Article: Rājacandra

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.

Influenced by his important writings, his followers revere him as a saint and claim Rājacandra as the founder of a new path in Jainism, neither Śvetāmbara nor Digambara.

Life

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.

Birth

A woman prays in the temple to Shrimad Rajchandra at the ashram in Dharampur, Gujarat. A lay man who lived according to strict ascetic principles, Śrīmad Rājacandra was a 19th-century writer and reformer. His life and teachings have inspired many follower

Shrimad Rajchandra temple
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

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.

Recollection of previous births

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.

Childhood

This painting from an Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript depicts monks preaching to lay men. The mendicants are Digambara even though their white robes resemble those of Śvetāmbara monks. Raising scriptures high, the monks sit on low platforms

Lay men listen to monks
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

From an early age Rājacandra was attracted to spiritual considerations, especially to the notion of seeking the selfātman – and living a life of renunciation – vairāgya.

Rājacandra spent a large part of his childhood talking with monks and lay men about the religious aspects of life. Most residents in Vavania were merchants – vaṇik – among whom were some Jains. Rājacandra often visited both the local vaiṣṇavaashram and the Jain upāśraya, making little distinction between them at the beginning. Then his contacts with the Jain world became more frequent. Monks advised him to read important texts such as the Pratikramaṇa-sūtra. In particular, the scriptures’ emphasis on humility and respect for all living beings touched the heart of the thoughtful young man.

The child Rājacandra demonstrated rare intelligence and unusual powers of concentration. His memory was phenomenal – a lesson read was a lesson learned by heart. He learned mathematics very easily and started writing poems at an early age. He could do many things at the same time, such as discussing various subjects, playing different games, reciting many texts. The boy could not only do eight things at once – aṣṭāvadhānī – which is a pandit quality, but it is said that he could do a hundred things at once – śatāvadhānī. Articles report how he displayed his powers of memorisation and concentration to an audience in Mumbai. However, Rājacandra stopped these public performances, which did not suit his spiritual leanings.

Like the son of any merchant at that time, an important part of Rājacandra’s childhood was dedicated to learning about his father’s business.

Householder life

When his apprenticeship as a merchant was finished, Rājacandra became a jeweller. Evidence shows he was an excellent and conscientious professional, who showed integrity. He always observed the vows of Jain lay men, such as not lying about his goods and not stealing customers.

At the age of 21, Rājacandra married Zabakbai, the daughter of a jeweller. They had four children together. Rājacandra talked of a middle position regarding his marriage, in which to be married brings neither joy nor sorrow. This would be the ideal of detachment.

Rājacandra remained fixed on self-realisation even though he had the responsibilities of a job and family.

Zabakbai belonged to a Zaveri merchant family, who saw in Rājacandra a very special intelligence. They wanted him to build up the business so he went to Mumbai to start his business career.

Friendship with Gandhi

One of the leaders of the movement for Indian independence, Mohandas Gandhi is renowned for his greatly influential non-violent political activism. Pictured in 1944, Gandhi is often known as Māhatama – 'Great Soul' – and still inspires great respect

Mohandas Gandhi
Image by unknown © public domain

The young lawyer Mohandas Gandhi had just come back to India from London and was on his way to South Africa. Although both Rājacandra and Gandhi had been born in Gujarat, they met in Mumbai, in Maharashtra.

Rājacandra greatly influenced Gandhi throughout his life. His teachings directly inspired the concept of non-violenceahiṃsā – which Gandhi used so effectively during the fight for Indian independence. 'In my moments of spiritual crisis, he was my refuge' wrote Gandhi about his friend.

Gandhi called an entire chapter of his autobiography ‘Raichand-bhai’ – meaning ‘Raichand Brother’ – and devoted it to describing his first meeting with Rājacandra:

The thing that did cast its spell over me I came to know afterwards. This was his wide knowledge of the scriptures, his spotless character, and his burning passion for self-realisation. I saw later that this last was the only thing for which he lived

Later life and death

The influence of the 19th-century mystic, poet and reformer Rājacandra is still strong. A lay man who practised a highly ascetic lifestyle, Rājacandra is revered as a saint, with followers claiming that he laid out a new non-sectarian path

Śrīmad Rājacandra
Image by unknown © public domain

In the later part of his life, Rājacandra preferred to stay away from Mumbai, living with his disciples and friends in Gujarat. He spent a year in Idar in Jain circles, teaching during meetings, and testing his intellectual and spiritual faculties with seven veteran monks.

When Rājacandra was 34, some monks invited him to take the vows of an ascetic but, though he had attained high levels of spirituality, he decided not to. He preferred to be a lay man who had attained samādhi within the constraints of secular life, acting as an example to the lay community.

By 1900 his health was deteriorating. When he was staying in Dharampur, Gujarat, his strength ebbed away as he became extremely thin and weak. On 9 April 1901, Rājacandra passed away in Rajkot, Gujarat, surrounded by family, friends and close disciples.

Works

Rājacandra left numerous writings. Starting in his childhood, while in his shop and the different ashrams where he lived at different times, he had written throughout his life. His writings took the form of letters to friends, a diary, poems, and religious and philosophical treatises, all in Gujarati.

The 'Mokṣamālā'

Composed within three days when Rājacandra was 16, the Mokṣamālā offers lessons in gaining philosophical knowledge and practising 'right conduct' according to the Jain way of life.

The text is written in such simple language that everyone can read it, including children. The text features 108 lessons in a rosary of 108 pearls, each dealing with the main principles of Jainism. These discuss:

They advise how to act with right conduct in daily life.

The 'Ātma-siddhi'

19th-century poet and reformer Śrīmad Rājacandra is pictured writing his principal work, the Ātmasiddhi - 'Realisation of the Self'. Written in simple Gujarati, the original text and later musical versions are both immensely popular

Rājacandra writes the Ātmasiddhi
Image by Shrimad Rajchandra Mission © Shrimad Rajchandra Mission

The main treatise Rājacandra composed at the end of his life is the Ātma-siddhiRealisation of the Self. Again, the language used is simple Gujarati that Hindi-speakers can read easily. The text invites the voluntary seeker of self-realisation to know the true nature – svarūpa – of the Self, with the help of a true master – sad-guru.

Rājacandra describes the devout person attached to his ritual practices in an empty display of ceremony, in opposition to the true seeker of the Self. Then there are six discourses, following the traditional Indian literary model where a master refutes a disciple’s objections:

  1. the Self does exist
  2. the Self is eternal
  3. the Self is the agent of its own karmic production
  4. the Self is the enjoyer of that production
  5. Liberationliberation does exist
  6. true religion is the instrument of liberation.

At the end of the arguments, the disciple thanks the master for having achieved this state of awakened spirituality and sings his enthusiasm for having reached this state himself.

The Ātma-siddhi is a very popular text and has inspired singers such as Shefaliben Shah, who has composed a musical version of the text like an Indian devotional song. The first English translation of many was by J. L. Jaini in 1923. Another famous translation was published by Brahmacārī Govardhandās in 1957.

Legacy

Rājacandra was inspired by previous authors such as Kundakunda and by the Digambara mystical tradition and he himself inspired numerous followers of all Jain sects. Many places dedicated to Rājacandra, such as temples with pictures and offerings, can be found in India, mostly in Gujarat and Mumbai.

The disciples of Rājacandra are associated with the Rāj Bhakta Mārg, which means ‘Path followed by the devotee of Rājacandra’. Followers are mostly lay men, as was Rājacandra himself. They base their faith on images of Rājacandra and writings mostly gathered after his death. The images are based on photographs taken in a studio that represent him in a posture of meditation.

Shrimad Rajchandra Ashram

In 1920 Rājacandra’s closest disciple Laghurāja set up an ashram in Agās, near Anand. A few kilometres south of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, the ashram is a very peaceful place surrounded by beautiful trees. A statement on the main gate tells guests: kṣamā eja mokṣaṇo bhavya-darvāze che – ‘Forgiveness is the grand gateway to Liberation’.

Behind this gate sits a large lecture hall along with two small temples, a Śvetāmbara one and one for the Digambaras. At a distance from these buildings is the Rāj-mandir, a huge hall with impressive portraits of Rājacandra and Laghurāja. Inscriptions on the walls declare Rājacandra’s spiritual statements and invite his followers to observe properly the vows of Jain laity.

Laghurāja stayed at the ashram from 1920 to 1936 and instituted a daily routine that today’s followers continue to respect.

Rājacandra and the Jain diaspora

The life and teachings of the 19th-century writer Śrīmad Rājacandra have inspired the foundation of many temples, ashrams and organisations. The Shrimad Rajchandra Mission, based in Dharampur, where Rājacandra died, has nearly 30 branches overseas

Shrimad Rajchandra Mission
Image by Shrimad Rajchandra Mission © Shrimad Rajchandra Mission

Rājacandra’s teachings have found a special resonance in the Jain diaspora communities, mostly in East Africa, the United Kingdom and North America.

This may be partly because these groups are far from India and thus frequently do not have a mendicant element to create the fourfold community of Jain tradition. Rājacandra’s lay status and the fact that his teaching focuses on a method of self-realisation that lay people can follow in a secular, non-Jain environment also explain his appeal to Jains outside India. Finally, that his teachings are beyond any sectarian claims may also be a reason his work attracts Jains in the diaspora.

Images

  • Shrimad Rajchandra temple A woman prays in the temple dedicated to Shrimad Rajchandra at the ashram in Dharampur, Gujarat. A lay man who lived according to strict ascetic principles, Śrīmad Rājacandra was a 19th-century writer and reformer. His life and teachings have inspired the establishment of many temples and ashrams.. Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta
  • Lay men listen to monks This painting from an Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript depicts monks preaching to lay men. The mendicants are Digambara even though their white robes resemble those of Śvetāmbara monks. Raising scriptures high, the monks sit on low platforms, their brooms next to them. The bookstands in front of them are symbols of the mendicant role as religious teacher. The lay men hold their hands up in gestures of respect.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Mohandas Gandhi One of the leaders of the movement for Indian independence, Mohandas Gandhi is renowned for his greatly influential non-violent political activism. Pictured in 1944, Gandhi is often known as Māhatama – 'Great Soul' – and still inspires great respect and affection, not just in India but around the world.. Image by unknown © public domain
  • Śrīmad Rājacandra The influence of the 19th-century mystic, poet and reformer Rājacandra is still felt strongly. A lay man who practised a highly ascetic lifestyle, Rājacandra is revered as a saint, with his followers claiming that he laid out a new path in Jainism, neither Śvetāmbara nor Digambara.. Image by unknown © public domain
  • Rājacandra writes the Ātmasiddhi Nineteenth-century poet and reformer Śrīmad Rājacandra is pictured writing his principal work, the Ātmasiddhi - 'Realisation of the Self'. Written in simple Gujarati, the text partly follows the traditional Indian literary model of a master answering a disciple's questions. The original text and later musical versions are both immensely popular.. Image by Shrimad Rajchandra Mission © Shrimad Rajchandra Mission
  • Shrimad Rajchandra Mission The life and teachings of the 19th-century writer Śrīmad Rājacandra have inspired the foundation of many temples, ashrams and organisations. The Shrimad Rajchandra Mission, based in Dharampur in Gujarat, where Rājacandra died, has nearly 30 branches overseas. As a non-sectarian lay man, Rājacandra has an especial following among the Jain diaspora.. Image by Shrimad Rajchandra Mission © Shrimad Rajchandra Mission

Further Reading

Ātmasiddhi: Self-realization
Śrīmad Rājacandra
The World Jain Mission; Aliganj, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1957

Full details

Atma-siddhi = Self-realisation
Śrīmad Rajchandra
translated by Dayabhai C. Mehta
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; Mumbai, India; 1976

Full details

The Atma-Siddhi (or Self-Realisation) of Shrimad Rajchandra
Śrīmad Rājacandra
translated by Rai Bahadur J. L. Jaini
Shrimad Rajchandra Gyan Pracharak Trust; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1987

Full details

Mokshamala
Śrīmad Rājacandra
translated by Dinu Patel
Śrīmad Rājacandra Āśram; Agas, Gujarat, India; 1972

Full details

Shrimad Rajchandra: A Life
Digish Mehta
Shrimad Rajchandra Ashram; Agas, Gujarat, India; 1991

Full details

Bibliography of Literature in English about Shrimad Rajchandra
Prakash Mody
Toronto, Canada; 2006

Full details

Philosophy and spirituality of Śrīmad Rājchandra
Umedmal Kesharchand Pungaliya
Prakrit Bharati Academy; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 1996

Full details

‘Rethinking Religious Authority: A Perspective on the Followers of Śrīmad Rājacandra’
Emma Salter
Studies in Jaina History and Culture: Disputes and Dialogues
edited by Peter Flügel
Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies series; volume 1
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2006

Full details

Rāj Bhakta Mārg – the path of devotion to Srimad Rajcandra: a Jain community in the twenty-first century
Emma Salter
PhD dissertation submitted to University of Wales in 2002

Full details

Glossary

Ahiṃsā

The principle of non-violence that is one of the five chief vows of Jainism.

Ascetic

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.

Ashram

A religious community separated from the outside world, from the Sanskrit word āśramah - practising austerity.

Caturvidha-saṅgha

The ‘fourfold society’ of Jain tradition, which is made up of ascetics and the laity, and of males and females.

Celibacy

Avoiding or stopping sexual relations, often after taking a religious vow. A celibate practises celibacy.

Cremation

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.

Detachment

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.

Devotee

An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.

Dhyāna

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.

Diaspora

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.

Disciple

An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.

Gujarāt

The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.

Gujarati

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.

Hindi

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.

Indian Independence

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.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jīva

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.

Kundakunda

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.

Laity

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.

Māhārāṣṭra

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.

Mohandas Gandhi

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.

Mokṣa

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.

Monk

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.

Mumbaī

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.

Mysticism

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.

Paṇḍit

'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.

Pratikramaṇa

'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.

Pyre

A pile or heap of wood or similar that has been collected together to be burned, especially when used to cremate a dead body.

Renunciation

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.

Rite

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.

Rosary

String of beads used by devotees to help them count the number of prayers or chants they are repeating.

Samyak-cāritra

'Right conduct'. A person who has faith in the principles of Jainism and knows them should put them into practice. This is the third of the Three Jewels vital for spiritual progress.

Sanskrit

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.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

Secularism

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.

Śrāvaka

'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.

Upāśraya

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.

Vairāgya

Aversion to worldly life leading to renouncing it in favour of an ascetic life.

Vaiṣṇava

One of the four main Hindu traditions, which worships Viṣṇu – or his avatars Rāma and Kṛṣṇa – as the original and supreme deity.

Vaṇik

The Sanskrit term for a merchant or businessman.

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