The just completed documentary movie, Never Before, will have its premier showing on August 29, 2010, in Mumbai. The movie covers the life of Acharya Shri Chandanaji, the Jain Sadhviji who, 40 years ago established and continues to head the international NGO of Veerayatan, based in Rajgir, Nalanda District, Bihar. The film will be shown at MatuShree Birala Hall in Mumbai.
The Veerayatan website is www.veerayatan.org.
While Acharya Shri Chandanaji has returned to India from her Dharma Yatra in the USA this summer, Pujya Shubhamji Maharaj, who had been traveling with her, remains in the USA, traveling to several different cities. She can be reached by cell phone at 607-427-8493.
An Extraordinary Life
The 75th birth anniversary of Acharya Shri Chandanaji
“Instead of creating temples in a village, let us make an effort to make the entire village a temple.”
These are words by Pujya Acharya Shri Chandanaji Maharaj, a Jain Sadhviji who established Veerayatan 40 years ago at Bihar, the birth and Nirvan place of Tirthankar Mahavir, and showed the entire world that religion can be the greatest medium to carry out all humanitarian activities.
Acharya Shri Chandanaji was born on the 26th of January, 1937, as Shankutala, into a Jain Katariya family in Maharashtra. Her spiritual journey began at age 14 years, when she took Diksha. This meant that she renounced all but name and plain white clothing. At this time she also took a 12 year vow of silence to study Jain Scriptures, the meaning and purpose of life, the beauty of different religions, and to discover a way to connect religion with the life of the common man. She wanted to help to revive spirituality for all humanity.
Acharya Shri Chandanaji is the first Jain Sadhvi to be elevated to the position of Acharya, but this has, in no way, caused her to confine herself to one religion. Man’s relationship with his fellow man is religion, she says, to respect other people’s feelings and emotions is a way of worship. “There are no rules that say that taking sanyas means that you only have to meditate and search for God. Service and prayer go together. When I understood this, I felt I’d finally found what I had been seeking as a child”, says Acharya Shri Chandanaji. “Everything we do affects us here and now: even the future is too far away, let alone the next life. Every good deed is divine.” She exhorts us to love what we do, do it with happiness, and to take pride in our happiness.
Service has been the cornerstone of Acharya Shri Chandanaji’s life since taking on the challenge, in 1972, of revitalizing the poverty-stricken State of Bihar, in India. She was inspired to do this by the vision of the great Indian scholar, Upadhyaya Shri Amar Muniji. Bihar is where Lord Mahavir had spread his message of ahimsa and compassion.
Many awards have been bestowed upon Acharya Shri Chandanaji; the Shri Devi Ahilya National Award for her humanitarian service and animal welfare activities; the Mahavira Foundation award; the Sant Balji Award; Woman of the Year award and many other national and international awards. These awards and her fame have not deflected her from her life of asceticism. She is first and foremost a spiritual leader, whose service to others is part of that spirituality.
Veerayatan is the organization which has enabled Acharya Shri Chandanaji to fulfill her desire to serve others. It was the dream of Upadhyaya Shri Amar Muniji and was brought into being by Acharya Shri Chandanaji. Veerayatan has centres in Bihar, Kutch in Gujarat, Maharashtra and many other places in India. There are also centres in the USA, UK, East Africa, Singapore, UAE, Australia and other countries. These centres provide health care services, education and social services to those who would otherwise not have access to such services. Veerayatan is run by a dedicated team of Sadhvijis (renunciates), trustees, committee members, professional staff and volunteers.
Netra Jyoti Seva Mandiram, a medical centre with a specialty 200 bed hospital at Rajgir (District Nalanda, Bihar) offers eye, orthopaedic, dental care and general surgery. Tirthankar Mahavir Vidya Mandir multi-purpose school at Lachhuar and Pawapuri (Bihar), together with the small school in the market area of Rajgir, provide education for 1500 village children. The college in Bihar has, at present 200 students studying for a B.Ed. degree. In Kutch, Gujarat, the school at Rudrani educates 300 children through primary school level. The campus at Jakhania consists of facilities to educate approx 400 children up to Standard 10 and the college at Jakhania has, at present, approximately 340 students studying Business Management, Pharmacy or Computer Science to degree level. This is at either no cost to the families or, in some cases, is very heavily subsidized. Children are provided with free uniforms and nutritious meals. There are, at present, 250 children and college students living in hostel accommodations as they are unable to travel daily, and free transport is provided for those who live within a 25km radius of the campus. At present, three engineering colleges are in the process of construction at a new site at Haripur, Jakhania. These new colleges will offer training and education to 540 students in all. The atmosphere at these centres is of calm and serenity. They are managed by Acharya Shri Chandanaji and the Sadhvijis under her guidance, with support from a dedicated team of lay personnel. The centres are non-profit, non-governmental organizations. Through these centres Acharya Shri Chandanaji has worked tirelessly with her team to inspire a more responsible society through simple messages of education and inner development.
The centres in Kutch are the offspring of the work done by Acharya Shri Chandanaji in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2001. Initially, Acharya Shri Chandanaji and her team gave spiritual, emotional and practical help to the victims of this terrible disaster. They started with tents and now through the strength, intelligence, love and compassion of this remarkable woman, there is a wonderful community serving those in need. People inspired by her example have given generously to enable these projects to flourish.
Some of Acharya Shri Chandanaji’s other accomplishments include the task of translating the Uttradhyan (a major Jain Scripture) in 33 days. A monumental task, by hand she created the panels honoring the themes of non-violence, love and the oneness of humanity which can now be found in Veerayatan’s Shri Brahmi Kala Mandiram in Rajgir. It has been visited by over 4.5 million people to date. Acharya Shri Chandanaji and her team have also given support to devastated communities who have been hit by natural disasters, providing food, shelter and emotional and spiritual support in the immediate aftermath of these events; constructed water facilities for 10,000 cows and other animals; over one million eye patients have been treated free of charge; since 1973 over 150,000 successful eye surgeries have been performed with ultra modern facilities; initiated Project KIDS and Shrutam to provide literacy and hygiene education for hundreds of slum and working children; distribution of relief materials including food, medicine, clothing and items of daily use to approximately 12,326 families in Kutch after the earthquake in 2001; since 2001, more than 12,000 people have benefited in 32 vocational training centres throughout Kutch, Gujarat, to rehabilitate earthquake victims; continuous Polio corrective surgery being performed at the Veerayatan Rajgir centre. The list seems endless.
Acharya Shri Chandanaji believes that creativity is the best way to fulfill oneself spiritually and therefore she is constantly evolving and re-examining all aspects of her work. Acharya Shri Chandanaji says “Learning brings out the spirit of creativity and creativity brings knowledge. Knowledge is indeed an asset for the nation. Veerayatan intends to create outstanding individuals with exceptional creative abilities” A post graduate in philosophy, Acharya Shri Chandanaji has a profound understanding of Jain Scriptures and other faiths. Her message of inner development, social responsibility and compassion are espoused as values supplemental to, but not in place of religion. Acharya Shri Chandanaji is keenly aware of the untapped potential of the youth of today and is intent on ensuring that programs and lectures are tailored to ensure the inclusion of young people, who she feels have a profound lack of spirituality in their lives.
The Pune Centre holds training courses on yoga, meditation, stress management and new age health therapies. Veerayatan has established many overseas centres which give motivational courses on inner development and introspection. These courses have thousands of students both children and adults. Chandanaji says “Education is the future of humanity. It is not merely achieving degrees and qualifications but the refinement of the inner world which will join peoples’ hearts”. She wants to create a facility where the training and education given will enable people to find work even at village level and so be able to live peaceful and fulfilling lives.