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Wednesday, July 29, 2015


             The very fact that the ‘Dhoondhaka’ sect of the Jains came into existence as a reaction to idolatry proves that the Jains, by and large, were idol-worshippers till 16th century. However, the crusade against idolatory, spearheaded by Lonka Shah, met with great success and the iconoclasm-tide almost swayed the Jain masses, particularly in the North. It were the followers of Lonka Shah who ultimately organized themselves into a sect known as Sthanakvasis. 
                The history of undivided Punjab is helpless in providing any proof regarding the prevalence of idolatory here till the second half of the 19th century. But in a period spanning over just seven years the course of history was changed by the efforts of the most zealous propagator of idol-worshipping Acharya Srimad Vijyananda Suri, popularly known as Muni Atma nanda, and idolatory, despite strong opposition from the Poojyas, established its might in a number of towns in Punjab.
                Muni Atma Nanda was originally initiated into the Sthanakvasi order but he soon snapped ties with it and got converted into moortipujak Swetambora order where he was elevated to the most coveted position of Acharya. It was his dream to establish Jain temples in Punjab, his home state, and to see Jain masses everywhere worshipping the idols of the 24 Trithankars. With this goal in mind, when the Acharya came to Punjab in 1889, he found that unprecedented enthusiasm of his devout followers was awaiting him.
                With the Acharya as the only moving spirit behind the spurt of socio-religious activity, the devouts completed the construction of jain temples at Ludhiana and Malerkotla in 1890 and came to be known as the forerunners. The idols of 23rd Trithankara Parsvanatha were installed in these two temples with great pomp and show. In the Makerkotla temple, another idol of the 10th Trithankara Sheetalnatha was also added.
Three more temples emerged in other three towns of Punjab in 1891. These were Amritsar, Zira and Hoshiarpur. The Amritsar temple was built by Panna Lal where idols of Trithankara Sheetalnatha and the 18th Trithankara Arenatha were instituted by Gokul Bhai of Baroda who was specially invited to perform the installation ceremony. The year was marked by the completion of another temple at Zira, the birth-place of the Acharya. Radha Bai, a devotee of the Acharya had vowed to build the temple and had donated all her belongings for the purpose. The job of construction was entrusted to Lalu Ram, her mukhtar, who got the temple erected in three years time. Constructed by Mistri Sher Singh and his fellow workmen, the Zira temple has no match in architecture, designing and wood-carvings. It was again Gokul Bhai of Baroda who was invited to perform the exalted duty to install the idol of Trithankara Parsvanatha here.
The fateful year of 1891 witnessed the emergence of yet another temple at Hoshiarpur. The Hoshiarpur temple owes its existence to the munificence of Gujjar Mall, who for eight long years had brooded over his resolve of building a temple with golden dome on the pattern of Darbar Sahib. His dream was fulfilled in 1891 when Jethamal, a special invitee from Ahmedabad, performed the installation of the idols of Trithankaras Parsvanatha Vasupoojya and Vimalnatha in the 90 feet high temple of Hoshiarpur.
The Jain temples at Ambala, presently in Haryana, with the idol of Trithankara Parsvanatha installed, was thrown open to the devouts in 1895.
The year 1896 was marked with the construction of Jain temples in three more towns namely Sankhatra, Hem Nagar and Narowal are now in Pakistan and the temples which were built here with profound devotion and dedication have been reduced to debris with the rare idols helplessly watching the mighty wheel of the time trampling the age-old civilization in that part of the land. The fading migrated generation of the Jain idolators from these towns even today cherish the memories of the days when they had joined the various ceremonies held in connection with the installation of idols in these temples.
The temple built in Sankhatra had the distinction of witnessing the installation of the largest number of idols and had thus stolen a place of pride amongst the Jain temples of Punjab. Next to this was the Narowal temple with seven idols whereas the Hem Nagar temple could have only two.
Although the later generation of the rich Moortipoojak Jain community have added quite a few more temples to the lineage, the old grandeur, enthusiasm and fervor are no more to be found.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


           Despite tumultuous advocacy of Punjabiat during the past few decades, the painful fact remains that Punjab has never seriously endeavored to recognise, highlight or even acknowledge the selfless service of its own sons who dedicated their lives to spreading the message of peace and co-existence in this land of five rivers. This inexcusable negligence has allowed quite a few social reformers, poets, musicians, artists and spiritual leaders to walk into oblivion. One wished Punjab could only take pride in being the motherland of great personalities like the venerable Acharya Vijayananda Suri who alone attracted scores of Punjab Jains towards the forsaken idol-worship.
During the second half of the 19th century, the writ of the Poojyas prevailed in Punjab, who were deadly opposed to idol-worship. Acharya Vijayananda challenged their might and successfully inspired his followers to build Jain temples. The resistant Poojyas issued open letters forbidding the Punjabi Jains from giving food or shelter to the Acharya. Undeterred by the designs of the Poojyas, the zealous Acharya initiated a large number of Jains into his fold. As a result, in a short span of seven years, temples were constructed in nine of the Punjab cities and the installation ceremonies performed with unprecedented fervor.
            The original name of the Acharya was Atma Ram. He was born at Leha, a village in Zira tehsil of the Ferozepur district in the year 1835. His father, Ganesh Chand Kapur, died an untimely death which forced his mother Roopvati Devi to send his child to Zira in the hope that Atma Ram would have his schooling under the kind patronage of Seth Jodh Mall.
            It was at zira that the young Atma Ram came close to the Sthanakvasi sadhus and was so greatly influenced by their holiness that in 1853 he got himself initiated into their fold and himself became a Sthanakvasi sadhu. This provided him an easy access to the Jain scriptures, which he studied with keen contemplation. His own interpretations of the scriptures favouring idol-worship brought him into sharp disagreement with his fellow sadhus who considered idol-worship a sin.
Bearing with the stubborn Sthanakvasis for over two decades, Atma Ram exhausted his patience and there came the breaking point. In 1875, he abandoned the sect and became a disciple of the renowned Moortipoojak saint Buddhi Vijayk under whose guidance he studied scriptures afresh and gained spiritual heights. In recognition of his rare scholarship and powerful exposition of the scriptures, he was elevated to the most coveted position of the Acharya by the four-fold congregation, held at Palitana in the year 1886.
            Acharya Vijayananda strongly believed that education alone could ensure the uplift of Indian Jain community. With this goal in mind, he inspired the devout to establish a number of educational institutions in different parts of the country. Many a S.A.Jain school and college, which came into being during his life time or afterwards owe their existence to the Acharya’s love and concern for education.
Another significant contribution of the Acharya was that he made wonderful arrangements for the resurrection and preservation of a large number of manuscripts stored haphazardly in the temples of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
            The Acharya’s superb knowledge of Jain philosophy and his powerful oratory earned him wide acclaim. In 1892, he was invited to the World Conference of Religions held at Chicago. He himself could not attend this conference owing to religious compulsions but sent Mr.Veer Chand Raghavji Gandhi as his representative. Mr.Gandhi, equipped with a well-prepared question-answer type booklet, written by the Acharya, was at ease in the conference in quelling each and every query of the delegates.
            Apart from spearheading the socio-religious activity, Acharya Vijayananda authored 15 books and composed spiritual poetry of considerable merit. His books provide a logical treatise of the Jain philosophy and forcefully advocate the finer human values. The prolific writer in the Acharya explained at length to the common believers the ways of worship and armed them with a detailed code of conduct. His poetry, in simple spoken Hindi, aimed at inviting the readers to the realms of spiritual bliss and impressed upon them the need to build a healthy society by discovering and inculcating the divine virtues.

This great son of Punjab left for his heavenly abode in 1896through Santhara i.e. willful fasting unto death, leaving behind very many devout to prostrate at his Samadhi at Gujranwala (now in Pakistan) and just a few to be the torch-bearers in the furtherance of his mission.