Constants and Change
As far as I can remember, I have been visiting Jain temples in Rajasthan with family members. So it was that in late November, Bhavana, Abhishek and I made a short 3-day visit to Rajasthan. This one was after a gap of 3 years, on account of the pandemic. Rajasthan is the state where my father grew up and did his undergrad. Many years later, he set up a marble factory in Abu Road, and then an edible oil processing unit in Sheoganj. Many of my vacations were spent in these locations, interspersed with visiting temples. Post-marriage, Bhavana and I made annual visits to Rajasthan.
As I wrote in a previous blog post: “For me, God is a force beyond. It is perhaps an alter-ego, a voice within which ensures I stay on the right track. It is an entity that I can turn to when all else fails. Like I did later in 1995 when I had some significant challenges with IndiaWorld. It was perhaps the first time I went to a temple and asked God for help – to prevent yet another devastating failure in my life. The suggestion had come from Bhavana as I sat numb at home – unable to see a way out of the situation I had found myself in. And – call it God, call it luck, whatever – things turned for the better in a way that I could not have foreseen. My relationship with God has been a selfish one. I invoke his intervention when things are not going well. In recent times, I also say a silent Thanks when things go well. It’s a more conversational relationship. It’s perhaps me talking to myself and attributing the inexplicable to a divine intervention.”
I find these trips very helpful for my thinking. A change of surroundings brings in new stimuli; a break from office creates new experiences. It was in 1997 during the drive from Nakoda to Jodhpur that Bhavana and I came up with the idea of Indian names for websites – and this led to us creating Samachar, Khoj, Khel and Bawarchi. Now, 25 years later, I am thinking about Netcore and how we can accelerate our growth. I find sitting in the temples very conducive to deep contemplation.
In times gone by, what I did not enjoy was the road journey. Many of the temples are off the main highways, so we have to travel on the inner roads. Past travels were literally backbreaking. This time was a much better experience. The other problem I had was with the facilities at the dharamshalas where we stayed. What I call “competitive religion” (combined with liberal donations) has led to a vast improvement in the quality of food and stay.
With each temple visit, memories of my past flash by. Some places have not changed much while others have been transformed. What has remained unchanged are the daily rituals that have been taking place for hundreds of years. But before I get to this trip and my experiences and impressions, a journey down memory lane.
Past Visits – 1
I have compiled excerpts from some of my past writings from my Rajasthan visits in 2004, 2005 and 2009. These are from my previous blog at Emergic.org.
February 2004: “Every year for the past eight years, my wife and I have been making trips to Rajasthan to visit various Jain temples. For a few days, we live in a different world. Driving through the land where my parents were born, I invariably think of a life and world which is so very different from the one I was born and brought up in. Besides heritage, there has been a natural affinity to Rajasthan. It is a state I have visited almost annually for the better part of my life for a variety of reasons: holidays in the 1970s, my father’s factories in the 1980s, temple visits in the late 1990s to now… As we travel through the Land of the Kings (for what is what Rajasthan means), I wonder – how have things changed in a generation, and what to expect in the future?”
February 2004: “The roads of Rajasthan are a mixed bag. They are good, bad and really ugly. Some roads were undivided with just a single lane, which means that every time a vehicle comes from the opposite direction, both have to shift a little to the left and off the road. Even some of the proper roads have bad patches in them. I guess one cannot just blame the state government for this. We in India have still not learnt how to build roads that can endure.” More: “Whether we like it or not, the spark has to be lit by the state government. For long, much of the population has remained in the dark about the world outside. Now, this is no longer the case. Economic prosperity and the desire for a better tomorrow is becoming the driver for the New India. The transformation of the Bharat that we have so far forgotten and left behind needs to build on India’s democratic foundation and its entrepreneurial culture.”
September 2005: “Visiting these and other temples transports one to a different world. It is a world where time has almost stood still. The pooja rituals are performed the same way day after day after day. Every day is just like the previous one. Some days have a lot more devotees, other days a little less. But the temples stand there as they have for centuries, accepting one and all. The Rajasthan visits take me back to my roots to the land where my parents grew up, but one with which I now struggle to make a connection.”
September 2005: “For the last nine years, the Rajasthan trip has been pretty much the only time out that I take off during the year. Most of my travels always combine a little bit of pleasure with a lot of business. It also gives me time to think away from a routine of emails, phone calls and meetings. I still remember my first visit in this series in early 1997. Bhavana had suggested we make the trip to Nakodaji. Those were difficult times for my business. I had reluctantly agreed. It was on that trip as we drove back from Nakodaji to Jodhpur that we thought up all the Indian names which later became our portals khoj (search), khel (cricket), samachar (news), bawarchi (food), dhan (finance), manpasand (favourites). Since then, every year, I have always kept a list of things to ask the Gods for!”
Past Visits – 2
September 2005: “I always keep a small diary in my pocket and a notebook (the paper variety) with me for making notes. I write down all my thoughts and ideas as they come. Writing helps me think better. As thoughts flit in and out of the mind, I capture them on paper so the mind can move on, uncluttered and not having to worry about remembering the previous thoughts. Vacations are not something I am used to. It takes a day for me to get used to a very different pace of life. Time seems to pass ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. But it is good to experience something different. As I was telling Bhavana towards the end of the trip, I would love to spend a week or so at one of the temples completely cut-off from the world with just a few books and my thoughts for company.”
September 2005: “As I made my way back to Mumbai, I thought once again of Rajasthan’s temples. They withstood invaders and nature. Today, their past is what attracts modern travellers. Do we want India to be known for its past or for its future? That is a choice we have to make.”
October 2009: “I will be going to Rajasthan for a few days. Bhavana and I have been making an annual pilgrimage for more than 12 years. (For various reasons, last year was the only one we missed.) Over a period of 3-4 days, we visit many temples. It is a welcome change from our Mumbai life. This year, Abhishek too will be old enough to start developing his own memories of these visits.”
October 2009: “As I spoke with some of the locals, it became clear that the biggest problem in the future is going to be that of drinking water. With inadequate rains common to many parts of India, the situation has worsened. We should have worked towards solving this problem 10 years ago, but we haven’t done anything. The repercussions will be dire. Two other challenges that are common to much of semi-urban and rural India are the poor equality of education for the young, and the resulting lack of adequate skills for them to get a good first job which could set up a bright future for India to start reaping its ‘demographic dividend.’ We have school and college buildings but little education. Just like there are bridges but no water flowing beneath.”
October 2009: “Rajasthan and its people are part of the other India we like to call ‘Bharat.’ We give it a different name because we want to distance ourselves from it. Traveling through some of the small towns and villages, I could not help but look at the horrific sanitation situation. I should have become immune to it after all these years, but that Bharat is still part of our country – and we cannot give up expecting better so easily. We have been horribly wrong in the 60 years since Independence. Many of us who should be aware of the situation have removed ourselves from the realities of the country and created a happy cocoon around us. We have the resources to bring about a transformation of our nation, but it cannot be done by the class of people who got us there. India needs a revolution by us, its people. We haven’t yet reached that turning point yet, but some of us will reach it soon. And we will decide enough is enough. We will start taking our country back from our rulers. Then, we can start building India right, and claim to be truly an Independent democratic nation.”
Temples and History
Back to the present. The Jain temples we visited during our 900-odd kilometre travel over three days late November were the ones at Nakoda ji, Jirawala, Bheru Tarak, Pavapuri and Muchhala Mahavir. Each of the temples has its own unique architecture and backstory, sometimes spanning centuries. Here are some of them.
Nakoda ji: “The ancient name of this Tirth is mentioned as Virampur. Virsen and Nakorsen of the third century of the Vikram era built this temple and His Holiness Jain Acharya Sthulibhadrasuri installed the idol. In course of time, this temple was renovated many times. When Alamshah invaded this place in the year 1280 of the Vikram era (1224 CE), the Jain Sangha kept this idol hidden in a cellar in Kalidrah village for protection. This temple was again renovated in the fifteenth century. 120 idols were brought here from Kalidrah and this beautiful and miraculous idol was installed here as Mulnayak (main idol of the temple) in the year 1429 of the Vikram era (1373 CE). Jain Acharya Kirtiratnasuri installed the idol Bhairav here. Apart from Nakoda Parsvanatha the other Jain temples here are dedicated to Rishabhadeva and Shantinath… The ancient idol of Shri Parshwanath Bhagwan is very attractive and full of magical powers. Shri Bhairavji Maharaj, the adhisthayak dev of this teerth place is magically very powerful and is world famous for amazing miracles.”
Jirawala Mandir: “According to Jain belief, the temple dates back to 2,800 years. Jirawala has been an important Jain centre between 506 CE to 1324 CE and received patronage by multiple Jain acharyas. The iconic idol of Parshvanath, the principal deity of the temple, was found during an excavation. The cow belonging to a Brahmin boy Kadwa used to pour out its milk every day near a cave in Jirawala. Upon hearing about this Brahmin boy, Jain Seth Dhanna Shah dreamt of a Parshvanath idol where the cow went to pour milk. After the search, the idol was found at the same spot and was installed by Acharya Deva Gupta Suri in 894 CE. The temple has an ornate architecture. The temple has a large domical structure as the principal shrine with domical 52 sub-shrine along the axis of the principal shrine. There are a total of 108 idols of Parshvanatha in these shrines each bearing a different name with the central shrine housing the idol of Jirawala Parshvanatha, the principal deity of the temple. There are a total of 60 dhwaja stambha in the temple complex.”
The Jain temple at Muchhala Mahavir was established in the 10th century CE. According to Wikipedia: “According to Jain legends, Rana Raj Singh I of Mewar once visited this temple to offer prayer. He noticed a white hair while putting saffron to the idol. Upon question about the hair, the temple priest replied that the hair was from the moustaches of Lord Mahavira. Following, this Rana insisted to see moustache. The temple priest fasted for three days and pleased with this the protecting deity showed moustache on the face of the idol. When Rana uprooted the moustache, blood oozed out of the spot. Following this Rana became a staunch devotee of the Mahavira and the idol was named Mucchal Mahavir, or the Mahavir who had a moustache. The temple is built in Nagara architecture. The temple is a curvilinear superstructure decorated with multiple turrets and decorated pillars. The entrance of the temple has an intricately carved torana and outside the door of the temple are two large black coloured idols of elephant on each side. The temple is famous for detailed carvings.”
In the temples, even as Bhavana and Abhishek did the pujas, I did the darshan, found myself a chair, and began my thinking and writing. I let the thoughts flow, finding myself in a “flow” that is hard to achieve with the myriad distractions at home and office.
We stayed overnight at our erstwhile factory sites at Abu Road and Sheoganj. (Both have now been transformed into vocational training centres.)
Rituals and Economics
Every morning, there is an ‘auction’ (ghee boli) for the first rights to do the various pujas at the temple. This is a way for people to also donate money and the temple to raise funds for its maintenance. While there are large donors who do contribute, the daily auctions ensure that there is money raised daily. The bidding happens in “mann” – where 1 mann is equivalent to five rupees.
As I watched the daily rituals being performed, I realised that I was witnessing a process that has perhaps gone on for centuries. Some of the pujaris working in the temples have been doing so for generations. For those few moments, it is as if time stood still. The people (devotees) keep changing daily, but the pratha (practice) remains the same. Standing in front of the idols, one gets a sense of the eternity. Kings and commoners have at some point of time stood in the same place.
Nakoda ji is a temple that I have the most memories of among all the ones in Rajasthan. As I sat in the temple, I could almost imagine myself there – 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. With my parents, with other relatives, with Bhavana, and this time with both Bhavana and Abhishek. Everything inside the temple seemed just the same; only the world outside has changed. For the hour that I was inside, it was as if time stood still and multiple decades collapsed into a single moment.
The Jain temples are part of India’s rich civilisational culture. They are a very good example of philanthropy at work. As far as I can tell, there is no government involvement. Trusts manage the temples. Income comes from large donors, daily auctions, and the devotees who contribute smaller amounts in the bhandar. Meals and stays are available at the bhojanshalas and dharamshalas at nominal prices. Imagine a full meal for under Rs 100 and staying in a room for under Rs 500 for a night.
The dharamshalas have improved by leaps and bounds over the years. There was a time when cleanliness was compromised for keeping the prices low. Through the years, this has changed. New construction in most places has added better facilities at higher price points. At places like Nakoda ji, there are options available at various price points. Better roads and temple facilities have also encouraged many more people to travel, bringing in a better connection to one’s roots.
For me, these short visits through the years have always served as a break from the daily hustle-bustle. The perceived proximity to God has, in my life, created its own thinking miracles. With each temple visit and the hours of travel between temples, a certain clarity emerges on the present and future.
Roads and Future
There is no doubt that India’s infrastructure is getting better. Travel times have come down, and roads are much better. A journey of about 250 kilometres that took six hours 7-8 years ago took us just under four-and-a-half hours this time. Tolls have been introduced on many roads, and FASTag has reduced wait times. There are still some challenges: many of the state highways make their way through small towns and villages which increase travel times. Cattle randomly squat in the middle of the road, while goats and sheep are herded on the smaller roads. And then there are the speed breakers – don’t we just love them! This is quintessential India: existing simultaneously in multiple decades and perhaps even centuries.
Prosperity still hasn’t touched large swathes of India. Watching some of the women carrying heavy items on their head, seeing youth idling away in the middle of the day, seeing the lack of trucks carrying goods in some of the inside roads, the challenges ahead for India also become apparent. As Tyler Cowen wrote recently: “The real challenge isn’t how to reduce the difference in wealth between the rich and the poor. It’s how to reduce poverty.” Hundreds of millions of Indians have lost futures because of inadequacies in our education and health systems. Governments at all levels still limit economic freedom, a prerequisite for prosperity.
Hopefully, a day will soon come in India where the lottery of birthplace will not determine one’s future. We need ideas like Dhan Vapasi and the Nayi Disha agenda to ensure this happens sooner than later. There are a billion Indians – one-eight of humanity – whose lives are being stunted because of politicians and bureaucrats who do not understand the reasons for poverty and the path to prosperity. This has been Independent India’s bane – for the most part, the colonial mindset of the rulers as masters and the ruled as serfs has continued. India needs new rules – not just a change of rulers – for freeing our billion.
As I wrote recently: “The revolution with the best chance of success is one which can be led by a leader who knows the limitations of what governments can do and has faith in the ability of markets and individuals – and in India’s case, 1.3 billion individuals pursuing their self-interest. Good jobs and upward mobility will be an outcome of the spontaneous order that such a leader’s decisions will unleash. No government official has the knowledge to anticipate or predict the future. All they can do is to create the simple rules that enable mass flourishing. The next-level of decisions – manufacturing or services, domestic consumption or exports-led – will emerge from enterprises and consumers making decisions in a free market. So will creative destruction which will help direct capital to the right opportunities. This is what will solve India’s income problem and put the people on an irreversible path of prosperity.”
The thought that came to me as I sat in one of the temples was this: the religion Indians need is freedom – it is the only one that can unite and not divide, it is the only one that creates futures and not just reveres the past, it is the only one that can make the 21st century an Indian one. And for this, we the people need an enlightenment of our own. We need to understand that our freedom movement is still not done; political independence does not automatically lead to economic freedom. The roads may have improved, but they are still not taking us to the Nayi Disha of irreversible freedom and prosperity.