KOCHI: On the street of Mattancherry, youths in scooters hold aloft a banner welcoming the Jain monk Sadhviji Sayampurna Shriji to Kochi. A few youngsters are banging on drums and cymbals. The scooter-borne youths are followed by men, of varying ages, wearing a scarf across their shoulders. A few are waving the Jainism flag, which has five colours: red, yellow, white, green and blue. The procession stops. A few girls, wearing white salwar kameez, do the Maharashtrian folk dance called lezim. A band provides the music. Suddenly, somebody shouts, “Chalo” (let’s go) and the procession resumes.
All this is part of the welcome ceremony called Chaturmas Pravesh, on July 11, for Sadhvivarya. The monk has come for a four-month stay at the Jain Temple. During the monsoon season, monks and sadhvis all over India don’t travel as numerous insects come out at that time. So, to uphold ahimsa -- not to cause harm to even the tiniest living being -- they remain at one place.
The Sadhvivarya, accompanied by two disciples, was coming from Pondicherry. Over several months, they walked, because they are not allowed to use any vehicle. They also avoided footwear because they did not want to harm any living being. On the way, they stopped at numerous Jain temples, ashrams and schools, for several days at a time, giving talks, doing meditation, and advising people of other faiths, too. On average, they walked about 10-12 kilometres a day. “We usually start at 5.30 am, and by 8 am, we would stop for the day,” says Sadhvivarya. “Thus, we did not get tired.”
When Sadhvivarya entered the spacious temple at Mattancherry, very soon, she felt very happy. “The vibrations are very good,” she says. “The temple is very spacious too.” Sadhvivarya quickly settled into her daily routine. The trio gets up at 3.30 am and does prayers, meditation and devotion to the Tirthankaras (Jain gods). Because they do not cook food or are not allowed to eat food prepared specially for them, around 48 minutes after sunrise, they visit the different Jain houses in the area to receive vegetarian food. This practice is called goachari.
“From each house, we take little so that the family members do not have to cook again,” says Sadhvivarya. “We go to a few houses to get enough food. Then we bring it back to the temple.” There is a prayer over the food before they sit down to eat. At 8.30 am, for one hour, Sadhvivarya gives a talk (pravachan) to devotees. The subjects include the grace of the divine, how to connect with the almighty, the uniqueness of karma, and how to live peacefully, balancing the spiritual and the practical.
Throughout the day, Sadhvivarya does meditations, prayers and rituals. In the afternoon, she gives another talk, followed by a public prayer in the evening. Sadhvivarya has gone all over India inspiring and motivating people.
And it seems she was destined for this work. Right from her childhood, she wanted to become a monk. This feeling strengthened when she met her guru, Acharya Bhadraguptasurishwarji M S. “I used to read his books on Jainism when I was in Class VIII,” she says. “Once he had come to Ooty for a month’s stay.”
The sadhvi, the daughter of a businessman, who is from Rajasthan, grew up in the hill station. She did her schooling from Nazareth Convent High School, her Class XI and XII from Girl Memorial College and her BA in English literature from Emerald Heights College for Women. It was during this time, she broached the idea to be a monk. Expectedly, the family opposed to the idea. “My mother felt that I was too delicate and sensitive to walk on this path,” says Sadhvivarya. “My father and elder brother were very attached to me. They said, ‘No, no, we will get you married’.”
But Sadhvivarya prevailed. She says, “I had no doubts because it was an inner calling.” And Sadhvivarya took her diksha (renunciation ceremony) at Dholka, 48 kiometres from Ahmedabad on January 25, 1998. The congregation consisted of sadhus, sadhvis, shravaks and shravikas (Jain laymen and women).
“It lasted two hours,” she says. “There was one shravak from Mumbai who took diksha along with me.” It was after her renunciation that Sadhvivarya went for further studies. Eventually, she did her PhD from the Jain Vishwa Bharati Institute (a deemed university) at Ladnun, Rajasthan. “My thesis, ‘The Concept of Divinity’ was based on the work ‘Vitaraga Stotra’ by [Jain scholar] Acharya Hemachandra, which defined the divine qualities of the Tirthankaras,” says Sadhvivarya. “I also did a comparison of Jainism and other religions.”
Asked whether it is a difficult life, she says, “My life is tranquil, beautiful, serene, and I am on the precious path of merging with the divine.” And her parents are also happy. “During Chaturmas Pravesh, they usually come to visit me. So, they will be here soon,” she says.
Five vows of a sadhvi
Ahimsa Mahavrat: Vow of absolute non-violence
Satya Mahavrat: Vow of absolute truthfulness
Asteya or Achaurya Mahavrat: Vow of absolute non-stealing
Brahmacharya Mahavrat: Vow of absolute celibacy
Aparigraha Mahavrat: Vow of absolute non-attachment