Contributed by Jérôme Petit
Rājacandra (1867–1901) occupies a very special place in Jainism as a mystical poet and reformer. Though a jeweller by trade, he dedicated his short life to the realisation of the self through a deep knowledge of the Jain scriptures and principles, and through a profound direct experience. Rājacandra was gifted with rare powers of concentration but decided to stay a householder instead of becoming a monk.
Rājacandra’s life is known from two main types of sources. His own diaries and letters offer some information about his life. The writings of his disciples tend to idealise him and his activities.
Rājacandra was born on 11 November 1867 in Vavania, a small but busy port in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. His father, Ravjibhai Mehta, was a vaiṣṇava businessman, and his mother, Srimati Devbai, was a devoted Śvetāmbara Jain.
His birth name was Lakshminandan. The name Raichand was given to him by his parents when he was four years old. It means ‘royal moon’. The term ‘moon’ is used as a comparator for beauty while raja or rai can be read as a superlative. This was later changed to the Sanskrit form Rājacandra while Śrīmad was added by his disciples after he died. ‘Śrīmad’ is an honorific title used as a prefix before the names of eminent persons in Indian culture.
Rājacandra’s early childhood was marked by a famous episode in which he remembered his previous existences – jāti-samaraṇa-jñāna. One of the best-known events of his life, it has even been the subject of children’s cartoons.
Amichand, a neighbour and friend of the family, died suddenly from a snake bite when Rājacandra was around seven years old. The boy asked his grandfather what had happened to Amichand. His grandfather was embarrassed by this direct question at first, then he said that Amichand was dead, which means that he could not speak, walk or move in any way. He told the child that Amichand’s body would be burnt at the cremation-ground.
Young Rājacandra climbed on a branch of a tree and saw the body burning in the funeral pyre. He asked himself why people were so cruel as to burn the body of such a beloved man. He was very confused. Rājacandra concentrated, trying to understand what was happening, and then the curtain was lifted on his previous births.
This intense experience was repeated later when he was visiting the fort in Junagarh. It helped the young boy decide to live a life in which renunciation featured strongly.
The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.
Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
A religious community separated from the outside world, from the Sanskrit word āśramah - practising austerity.
The ‘fourfold society’ of Jain tradition, which is made up of ascetics and the laity, and of males and females.
Avoiding or stopping sexual relations, often after taking a religious vow. A celibate practises celibacy.
The process of burning a dead body until it is reduced to ashes. Public cremation using funeral pyres is fairly widespread in present-day India.
Not feeling attached to any things, people or emotions in the world, whether positive or negative. Jains believe that detachment from the world is necessary to progress spiritually towards the ultimate aim of freeing the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
From the Greek term meaning 'scattering or dispersal', the word 'diaspora' describes large groups of people with shared roots who live away from their ancestral homes. They have usually moved because they were forced to by other groups, because they have fled war, famine or persecution, or to improve economic opportunies. They usually have strong emotional, religious, linguistic, social and economic ties to their original homeland.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
With its independence from the British Empire on 15 August 1947, India became a secular, sovereign state. The date of 15 August is a national holiday in the Republic of India.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.
Digambara monk who lived in the second or third centuries CE. Little is known of his life but his mystical writings, concentrating on the soul and internal religious experience, have been enormously influential in Jain thought. Key works include Samayasāra, Niyamsāra, Pañcāstikāya and Pravacanasāra.
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
Bordering on the Arabian Sea, Māhārāṣṭra in central India is the third-largest and the richest state in India. Its capital is Mumbai and the official language is Marathi.
Often known by his title Mahātma – meaning 'Great Soul' – Gandhi (1869–1948) was one of the leaders of the struggle for Indian independence. Influenced by the Jain notion of ahiṃsā, his policy of peaceful non-co-operation was a key factor in the British withdrawal from India.Gandhi's non-violent civil disobedience continues to inspire activists around the world.
The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
The capital of the state of Mahārāṣṭra, the city of Mumbai is the biggest and richest in India. Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the centre of Indian film-making and commercial activities.
A system of contemplative prayer, meditation and complete detachment from worldly affairs in the hope of gaining direct spiritual experience of the divine. In Jainism those who practise mystical techniques hope to gain true self-realisation and thus destroy karma and be liberated.
'Learned one' in Sanskrit and used originally for a Hindu brahmin scholar and teacher. Nowadays a Jain pandit is a scholar who has been educated traditionally and is expert in the sacred texts of at least one of the Jain sects.
'Introspection’ in Sanskrit. The elaborate ritual of confession and repentance that involves reciting liturgical texts and performing set gestures at dawn and dusk. It is one of an ascetic's six daily duties – āvaśyaka. For many lay people, pratikramaṇa is the essence of Jainism.
A pile or heap of wood or similar that has been collected together to be burned, especially when used to cremate a dead body.
Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
String of beads used by devotees to help them count the number of prayers or chants they are repeating.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
Term for either everyday or material life, not the spiritual, or for a social or political system that concentrates on the material world, rejecting spiritual or religious influence. A secularist believes that religion has no place in fields such as education and politics.
'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay man, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The feminine form is śrāvikā.
Dwelling-hall near a Jain temple where wandering ascetics stay. They may stay for a short time during their travels or for the long rainy season. There is usually a main room where lay Jains come to listen to sermons. Lay people may also perform fasts here, such as upadhāna tapas or rituals such as posadha that involve leaving household activities for a while.
Aversion to worldly life leading to renouncing it in favour of an ascetic life.
One of the four main Hindu traditions, which worships Viṣṇu – or his avatars Rāma and Kṛṣṇa – as the original and supreme deity.
The Sanskrit term for a merchant or businessman.