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.