Shri Atma Ramji and his many activities

Posted: 17.01.2011
Updated on: 02.07.2015

The essay was published in Jainacharya Shri Atmanand Janma Shatabdi Smarak Grantha (Jainacharya Shri Atmanand Centenary Commemoration Volume), edited by Mohanlal Dalichand Desai, Bombay 1936, pp. 97-100.

Shri Atma Ramji and his many sided activities

Atmaramji was a born leader. His life is replete with multifarious activities. Some of them are mentioned here.

I. In the field of religion

1. Restoration of ancient ideals of worship

Before the advent of Atmaramji there was a strong tide against "murti puja", i.e. idol worship. The iconoclastic Muslim rulers, despite their best efforts, could not root out murti puja from the country. At best they succeeded in demolishing some of the richest shrines and the finest temples of the land. The spirit of murti puja grew stronger with every onslaught levelled against it. The attacks of Christian missionaries proved more baneful. Murti puja as a means of self-realisation had been almost lost sight of by majority of Jains in the Punjab. Besides the Christian missionaries the Brahma Samaj and the Arya Samaj were working against the time-honoured idol worship.

Atmaramji realised the danger and fully appreciating the worth of murti puja rebelled against the then current tide.

To achieve his end he had to carry on vigorous preaching to educate public opinion on the point of idol worship in the teeth of fierce opposition. All this was a tremendous task but he never faltered in his resolve. With this purpose he toured through the Punjab, Marwar, Merwar, Gujarat and Kathiawar and carried on a vigorous propaganda in its favour.

Puj Amarsingh of Amritsar, the then head of the Sthanakvasi sect in the Punjab, heard of these pro-murti puja activities of Atmaramji and asked him to refrain from this attitude under threat of expulsion from his order of monks. Atmaramji paid no heed to this threat and redoubled his activities. This led to his expulsion from the order being circulated, which meant that he was deprived of his food and shelter wherever he went in the Sthanakvasi community. But he had an unflinching spirit and never swerved an inch from what he believed to be the truth. He gladly faced all the privacies and hardships. He succeeded in attaining his goal through patience and perseverance.

The next step for Atmaramji was to secure the necessary idols and to raise funds for erection of temples. Through his unexamplary character, hard discipline and sacrifice Atmaramji captivated the heart of Jains. The initial difficulty lay in bringing home to the community that murti puja was in exact accordance with the Jain shastras and when this had been overcome there remained little to achieve. There was plenty of money with the community and in the course of a few years several magnificent temples were erected in various towns of the Punjab. He succeeded in securing plenty choice images from Palitana and Ahmedabad for installation in the newly built temples in the Punjab. Thus it was through his efforts that murti puja remained intact as a means for self-realisation.

2. Attention to old temples that stood in need of repairs

During his tours Atmaramji came across several temples which stood badly in need of repairs. Through his efforts "Temple Repair Fund" was created in several places to meet the expenditure of carrying out these repairs.

3. Collection, preservation and distribution of sacred literature

Perhaps the greatest service that Atmaramji did in the domain of religion was the preservation of Jain sacred literature. During the time of Muslim invasion, sacred books were stored underground for fear of destruction at the hand of the invaders. Although those days of religious fanaticism and terror had long gone, the community altogether lost sight of this spiritual wealth with the result that most of the literature was on the verge of being eaten up by vermin. Atmaramji prevailed upon the people to take the books out of the cellars and to let him inspect their condition. Due to lack of attention several valuable manuscripts on palm-leaves had been destroyed by white ants, while some had become almost indecipherable. Every effort was made by him to have them copied out where possible. In some cases the books were repaired or rebounded and regular libraries were started for their proper care and upkeep. He not only gave his personal time to this most important branch of his work, but he deputed some of his disciples to prepare lists of this literature for further reference. He secured a supply of the spiritual wealth for the Punjab, which province was below the mark in this respect at that time.

4. Reinforcing the spirit of celebrating Jain religious festivals in the Punjab

Every religion pays special attention to celebration of festivals for infusing the religious spirit. This is so because the act of celebration generates a kind of dynamic force which augments one's faith in particular religion. He, therefore, laid great stress upon the celebration of religious festivals.

II. In the field of Social Reforms

Atmaramji appeared at a time when people were steeped in ignorance. True religious spirit was on the verge of extinction and evils had crept in the society. He tried his best to purge the society of these evils. It was a sorry spectacle for him to see that in certain parts of India especially in the Marwar, child-marriage was in vogue. He did his best to root out the evils of early marriage as well as polygamy. He had a firm conviction that unless social distinctions were removed, no community could prosper as a unit. It was his vision to weld all Jain India into one social and religious unit, to attain which end he consecrated his life. He strongly wished that the different sects of Jains should encourage inter-dining and inter-marriage so as to foster a deeper and more extensive brotherly feeling in the community. He strongly urged his followers to reform social customs and make them simple and less expensive. He did much valuable temperance work and saved many a victim from embracing Christianity.

III. In the field of Education

Atmaramji deeply felt the necessity for education both for males and females. He believed that it was only through right education that the community could learn how to sink their personal differences and act as one unit. Wherever he went, he laid stress on the necessity of starting educational centres. Through his influence several pathshalas were started in different parts of India.

IV. As an Author

He was a deep thinker and a philosopher. He wrote quite a number of books, in easy Hindi on Jainism and its philosophy. Most important of these are Jain Tattwadarsh, Agnan Timeer Bhaskar, Tattwa Nirnayprasad, and Chicago Prashnottar. Some of his books have been very much appreciated by European scholars and Indian writers.

V. As a Poet

He was a natural poet. His poems, instead of being a result of conscious effort, flowed out of his heart spontaneously. Whenever he was in a devotional mood he composed verses. An English rendering of one of them is given as a specimen.

"As a faithful wife sacrifices her heart and soul over her dear husband; as the poor longs for riches, as a bee is enamoured of sweet scent of flowers; as a lover craves to see his beloved, as a farmer in summer season looks up to the sky waiting for clouds to water his lands; as a cow is full of affection for her calf; in like manner, O, worshipful Lord! May my heart be filled with your devotion. O Lord! I have from endless ages been attached to matter, on account of which I have been a victim of the rounds of births and deaths and which have kept me coming on to the stage of this physical world to play different roles. Whosoever I relied upon as my own, betrayed me. Love for anyone else barring you proved illusory in the long run. O Lord of the world! There is none except you to help me. Whom should I love but you? You are my best guardian. You are the delight of my heart. O merciful Lord! Take pity on me and help me across this ocean of life" (From Atmanand Jain Stavanawali P. 33-34).



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