Although Jainism is one of the smallest organized religions, it has the most pervasive practice of fasting. In Jainism, the women, in particular, partake in frequent fasts, often for long periods. In a similar fashion as Hinduism, fasting is performed in Jainism in conjunction with lunar cycles. Prior to undertaking a fast, the participant makes a vow, considered a formal statement of intent.

Common lengths of fasting in Jainism include 1, 8, 14, and 28 days, whereas Saints in Jain mythology fasted for up to a year. The two sects of Jainism, Digambaras and Svetaambaras, practice many of the same rituals, festivals, and fasting regimens.

Jain followers fast and partake in religious practices on special days throughout the year. In any given month, there may be as many as ten days devoted to fasting with certain days being particularly auspicious. The different types of fasting in Jainism include the following:

Upavasa: Giving up both food and water or only food for one day.

Chaththa: Giving up both food and water or only food continuously for 2 days.

Aththama: Giving up both food and water or only food continuously for 3 days.

Aththai: Giving up both food and water or only food continuously for 8 days.

Masaksamana: Giving up both food and water or only food continuously for one month.

Festivals that involve fasting are common in Jainism and fasting is considered a public affair to be celebrated by the family and the community. For example, the yearly festival Varshitap Parva consists of the individual fasting by having only water on one day and two meals on alternate days for 400 days. Another important Jain festival in Paryushana Parva, which means “passing the rainy season”. Paryushana is held over a ten-day period during which Jains fast and carry out religious activities.

Another popular festival in Jainism is Paush Dashami, to commemorate the birthday of twenty-third Jain Tirthankara Lord Parshvanath. In preparation for the festival, Jain men and women begin a 3-day fast starting on the tenth day of the Posh month of the Hindu calendar. Thousands of people gather for the festival, which takes place in Sankheswar, a town located in Karnataka, a sacred place for Jains.

Maun-agiyaras is a Jain festival that calls for a day of complete silence, meditation, and fasting. The focus of the meditation is on five main holy beings in Jainism: monk, teacher, religious leader, arhat, and siddha. Maun-agiyaras is celebrated as the anniversary of the birth of a number of the Tirthankaras.

Another important Jain festival is Viira-nirvaana, commemorating Mahavira’s renunciation of his body and attainment of Siddha. According to Jainism, Siddha are souls that have been liberated and removed all karma. Devotees undertake a day of fasting and meditation, and a celebration begins the following morning.

While most Jains fast during holy days and festivals; some Jains choose fasting at other times in order to purify or as part of spiritual development. As mentioned, this ritual can vary from giving up food and drink entirely to only giving up favorite foods.

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Author's Bio: 

Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is the author of Healing and Wholeness: Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Mental Health and Fasting: An Exceptional Human Experience. She has a Ph.D. in Psychology, a Doctorate in Naturopathy and accreditations as a Nutritionist, Herbalist, Hypnotherapist, and Registered Addiction Specialist. She provides counseling and psychotherapy in San Jose, California. To learn about her private practice, visit her website