Ashtahnika is one of the Jain festivals which has immense importance. It is one of the oldest Jain ritual observances that can be traced. Devotees consider Lord Mahavira, the propagator of Jainism as an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. Hence, Ashtahnika Vidhan rituals are also considered auspicious by the Hindus.
The festival holds a special place amongst both the sects of the followers of Mahavira, Shwetambars and the Digambars. Ashtahnika is observed for eight days which takes place in every four months, i.e. in Ashadha month, which is June and July as per Gregorian calendar, Kartika month (October and November) and Phalguna month (February and March). This ancient festival is only next to importance to Dashalakshanaparva.
Significance of Ashtahnika Vidhan:
The word Ashta meaning eight and Aanika meaning every day. As mentioned, this festival is observed in the months of Aashad, Phalgun, and Karthika. It lasts for eight days till the Purnima or the full moon day. When the festival falls in the months of Aashad and Phalguna, then the ritual is known as Nandishwar Ashtahnika. This ritual helps to gain greater spiritual insight, and wisdom. The observance of this ritual brings wish fulfilment for the devotees.
As per the legend behind the Nandishwar Ashtahnika, there are eight islands and 52 Jain temples on the earth. The eighth island is known as Nandishwara. These fifty-two Jain temples are worshiped by the angels, where the entry of human beings is prohibited. The Nandishwara island is surrounded three mountain ranges called the Anjana mountain, the Dadhimukha mountain, and the Ratikara mountain. Each of these mountains also has a Jain temple. According to Jain legends, the four months from Ashada to Kartik is a monsoon season which gives rise to lots of flora and faunas. The Jain sages are prohibited from traveling during this period as they may unknowingly hurt any living creature. Thus during this period, Jain sages used to stay put in one place where they pray for higher self-realization and well-being of mankind. It is known as Chaudasa Chaturmasa. During this four months, the Jain shravak practices regular worship and other rituals at home.
Devotees get a vivid picture regarding Ashtahnika and the ritual from the Padma Purana, a literary work of Ravisenacharya. As mentioned in Padma Purana, King Dasaratha had observed the Ashtahnika Vidhan in the month of Kartik and had received the blessings from the Lord Jina. According to Shreepalacharithre, another literary work, Mainasundari had managed to cure leprosy during this auspicious period of Karthika Ashtahnika. The great Sage Akalankadeva gained glory by defeating the Buddhist monks in this period and managed to propagate the glories of Jainism.
This ritual is more keenly observed by the sect of the Digamvaras. The Siddhachakra pooja Vidhan puja ritual is also observed during this month.