Rituals and Customs of Jainism
The lifecycle rites of the Jains differ slightly from those of the Hindus. One significant difference is that Jains object to some postfuneral rites that the Hindus observe concerning the transition of the deceased's soul from one existence to the next.
There are similarities with the Hindu tradition in marriage, but a Jain wedding ceremony is far from a quick trip to a registry office. It actually begins seven days before the wedding, with the prewedding ritual involving invoking the heavenly goddesses. Another ceremony is held seven days after the wedding; its purpose is to thank and dismiss the deities. In the days before the marriage, the skin of the bride and groom is regularly massaged with perfumed oil, turmeric, and other substances to beautify them for the occasion.
The wedding ceremony is performed under a mandap or canopy. The four main posts that hold it up must be erected at an auspicious time of day. Since the mandap is usually rather large, the construction is done at the bride's home and often moved to a hired place for the ceremony. In the United States, it is possible to rent a mandap and have it professionally erected and taken down.
An elaborate series of rituals takes place, including the washing of the groom's feet by the bride's parents prior to the beginning of the actual service. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the priest congratulates the couple on their marriage and gives a final blessing. Their parents send the couple to the temple then to the bride's home.
Jains celebrate their religious holidays by fasting, worshiping, reciting sacred texts, holding religious discourses, giving alms, taking certain vows, and other such acts of piety. Annual holidays are observed based on the lunar calendar. The most important celebrations are the birth of Mahavira in Caitra (March/April), his death in Kartik (October/November), and the holiday period Paryushana, which is held for eight or ten days in the months of Shravana and Bhadrapada (August and September). During Paryushana confessions are offered, visits are made for the purpose of asking and extending forgiveness, and fasting is held.
Festivals are also celebrated on pilgrimages, which can last for several days. There are many Jain holy places, temples, and shrines. Not surprisingly, many of the pilgrimages and festivals revolve around significant events in the lives of the Tirthankaras.