(Varṣītap is modelled on the fast of the first Jina, Ṛṣhabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. Instead of doing complete fasting (Upvas) for 13-month, which next to impossible in current time, the fasters adopt a pattern of alternating days of total fasting with days of partial fasting. Varsitap is always initiated on Fāgan Vas Atham and ended on Vaiśākh Sud Teras.)
In childhood, I had seen my grandfather doing Varsitap and after my marriage my uncle-in-law too pursued it. Both inspired me to pursue this difficult Tap once in lifetime. But, at the same time it felt impossible for me as I could not function without tea, especially my first morning cup, which is why I have always struggled to do Upvas (fasting) more than once annually other than Chaitri Poonam.
In April 2021, Jumeira Lake Towers (JLT) Dubai Sangh invited enrolment for the Varsitap. The Sangh had taken up the responsibility to arrange for “Beyasana” for all the participants. One of my friends, Pooja Doshi encouraged me to sign up and participate. It was COVID time, so there was no possibility of any kind of travelling for leisure. On family front, both my daughters are independent, and I had more time to myself. All in family including my husband were supportive of my decision to start the Tap. Circumstances were favorable and I took up the opportunity and signed up.
One month prior to starting Varsitap, I prepared myself by giving up tea gradually. I realized that I could function without tea! This was my first win over my weakness. It built confidence and I was very happy to take the first step of my long journey ahead.
In the beginning, Guruji and Mrs. Smitaben Kotecha in the Jain Centre explained the importance of the Tap. They explained that there are two key reasons why anyone should do it. Firstly, one should try to follow the footsteps of Adinath Bhagwan, who did 400 days upvas, to the best of Human ability. Secondly, Varsitap can help one to train oneself to be calm and balanced through Kriya and meditation. After their explanation, my determination doubled. I told Dharmanath Bhagwan “I am just starting the tap; I know you will take care of me and see to it that I will complete it. If it is your wish that I complete it successfully, then nothing can stop me.”
On 4th April, I started my Varsitap. At the back of my mind, I was scared but to my pleasant surprise, my first two days of fasting went by without any trouble. More than 50 of us started Varsitap together, so I felt very motivated and supported all the time. Slowly, I learnt how to eat and what is good to eat in beyasna from more experienced tapasvis.
13 months is a long time, and there were many ups and downs in this time. My husband and younger daughter got COVID within a week of me starting Varsitap, when I was still settling into my new routine. It was a testing time. Jain Centre, while following all the protocols of covid, supported by arranging to send beyasana tiffin to home. I came out of this difficult time with more faith in religion and firmness to continue fasting.
The spirit and care for Tapasvis by the JLT Sangh and everyone’s families, as well as the unity and bond that everyone started sharing, made things move forward smoothly. Unfortunately, some of the Tapasvis were unable to continue with Varsitap for a variety of reasons. At the end of the first three months, there were 46 of us continuing the Tap. By now, I was quite firm, my focus increased while performing Kriya and could now tell others that I had taken up the Tap.
Suddenly, in June, my mother’s health deteriorated. I flew to India with no idea of when I’d be back, as normal travel from India to Dubai was completely shut due to widespread COVID in India. Slowly, mother recovered a little which made me stronger mentally. I stayed with my mother for nearly five weeks. My Varsitap was chief motivation for her to get well soon, and so this in turn became a new reason for me to remain firm and further strengthened my resolve to continue Tap.
I came back to a harsh Dubai summer but managed to continue. Festivals such as Paryushan and Diwali felt different as I was fasting. Within Dubai, I had major life events such as moving to a new home and starting a new venture in dance studio. Day by day I felt more energized, especially on Upvas day.
2022 was off to a complicated start, with me testing positive for COVID. The support I got from the Sangh and my family during this time was heartwarming. We were back to tiffin’s for beyasna! The experience reminded me that when there is a will, there is a way.
I got the greatest joy from being able to spend time with my mother in Dubai. Her health had been stable so she could visit us with my brother. It meant a lot to her to see how I was doing Varsitap and being able to share that with her meant a lot to me, too.
From February, everyone’s mindset was changing. There was a lot of excitement around talking and preparing for Parna. Family and friends started inviting me for the Beyasana in respect and appreciation of Tapasya. Our tap is inspiration for all those who invited me to their house. Non-Jain friends were surprised to see that I was still feeling strong and going about my usual routine after doing so many upvas. Total duration of fast was 396 days with 200 of them being upvas including an Attham. Towards the end, all of us (Tapasvis) had a glow from the power of fasting, meditation, and Kriya.
In last month of my Varsitap, my mother had a stroke and was hospitalized. But again, may be because of my good karma, she was out of danger soon and returned home soon. She couldn’t be present in-person for Parna ceremony in Palitana but her wish to see me successfully completing Varsitap was fulfilled. Her having come to Dubai during my Varsitap was a dream come true for both her and me. As part of Parna, jatra up the Giriraj (mountain) and doing sugarcane juice Abhishek of Adinath Bhagwan was so divine! This Jatra was different from all my jatra done so far – it was out of the world!!!
The biggest challenge was to come back to a normal food routine. Although I am a foodie, now I know that I can detach myself from food. I started 20 Sthanak oli with Upvas as I wanted to continue the qualities that I cultivated with the regular habit of meditation through Kausag and Kriya.
For me, Varsitap was not just a tap, but rather a way of living. It made me feel calm, composed, balanced and more connected with Tirthankar parmatmas.
It was not just about the physical aspects related to fasting but a turning point. It built confidence, focus, discipline, dedication and faith. It made me physically and mentally strong. I am immensely satisfied by accomplishing completion of Varsitap.