Acharya Shantisagar ►Biography

Posted: 18.02.2011
Updated on: 02.07.2011

The Life of Jain Acharya Shantisagar

Acharya Shri Shantisagar Maharaj, Charitra Chakravarti was the first Digambar Jain Acharya of the 20th century, when the traditions of Digambar Jains were being wiped out since many years and there was hardly a saint or mendicant to work and speak for Lord Mahavir and Kundkund. He was also the first Digambar Jain monk to wander in North India after several centuries. He has wandered on foot over the length and breadth of India, receiving food offerings but once a day with only his bare hands for a bowl.

Acharya Shantisagariji was born on Ashad Krishna 6, V.S.1929 (1871 CE) in a Digambar Jain family at Belgul village in Belgaum District of South India. His father's name was Shri Bheem Goura and mother's name was Shrimati Satyavati (Satyabhama). His name was kept as Satgonda. Shri Satgonda was one of the five children in the family, he had two elder brothers, two younger brothers and one sister. From the very childhood, he was reserved detached from homely affairs and took active part in religious celebrations and rites. He used to go to temple with his mother every day. He was much interested in meditation and study of scriptures and used to wear simple clothes of khadi. His mother always advised him and taught good things. The child Satgonda had extraordinary power of memory and many people knew it. The father gave him the virtues of being serious and determined.

Satgonda was married at the age of only nine years with a girl of six years of age but, the girl died within six months of marriage. He then declined for the second marriage and observed complete, clear and holy celibacy for the whole of his life. When he was intending to adopt diksha, his parents allowed him to observe certain vows, rules and non-eating but directed that he should not leave the house until they were alive. He used to sit at the his parental shop and turned the shop as a place of self-study for himself.

At the age of 32 he went to the great pilgrimage of Smed Shikharji. On return from pilgrimage he took a vow of only one time dining in a day and not to eat ghee and edible oil for the whole of his life. His father also took water and meals only for once in a day for 16 years. When Satgonda was at the age of 37 his father accepted meditation-death and left the mortal body. His mother also passed away after three years by adopting meditation-death. Satgonda was now free from the bondages of parents.

After few years Digambar Mooniraj Shri Devapa Swamy (Devendra Kirtiji Maharaj) came to Uttoor Village; Satgonda requested before him for diksha. Under the guidance of Gurudev Devapa Swamy, Shri Satgonda took diksha in 1915 AD at the age of 43 in Uttoor village and named Shantisagar. He left everything behind, keeping only two clothes to wear and a begging bowl to ask for alms and to eat and accepted the whole earth as his own nature place. He, on his way of moving, came to the mountain Girnar that was holy with the footprints of Tirthankar Neminath. At this place Shri Shantisagarji Maharaj adopted elak diksha.

Shantisagarji came over to Parnal village while moving, where the celebrations of Panch Kalyan Pratishtha Mahotsava of Lord Jinendra were going on. Digambar mendicant Shri Devendra Kirti Maharaj was also present there. Shri Shantisagarji requested for Nirgranth diksha-possessionless mendicantship by placing his head on his feet. Devendra Kirti Maharaj invested him with the title of Muni Shantisagar by granting him higher stage of diksha.

While maintaining his vows very strictly, he moved towards the south and expanded religion at all places through which he passed. He advised people to shun evil practices. By time, he became famous. He granted diksha and vows to several Shravaks. In 1834, he regularly established Shraman Sangh at the time of Muni diksha of Shri Nemisagarji. The Jain community gave him the title of Acharya at his age of 52 in 1951 at the holy celebrations of Panch Kalyanak Pratishtha Mahotsava at Gajpantha in Maharashtra. Acharya Shri Shantisagarji was given further award of Charitra Chakravarti. Hundreds and thousands of ghee-lamps were being lighted at all villages and towns when Acharyashri arrived with his followers and activities of high level discussions of scriptures, philosophical lectures and discourses, prayers, devotional songs and repetition of religious phrases were being undertaken.

In 1928, Acharyashri started for the pilgrimage of Samed Shikharji along with his disciples and followers. This was the first occasion after many centuries that a large group of mendicants were moving in north India. He was honored at all places and Panch Kalyanak Celebrations were also held at Samed Shikhar. Lacs of devotees arrived there for this celebration from the whole of India. Acharya walked about 35,000 miles in seven years and lacs of devotees had taken advantage of his spiritual knowledge. A large number of Acharyas, Munis, small persons, women and celibates had taken diksha at the hands of Acharyashri.

Acharyashri had created deep impressions on common people by religious preaching and restrained life. Rulers of Sangli, Faltan, Kolhapur, Pratapgadh, Idar, Dholpur and other states used to come to see him. Even several European officers were also attracted towards Acharyaji. His preaching were highly philosophical; his thinking was of the highest level. He considered people of all religious equally. His disciples had also created very good impressions on the people.

In 1955, in the month of August, when he was 82 years, Acharyashri had a cataract in his eye and had become physically very weak. He was at Kunthalgiri in Maharashtra. It is a rule with Jain Munis to move from one place to another with proper care and vision. However, due to the cataract and weakness, it became difficult for Acharyashri to observe this rule. He therefore started feeling that his body was useless for the further spiritual enhancement (Sadhana). He resolved voluntarily to undertake a fast unto death (Sallekhana).

On August 14, 1955 he gave up food. Slowly his body started getting weaker and weaker. However, his soul (atma) became firm in control in penance. In the first eight days, he took only two bits of food every day. Then after he took only juice from black grapes for another eight days and after that he used to take water only. When he was absolutely weak and unable even to stand without help from someone, he adopted yama-sallekhana and stopped taking water till the end of his life.

He spiritually progressed significantly in complete detachment and unique renunciation. Jains and non-Jains in millions came for respect (darshan). The President of India, Dr Rajendraprasad, Vice-President Dr Radhakrishnan and many learned people came to pay their respects to him and listen his sermons. Ultimately, on the thirty-fifth day of his fast, on September 18, 1955, he attained to death in a spirit of equanimity and in deep meditation (samadhi). He had touched Jinendra Murti with his hand just before five minutes of his passing away and had moved his head towards his feet. He was muttering: "Namah Siddhebhya", - respects to the Absolute - when he breathed last.

Acharyai Shantisagarji was an ideal Jain saint who reincarnated the Digambar traditions. He had observed rigorous vows and restrained life with total celibacy for about forty years. He had won over his senses and had captured anger, greed, attachments, sensuality, pride desires with six enemies. His life was a lamppost for all mendicants, disciples and followers.

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