, political and social justice movement based on complete equality. He emphasised the importance of all species and advocated a compassionate and ethical way of life that would help us evolve to higher planes
Mahavira promoted Ahimsa or non-violence and Aparigraha or non-possessiveness to protect bio-diversity from human greed. He regarded all species as being integral to a composite community of life. The principle of Anekantavada or pluralism and multiplicity of perspectives was another aspect that Mahavira upheld.
Genuine compassion and non-violence does not take into consideration what others think about us or do to us. It is directed not at peoples’ behaviour but at people themselves. Cultivation of universal compassion leads to love for all. That we have an inherent capacity for cultivating universal compassion and we can be successful in our attempt is supported by Charles Darwin when he says, “The love for all living creatures is the noblest attribute of man.”
Jains observe fasting during the three days of Deepavali as tribute to Mahavira and his valuable contributions to our understanding of life and beyond. Devotees sing and chant hymns and mantras in praise of the Tirthankar and congregate for samaik, pratikraman, kayotsarga or prayer and recite verses from the Uttaradhyayan Sutra, containing the last teachings of Mahavira.
All celebration is marked by awakening, awareness, austerity, simplicity, serenity, self-study, equity, calmness, courage, charity, philanthropy and environment-consciousness. Firecrackers are avoided as they cause noise and atmosphere pollution. Jain temples are decorated with lights; sweets and diyas or lamps are distributed — the lamps denoting knowledge or removal of ignorance. Devotees from around the world try to visit Pavapuri on this special day, offering their respects and prayers.
The Jain year commences with Pratipada, following Deepavali. Jain entrepreneurs launch their accounting year from this day. Jain scriptures also mention that one of the ardent disciples of Mahavira, Gandhara Gautam Swami attained enlightenment on this day. In Mahavira’s absence, he meditated to such an extent that his soul became liberated from all karma and he became omniscient.
The triple gems of Jainism or Ratnatrayee essential for the soul to get liberated are samyak jnana or rational knowledge, samyak charitra or rational conduct and lifestyle, and samyak darshan or rational world vision.
Hence, prayers and meditation should be performed with utmost dedication in order to help eliminate the difficulties of life and finally help the soul to attain moksha.
Deepavali is celebration of Mahavira’s nirvana as well as a day that marks new beginnings, a kind of New Year.