Akshay Tritiya falls on the third day of Shukla Paksh in the month of Vaishakh. This festival is important not only for the Hindus but Jains as well. This year, the day falls on 18th April.
Jains worship it as the day when the first Tirthankaara - Rishabhnath had broken his yearlong fast. This fast actually lasted for thirteen months and thirteen days. Jainism is one of the ancient religions of India. It was started by Lord Rishabhnath and the other Tirthankaras, who are believed to be 23 in number and helped in the propagation of the religion.
Rishabhnath lived millions of years ago. The last Tirthankara was Mahavir, the history says that he lived in 500 BC. Jains consider it an eternal religion and believe that the Tirthankaras guard the Jain cosmology.
Its Significance In Jainism
Rishabhnath was the first of the twenty four Tirthankaras of Jainism. Jain religious texts say that he was the son of king Nabhi and queen Marudevi, and belonged to the North Indian region of Ayodhya.
Once in the court of Lord Indra, while the celestial dancers were dancing, Nilanjana, one of them died because of some difficult dance movements.
This made Rishabhdev realize how impermanent the world is, and he decided to abandon the materialistic life. He renounced the world and his family and became a sage from then on. The Jain Tirthankaras are known for performing very difficult sacrifices and observing highly strict rules.
Jain texts further say that he wandered as a sage and without food for continuous period of one year in the world. He became the first sage of the present half cycle of time. First, he meditated for six months and then went in search of food.
In Jainism, the Tirthankras are not supposed to ask for food, they only take it wherever it is offered. This too has not to be done more than once in a day. People till then had no knowledge about how to offer food to sages. At that time, there was a king named Shreyansh of Hastinapur. He offered sugarcane juice to Lord Rishabhnath, and this is how he broke the fast and performed Parana. This fast lasted for 13 months and 13 days.
Since the day was the third day of Shukla Paksh in Vaisakh month, it is now till today celebrated as Akshay Tritiya and known as Varshitapa Parana. "Parana" means breaking of a fast. Sugarcane is known as Ikshu in the Sanskrit language. Therefore, His dynasty also came to be known as the Ikhshvaku dynasty.
Jains celebrate the day by observing 'varshi tapa'. Varshi tapa is the yearlong alternative day fasting. They also perform parana and break their fast by drinking sugarcane juice.
At Hastinapur, a fair is also organized in celebration of the Akshay Tritiya. Many sages and devotees even break their fast by drinking the sugarcane juice.
Lord Rishabhnath is also known as Adinatha. "Adi" means first and "Nath" means God. He is therefore believed to be the first God. Adishvara is the other name that he is known with. Yet other names that he is denoted with are Yugadidev meaning dev of the yuga, Nebheya, son of Nabhi and Prathamraja, which means the first king.