While inviting people for my Dad’s Varshi Tapa parana this year, I got to witness varied verbal and non-verbal reactions. It was easier to invite the Jains who knew about the tapa. They acknowledged the invitation, humbly revered him and generously provided suggestions for parana and post-parana day. However, when it got to inviting the non-Jains, which constitutes a good part of my eco-system, the reactions swayed:-
Completely Blank Face
What’s Varshi Tapa?
Why does he do this? Why torture yourself so much?
Kuch mannat thi kya?
What’s the benefit?
You Jains are mad!
Oh Wow, people actually do that!
What’s the parana celebration? (Awkwardly) what should we get for your dad?
Few who knew/have seen this from other Jains, acknowledged this.
So here is an attempt to answer some of these questions, non-verbal reactions and make sense of one of the many randomly-absurd-tapas of Jains.
What is Varshi Tapa?
Here the tapasvis observe Jain fast alternate days and eat alternate days for 13 months and 13 days; which simply translates into 200 fasts! Many adopt variations on the days they eat by taking only one meal (ekasna) or two meals (byasana) during the day. Even others who keep no such restrictions can eat only between sunrise and sunset.
To complete the 200 fasts many chatta (Fasting for two consecutive days), aathams (fasting for 3 consecutive days) are also included. A Jain is supposed to undertake at least 2 varshi tapas in his/her lifetime.
A typical Jain fast lasts for approximately 37 hours; beginning from sunset of earlier day, current day’s fast and fasting till sunrise the next day.
Idol of Adinath, 1st Tirthankara.
Idol of Adinath, 1st Tirthankara.
On Akshaya Tritiya (Aakha teej) "ahara charya" was established in Jainism. It’s a methodology to prepare and serve food to Jain monks. Rishabhadeva (1st Tirthankara of 24 Jain Tirthankars) denounced the worldly pleasures after dividing his vast kingdom amongst his sons. After meditating without any food and water for six months, he set out to accept ahara (food).
He was the first monk of this era. Jain monks do not own anything. They do not even cook food for themselves. When hungry or thirsty, (maximum once in a day), they set out to accept ahara. They do not ask for it and accept where it is offered. Adinath (Rishabhadeva) went to people to accept food. However, him being the first Jain monk of this cycle of time, the people did not know the rules of serving him.
They recognised him as king of Ayodhya and offered gold, jewellery, gemstones, elephants, horses, expensive garments and even their daughters to honour.
But this ascetic sought only a morsel of food, which nobody offered.
Out of no choice he continued fasting for over a year. Until King Shreyansa understood his need due to his "purva-bhava-smarana" and offered Adinath sugarcane juice. Thus, Rishabhadeva ended his 403 days fast on the day of Akshaya Tritiya.
Why People Do it?
To shed off their karmas (Karma Nirajara)
On why Jains do tapa in general can be summed by Osho who has beautifully manifested the spiritual aspect of fasting:
‘Mahavir and his tradition have used fasting as a method to awaken the Self. If you fast, the body begins to demand, the body begins to overpower you. Mahavir has said, “Just witness – don’t do anything. You feel hungry, so feel hungry. The body asks for food – be a witness to it, don’t do anything. Just be a witness to whatsoever is happening.” And it is a deep thing.’
What Happens at Varshi Tapa Parana?
A procession is led by the Jain monks from a Jain temple to the location where paranas will take place. On reaching the location, the monks recite ‘mangalik’ prayer and hold a discourse for about an hour. Finally the tapasvis break their fast with sugarcane juice.
All the well-wishers, loved ones of tapasvis now come forward to feed them sugarcane juice, warm water, etc. As per tradition no gifts are exchanged as this is a celebration of purely spiritual progress.
Hoping this write-up answers some of the questions in your mind about the Varshi tapa. However, there can be a complete possibility I might have missed out on something, so feel free to point it out and I’ll try to incorporate it.