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Significance of Akshaya Tritiya for Jains: The day when the first Jain Tirthankara, Lord Rishabhdev, broke his 400 days of fasting

On the day of Akshay Tritiya, a shravak(an adherent of Jainism) named Shreyans Kumar offered Lord Aadinath with Ikshu juice(sugarcane juice) and ended his rigorous fasting of 400 days, immortalising the festival for Jains.

On May 3 this year, India is celebrating Akshaya Tritiya, one of the most widely celebrated festivals across the country, with followers of different religions having special significance attached to the festival.

For Hindus, the occasion includes a string of important rituals, including those related to worshipping Lord Vishnu. Hindus consider it as an auspicious occasion that brings good luck and therefore, celebrate it by buying gold and properties on this day, which they believe would bring them prosperity and wealth in the future.

The significance of Akshaya Tritiya for Jains

However, the festival of Akshaya Tritiya holds special significance for Jains, for it is the day when Lord Aadinath or Rishabhdev, the first Jain Tirthankara of the current cycle, ended his 400 days long fast. On the day of Akshaya Tritiya, a shravak(an adherent of Jainism) named Shreyans Kumar offered Lord Aadinath with Ikshu juice(sugarcane juice) and ended his rigorous fasting of 400 days, immortalising the festival for Jains.

The story behind this rigorous fasting by Lord Rishabhdev and its end on Akshaya Tritiya is fascinating. After his initiation into monkhood, Lord Rishabhdev, as a Jain monk is ordained to do, wandered from one place to another as part of his penance. But after his renunciation of the worldly life, Lord Rishabhdev has also taken the difficult vow of maintaining absolute silence. He would not speak with anyone and remained in meditation to shed his Karma and bring an end to his Karmic cycle.

Jainism is a millennia-old religion. It existed long before Lord Rishabhdev’s birth but had gone extinct from the earth because of the vicissitudes of the time. Therefore, Lord Rishabdev, with the aim of reestablishing the religion and salvaging the living-kind, gave up his kingdom and embraced asceticism. However, he realised that the path ahead would not be easy and would test his resolve. So, he began his penance of fasting and maintaining absolute silence.

When, after his penance, he went out to seek food, he did not get anything to eat. As he had taken a vow of maintaining absolute silence, he would not say what he needed. Since there was ignorance about Jainism in the masses, people, even well-meaning ones, did not know what they should offer to Lord Rishabdev. People at that time were not aware of the practice of giving food as alms. They were ignorant about what the Jain monks needed, not jewellery or worldly gifts but food for their sustenance.

How Shreyans Kumar acquired Jati Smaran Gyan and offered Lord Rishabhdev Ikshu juice to break his 400-days long fast

In awe of his exacting standards of personal rectitude and conduct, people started offering him what they considered worthy of gifts during that period—gold coins, silver ornaments, diamond-studded jewellery etc. Some even offered him their vast tracts of land, as people did then to a king, but he would not accept anything. As the time passed by, the other ascetics accompanying Lord Rishabhdev decided to eat fruits and vegetables naturally available and drifted away from the true ascetic way of life.

After undertaking demanding spiritual practice for more than 13 months, without eating a morsel of food or drinking a gulp of water, Lord Rishabhdev decided to once again seek “Gochri“, which in English means seeking food as alms. He reached Hastinapur, where King Shreyans Kumar saw him following the commotion caused by happy masses who had seen Lord Rishabhdev enter the town.

Thousands of citizens of Hastinapur made a beeline toward Lord Rishabhdev with gifts and valuables. However, He did not glance at these things and continued his dignified walk in the direction of the palace. When Shreyans Kumar saw Lord Rishabhdev, who was his grandfather, approaching, he rushed to the gate of the palace to welcome him. When he saw the serenely gleaming face of Lord Rishabhdev, he went into a state of meditative thoughts and instantly acquired Jati Smaran Gyan, the manifestation of divine knowledge that opens up one’s memories of the previous births.

Struck with this epiphany, he soon realised that Tirthankaras and Jain Monks seek nirdosh gochri, food that is not explicitly prepared for them. He offered Lord Rishabhdev the Ikshu juice or sugarcane juice to break his 400-days long fast. According to Jain scriptures, Lord Rishabhdev extended his cupped palms, and Shreyans poured the sugarcane juice into it. The power of a Tirthankara is such that not a single drop of sugarcane juice fell on the ground. 

Jains celebrate Akshaya Tritiya to mark the exacting penance of Lord Rishabhdev by breaking their year-long Varshi Tap

In the memory of this incident, Jains started celebrating Akshaya Tritiya on the third day of the bright half of the month of Vaishakh. As a mark of reverence to Lord Rishabhdev and his strict penance, thousands of Jains around the world, celebrate this day as “Parna Diwas” after the penance of Varshi Tap, the year-long alternative fasting(one meal and fast on alternate days for over one year).

According to Jainism, fasting is one of the forms of penance that helps purify the body and the mind and drives humans toward forbearance and asceticism. It also aids in maintaining self-control through abstinence felt from the five senses and contributes immensely toward the shedding of karma through sacrifice.

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Jinit Jain
Jinit Jain
Writer. Learner. Cricket Enthusiast

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