Jainism and Fasting

A third religion to arise from the Indian region, Jainism shares ideas with both Hinduism and Buddhism. Since it has far fewer followers, and few are found outside of India, it not as well known as India's other religion traditions. Fasting is quite common in Jainism and can be part of festivals, marking special times, and as a part of some holy days. Jainists will also fast at many other times as well. Fasting is seen as a way of purifying the mind and body, helps maintain and teach self control, and is important to do when a perceived error in deed or thought has taken place. There is a strong emphasis on austere living, with fasting being an important part of practicing self discipline in keeping life simple.

The extent of the extensive use of fasting in Jainism is readily apparent from the following list of the different types of fasting that are recognized and practiced (from Wikepedia):

  • Santhara or "complete fasting": To give up food and water entirely. This leads to death and is undertaken by someone who has finished all his/her duties and wishes to leave this world peacefully. It gives control over when one dies so everything may be completed and a person may leave of his or her own free will.
  • Partial fasting: Eating less than you desire and to simply avoid hunger.
  • Vruti Sankshep: Limiting the number of items eaten.
  • Rasa Parityag: Giving up favourite foods.
  • Great fasts: Some monks fast for months at a time, following Mahavir, who fasted for over 6 months.
  • Varsitap: To eat on alternate days, and Upavas on the rest, for a whole year. Thus this fast is very rigorous since it entails a whole year of "tap" with eating no food on alternate days and eating food on rest of the days, while following the prescribed rules like not eating in the evening after sunset, not eating root vegetables (like potatoes, onions, ginger), and various other rules. In Swetamber Varsitap they do Ekasanu as mentioned below alternet days and Upavas on teh rest days.
  • Chauvihar Upvas: To give up food and water for the whole day.
  • Upvas: To give up only food for the whole day.
  • Digambar Upvas: One may drink water only once a day, before sunset.
  • Shvetamber Upvas: One may drink boiled and cooled water after Porsi, provided this is done before sunset.
  • Tivihar Upvas: One may drink boiled water between sunrise and sunset.
  • Ekasanu: To eat one meal a day at one sitting and drink boiled water as desired between sunrise and sunset.
  • Beasanu: To eat two meals a day in two sittings and drink boiled water anytime between sunrise and sunset.
  • Ayambil: Eating food once in one sitting. The food contains only creals and pulses not sprouted and it is spice free and boiled or cooked, without milk, curds, ghee, oil, oil seeds, or green/raw vegetables, fruits and sugar and its products.
  • Bela/ Chhath: To give up both food and water or only food continuously for two days.
  • Tela / Aththam : To give up food and water or only food continuously for three days.
  • Aththai: To give up food and water or only food continuously for eight days.
  • Masaksaman: To give up food and water or only food continuously for a whole month.
  • Navkarsi: Food and water is consumed a minimum forty-eight (48) minutes after sunrise. Devout Jains brush their teeth and rinse their mouths only after sunrise.
  • Porsi: Taking food and water three hours after sunrise.
  • Sadh-porsi: Taking food and water four hours and thirty minutes after sunrise.
  • Purimuddh: Taking food and water six hours after sunrise.
  • Avadhdh: Taking food and water eight hours after sunrise.
  • Tivihar: After sunset no food or juice shall be taken, but one may drink water. Many Jains practise this daily.
  • Navapad Oli: During every year for 9 days starting from the 6/7th day in the bright fortnight until the full moon day in Ashwin and Chaitra months, one does Ayambil. This is repeated for the next four and half years. Ayambils may be restricted to one kind of grain per day.

Many resources for Jainism information is maintained at the Jainism: Jain Principles, Tradition and Practices website. Numerous links on this site are unfortunately broken but the shear volume of information does somewhat make up for this problem.


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