Sunday , 19 May 2019

Close the Case Against Jain Monk

The objections raised by certain individuals in Margao to the ‘nudity’ of the Digambar Jain monk Swami Pranam Sagarji are foolish, injudicious and derogatory. These people have no idea of the religious thinking that goes behind the ‘nudity’ of Digambar Jain monks. After the passing away of Mahavira, the followers of Jainism got divided into two sects, Digambara (skyclad) and Shwetambara (whiteclad). The Digambaras believed that an ascetic who had truly renounced the world must also renounce clothing, and go naked as Mahavira had apparently done. The Shwetambaras believed that Mahavira’s life and teachings did not make nudity an absolute requirement, and that the wearing of simple white garments would be a sufficient act of renunciation. The first thing to note is that the prescription for absolute nudity even among Digambaras was meant for the ascetics, not the lay followers. The absolute nudity signified total renunciation of worldly desires. It was the highest stage in the rigorous practice the monks followed in order to achieve ‘aparigraha’ (non-possession).

The rigours of the ascetic practice are so difficult to fulfil that hardly 50 or 60 Digambar Jain monks in India have achieved the highest stage of renunciation, Swami Pranam Sagarji being one of them. Those who are raising objections to Swami Sagarji’s nudity should visit Sravanabelagola in the Hassan district of Karnataka where the 18-metre high monolithic statue of the nude Digambar saint, Lord Gomateshwara was built on top of Indragiri hill over a thousand years ago. It is one of the tallest and most graceful monolithic statues in the world. Lord Gomateshwara’s statue has been worshipped by Digambar Jains and pilgrims of Hindu faith for centuries from different parts of India. According to scholars, the nude statue is a perfect expression of the idea of successful withdrawal from the cycle of life and death, individual destiny, desires and sufferings – that is, ‘aparigraha’, non-possession.

The politicians such as PWD Minister Sudin Dhavlikar and former PWD minister Churchill Alemao who made a noise over the nudity of Swami Sagarji and the individuals whose complaint has led to the JMFC order to file an FIR against him would do better to realise, the soonest they can, that they are infringing the freedom of faith and manner of worship allowed by the Constitution to him. His nudity is not the kind of nudity of Sunny Leone. He is not exploiting his nudity to earn money. Nor is he nude because he is an exhibitionist. He does not wear even a loincloth because of his belief in his religious doctrine. Just as an Islamic sage wears a beard, a Sikh sage a turban, a Hindu sage unstitched saffron because their doctrinal beliefs say they must.

And don’t Dhavlikar, Alemao and the complaining citizens know anything about Naga sadhus? They are not a freak sect: they are an integral part of Hindu ascetic community. They belong to the Hindu ‘akharas’ (ascetic centres) established by Adi Shankaracharya in the eighth century to propagate Hindu faith and counter the spread of other faiths. The Nagas have to undergo tough rigours of ascetic practice and live an austere life away from human habitations in forests, hills and caves. They gather once in four years at the Kumbh Mela at the sangam in Allahabad. None of the pilgrims to the Kumbh Mela, who include lakhs of women, ever filed a complaint of nudity and public indecency against them.

Dhavlikar, Alemao and the complaining citizens must apologise to Swami Sagarji for subjecting him to public humiliation. The JMFC, who issued order for filing of an FIR against him, would hopefully realise that not much thinking was applied before the order was passed. The whole case must be immediately closed. If it is not done at the lower level, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Bombay must intervene and let not the tell-tale case of injustice to the Jain muni prolong any further. Swami Sagarji is coming back to Goa for Chaturmas (auspicious four-month period, July to October) for performing ‘tapasya’. If the High Court does not intervene, the situation is going to get awkward. Swami Sagarji is not going to come here wrapped in a loincloth. He has achieved the ultimate in renunciation: he has attained freedom from fear. Are the Margao police going to arrest him? Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar too must intervene to close the case. Or it may boomerang on his government.