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Diwali has a very special significance in Jainism. It marks anniversary of attainment of Nirvana of Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankar of this era. It is celebrated at the same time as the Hindu festival of Diwali.
Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of this era, revitalised Jainism Dharma followed by Jains even today. Though few outdated history books still mention that he established Jainism. According to tradition, the chief disciple of Mahavira, Ganadhara Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge (Kevalgyana) on this day, thus making Diwali one of the most important Jain festivals.
Mahavira attained his nirvana at the dawn of the amavasya (new moon). According to the Kalpasutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, 3rd century BCE, many gods were present there, illuminating the darkness. The following night was pitch black without the light of the gods or the moon. To symbolically keep the light of their master's knowledge alive:
16 Gana-kings, 9 Malla and 9 Lichchhavi, of Kasi and Kosal, illuminated their doors. They said: "Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter" ("गये से भवुज्जोये, दव्वुज्जोयं करिस्समो").
Dipavali was mentioned in Jain books as the date of the nirvana of Mahavira. In fact, the oldest reference to Diwali is a related word, dipalikaya, which occurs in Harivamsha-Purana, written by Acharya Jinasena and composed in the Shaka Samvat era in the year 705.
ततस्तुः लोकः प्रतिवर्षमादरत् प्रसिद्धदीपलिकयात्र भारते |
समुद्यतः पूजयितुं जिनेश्वरं जिनेन्द्र-निर्वाण विभूति-भक्तिभाक् |२० |
tatastuh lokah prativarsham-araat ako
samudyatah poojayitum jineshvaram
Translation: The gods illuminated Pavanagari by lamps to mark the occasion. Since that time, the people of Bharat celebrate the famous festival of "Dipalika" to worship the Jinendra (i.e. Lord Mahavira) on the occasion of his nirvana.
Dipalikaya roughly translates as "light leaving the body".Dipalika, which can be roughly translated as "splendiferous light of lamps", is used interchangeably with the word "Diwali".
Jain New Year
The Jain year starts with Pratipada following Diwali. Jain calendar is known as Vira Nirvana Samvat and their year 2539 started with Diwali of year 2012. The Jain business people traditionally start their accounting year from Diwali. The relationship between the Vir and Shaka era is given in Titthogali Painnaya and Dhavalaa by Acharya Virasena:
पंच य मासा पंच य वास छच्चेव होन्ति वाससया|
परिणिव्वुअस्स अरिहितो तो उप्पन्नो सगो राया||
Thus the Nirvana occurred 605 years and 5 months before the Saka era.
Jains tends to avoid firecrackers during Diwali as they cause harm to living organisms. Diwali is celebrated in atmosphere of austerity, simplicity, serenity, equity, calmness, charity, philanthropy and environment-consciousness. Jain temples, homes, offices, shops are decorated with lights and diyas. Relatives distributes sweets to each other. The lights are symbolic of knowledge or removal of ignorance. Swetambar jains observe three days of fasting in remembrance of the penance and sacrifice of Mahavira. In temples and homes, devotees sing and chant hymns and mantras from Jain religious texts in praise of the Tirthankar and congregate for a prayer and recite verses from the Uttaradhyayan Sutra which contain the last teachings of Mahavira. Jain pay visit to Pava-puri on this special day to offer their prayers. The Jain year starts with pratipada, next day of Diwali.