A Short History Of The Terapanthi Sect Of The Swetamber Jains And Its Tenets ► 01 The Holy Acharyyas ► 01.1 Acharya Bhikshu

Posted: 24.08.2010

1. Acharya Bhikshu

The founder of the Terapanthi Sect of the Swetambar Jains was His Holiness Sree Sree 1008 Sree Sree BHIKHANJI SWAMI, who was born on Ashar Sudi 13, Samvat 1783 (about July 1726 A.D.) in village Kantalya in the Marwar State His father was Balluji Sukhlecha, a high caste Oswal and his mother was Dipa Bai.

SWAMI BHIKHANJI was from his early boyhood of a religious temperament. At first he used to visit the Sadhus adored by his family people and belonging to Gachhabasi Sampra-daya. He then began to pay his respects, to the Sadhus of the sect known as Potibandh. While in close association with these Sadhus, it gradually dawned upon him that in them there was more of outward show than of real religious ardour. So he left them and began to pay his respects to Raghunathji who was an Acharyya of one of the branches of the Bais tola or Sthanakbasi Sect of the Swetambar Jains.

Jainism, which was, once a very flourishing and living religion had, on account of long standard political disorders in India, gone through a period of depression for several centuries and gradually became almost a dead religion. Attempts were, however, made from time to time by ardent reformers, to restore it to its pristine glory. It was in about Samvat year 1530 that Lunkaji Mohta, while leading the life of a householder, began to expound the correct interpreta­tion of the Jain Sastras. But subsequent activities and preachings of the followers of Lunkaji became slack and not quite in accordance with the true Sastric principles.

Thereafter one LAVJI began to preach in the name of correct ideas, which also fell far short of the true command­ments of the Sastras. LAVJI did not stay in Sthanaks (places set apart or built and meant for Sadhus to live in) and usually stayed in dilapidated buildings known as Dundhas. Hence this sect was known as The Dundhia. Gradually the Dunhdias split up in twenty-two branches (Bais tola), members of each of which lived separately and preached differently from the others.

SWAMI BHIKHANJI after some time resolved to give up all worldly connections and to take to the Holy Order of Sadhus. As a preliminary to his determination he took a vow of total abstention from sexual intercourse and began to fast every alternate day. As fate would have it, he lost his wife soon after and although in the prime of his youth and although earnestly pressed by his relatives to marry again, he would not do so as he had made up his mind to renounce the world. To be initiated as a Sadhu, the permission of his mother was necessary, his father having died already. It is said that when Bhikhanji was in his mother's womb, she had seen a lion in her dream and when her permission was asked, she told Acharyya Raghunathji that the dream indicated that her son was destined to be vary famous and so could not allow him to be a mendicant. Raghunathji is said to have stated in reply that as a sadhu her son would roam about undaunted and victorious as a lion. The mother's permission was then easily obtained, and SWAMI BHIKHANJI was initiated by Raghunathji in Samvat 1808 (1751 A.D.). After initia­tion he remained with Raghunathji for about 8 years and with untiring zeal and unique perseverance applied himself lo the critical study of Jain Sutras. From such study it became clear to him that the sadhus of that time were not leading their lives according to Sastric injunctions and were not correctly preaching the principles of Jainism. He, therefore, seriously discussed the matter with his Guru Raghunathji and humbly implored him to follow the true path.

But Raghunathji without paying proper attention and consideration to the just request of SWAMI BHIKANJI only put forward the excuse that as it was Dusham kal (bad times) and Pancham Ara (fifth descending Cycle of Eras), the effect of the time made it impossible to lead the life of a true Sadhu. BHIKHANJI was not satisfied with this answer; especially when he found in the sutras that indulgence of this very excuse had been forcasted by LORD MAHAVIR for those who would, in order to hide their own loose habits, find fault with the times.

However, having failed in his attempts to induce his Guru to follow the true path, SWAMIJI resolved to himself to lead a true ascetic's life and to put forward the right interpretation of the Jain Sutras. He, therefore, left his Guru Raghunathji in the town of Bugdi in Marwar State and was accompanied by such of Sadhus as wanted to follow his lead. At that time all the Sthanakbasi Sadhus used to stay in Sthanaks or places specially set apart for Sadhus to live in. But SWAMI BHIKHANJI could not use or occupy a place meant or built for Sadhus, as that was against the rules laid down in Jain Sastras. He began to stay in such places of laymen as were for their own use and as were freely offered to him for his stay, as this was in conformity with the rules.

It is said that one day Dewan Fatechandji Singhji of Jodhpur while passing through the bazar saw in a vacant shop thirteen lay people performing their religious worship and he enquired of them the reason of their not resorting to the Sthanak for such religious practices. They then related to him the whole history of how and why SWAMI BHIKHANJI separated from Raghunathji and also explained the principles as enunciated by him. They also informed him that there were only thirteen Sadhus following his lead up to that time. The strange coincidence or the number or the Sadhus and the number of the lay followers in the shop and the history of the separation, led one of the poets of the Sewak class, who was at that time standing by, to compose a short poem eulogising the sect and nicknaming it as Terapanthi (the path of the thirteen). When SWAMI BHIKHANJI came to know of this poem, he gave a very appropriate interpretation to it and said that any one who followed the five Mahavratas (great vows), five Samitis (Rules of Conduct) and three Guptis (Control of body, mind and speech) or in all thirteen rules, was a Terapanthi, or the follower of Tera (thine, the Lord's Panth path or rules). This nickname has ever since been applied to the followers of SWAMI BHIKHANJI.

After this, on Asharh Sudi 15, Samvat 1817 SWAMI BHIKHANJI re-initiated himself to the true holy order and initiated the other Sadhus also who had left their former Guru with him.

SWAMI BHIKHANJI passed away from this world on Bhadra Sudi 13, Samvat 1860. He initiated 49 Sadhus and 56 Sadhwis during his life-time.

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5th Edition, 1946
Sri Jain Swetambar Terapanthi Sabha, Calcutta, India