diwali has a very special significance in jainism. it marks anniversary of attainment of nirvana of lord mahavira, the last jaintirthankar of this era. in fact, diwali was first referred in harivamsha purana (holy book of jains) written by acharya jinasena as dipalika (splendour of lamps).
in his words, the gods illuminated pavanagari by lamps to mark the occasion. since that time, the people celebrate the famous festival of diwali to worship the jinendra (i.e. lord mahavira) on the occasion of his nirvana.
the rituals and meditation help the soul attain moksha. the festival falls on the last day of the month of ashvin, the end of the year in the indian calendar. but the celebration starts in the early morning of the previous day as lord mahavir commenced his last sermon (final discourse known as uttaradhyayan), which lasted until the night of diwali.
at midnight, he soul left his body and attained liberation, moksha. eighteen kings of northern india were present in his audience at the time of his final sermon. they decided that the light of their master’s knowledge should be kept alive symbolically by lighting of lamps. hence it is called deepävali or diwali, (deep means a lamp and avail means series or multiple). but the light of lord mahavir’s knowledge cannot be kept alive by just lighting the lamps.
realistically, we should light up our internal lamps – awaken our inner vision by practicing the path preached by lord mahavir. as a traditional diwali lamp needs a clay bowl, oil, and cotton wick. the inner lamp needs the right faith, right knowledge, right conduct and right tap (austerity). external lamps needs oxygen while internal lamp needs self-effort. the resolution to adopt the practice of good conduct is the way to celebrate diwali . some fast for two days as lord mahavir did.
jains tends to avoid firecrackers during diwali as they causes noise pollution. 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. in temples and homes, devotees sing and chant hymns and mantras from jain religious texts in praise of the tirthankar. jains pay visit to pava-puri on this special day to offer their prayers. the jain year starts with pratipada, next day of diwali.
in the hindu tradition, this is a festival associated with lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. a multitude of lights are lit in homes and businesses to make them fine residences for the visit of lakshmi. for jains, the lights of divali are also kindled, but their significance is to commemorate the illumination of the tirthankara mahavira. in entering into the state of nirvana at the time of his death, he attained perfect freedom, illumined by the clear light of the soul.
this is the “wealth” that jains honor on the festival of diwali. people gather at night to light the lamps, chant mantras, and sing together.