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Ordinary Jains into extreme penance

    Mumbai (Maharashtra), August 18, 2012: As the sun set in Palitana, the holy temple town of Gujarat, close to 200 Jains went bald in an elaborate ceremony recently. Unlike in Tirupati, their hair wasn’t razed off in one smooth sweep; it was plucked out, strand by strand. This practice called kaya klesh, a must for Jain monks who take the lifelong vow of diksha or monkhood, is now becoming popular among ordinary devotees as well. And excruciatingly painful as it might be, it is willfully undergone as a form of penance.

    Like in Palitana, in Madhuranthagam near Chennai, ash made of dry cow dung was dusted on the heads of close to 350 Jain devotees under the guidance of Acharya Ramlalji Maharaj. Following this, they calmly plucked out each strand of their hair for the almost two hours that it took to achieve a completely bare scalp. Around 150 Jains in Raipur did the same under a senior monk Prakashchandarji Maharaj. In Palitana, it was Jayanand Vijayji Maharaj who presided over the ceremony.

    Several Jains don’t stop at the rigours of kaya klesh; they live like monks for the rest of the eight-day holy festival of Parshuyan in the spartan environs of a temple or upashraya, don white robes and go from door to door begging for food. Till recently, most Jains would fast and pray during Paryushan in their attempt to overcome desire of any kind; this year, the festival has taken on a new shade of penance.

    The kaya klesh practice, though very new, is on the rise. As Muni Vimalsagarji, a senior monk, explains, “There are 12 kinds of penance, six of them external like upwaas (fasting) and six internal. Kaya klesh is one of these. The most important sacrifice for Jains is the sacrifice of one’s body, putting it through severe endurance tests-it is, for example, about the amount of harsh sun you can take or how much hunger or thirst you can withstand. Kaya klesh, in particular, also teaches you not to ascribe so much importance to your physical self.”

    Next month, other Jains whose Paryushan is due to begin will also undergo kaya klesh under Vimalsagarji Maharaj, who is currently in Bhiwandi, Mumbai. Babulal Jain-Ujwal, a Kandivli resident, who is a fount of information on diksha and monks, says that this penance has always been spoken about in the Jain texts but has gained popularity among devotees only from last year.

    Although, both male and female monks pluck their hair out this way before taking the vow of deeksha, the practise of kaya klesh has not yet picked up among Jain women devotees.

    Kaya klesh, a ritual in which every hair strand is pulled out till the head is bald, is a must for Jain monks. It is now becoming popular among ordinary believers as well. – News Courtesy: The Times of India

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