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.