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death with equanimity

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(Chapter VI, cont.)

6.4. – 6.41 (4)

6.4 The Practice Of Sallekhanā–Samādhimaraṇa In The Present Age –

To collect pertinent data pertaining to the practice of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ in the present age I undertook ten case–studies of the past and present practitioners of this ultimate practice. I prepared a questionnaire, given at appendix B to this thesis and interviewed the aspirant practitioners or the monks, nuns, or their family–members as the case may be and collected relevant information which forms the basis of assessing the present trends of this practice.

The ten case–studies are given in the next sub–section and it has been followed by the highlights of the practice as it is presently practiced.

6.41 Case–studies –

CASE–STUDY No. 1

SAMĀDHIMARAṆA OF SHRI B. L. KARAWAT

Shri B. L. Karṇawat, an eighty–four year old doughty advocate from the mofussil town of Rajsamand silently prepared himself for the vow of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’, at the appropriate time, by gradually reducing his food intake for over eight years. He finally took the vow on the 1st of January 1996 pending permission from his spiritual mentor – Ācārya Mahaprajña of the Terapanthī sect of the white–clad Jainas.

He was administered the vow by Sādhvi Ramkumariji who was in the town at that time and who stayed on, along with four other nuns of her group, to give direction and spiritual solace and encouragement during the entire practice that lasted for 75 days. The vow was administered and accepted with the consent of the kith and kin like the practitioner’s wife, his younger brother and three sons. The kṣapaka was under intense motivation to undertake this practice for achieving spiritual emancipation and often talked about taking the vow when his time came. He took the step when his body became unable to perform religious practices due to weakness brought about by old age.

The practitioner was calm and peaceful during the entire period of practice and took the pain and hardships in his stride. Possibly, his strong motivation saw him through his ordeal. He spent his time in self–contemplation, listening to religious preaching by the attending nuns, chanting of holy hymns and meeting and answering the queries of large number of visitors who thronged for a glimpse of the gallant practitioner of this heroic practice, who never regretted his decision to embrace death voluntarily. The kṣapaka duly went through the process of confessing his misadventures of life to the supervising nun and also that of forgiving and begging forgiveness of all.

Others in the town were generally well disposed towards this practice. The Jaina community was proud that a member of their class was undertaking this rare and ultimate practice. However, some miscreant lodged a police complaint to stop this self–killing and the police officers came to investigate also but they went away fully satisfied after talking to the kṣapaka himself who explained the spiritual purport of the practice and that he was, in no way, committing suicide. The press also took up the issue and wanted to equate this practice with the practice of Sati and hence to stop it but the reporters from ‘Dainik Navajyoti’, a daily newspaper published from Ajmer, who came to investigate also went away satisfied and the practice proceeded unhindered. The account of this practice that was carried by this newspaper only further enhanced the kṣapaka’s prestige.

The kṣpaka’s son, Shri L. S. Karṇawat who was interviewed by the researcher in connection with this practice, reports that there was an unusual miracle during the period of this practice when on the 34th day of the practice the kṣapaka saw crescent moon in the afternoon.

Finally, the death visited the kṣapaka on the 15th of March, 1996. His mortal remains were put on a decorated palanquin and ceremoniously taken out in a grand procession to the chant of holy hymns and hailing by the crowd that thronged the streets Rajsamand in thousands and consigned to fire as per the prevalent practice in the community. Death comes to everyone and is generally mourned but the gallant practice of ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ by Shri Karnawat converted his death into a celebration. The gallant grand old man of Rajsamand passed away equally grandly.

CASE–STUDY No. 2

SAMĀDHIMARAṇA OF SADHVI GULAB KUNWAR

Sādhvī Gulābkunwar of Śvetāmbara Sthānakavāsī tradition embraced ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’, at the age of 70 after a prolonged and incurable illness, on the 21st of February, 1996 in Udaipur. According to Sādhvī Sumanprabhā, one of the niryāmikā nun who attended on and assisted the kṣapikā during her critical practice, she requested for the vow of Santhārā that was administered to her by Muni Śrī Kanwarcandji and accepted it in her full consciousness. Not only that, the kṣapikā’s condition improved after a few days of observance. In spite of prolonged malady of paralysis that kept her confined to bed for nearly three years, she could sit up and listen to the religious scriptures that were read out to her and the chant of holy hymns that were continuously chanted.

In her practice the kṣapika was supervised and assisted by Sādhvī Dhapukunwarji, the head nun of her group and six other nuns of the group respectively. Though the fast unto death “Bhaktapratyākhyāna” lasted for 83 days, the kṣapikā maintained her equipoise and a peaceful demeanour throughout. She remained calm and composed in spite of all the pangs and pain of prolonged hunger and kept herself busy in contemplation and prayer. As a part of her practice she duly undertook the confession of her flaws and went through the process of forgiving and seeking forgiveness of others.

The kṣapika who was deeply religious and used to undertaking fasts of medium durations like 10, 11, 16 days at a time, became an object of veneration. Cutting across sectarian divides, people visited her in thousands just to have a glimpse of this holiest of the holy nun who had undertaken such a heroic practice.

The kṣapika breathed her last on 21 February, 1996 and her mortal remains were disposed of ceremoniously with veneration and due religious fervour.

CASE–STUDY No. 3

SALLEKHANĀ OF ĀRYIKĀ DṛḍHAMAT—

This 72 year old Āryikā embraced ‘Voluntary Peaceful Death’ after a preparatory penance of one year that culminated in fast unto death of fourteen days’ duration, at Sammedaśikhar, in May 1996.

Gaṇinī Āryikā Supārśvamatī Mātāji, the head nun who gave the permission, administered the vow and also supervised the kṣapikā’s end–practice, informed the researcher that the kṣapikā decided to undertake this practice, in her full consciousness, due to an incurable disease that proved to be a hindrance in the performance of her monastic duties. The kṣapikā duly confessed her flaws and forgave and sought forgiveness from one and all as a part of this practice.

The members of her own order, the members of her erstwhile family and the public at large respected and revered her practice and she did not encounter any hindrance either from the law enforcing agencies or the press–corps.

Again, according to Āryikā Supārśvamatī, though the practice of twelve yearlong preparatory penance is possible for the determined practitioners, those of Iṅginī and Prāyopagamana types of voluntary deaths are not due to lack of suitable bodily constitution and prohibiting mentions in the scriptures.

CASE–STUDY No. 4

SAMĀDHIMARAṇA OF SMT. AJAB BAI TALESARA

One fine evening “on 8 Aug., 1999”, after having had a meal of spiced loaves, this 95 year old deeply religious and pious doughty grand old matriarch of the Talesara family of Udaipur thought that her old and feeble body was not helping her much in her religious duties and thus moved by her intense desire for spiritual emancipation she decided that the time was then ripe for her to bid farewell to the world. She took the vow of ‘waterless fasting unto death’ of her own accord and informed the members of her family of her brave, determined and irrevocable decision. Later, after the permission was received from the spiritual master Ācārya Mahāprajña, the vow was formally administered by Sādhvī Cāritraśrījī on the 13th August, 1999.

The kṣpikā’s end–practice was supervised and assisted by Sādhvī Cāritraśrījī, other nuns from her group and members of the kṣapikā’s family. The fast unto death lasted for 11 days and she breathed her last on the 19th August, 1999. Thus ended the deeply religious and highly austere life of this grand old lady who had undertaken long periods of fasting penances of month–long fasts more than once and slightly shorter ones several times over.

The kṣapikā remained calm and peaceful during the practice and spent her time in meditation and listening to scriptural preaching by the nuns and chanting of holy hymns and singing of devotional songs. The family and society at large were very well disposed towards this critical penance and the kṣapikā was showered reverence by one and all. However, when the time came for the disposal of the mortal remains, there was a difference of opinion between the kṣapikā’s elder sons and the members of the religious order. The former wanted a simple and normal funeral while the latter insisted on a ceremonial one. The matter was resolved when Shri Chandrasinh Talesara fell in line with the social group and she was, after all, given a ceremonial send off as befitted her grand and glorious departure.