Mahavira Jayanti: Jain festival (April)
Introduces the Jain festival celebrating the life and enlightenment of Mahavira Jayanti. This assembly is taken from Primary School Assemblies for Religious Festivals (SPCK, 2012).
by Rebecca Parkinson
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To understand the Jain festival of Mahavira Jayanti.
Preparation and materials
- Jain is a movable feast (23 April 2013, 23 April 2014, 2 April 2015).
- You will need some brightly coloured flags – these could simply be sticks with any colour of rectangle attached, or could be in the form of bunting.
- Milk, rice, fruit, perfume/incense, lamp, water – for children to hold.
- Check pronunciations with any Jain children in school.
- Ask the children if they can think of any special things they do to celebrate a particular occasion. You may need to guide them to think about Christmas, Easter, Eid, Hanukah, Diwali, etc.
Explain that you are going to tell them about a special festival called Mahavira Jayanti, which is particularly celebrated in India but is becoming more popular in different parts of the world.
- Before you talk about the festival, you are going to tell them about the man who is often thought of as the leader of a religion called Jainism (Jain religion).
About 2,500 years ago, a prince called Vardhamana was born in India. He was the son of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishaia. Vardhamana grew up in the royal palace but when he was about 30 years old, following the death of both of his parents, he decided to leave the luxury of palace life and instead spend his time fasting and meditating.
For the next 12 and a half years Vardhamana went without food for long periods of time. He often had no clothes to wear and nowhere to sleep. Through these experiences, Jains believe that Vardhamana became ‘enlightened’. ‘Enlightened’ means that someone has attained so much special spiritual knowledge that they can understand everything and eventually become perfect.
Jains call humans who become enlightened Tirthankaras. In the Jain religion there are 24 Tirthankaras, and Vardhamana was the last of these 24. When Vardhamana became enlightened he had his name changed to Mahavira.
Once Mahavira became enlightened he began to follow the very old religion of Jainism. He was not a founder of a religion; rather he built on what other people had discovered before him. When he died (at the age of 72) he had a following of about 14,000 monks and 36,000nuns!
- Jains have five main beliefs:
(a) Respect for living things. All Jains are vegetarians and a few are so determined to not kill any animal that they sweep paths before they walk on them to ensure that they don’t step on an insect. Some very devout Jains even wear masks so they don’t accidentally breathe in an insect and thus kill it. Jains also believe that you should not hurt the feelings of another living being.
(b) You should not lie but must always tell the truth.
(c) You should never steal or cheat.
(d) Husbands and wives should always stay together.
(e) You should not seek material things, such as food, riches, fashionable clothes.
- Ask for volunteers to come to the front and hold the flags. Explain that the festival of Mahavira Jayanti is celebrated by Jains at a movable date usually in April or March. It celebrates Mahavira’s birthday.
Shrines and temples are decorated with flags and everyone dresses in bright clothes to take part in a procession. Before the procession begins, an idol of Mahavira is given a ritual bath and then placed in a cradle so that it can be carried through the streets. Celebrations continue late into the night.
During Mahavira Jayanti people often give gifts to the poor. Explain that you want the children to guess what gifts are usually given by listening to the clues below.
Read one clue then let a child make a guess, then read a second clue and let a different child guess. Go on until a child guesses correctly.
A This gift is white.
It is a drink.
It comes from a cow.
Milk. Ask a child to come out to hold the milk.
B In this country we eat a wide variety of food, but in some countries this is almost all they eat.
It is made of tiny grains.
You cook it with boiling water.
You often have it with curry or chilli.
Rice. Ask a child to come out to hold the rice.
C This helps you keep healthy.
It could be red, green, yellow, purple, in fact all sorts of colours!
Some are long and thin, some are small and round, most are juicy.
Although you can buy them at supermarkets, the traditional shop would be a greengrocers.
Fruit. Ask a child to come out to hold the fruit.
D People buy it as presents although sometimes it is very expensive.
It smells nice.
Usually you spray or squirt it.
Or you burn it.
Incense. Ask a child to come out to hold the perfume/incense.
E These brighten up a dark room.
Now we switch them on, but years ago they could have been made from gas/oil/wax.
They have bulbs in them.
Lamp. Ask a child to come out to hold the lamp.
F It is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.
You cannot survive without it.
About 70 per cent of your body is made up of this.
It is wet.
Water. Ask a child to come out to hold the water.
- Today, as well as millions of Jains living in India, there are many thousands in other parts of the world. The festival of Mahavira Jayanti is a bright, noisy, happy festival in which Jains remember the life of Mahavira. However, the true meaning is to help the Jain community to continue to respect all living things and to live in peace. Those are great lessons for us all to learn.
Time for reflection
During Mahavira Jayanti, many people text their friends and families, just as many of us do on special occasions. Here are two of the texts that proved popular for sending in 2011. Ask the children to think about what the words mean as you read them slowly:
May Lord Mahavira bless you abundantly and fill your life with the virtue of truth, non-violence and compassion. Happy Mahavira Jayanti.
Little keys can open big locks. Simple words can express great thoughts. I hope my simple prayer can make your life great. Happy Mahavira Jayanti.
Please help us always to respect living things,
whether they are plants, animals or other humans.
Thank you for the beauty of your creation.
Please help us always to look after your world.
‘All things bright and beautiful’ (Come and Praise, 3)