Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Paryushan & Samvatsri: The Jain regimen and significance. Plus my menu.

I'd never thought I'd do this...a post about religious beliefs. But then I figured, that I did write about Diwali, and Holi and other festivals that are a part our social culture, so why not Paryushan- something that I grew up with and is an integral part of my memories.  I am not the best person to be telling you about this practice, for I myself know very little. But I'll attempt a little write up nevertheless. 

The 8-day long change in lifestyle that we call Paryushan typically adhered to at the end of the rainy season; or Chaturmas. Normally, we associate festivals with gaiety and indulgence. Instead, Paryushan is a celebration of solitude, minimalism, introspection and self-restraint.  The guidelines to be followed for spiritual up-liftment include modesty, self-restraint, penance, renunciation and celibacy. The strictest of my family members would sustain themselves only on a handful (chullu) of boiled water for these 8 days. The others took a pledge, or Niyam, to alter their lifestyle to fit the soul of this whole process.  I remember my dad making more time for meditation and introspection (Samayik); while my mom, who was always restless about getting things done for us kids would give up some of her favorite foods and activities, and just slowed down.


The last day of this 8-day self-imposed simplistic living is what we call Samvatsri; a day to ask, and give, forgiveness to all. The greeting, Micchami Dukkadam, asks forgiveness from every being that you may have hurt in your thoughts, speech or action. This was the day (or the weekend after; if it happened to be a week day) we would make our yearly pilgrimage to Lal Mandir; a Jain temple in Old Delhi, and contribute our time and money in their bird hospital. Then we'd make our way to Sis Ganj Sahib Gurudwara nearby to volunteer to clean up the premises/dishes as "Shram daan".  In the evening, before sunset, we invariably went to the place where our Jain monks had settled down for the 4 months of monsoon season; a place near Mehrauli in Delhi. This place was always swarming with people; and yet you couldn't hear anything except breathing. Almost everyone present would a vow of silence (Maun Vrata), that would last till sunrise. All of us kids would be gathered around the Shravaks- the young monks still not fully initiated- answering quizzes about Jainism

For my brother and me, we went through the normal evolutionary cycle of childhood awe, wonder and adolescent disdain for the whole process. For a while, we even questioned the necessity of it all. It's only recently that I've found myself slowly turning back to the traditions. And I've sort of convinced myself that what I do is not being religious or orthodox; just plain scientific and humane. But then some things in life need no justification.

I normally give up some kind of food for this duration. In the past, I've done root vegetables, dairy, yeasted/ fermented products (yogurt and bread) or baked goods containing eggs and dairy.  This year I gave up all fresh fruit and vegetables- a big first for me since I have never gone without my daily dose of two-three fruits a day.  Pretty painful too, if you ask me :-)) So what did I eat? 
Basically one meal a day for the first 5 days or so:
Day 1: With all the beginner's enthusiasm, a very simple boiled white rice with boiled masoor ki daal (brown lentils).
Day 2: Roti with mangodi ki sabzi
Day 3: Already craving for something a little less "simple", I made Dahi-Vada to go with the roti....
Garnished A's plate with some fresh mint....not mine :-))

Day 4: Saturday...and Anya's birthday Party. After all the excitement died down, my dinner was a plate of spicy khichdi.
Added a bunch of red chilli powder for some kick to this otherwise bland prep.
Day 5: Sunday; and another indulgence with Daal-Baati-Choorma.
Dal-Baati Choorma

Day 6: Baby P's birthday. Another not-so simple dinner with Chole- Bhature. The chole was spice    with a little bit of anaardaana (dried pomegranate seeds; considered a spice, not fruit)
Day 7: Back to the basics; with moong-daal and roti.
And Day 8: Samvatsari- we made Rajma (red kidney beans)- with boiled white rice. 
The rajma is just boiled with salt and a little red chilli powder.

My two cents: No one said it was going to be simple; but I just didn't realize how bland boiled food can be. Especially with our spice-adapted taste buds.  More than that, my 8 days this year made me realize how food and vegetables are hidden everywhere- from pizza, to potato chips to fried raisins that I snack upon.  And making any Indian food without the pre requisite tomato-green chillies and ginger is very hard- not impossible though.  All in all, a very illuminating experience. Finally, the act of asking forgiveness.....

Khamemi Savve Jiva, Savve Jiva Khamantu Mi
Mitti Me Savva bhuesu, Veram majjham na Kenai.

I grant forgiveness to all living beings,
All living beings grant me forgiveness.
My friendship is with all living beings,
My enmity is totally nonexistent.