Harbinger of Hope and Peace Acharya Shri Chandana Ji

Acharya Shri Chandana Ji answers questions from Prof. Indrajit S Saluja, editor of The Indian Panorama

First-ever Jain Sadhvi to receive the title of “Acharya”

By I.S. Saluja / Bidisha Roy

Icould not have been more blessed than when I got a call from my friend Prem Bhandari, President of Jaipur Foot USA, the organization which is known worldwide for providing artificial foot across the globe, to interview Acharya Shri Chandana Ji, popularly known as Tai Maharaj at another friend, Kanak Golia’s house in Manhasset, Long Island , New York. I have known Kanak and his lovely wife Prabha as deeply spiritual and philanthropic who have always welcomed  spiritual masters and lent their support to organizations and individuals working for the betterment of humanity.

An hour spent in conversation with Acharya ji revealed a person who is a harbinger of hope and peace. Her tremendous work in spiritual and social spheres sets her apart from many traditional spiritual gurus. One cannot but marvel her courage in undertaking to educate children in Naxalite areas of Bihar, at a grave threat and risk to her life. She simply transformed the thinking of Naxals and provided their children the education which brought them respectability and happiness.

Here are some excerpts from the interview.

 Q.At the age of 83 plus you are still so active – so busy with your social work and you travel a lot. How do you get the strength?

Ans.The people for whom I work – their love, best wishes and happiness are my strength. If you go to the seaside when it’s raining – and you hold your palms properly, water will pour in. If you do the opposite – it won’t. I kept my palms that way to get the water. I am doing this since my childhood. I always loved to do good things in life. I even didn’t hesitate to steal food from my home for the poor kids around me. I got scolded for that, but I remained the same. If any underprivileged needs something I’ll do it for the person. For someone’s good, telling lie is not a sin for me. If you are doing wrong to harm someone, then it’s a sin but if it is for good cause then it’s a virtue. If your thoughts are right, then you can’t get wrong. Is it a sin if you are plucking fruits from a tree to feed a hungry? Are you doing injustice to the tree? No.

Q. You do various kinds of social work for poor, disadvantaged people for changing their lives for good and are successful in doing so. You have done a lot for their education. What is your experience in the education sector?

Ans.If you look at the world today – there is an ocean of jobs to be done. In my country I chose Rajgir in Bihar. I started with primary school, then high school and then college. Right now, there are 10,000 students are studying in my schools in various parts of India. I tried to go places where getting education was really tough. It was not an easy job. Gaining trust of people was very difficult. I worked in the Naxalite area. It’s been twenty years, but I am doing social work for last forty years. We have schools in Gujarat and Rajasthan and Nepal as well. In total we are working in 25 places. My mission was to do quality job. From infrastructure to education – I wanted to ensure best quality for my students. They should not feel that they are being deprived or not getting proper treatment just because they are poor. Now our students are coming at top 10 at CBSE exams.

For several worldwide, Acharya Chandana ji is so much more than a religious leader because she strongly believes that religion is not about finding Moksha but about striving to resolve the everyday challenges of people and bring peace to their lives. Most importantly, she vehemently focuses on serving people rather than preaching about compassion.

Regarded as one of the rarest, most precious souls in the history of Jain spirituality, Acharya Shri Chandanaji, known to the world as Tai Maharaj, is the vision of peace who believes “Religion accepts life in its entirety. To work towards getting rid of any physical or mental suffering is true religion. Service is no different from spirituality, service is spirituality.”

She embraced diksha (renunciation of the material world) at the tender age of 14. As a Sadhvi, she also took a vow of silence, one that lasted 12 years. When the seed for a cause such as Veerayatan was sowed in her heart and mind, she first questioned why Sadhus and Sadhvis could not physically contribute in making a difference to society.

A clairvoyant and thinking leader, Tai Maharaj then decided to add onto the traditional Jain school of thought. She began her journey to tangibly uplift and impact those facing everyday challenges of survival.

Acharya ji giving her blessings to Kanak and Prabha Golia at their residence Also seen is Sanghamitra Ji

Simply clad in a white sari, always accompanied by a smile on her face, Tai Maharaj unrestrictedly showers her blessings and kindness. She is a ray of sunshine in the sorrow-struck lives of millions. You may spot her on the dusty ground of Bihar, surrounded by the poor and sick, and you’ll see how she warms the cockles of their hearts. Or you may see her walking confidently on the delicate rubble of earthquake-shattered Kutch, her arm around an orphan, pain in her eyes, as she swiftly facilitates shelter for those who lost their families and hope to Mother Nature.

In 1973, she founded Veerayatan that stands on the three pillars of Seva (service to humanity), Shiksha (education for all), and Sadhana (self-development) to inspire and empower lives.

But as all beginnings go, the inception of Veerayatan was riddled with challenges for its founder. Acharya Shriji had to alter mindsets, and gain the confidence, trust, and belief of people to justify her hands-on work for the greater good. For her, the unconditional teachings of love by Tirthankar Mahavir and Gurudev were not just ritualistic. They had to be spread, shared, and sown; Veerayatan was born.

Veerayatan was founded with the mission to directly work towards the care of humanity through health, education, and spirituality without distinction. Veerayatan is actively enabling meaningful projects across the globe. Acharya Shriji envisions the organization’s efforts to grow in leaps and bounds in the future.

Veerayatan comprises:

Mrs. & Mr. Chintu Patel seeking blessings of Acharya Ji

Seva Mandirs, which include medical camps, eye surgeries, and post-surgery care for the most underserved populace.

Schools, colleges, hostels, and vocational training that aim to empower masses with an earning ability and skill.

Rehabilitation and emergency relief programs in the wake of natural calamities.

Brahmi Kala Mandir: An art gallery comprising inventive media to better understand life, culture, and religion.

Guest houses and libraries.

Prayer halls, spiritual retreats, and inspirational programs for all age groups.

Veerayatan has many international chapters as well including a USA chapter. Veerayatan International USA was founded in 1996 with inspiration from Acharyashri Chandanaji and through the dedication of Dr. Nayan Shah from Hughesville, Maryland.

Under Acharya Ji’s visionary leadership, along with Sadhviji’s dedication and through the support of hundreds of volunteers and patrons, Veerayatan International USA has been able to serve thousands of people across the globe. Veerayatan International works with organizations such as JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations in North America) to support its Mission.

The USA chapter Board of Trustees: Dr. Nayan Shah (Chair), Mr. Amar Shah, Dr. Kiran Patel, Dr. Kiran Mehta, Mr. Mukesh Turakhia, Mr. Jainesh Mehta, Dr. Vinod Shah

Executive Committee:
President: Chair              Mr. Mukesh Turakhia
Vice President: Chair     Mrs. Punita Shah
Secretary: Chair              Mr. Yogesh Bapna .
Treasurer: Chair              Mr. Satish Shah     .
Public Relations Chair: Mr. Mukesh Gandhi
Seva, Shiksha, Sadhna Chair: Mrs. Prabha Golia
Youth Committee Chair: Ms. Nidhi Turakhia

Key Supporters include  Mr. Kanak Golia, Mr. Bhupendra Mukim, Mr. Ashok Sancheti, Mr. Prem Bhandari, Ms. Sampurna, Ms. Mangla, Mr. Chintu Patel, Mr. Nilesh & Preeti Mehta, Mr. Ambrish – Rupa Shah and many more.

The primary activities of the US committee include

– Creating awareness of the Veerayatan Mission (Seva – Service to Humanity, Siksha – Education and Sadhana – spiritual upliftment) in the North America community including at key events like Jaina, etc.

– Hosting large seminar gatherings in multiple US cities during the visit of Acharya Shri Chandana Ji and other Sadhvis

– Identifying, sponsoring and raising funds for Seva, Siksha and Sadhana projects including large capital expenditure projects like hospital, school, religious scholar training institution; and small projects like sponsoring to educate a child, conduct an eye operation, etc.

– Expanding and maintaining relationship with the Veerayatan community in North America, and coordinating activities with other global centers

Despite being 83 years old, Acharya Shriji visits USA at least once a year.  She was the keynote speaker at the Jaina Conference held in July in Los Angeles.  During this visit she held seminars in multiple cities including Seva, Siksha and Sadhana Seminar in Indian Consulate in New York that was sponsored by Shri Kanak – Prabha Golia, Chair of Seva, Siksha and Sadhana and the event was attended by large number of people from the tri-state region.

Acharya ji is the inextinguishable force behind the revolution in Jain religious history by introducing the concept of compassion in action to the renounced community. Leading by example, she inspired these people to actively engage in social work for the betterment of humanity.

A receiver of many firsts such as the title of Acharya, she went on to establish this additional branch of Jainism for the first time in its history.

Prem Bhandari, Kanak Golia and Prabha Golia are among the group of devotees to seek Acharya Ji’s blessings. Also seen is Acharya ji’s constant companion Sanghamitra ji.

A true source of inspiration to humanity, she has been bestowed with many awards and honors for her undying focus on doing good. Here are a few of them:

  • 18th August 2012: Vishva Vibhuti Award by Param Pujya Shri Jayanti Muniji Maharaj.
  • 20th October 2008: Nagari Abhinandan by Koshi Region People for the service of mankind in flood affected areas.
  • JAINA Convention 2007: JAINA Presidential Award for the exemplary work Veerayatan has done in spreading the work of Lord Mahavir to one and all through compassion, education, non-violence, etc.
  • 15th August 2004: Woman of the Year Award by Jnr. Chamber, Marine Line, Mumbai for the motherhood epitomized by Acharya Shriji.
  • 5th September 2002: Shri Devi Ahilya National Award – It was presented at Indore by Smt. Sumitra Mahajan, Central Minister, for the services to the mankind in the field of health, education, population, pollution protection, natural calamities through Veerayatan.
  • 28-31 August 2000: Millennium World Peace Summit of religious and spiritual leaders held in UNO. Acharya Shriji represented the Jain delegation in the summit from different nations. Her valuable ideas for eradication of poverty on an international level became the subject of discussion among the more than 1200 strong delegation.
  • 8th November 1995: Mahaveer Foundation Award for excellence in propagating non-violence, truth, vegetarianism, education, medicine, community, and social service. It was presented by K R Narayanan, Vice-President of India with a gift of Rs 500,000.
  • 1987: The title of “Acharya” given by Pujya Rashtrasant Amar Muniji. She became the first-ever Jain Sadhvi to receive this prestigious accolade in the Jain community since the time of Lord Mahavir (2600 years). She accepted it as respect towards women and to establish the mindset that any capable individual, Sadhu or Sadhvi, could be a high priest.
  • 1987:  Sant Balaji Award
  • 1987: Sangali Jan Seva Award
Acharya Shri Chandana Ji giving a gift to Prof. Indrajit S Saluja, editor of The Indian Panorama

Acharya Chandana Ji has surely made the world a better place to live in. Her tremendous contribution in transforming the social fabric in many parts of India will be better understood with the passage of time.

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