The Paryushana is the most important festival among the Jain festivals and it is observed during every Chaturmas commencing on the twelfth day of the shukla phase of Bhadrapad month and ending on the fourth day of Krishna Phase of Bhadrapad. This is in August-September, and peak monsoon time (this year it starts from 15th August 2001 and ends on 22nd Aug'01). For the Swetambara sect of Jains, Paryushana is an eight-day event, while for the Digambaras it stretches over ten days.
Its origin is related to the staying of the monks in one place in Chaturmas (4 months of monsoon). As during this time the monks have settled in the town for a longer duration, it is time for the householders to have an annual renewal of the faith by listening to the statement of the Dharma and by meditation and vratas (self-control). And for the monks, almost as importantly, staying in one place during the monsoon reduces the risk of causing accidental death to numerous insects and smaller forms of life that thrive during the rains.
Paryushana is a time of reflection on actions and meditation on the past year. Paryushana is marked by strict observance of the ten cardinal virtues: forgiveness, charity, simplicity, contentment, truthfulness, self-restraint, fasting, detachment, humility and continence. During the eight-day Paryushana festival, the Swetambaras recite the religious text, the Kalpa Sutra (including a section on the birth of Lord Mahavira), on the fifth day.The Digambara sect recites the Tatvartha-sutra of Umaswati.
During this festival, Jains of all ages visit the divine temples or Upashrayas to listen to the discourses and readings of Kalpa Sutra. In the evenings, Jains perform a kriya called Pratikraman, a form of meditation to reflect on spiritual journey.
Most Jains fast in some form of the other in these days. It is not and uncommon sight to see 8 day fasters, who do not consume anything in these eight days. Even water must be boiled and can be drunk only between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (approx.) Every now and then one does come across a faster who has not eaten for a whole month too!!! Penance and fasting are the key words in these days. Many jains abstain from onions,garlic,potatoes, root vegetables and green vegetables.
In the Digambaras, the 10-day period of Paryushana starts from Bhadrapada Shukla panchami during which the dashalakshana vrata is undertaken. Paryushan for Digambars ends on Chaturdashi of Bhadrapada. In the Swetambaras an 8-day festival is celebrated that ends with Bhadrapada Shukla panchami. The last day is called Samvatsari, short for Samvatsari Pratikramana. Seven days are days of attainment and the eighth day is one of fulfillment or achievement. In this manner,the Samvatsari Mahaparva the annual festival is celebrated.
It is at this time that Jains embark on their respective annual pratikramana - a reflection on their spiritual journey for the past year. On this day they also observe a unique custom, where they ask every individual they may have offended during the year for forgiveness. Old quarrels are forgotten and friendships and relationships renewed, as they fold their hands and ask for "Micchamidukadam" or forgiveness.
Michchhami means to be fruitless (forgiven) and Dukkadam (Dushkrut) means bad deeds. Therefore the meaning of Michchhami Dukkadam is my bad deeds (with you) be fruitless. So concept behind saying or writing someone "Michchhami Dukkadam" is that if I have done any harm to you then those bad deeds to be forgiven (be fruitless).
The following is the prayer we say while doing Pratikraman:
"KHAMEMI SAVVE JIVE,
SAVVE JIVA KHAMANTU ME
METTI ME SAVVE BHUYESU,
VERAM MAJAHAM N KENAI"
"I forgive (from the bottom of my heart without any reservation) all living beings (who may have caused me any pain and suffering either in this life or previous lives), and I beg (again from the bottom of my heart without any reservation) for the forgiveness from all living beings (no matter how small or big to whom I may have caused pain and suffering in this life or previous lives, knowingly or unknowingly, mentally, verbally or physically, or if I have asked or encouraged someone else to carry out such activities). (Let all creatures know that) I have a friendship with everybody and I have no revenge (animosity or enmity) toward anybody."
Samayika: to stay in equanimity by withdrawing to the self.
Prayers to the Five Supremes, 24 Jinas and the 4 mangalas, including the Dharma as presented by the ancient Masters.
Prayer to the Master(Guru) or the Deity.
Reflections on vratas and past transgressions.
Kayotsarga: detachment from the body by controlling it.
Pratyakhyan: making resolutions for the next period (next year for Samvatsari Pratikramana).
This is a vrata that celebrates components of the dharma: Noble kshama (forbearance), mardava (gentleness), arjava (uprightness), shaucha (purity), satya (truth), sanyam (restraint), tapa (austerity), tyaga (renunciation), akinchanya (lack of possession) and brahmcharya (chastity), as described by Umaswati.
In the full form, it is a 10 day vrata that spans 10 years. It may be undertaken during Shukla Panchami to Chaturdashi of Bhadrapada, Magh or Chaitra. However it it common to do it during Bhadrapada, in which case it starts with Paryushana.