Jains Highlight Austerity During 8-Day Festival
The Paryushan Maha Parva festival was celebrated with fervor by the Jain Society of Greater Atlanta's (JSGA). The eight-day Paryushan began on August 31.
During this period, there were daily morning discourses, called Vakhyan, and the evening meditative prayers, known as Pratikraman. Dr. Vinodbhai Kapashi, who teaches about Jainism at Birkbeck College and has authored 10 books on the religion, gave a lecture every evening. Over 500 people attended this lecture series by Dr. Kapashi, who has been part of important delegations to the Vatican and has addressed the Parliament of the World's Religions several times.
Pravinbhai Dagli graciously stepped in, in place of Muni Sri Rupchandji Maharaj who could not attend due to ill health. Pravinbhai created an equally spiritual and sacred atmosphere. Although he had never publicly spoken in Hindi before, he did an outstanding job of inspiring and exhilarating the members.
In Jainism, fasting is one of the ways to religious enlightenment. And this year's Paryushan saw several devout Jains adhering to the regimen that can test the will of even the most determined. During the fast, it is forbidden to eat any food, with only an allowance of warm water between sunrise and sunset. Kalaben Shah fasted for nine-days and about 10 others managed eight-days of fasting, also called Athai. And there were more who fasted for three, six or seven days. Bhaskarbhai, a devotee from metro Atlanta, did ayambil (eating only once a day; and that too food where the only seasoning/spice allowed is salt) for 29 days, ending it with a complete fast on the last day.
The JSGA is in the process of completing the construction of a JGSA Center and Derasar (temple) that began in 2000. The end of Phase I saw the opening of a prayer hall and the installation of the revered 24th Tirthankar, Lord Mahavir's idol and that of Adinath Bhagwan.
With the establishment of a place of worship, the activities have increased. Madhuben Sheth, who heads JGSA, believes this has been possible due to some good planning ? sometimes almost a year in advance. Highlighting the progress of the Atlanta jain community she remarked, "Our fundraising committee, led by Deepakbhai Shah and Anilbhai Shah, did an excellent job. We broke every single Mahavir Jayanti's fundraising record. With over 500 people in attendance, our enthusiasm to raise funds for Derasar was almost contagious. We raised over $350,000. Most importantly, this being a spiritual festival, members sought religious enlightenment through fasting and meditation. During Paryushan, we also raised funds for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts."���
- By Viren Mayani
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