Several enlightened souls have lived by the principles of Jainism and the teachings of the Tirthankars. One such exalted soul, who inspired a number of people to become spiritual and ethical, was Shrimad Rajchandraji.
Although a jeweller by profession, Rajchandraji’s short life was marked by an intensely spiritual journey seeking self-realisation. The last disciple of Lord Mahavir, he studied the Jain scriptures and principles in depth and had a number of miraculous experiences. He looked upon His Guide, Lord Mahavir and all other great saints as tatva (a philosophy) to achieve vairagya (detachment) and a medium for unconditional surrender, which eventually draws one to oneself and thereby closer to God.
He also shared an extraordinary friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, which the latter treasured immensely. For Gandhiji, Shrimadji was a teacher, guide and philosopher.
Let us peek into the past, to understand the life of this remarkable soul in greater detail, and to explore why Idar and Vadva (Khambhat), among others, mean so much to Jains and the devotees of Param Krupaludev, as Rajchandraji is affectionately known.
Shrimadji was born on the auspicious day of Kartik Purnima in Vikram Samvat (VS) 1924 (November 9, 1867). This torchbearer of the Jain religion was born in the garb of an ordinary child, in the town of Vavania in Gujarat, India, to Shrimati Devba and Shri Ravjibhai Mehta.
At the tender age of seven, Raichand passed through an extraordinary experience. An acquaintance had passed away and curious to know the meaning of death, he climbed up a tree near the crematorium. The sight of the burning pyre triggered an unprecedented and intense churning, so profound that it led to the attainment of Jatismaranjnan (recollection of several past lives). This vivid recollection established continuity with his previously attained elevated state of knowledge, meditation and penance.
When he started school at the age of seven, his school teachers soon realised that Raichand was no ordinary student. His incredible grasping power, perceptive intelligence and paranormal memory, helped Him to complete the syllabus of seven academic years in just two years. By the time he entered his teens, he was endowed with great literary skills that earned him great name and fame as a poet. The period of his life, between 13 to 16 years of age, was one of deep contemplation. He studied and mastered almost all the eminent treatises on philosophy in this remarkably short span. His sole purpose was to discover the Ultimate Truth.
In about VS 1940 or 1884 AD, Shrimadji went to Morbi from Vavania. It was here that he happened to see exceptional feats of memory and attention. Shastri Shankarlal M. Bhatt performed the feat of attending to eight objects or eight activities at the same time. Around the same time, Gattulalji Maharaj of Bombay (now Mumbai) was performing similar feats. Shrimadji quickly learnt from them.
Within just two days of seeing these spectacular triumphs, he started performing similar feats before his friends and then the public. He was already known as a learned man but when he performed a memory feat attending to twelve activities at a time before 2,000 persons, he became famous as a prodigy with exceptional powers. Some admirers used to address him as the “precious diamond of India.”
In an exhibition at Wadhwan, he attended to 16 activities at the same time before an audience of rulers and highly educated persons, all of whom were extremely impressed. The newspapers of the day published articles about these accomplishments in glowing terms. In Botad, before his millionaire friend Sheth Harilal Shaivalal, he performed a memory feat of attending to 52 activities at the same time. These included:
· Playing Chopat with three other players;
· Playing cards with three others and at the end calling out all the 13 cards he had;
· Playing chess and at the end of the memory feat declaring all the pieces which were removed from the chess board;
· Counting the grains which were dropped on his back while he was engaged in the memory feat;
· Performing the mathematical exercises of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and keeping the results in mind in order to declare them at the end of the feat;
· Pointing out the exact number of beads a man sitting opposite him had counted from a necklace till the time the man stopped doing so;
· Listening to words of 16 sentences in 16 different languages in a random fashion and later on speaking all the 16 sentences in the languages spoken;
· Supplying individual letters in a random way in a chart in order to compose a verse;
· Preparing ‘problem poems’;
· Composing complete verses on being supplied only one or half a line;
· Composing 16 poems in 16 different poetic forms, starting with one line of the recollected complete poems at the end.
Later on, Shrimadji easily performed memory feats of attending to 100 things and activities at the same time. Even than he used to say that his powers were merely a drop in the ocean, that the powers of the Self were infinite.
Shri Chatrabhujbhai, Shrimadji’s brother-in-law said that he was able to tell whether a person used his right hand or left hand to fix a paghadi (turban) just by looking at the shape of the turban on the wearer's head.
In VS 1943 or 1887 AD, Shrimadji went to Bombay and there, in the Faramji Kavasji Institute (as well as other places) he performed various memory feats. Almost all the newspapers in Bombay gave wide publicity to these performances. He was awarded gold medals by various bodies and institutions for his spectacular achievements. In one of the memory feats he was shown 12 books of different sizes and told their titles. Then he was blindfolded and after touching a book, he would immediately call out the title. Dr. Peterson who presided over the performance had nothing but admiration and praise for this outstanding gift.
On another occasion he was shown different dishes and just by looking at them he was able to tell which of them had less salt. Some of his admirers then suggested that Shrimadji tour foreign countries in order to exhibit his ability and powers. But he refused saying that he could not observe religious discipline in foreign countries.
Shrimadji was apprehensive that the wide publicity of his exceptional powers would hinder his march towards the self realisation and so before he reached the age of 20, he gradually discouraged it. This is why we have no reports of his performance of memory feats after that age.
Though Shrimadji had an intrinsic sense of detachment and a burning desire for total renunciation, his parents denied him the liberty to sever all worldly connections and take renunciation. Accepting this as an outcome of his own previous karma, Shrimadji married Jhabakbai in VS 1944, when he was 20 years old. It was after this that he left Morbi and emigrated to Mumbai to work in the jewellery business.
Shrimadji’s pursuit of spirituality was so intense that it resulted in the attainment of shuddh samyak darshan (right self-perception) when he was 23, in VS 1947. He remained in the state of samadhi (inner equanimity) in all activities. No external occurrence could disrupt this inner equipoise. Lit by complete detachment, he kept the flame of self-realisation alive even in the midst of worldly activities and external adversities. Amidst various demands from the family and business, and in spite of staying in a city as enticing as Bombay, his ceaseless spiritual endeavours ensured that his spiritual state was ever-advancing.
These are the men who became Shrimadji’s foremost devotees and helped take his message far and wide.
Juthabhai has the honour of being one of Shrimadji's first, close devotees. A year older than his spiritual Master, Juthabhai met Shrimadji for the first time in Ahmedabad in VS 1944, and instantly developed a strong spiritual bond with him. He remained in constant touch through meetings and correspondence with Shrimadji. It was this steadfast and spiritually elevating connection that ignited the spark of divinity within him. After achieving this major milestone in his spiritual journey towards liberation, Shri Juthabhai passed away at the tender age of 23 years. Shrimadji used to address him as ‘Satyaparayan’ (devoted to truth) in appreciation of his dedication towards dharma.
Shri Ambalalbhai was the epitome of selfless service; an ardent seeker who devoted himself completely to attaining great spiritual heights. Two years younger than Shrimadji, Ambalalbhai first saw his guru, in VS 1946. Devoted wholeheartedly to his guru’s service, Ambalalbhai had the fortune of attending personally to Shrimadji and even preparing his food and other requirements, when he was in seclusion during his spiritual retreats. Ambalalbhai attained self-realisation after an unparalleled and elevating preaching by Shrimadji in Ahmedabad in VS 1957. This selfless service continued even after Shrimadji passed away. Ambalalbhai played a major part in collating, compiling and publishing Shrimadji’s literature in the volume entitled ‘Shrimad Rajchandra.’
In his letters, Shrimadji addressed Sobhagbhai as his ‘soulmate,’ a ‘friend in his spiritual journey,’ and ‘an eternal repose.’ Hailing from the town of Sayla, Sobhagbhai had the fortune of first meeting Shrimadji in Jetpur, in VS 1946. He was 66 years old at that time (44 years older than Shrimadji), but the devotion and reverence in his heart was instantaneous. The year VS 1953 was significant for him. A close and soul-stirring association with his spiritual master in Sayla, followed by being in his transforming presence once again in Idar, and further strengthened by a number of inspiring and self-awakening letters from Shrimadji, all accelerated Sobhagbhai’s spiritual journey; he acquired self-realisation after which he soon passed away, in a state of complete awareness and samadhi (equanimity).
The world will always remain indebted to Sobhagbhai, for several of Shrimadji’s revelations of his own highly exalted spiritual state were expressed only through letters addressed to Sobhagbhai. Shrimadji was inspired to compose the essence of his teachings, ‘Shri Atmasiddhi Shastra,’ one of his best literary creations, at Sobhagbhai’s behest. But for him, seekers would have been deprived of this invaluable work on self-realisation, a constant guide on the journey to enlightenment.
Shri Lalluji Muni
He is the blessed one whom Shrimadji lovingly addressed as, ‘a monk from the fourth era.’ Shri Lalluji Muni’s initial meeting with his guru took place at an upashray in Khambhat in VS 1946 on the day of Dhanteras. Although he was a monk and older to Shrimadji by 14 years, Shri Lalluji Muni offered his life at the feet of his master. He endured many difficulties and yet this flame of unprecedented devotion did not diminish. He performed various spiritual practices as a result of which he scaled great spiritual heights. In VS 1954, in the small town of Vaso, subsumed in Shrimadji’s preaching, Shri Lalluji Muni attained the exalted state of self-realisation.
Lalluji Muni survived Shrimad Rajchandraji by 35 years, spreading the message of his guru. He established the Shrimad Rajchandra Ashram in Agas and played a pivotal role in inspiring devotion in the hearts of many.
At Nadiad in Kaira district, Shrimadji wrote ‘Shri Atmasiddhi Shastra’ in the form of a poetic dialogue of 142 verses, at the suggestion and request of Shri Sobhagbhai, in a single night. Shri Ambalalbhai stood with a lantern in his hand while Shrimadji composed the verse. The prose version, titled ‘A Letter about Six Fundamental Truths’ could not be easily memorised by the aspirants and hence, Shri Sobhagbhai requested Shrimadji to write it in verse.
This succinct and accurate composition is a masterpiece in philosophical literature. The author has, in the simple question and answer format, explained the gist of Jainism and of religion itself. This encompasses the six fundamental truths: that the soul exists, that it is eternal, that it is the author of its activities, that therefore it is responsible for the results of its activities, that it aspires for liberation and that this is achieved by following the right kind of religion.
Shrimadji instructed Shri Ambalalbhai to make four copies of the manuscript and give one copy each to his close and deserving disciples, Shri Sobhagbhai, Shri Ambalalbhai himself, Shri Lalluji Maharaj and Shri Zaveri Maneklal Ghelabhai. He instructed Shri Lalluji to study and reflect upon the Atmasiddhi in solitude and not make it a subject of collective reading or public discourse.
Shrimadji retired early and was ready to renounce the world (take Diksha) but was afflicted by a severe illness which prevented the realisation of this vision. During his illness he kept to the study of religious texts, which is reflected in his letters.
He continued to spread the message to monks and householders despite his ill-health. That he worked so hard despite being ravaged by illness speaks volumes for his compassion! Even though he was so weak that he could not even sit up by himself, he was completely alert and aware.
Finally, at age of 33, on Chaitra Vad 5th VS 1957 (April 9, 1901 AD) at 8.45 am, after requesting his brother Mansukhbhai to take care of their mother and completely detaching himself from the outside world, he withdrew within and passed away at 2 pm.
The relationship between Shrimadji and Gandhiji is historic not only because it served as the precursor for events that changed the course of India, but also because of the great impact it had on Gandhiji’s personality.
The Mahatma’s first meeting with Shrimadji left a deep impression on Gandhiji. It happened in VS 1947, in Mumbai, on Gandhiji’s return from England. He was two years younger than Shrimadji, and took to him instantly, in the very first meeting. There would be many more meetings thereafter in the two years that Gandhiji spent in Mumbai. He would visit Shrimadji’s office on a regular basis, posing doubts or questions which Shrimadji would resolve with utmost ingenuity. In those visits Gandhiji intently observed Shrimadji’s way of life. As the association grew, his respect for Shrimadji grew by leaps and bounds. The ease with which Shrimadji performed his ‘duties’ as a pearl and diamond jeweller, yet maintaining a perfectly detached attitude, amazed Gandhiji.
“Moulding My Inner Self”
Gandhiji said, “Shrimad’s language was so complete that he never had to search words to express his thoughts. I always felt that his writings are immersed in the truth. I am confident that those who want to get over their inner turmoil and are eager to know how to perform their duties can find several solutions from Shrimad’s writings, whether he is a Hindu, Muslim or from any other faith.”
“Shrimad coordinated a successful business with religion, along with fulfilling his duties as a family person and this left a deep impression on me. He used to study the tenets of religion regularly and always behaved according to what he believed in. He followed Aatma Dharma, but at the same time he was very tolerant towards other religions. He totally won over my heart on the ground of religion. I have not met anybody yet who has made such an impact on me. Shrimad Rajchandra has contributed totally towards moulding my inner self, my values with respect to Ahinsa and charity.”
Even after Gandhiji moved to South Africa they kept in touch through correspondence. This association with Shrimadji contributed a great deal in moulding Gandhiji’s character. In fact, he attributes his strong foundation of truth, non-violence and self-improvement to Shrimadji. This beautiful association continued intermittently for several years till the end of Shrimadji's life.
In South Africa, Gandhiji was faced with constant pressure from his Christian and Muslim friends to adopt their respective faiths. In this moment of spiritual crisis, he resorted to Shrimadji for help, conveying his doubts through 27 questions by post. Shrimadji’s judicious, direct, and pertinent answers resolved his doubts and restored his faith in Hinduism. There remained no question of converting to another faith.
“Language Was His Maidservant”
Gandhiji wrote eloquently of Shrimadji’s influence and inspiration. “His living was simple. He was satisfied with whatever food was offered to him. He put on simple but clean clothes. He used to wear Dhoti, Peharan, Khesa and a turban. He used to sit on a Gadi on the floor in his shop or at home.
He was slow in his walk and he used to think while walking. There was a spark in his eyes; they were full of lustre and steadiness. They declared the single-mindedness of his purpose. His face was round, his lips thin, nose not pointed nor flat, body single, height average, colour darkish white and general appearance that of an idol in peace.
His tone was so sweet that one would love to hear him more and more. His face was smiling and in full bloom and joy. It clearly declared the internal joy and peace.
His language was so effective and measured that he was never found to be searching for words. Language was his maidservant. He was described by some as an incarnation of the Goddess of Learning, Saraswati. He never changed a word while writing a letter. He expressed his thoughts and meditations in fine and appropriate language.
This description befits only a self-controlled person. By renunciation the external forms one cannot be self-controlled. The real self-control is not an imposition; it is an inspiration and an internal illumination.
Complete non-attachment and renunciation is the gift of the soul. It should be spontaneous and from within and not sporadic or externally imposed. Very rare souls by virtue of their high spiritual attainments in their previous births possess these qualities in them. Only those who actively try to keep away from all attachments from them, know how difficult it is to attain. Such a difficult achievement was easily found in Shri Raichandbhai. The first step to self-realization is a cultivation of a spirit of complete non-attachment and it was natural in Raichandbhai.
People normally believe that truth-telling and successful business never go together. Shri Raichandbhai on the other hand firmly believed and advised that truth and honesty were not only useful but also essential to all good business. Morality is not packed within a prayer book, it is to be practiced and lived in all stations of life. Religion and morality sustain both good life and good business. Though Raichandbhai never played tricks with others, he used to find them out quite easily when they were played by others and he used to snub the persons using the tricks and force them to leave them.
While we are worldly souls, Shrimadji was quite other worldly or liberated from the worldly life. While we may have to take many further births, for Raichandbhai his present life may be the last. While we perhaps are running away from liberation, Raichandbhai was heading towards liberation with a tremendous speed. This speaks volume of Raichandbhai’s self-effort.
Whoever will read his teachings and follow them may speed up his march to self-liberation. From this is evident that Raichandbhai has written for the advanced and the initiate in religion and not for all and sundry.
While many Christian Missionary friends considered their religious duty to convert me to Christianity on the ground of its wonderful vows of charity, chastity, faith and hope, I made up my mind that I should first find out whether the religion of my birth namely Hinduism, gave me the message that I needed. I asked a few fundamental questions on Hinduism to Shri Raichandbhai by post and his replies were so logical, so appealing and convincing that I regained my faith in Hinduism and I was saved from conversion of religion. From that moment onwards, my respect and admiration for Raichandbhai increased with leaps and bounds and I considered him to be my religious guide till he lived.”
For the spiritual seeker, the place where enlightened souls have meditated, prayed, studied, and sought and gained liberation, is sacred ground. Pilgrimages to such places are acts of worship and seeking and the Shrimad Rajchandraji Ashram at Vadva, Khambhat, in Gujarat, is one such place.
Shrimadji visited Vadva in VS 1952. He used to sit under a Banyan tree (Vad) and preach. A number of sages and devotees used to come to meet him and seek his guidance on matters related to religious practices. The name ‘Vadva’ is an amalgamation of Vad (Banyan tree) and Vaa (from Vaav, the Gujarati word for step well.)
The other such place is Idar, located in the northern part of Gujarat. Nestled in the hills of Idar, is the Ghantiyo Pahad. Devotees believe that the spirituality that envelopes this place and the Ashram built here more recently will seep into their consciousness too. Shrimad Rajchandraji stayed for 10 days in Idar in VS 1952, and again in the month of Vaishakh in VS 1953 when he stayed with Shri Sobhagbhai. In VS 1955, he took a break from worldly affairs and went back to Idar on Magshar Sud 2 and 3. This time, his stay lasted three months. During the same year, he once again visited Idar for another 12 days. Thus, Param Krupaludev visited Idar on four different occasions during the course of his lifetime.
These visits to Idar and interactions with devotees and seven sages have been noted in the 78‘Ardhashatabdi Smarak Granth.’ It is also believed that the ‘spiritual climax’ of his seeking took place on the hill here.