Vijaya Dharma Suri - A Jain Acharya of the Present Day (III)

Posted: 30.04.2012
Updated on: 11.05.2012

This essay by Dr. Luigi Pio Tessitory was completed on 16th November, 1917 at Bikaner and published by Shri Vriddhichandraji Jain Sabha.



One auspicious morning of the year 1908 a large meeting assembled in the premises of the Yaśovijaya Jaina Pāṭhaśālā, under the presidency of His Highness the Maharaja of Benares. It was for the purpose of presenting to Dharma Vijaya a samānapatra signed by over a hundred amongst the most distinguished pandits of Benares, Bengal, and other parts of India, conferring on him the title of śāstraviśārada Jaināchārya in recognition of his learning and of his propagandist and educational activities. In replying to the addresses read before him on the occasion, Dharma Vijaya emphasized the significance of that honour, not in that it was conferred on himself, as he modestly deemed he did not deserve it, but in that it was conferred on a Jain monk by the consensus of the Hindu pandits of India and under the auspices of a Maharaja who also was a staunch champion of the Hindu faith.

Indifferent as he was to personal honours, he could not be indifferent to such an example of tolerance and broad-mindedness, which gave him particular pleasure in that he also was a strong partisan of mutual tolerance and co-operation, and from the very beginning of his career had always endeavoured to bring about a better understanding between Jains and peoples of other caste and creed, and to eliminate the secular barriers of narrow-mindedness which made them diffident and even hostile towards one another. Though a Jain himself, he believed in the educational value of the study of all religions, and admired the broadmindedness of European scholars who with the same impartial benevolence viewed and favoured the study of any religion of the West as well as of the East. In consequence of the title of āchārya conferred on him on that day, Dharma Vijaya's name was changed into Vijaya Dharma, by reversing the two terms as is often done in the case of Jain āchāryas, and the appendage of Sūri was added to it.

Great as his achievements in Benares had been, Vijaya Dharma Sūri did not deem his work in that city completed until he had founded another charitable institution, a Paśuśūlā, or Animal Hospital, to relieve the sufferings of the poor dumb world to which the Jains extend their feelings of compassion and sympathy. Towards the end of the year 1911 Vijaya Dharma Sūri left Benares to return to Gujarat. His intention was to march slowly, halting all along his route to preach and scatter the peaceful evangel of the Jina wherever it was needed.

Passing through Ajodhya, Fejabad, Lakhnau, Cawnpur, Kanauj, Farukhabad, Kayamganj, and Firozabad, he reached Agra just before the rainy season of 1912, and halted there for the four months during which Jain monks are not allowed to peregrinate. It was during this halt that he carried into execution, with some modifications, his plan for a Gurukula, which he had first intended to open at Pava, in Bengal. The new institution arose at Palitana, in Kathiyawar, in the form of a boarding school called the Yaśovijaya Jaina Gurukula. Supported by generous contributions of charitable seths, the new school prospered very rapidly, and the very first year gave admission to about sixty pupils. In Agra itself, Vijaya Dharma Sūri, with the financial help of Lakṣmī Chanda, a local seth, caused a Jain Library to be started and a Free Dispensary to be opened.

The rains over, Vijaya Dharma Sūri continued his journey through Mathura, Brindavan, Bharatpur, Jaipur, Ajmer, and Byawar. In the last-mentioned place he halted for the chaturmāsa of the year 1913, and devoted a good part of his time to trying to bring back to orthodox Jainism the schismatic septs of the Sthānakavāsīs and the Terāpanthīs, which in Byawar are largely represented. Leaving Byawar after the rains, he entered into southern Marwar. The sight of the scattered ruins of ancient Jain temples and of old Jain libraries left a prey to white ants and mice in that country where formerly Jainism was very prevalent and very flourishing, must have been very grievous to his heart. Being an archaeologist and a philologist himself, he was naturally led to deplore that state of things, which had its roots in the apathy and ignorance of the inhabitants, and to ask himself what could be done to awaken some interest in the relics and productions of a glorious past that were thus allowed to decay and rot in neglect.

Just about that time Professor Hermann Jacobi, the most distinguished student of Jainism living, who had been connected with Vijaya Dharma Sūri through a correspondence of many years, had come out on a visit to India, and was going to meet the Achārya in Rajputana. It was an excellent opportunity, and Vijaya Dharma Sūri resolved to utilize it in connection with a scheme he had been contemplating for promoting the revival of Jain culture in that part of India. This scheme was to hold a Jain Literary Conference on the occasion of the Professor's visit, and study the steps to be taken in order to remedy or at least mitigate the evils alluded to above.

Jodhpur was chosen for the seat of the Conference, and there the delegates and visitors met in the beginning of March, 1914, under the patronage of the Agent to the Governor-General in Rajputana and the presidency of Dr. Satīśchandra Vidyābhūaa of Calcutta, and discussed the means to be adopted for preserving and divulging the productions of the ancient Jain civilization from the stone inscriptions which lay buried under the debris of ruined temples to the manuscripts which are slowly but inexorably eaten up by white ants in dusty bhandars and obstinately and superstitiously concealed from the eyes of students who would rescue them from oblivion and destruction. [3]

Though the Conference was not fecund of practical results, nor could it be expected to have been otherwise when it was to deal with a backward and indifferent country like Marwar, yet the efforts of Vijaya Dharma Sūri were in the right direction, and the enthusiasm which he displayed in that connection was more that of a Western archaeologist and philologist than that of a Jain monk who is generally expected to care only for the strictly spiritual side of his particular religion.

Leaving Jodhpur after the Conference, Vijaya Dharma Sūri proceeded to Osiya to visit the ancient Jain tīrtha, and thence bent his way towards God-war, a country which called his attention not only on account of the many ancient Jain temples with which she is scattered, but also on account of the unenlightened condition of her numerous Jain population. The chaturmāsa of that year was spent at Sivganj (near Erinpura). When the rains were over, Vijaya Dharma Sūri resumed his peregrinations throughout the territory of Godwar, visiting practically every village from the five tīrthas of Varkana, Nadol, Nadlai, Ghanerao, and Ranakpur to Kesriyaji and founding Pāṭhaśālās in several places, where they were most needed. Then, after a tour in Mewar which gave him a good scope for archaeological researches in connection with Jain temples and inscriptions, he went into Gujarat to satisfy his countrymen's desire to see him again amongst them, and is now peregrinating in the villages of the plague-stricken Kathiyawar, still exercising his powerful influence to lead the people further on along the way to enlightenment and progress.

Now it remains for me rapidly to summarize the results of Vijaya Dharma Sūri's literary activity. The greatest monument which he will leave to posterity is a Series of Sanskrit and Prakrit works called the Yaśovijaya Jaina Granthamālā. This publication was started by him in Benares in 1904 for the purpose of rescuing from oblivion important Jain works which deserved to be made known, and its volumes have been distributed freely to all the principal libraries and colleges in India, and the oriental societies in Europe. The works have been edited with great care and accuracy, and the very favourable reception given in Europe to the collection is the best proof of its intrinsical value and its importance. So far 75 volumes have been published, and they include works embracing a very large range of subjects such as grammar, lexicography, logic, chronology, fable, poetry, etc. The publication, though on a smaller scale, has been compared to the famous Kāvyamālā of Bombay, and certainly is not inferior to it in accuracy.

The first original works composed by Vijaya Dharma Sūri were mostly of a polemic and propagandist nature. These were composed during his stay in Benares and in Calcutta with the special object of making the fundamental principles of Jainism favourably known and meeting the opposition raised against him by the Hindus, which often was dictated by ignorance and misunderstanding rather than by hatred and malevolence. One of these works, the Ahisādigdarśana, has already been mentioned above. The others are: the Jainatattvadigdarśana, a summary exposition of the Jain philosophy which Vijaya Dharma Sūri read at the first Convention of Religions held in Calcutta in 1909; the Jainasikādigdarśana, which he wrote on the occasion of the second Convention of Religions that was held at Prayāga in 1911; and the Puruārthadigdarśana and Indriyaparājayadigdarśana. All the above treatises are in Hindi and have had a large diffusion, each of them having run through several editions.

The work in which Vijaya Dharma Sūri first revealed himself as a philologist and an erudite critic, is his edition of the Yogasāstra of Hema Chandra, published in the Bibliotheca Indica. The first fasciculus of this edition was attacked in a rather unmerciful way by an Italian critic, Prof. F. Belloni-Filippi, in an article contributed to the Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (Lxii, pp. 782-7). But in his rejoinder to the Italian Professor's criticism, published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1910), Vijaya Dharma Sūri displayed such a sound erudition and such a mastery of his subject that he was not only fully justified before the eyes of the world, but everyone was also convinced that the Ācārya had gone to work with all the care and scholarly method which is expected from an editor, and that he was the right man to undertake that publication.

In the year 1911, Vijaya Dharma Sūri started the Jaina Sāsana, a fortnightly paper, in Gujarati and Hindi, which is published at Bhawnagar. It is essentially a Jain organ, and it aims at spreading amongst the Jain community a better knowledge of their religion, and at the same time guiding them to further enlightenment and progress. Since the time of the issuing of the first number of the paper, for a period of four years uninterruptedly, Vijaya Dharma Sūri had been contributing to its columns a series of articles under the title of Dharma Demand, i.e. “religious instruction,” in Gujarati.

These have now been collected into a huge volume under the same title of Dharma Deśanā, [4] and they constitute a handy manual laying before the reader an easy and popular exposition of Jainism, conducted on the same simple lines which the Ācārya ordinarily follows in his public sermons. It is a book of very pleasant reading, just as the Ācārya's sermons are of pleasant hearing, and the very frequent quotations of Sanskrit and Prakrit verses with which the text is interspersed, and the anecdotes with which the exposition is enlivened, greatly add to the attractiveness of the book.

These last years, Vijaya Dharma Sūri's predilection has been converging towards a new direction, whereby he has given a new proof of his great versatility. He has been taking interest in archaeological and historical researches in connection with Jainism, and has been collecting material, both manuscript and epigraphical, which I know from his disciples to be rich and valuable. Some results of this new tendency of his literary activity have already appeared. One is a monograph bearing the title Devakulapāaka, in which the Author has given a sketch of the history of Delwara, a small village in Mewar, about 17 miles to the north of Udaipur, which four or five centuries ago was a prosperous town, full of Jain temples. In appendix to this sketch, Vijaya Dharma has given the text of twenty-six inscriptions, which he has found partly amongst the ruins of the above-mentioned temples, and partly on consecrated images preserved locally.

The monograph is especially noteworthy for the painstaking accuracy and the strict method with which it is written, and for the erudite notes with which it is illustrated. Another publication of an historical character is a series which the Ācārya has just inaugurated, under the title of Aitihāsika Rāsa Sagraha, for the publication of such Jain rāsas, in the vernaculars of Gujarat and Rajputana, as appear to possess some historical value. Two fasciculi of this series are already out, and others are in preparation, but as I have already given an idea of this publication in the Indian Antiquary, [5] I do not think it necessary to expand on its merits again here. Lastly, I may mention that Vijaya Dharma Sūri has just made arrangements to start in Agra a monthly journal in

Hindi, Gujarati, and English, to be devoted to articles on literature, history, archaeology, art, etc. It will be called Dharmābhyudaya, and I understand that the first number is already in the Press.

Bikaner, the 16th November, 1917.

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