Literature » Society

Jains: From Business to Peace, From Education to Service
By Ms. Deepti Shah

Business is in their blood. Peace is their badge. The combination makes the Jains an extraordinary community in India. They follow the tenets of Lord Mahaveera and other Theerthankaras. The year 2001 was dedicated exclusively to spread Mahaveera’s messages of universal peace. The year also celebrated his 2600th birth anniversary. The Jains are spread all over the country. South Indian Jains migrated generations ago mostly from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. They made Karnataka and Tamil Nadu their home. They saw vast opportunities for business in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and other major South Indian centres.

The Jains who migrated from Gujarat and Rajasthan are mostly Shwethambars. The native Jains in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are Digambars, and their contribution to the shaping up of the language and the region in the early centuries is immense. While Marwari and Gujrati Jains dominate in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, they are very small in numbers in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Nevertheless, Jains are penetrating into rural areas too these days. Even in some nondescript Kerala towns, Jains have set up their shops and made their presence felt.

The secret of their success lies in their adaptability. The place they move into becomes their home. They imbibe the local culture and tradition without losing touch with their own. Today their presence in businesses such as textiles, silk, jewellery exports and steel trade is substantial. Their role in stock exchanges is often dominant. Small wonder that they contribute roughly 2 per cent to India’s GDP.

Perhaps, it’s their seemingly obvious ‘business-only’ approach to social life that has left them apparently deprived in politics. One Jain here and another there is all that they have accomplished in terms of political presence. Nor do people know if a Jain has made it in politics unless his name bore the suffix Jain. For instance, not many Jains in Karnataka are aware that Veerakumar A Patil, the politician heading the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited, is a Jain. So how could there be any whimper of protests when Chief Minister S M Krishna dropped Patil from his ministry some time back? Men in power know that Jains rarely take to demonstrative protests and in any case, their numbers don’t seem to matter in today’s pattern of electoral politics. Their interest in trains seems to be an exception. Occasionally, the community in Karnataka comes up with demands for trains to Rajasthan with stops at various towns of importance to the community. Two new trains were introduced last year.

Jain involvement in social activities is another matter. The Jain organisations in Chennai, Bangalore and Coimbatore are notable for their community work. The beneficiaries of these activities are mostly people from other communities. In Karnataka, organisations like Jain Yuva Sangathan, Jain Youth Association, Jain Youth Federation, Rajasthan Youth Association, and Karnataka Marwari Youth Federation are engaged in charitable activities of all kind. They hold free camps for eye check-up, for giving away artificial limbs (Jaipur foot) and for donating school books to needy children. These organisations have also adopted some government and corporation schools for general assistance.

Generally speaking, Jains are economically well placed. One reason for this is that most of the successful entrepreneurs in the community would willingly lend a helping hand to those who are in need of such support. In any case, as far as the governments go, Jains are a minority. (They are around 10 million worldwide. In Karnataka alone, they are as small as about 4 lakh, and there are about 40 lakh followers of Jainism in the four major cities of Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi.) Benefits meant for minorities are available to Jains.But there are many instances where Shwetambars have not accepted such benefits.

Jains in the South used to be uninvolved in educational institutions. Not any longer. Influenced no doubt by the large numbers of schools and colleges set up in the name of various communities and all of them thriving as businesses, the Jains too got into the act. Some of the institutions they established have become well known. Across the country, Jains run 2,645 schools and colleges. Karnataka alone accounts for more than 100.

Jains have clearly recognised the need to excell in education as much as in business. This is evident from the fact that they have recently formed the Federation of Jain Educational Institutions of India to give shape to their ideas and dreams. In March, the Federation is holding its first national level meet at Jalgaon, Maharashtra to finalise a blueprint for positive action in this direction and to achieve an overall improvement in the higher education standards of the community.

There is, however, one member of the community whose initiatives in Karnataka has made a difference to the state as a whole. Veerendra Heggade, the Dharmadhikari of Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala, a famous piligrim centre in Dakshina Kannada district is in many ways a very special kind of person. Though a Jain himself, Heggade has been administering a Hindu temple where the presiding deity is Lord Manjunatha. Parts of Karnataka have well-known colleges of higher education and hospitals which came up because of Heggade’s efforts. The excellence of his institutions and indeed the quality of his leadership have attracted the admiration of people from all walks of life, including academics, economists and thinkers.

There is another Jain who excelled in the business of book-selling. Suresh C Shah grabbed the spotlight ever since he founded what is described as Asia’s largest book shop, Sapna Book House in Bangalore in the 80s. It is a place where a festival of Kannada books is organised every year. This is as it should be. From 10th century onwards, Jains have made monumental contribution to the growth of Kannada. The first Kannada poet, Pampa, was a Jain himself. Poets Ranna, Ponna, Janna and Lakshmeesha, who all enriched Kannada literaturee, were Jains.

Jainism enjoyed royal patronage in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Many temples and monuments located in different parts of these states bear testimony to this. Jainism acquired an exalted status in the reign of Gangas, Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas.

The Ganga General Chavundaraya undertook the task of establishing the monolithic statute of Gomateshwara (Lord Bahubali) atop the crest of Vindyagiri Hill in Shravanabelagola (Hassan district, Karnataka), about a thousand years ago. The place is world famous for its Mahamasthakabhisheka which is held once in 12 years.

In the 10th Century AD, under the patronage of Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola, two temples of Jain Theerthankaras were built in Kanchi. Apart from being a sacred place of worship for Buddhists and Hindus, Kancheepuram was also an important place in the history of Jains. Many Pallava kings were Jains.

Jainism not only showed a spiritual way of life but also inspired a distinct stream of culture which enriched philosophy, literature, art and architecture. Classical Jain literature is found in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Gujarati, Hindi (Hindustani), Kannada and Tamil languages. Karnataka, in fact, is a treasure house of Jain manuscripts on subjects ranging from philosophy, grammer, vaastu, mathematics and religion. These manuscripts are in the form of paper and palm leaves in several temples and mutts in Bangalore. Some of them are in Halegannada (ancient Kannada) and many in Sanskrit. A national level exercise for surveying and documenting the manuscripts is already on.

The one-thousand pillared Basadi at Moodbidri in Dakshina Kannada district, also known as the Jain Kashi of the South, towering statute of Gomateshwara in Karkala, three Basadis and a Jain mutt in Narasimharajapura and the famous Jain temple of Parshwanatha-Padmawati at Humcha in Shimoga, apart from Bahubali in Shravanabelagola are historic landmarks in Karnataka. A massive Jain temple is coming up at Devanahalli, the location of the proposed international airport in Bangalore.

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