The Anuvrat Movement: Theory and Practice ► Origin, Vision And Evolution Of The Anuvrat Movement ► Origin

Posted: 29.05.2013

The Anuvrat Movement was initiated in Sardarshahar in Rajasthan, India in the mid-twentieth century as a nonviolent, non-sectarian and spiritual mass movement. In the words of a devout Terapanthi, "the Anuvrat Movement was enacted by Gurudev[13] Tulsi to bring ethics in the lives of people. Gurudev Tulsi prescribed some code of conduct, which was most non-sectarian. The aim of Anuvrat was to make human being better than what he is."[14] The movement as understood by the Sanskrit professor and Vedanta scholar Dayananda Bhargava, "is a social extension of an ancient spiritual tradition going back to Mahavira."[15] The above view, relatively common among Indologists, implies the social expression of a religious phenomenon and a symbiotic relationship between ascetics and society. Such perspective reflects what the German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber said of religious prophets, saints and sages - that while remaining at one level continuous with their social world, they introduce something radically new.[16]

The Secular Model

From the beginning, Acharya Tulsi, along with his core group of monks and nuns, designed the model for the movement while keeping three factors central - the religious diversity within India, secularism in India, as well as the philosophy of small vows. Many senior respondents recalled Tulsi's movement as a new ray of light that would give them hope for a continuation of the popular socio-political ideas that had been introduced during the Gandhian era. In this way, Tulsi's revolutionary ideas brought him and his Terapanth community into the limelight of the diverse Indian society. According to the noted Jain scholar, Paul Dundas: "He [Tulsi] founded the Anuvrat Movement dedicated to raising the moral tone of Indian public and commercial life by taking Jainism beyond the Jains, which was to become the best known Terapanthi enterprise in India."[17] Along the lines of Dundas statement, the head nun of the Terapanth sect, Sadhvi Pramukhashri, in her interview said, "Anuvrat is the most powerful secular Terapanth activity, which is like a gateway, to connect with political leaders, thinkers, media, and religious organizations."[18] She further drew attention to the fact that Anuvrat is not a slogan; it is a secular path genuinely emphasizing a nonviolent lifestyle. Her views imply that in order to succeed and reach out beyond the Jain community, the founding members of the movement might have needed the support of popular thinkers, media or even other organized religious institutions. Here historian Domenic Marbaniang offers some perspectives on why Tulsi's movement was successful after choosing the secular path, as he notes that "India cannot be united religiously; however, it can stand united politically and secularly."[19]

Combating Evils of Modernity through Self Control

What was behind Tulsi's mission of social reforms? The response regarding Tulsi's primary focus came like a chorus of recorded messages from the respondents. To begin with, Tulsi endeavored the making of a healthy nation through building of ideal societies. Then in order to clarify the meaning of ideal society, Tulsi emphasized to free the society from the maladies of modernity; his main emphasis was on character development and self-transformation through self-control, ultimately resulting in individual regeneration. He stressed upon honesty in all walks of life; thus, he constituted distinct code of conduct for students, teachers, politicians, businessmen, and everyone else. He gave priority to the removal of social evils like dowry and purdah and took radical measures to elevate the political status of women and the oppressed milieu. In this manner, the accounts of Tulsi's industrious undertakings were without significant variations.

Empowerment of Women

Tulsi's views on the advocacy of women's rights in the political, social, and economic arenas in a male-dominated society were different from the then ongoing
feminist movements worldwide. Tulsi's views on women's development are described in his biography as follows:

Women have been unfairly treated, remained in constraint, forced to follow useless customs and deprived of education for a long time. Acknowledging the active feminist movements in the West, he continued, the view that women should have equal rights as men is gaining strength. He further stated, ripples of western movements are observed in India also. However, he stated his viewpoint by taking women's development in a different direction. He said women's progress in the society should not be measured by men's progress, as man has not reached the summit of all developments. He has not progressed in the real sense and in many ways still lags behind. Thus, women should not idealize men and women should think independently regarding her status in the society giving equal priority to character development.[20]

The above quotation apparently conveys the significance Tulsi placed on women's education, not only among the lay community, but also among the women ascetics within his sect. He conceived that an educated woman will educate the entire family and this will reflect in the development of a healthy society.[21] The idea that western feminism understood equality, as sameness with men is widespread but prioritizing education was perhaps the major part of western feminism. Even though Tulsi went in precisely this direction, his efforts of empowering women were inclined towards motivating women to overcome the traditional mind-sets towards their own social status.

Besides the aforementioned characteristics of Tulsian vision of society, he also wished to see the entire nation free from drugs and intoxication. Tulsi's foresightedness for an ultimate society reflected both his secularly inspired ideals and the recognition of individual potentiality. He believed the value system ought to be rooted in ethics and compassion towards all sentient beings, including oneself.

Many respondents remembered Tulsi's charisma and the unusual power he demonstrated as a young leader of the religious sect. He was fearless yet very conscious of every step he took towards actualizing his mission. As a fundamental theory for the movement, Tulsi embraced nonviolence, which according to Anne Vallely, is the quintessential norm of Jain ethics.[22] Tulsi analyzed that nonviolence is the essence of religions and truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-possession are the extrapolations of nonviolence. As it is appearing, his vision for an ideal society was also in keeping with Gandhian ideals and the overall social developments that were taking place at various levels in post-independence India.

Gandhi and Tulsi: Intersecting Paths

Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Tulsi never met, but their views were exchanged through having read each other's works. Their perspective was shaped by similar socio-religious ideas common to many Indian philosophical traditions as well as by their shared pluralistic cultural backgrounds. In his book on the origins of the Anuvrat Movement, Tulsi notes:

I desired to meet Gandhi, but my exposure and journey was limited to the Bikaner district. Nevertheless, we met each other through our writings. Gandhi read and commented extensively on my two books: A Message of Peace For the Unrest World and Ahimsa. In the end, Gandhi wrote: How good would it be, if the world followed this saint's ideas and theories.[23]

It did come to pass that many Terapanthis, first involved with Gandhi's movement or inspired by Gandhi's philosophy, later joined Tulsi's movement. Some respondents I interviewed highlighted names like Mohan Lal Jain, Shri Devendra Karnawat, and Hulasi Devi Bhutoria as being examples of those who followed such a path.

Tulsi's Unique Approach as an Exemplar

Tulsi, both a monk and a saint, in keeping with Jain rules for renunciates, limited his travels (in upholding the mahavrat of ahimsa, Jain ascetics do not use transportation and travel only on foot, so as not to cause injury to living beings), not even crossing the border of Rajasthan in India until 1948. Yet, he was an incredibly innovative and visionary leader of an emerging sectarian tradition who was able to spread his influence despite his religious constraints. One major feature of Tulsi's hypothesis was if religion were to be perceived merely as the sum of practiced rituals its moral impact would be limited to the individual. However, he theorized that through proscribed non-ritualistic (secularized) action, it might be possible for him to influence modern culture by demonstrating how internalized moral viewpoints could be pervaded in a wider Indian society. Therefore, Tulsi advocated for the creation of a movement that utilized external practices as exemplified by his pilgrimage on foot to promote and introduce ways to change internal states of being.

Religious Response to Modernization

Tulsi viewed modernization as a factor in the degradation of a value systems and a cause of the deterioration of character, but how could he transcend the limitations of his own tradition? An additional well-known example of a religious response to modernization in India that occurred prior to Gandhi and Tulsi, can be seen in Raja Rammohun Roy's forming of the Brahmo Samaj in pre-independence India. The key aspects of Brahmo Samaj were the abolition of suttee (the immolation of widows on their husbands' funeral pyres) as a social evil, and the strengthening of the disintegrating Hindu society by reviving the Vedas and Upanishads.[24] All three examples - Roy, Gandhi and Tulsi, evince what Max Weber (one of the principal architects of modern social science) stated: "Religion is a powerful casual factor influencing social action and social structure."[25] Tulsi's allegiance to the small vows implies his firm faith in the power of religion as expressed by Weber in the above quotation. However, the opposite of this is also true as it is not compulsory for a movement to be conditioned by a religious philosophy to bring about social change.

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Publisher: Florida International University, FIU Digital Commons

Edition: 2013. MA Thesis

HN4U Online Edition: 2013