A Man of Extraordinary Genius: Shri Virchand Raghavji Gandhi
Dr. Kumarpal Desal
In the World Religions Conference held in Chicago in America ninty-two years ago, the modern world of America for the first time heard the determind. spirited, ringing and chiselling sound of India Philosophy and India culture Two Indian delegates participating in this conference awakened the western world to the spiritual heritage of India. One of these was Swami Vivekanand whose success in the World Religions Conference of Chicago is fresh in everyone’s memory even today, but it was Shri Virchand Raghavji Gandhi, the representative of the Jain religion who claims equal distinction by virtue of success achieved as a religious thinker.
More than three thousand delegates of different nations and religion assembled in the religious conference that was held at Chicago in America. More than a thousand papers were read before an audience of ten thousand people on 11th September, 1983 A. D. Virchand Gandhi, Swami Vivekanand, P. C. Majmudar and such other scholars from India were present. The aim of this religious con- ference was to impart, to the world, knowledge of different religions and to pro- mote fraternity between followers of one religion and another and thus to establish world peace.
The scholarship and oratory of Virchand Gandhi, the young man of twenty- nine, astonished everybody. He wore a long and loose shirt, a white shawl on his shoulder, a golden-bordered Kathiawadi turban on his head, and hooked country shoes. This dress bore the print of Indianness. Virchandbhai talked about the doctrines of Jainism in such a scholarly manner that some newspapers published his lecture literally. He had a wonderful art of easily explaining the terminology of Jainism. He had an extrordinary ability to clarify his statements on logical basis. When he explained his points, he would give his own interpretations of the points Virchandbhai had realized the cultural contest and that is why he some times poses as a Jaiu and merimes sides with Hindus but everywhere he poses an Indian
The ideologies of Vivekanand and Virdland Raghavji Gandhi reveal persuasive and comprehensive outlook of those who are devoted to Anekana. In Vedanta philosophy and America he delivered lectures not only on Jain philosophy bus also no Sankhya philosophy, Yoga philosophy. Nyaya philosophy. Buddhistic philosophy. Swami Vivekananda’s lectures of that period are found un have special trends towards Hinduism and scriptures of Buddhism. Still however these two great men supplemented each other and showed to the western world the importance of India philosophies.
It is a noteworthy fact that though Virchand Gandhi had close friendship with a numbe of Christian gentlemen of England and America, be fearlessly cirti. cired Christian missionaries involved in proselytizing activity in India. In such articles as “India’s Message to America and Impressions of America’ he gave a warm response to the people of America on the one hand but on the other hand he severely criticized in such articles as Have Christian Mission to India been Successful? the proselytizing activity of priests, He said. You must have heard from your missionaries that the Indian people are dirty, uncouth and cunning but you ever heard from those missionaries, who are known to give the message of the God (Christ) to the human race, about the tyranny that is being inflicted on Hindus in India? In order to get a good market in India, the Government has put no tax on the commodities of Liverpool and Manchester but on the other hand two hun dred per cent tax is put on salt in order to meet high expenses of the Govt.? Have your missionaries given you this information ?” Then passing a severe stricture Virchand Gandhi said. “If they have not, whose messengers you will call these people who always side with religion over murder and all sorts of criminals wh happen to belong to their country?”
In this conference of world religions held in Chicago Virchandbhai made a brief but striking presentation of the Jain religion. He expounded the Jain reli gion in two sections, namely the Jain philosophy and the Jam way of life. He elucidated nine elements, six types of Jivas, subtle thoughts of Jain philosophy re- garding Dravyarthika and Paryayarthika naya, Syadvada and other philosophical facts and fascinated all. He expounded the distnct Jain conduct, discussed the Jain way of life and while comparatively discussing the problem of World’s existence he explained the cardinal principles of Jainism comparing it with Buddhism and other religions. He established the fact that Jainism is older than Buddhism His discourses convinced the elite of America of the fact that the Jain religion Is an authentic and rational religious tradition. Another special characteristic of Shri Virchand Raghavji Gandhi’s lectures on the Jain religion is that they do not pivot on criticism of other religions. Free from sectarian preferences and prejudices, his impartial ideology adorns the Jain who practices ahimsa in life and anekanta in thoughts. His lectures reveal a happy combination of the pure English language, natural presentation and profound study.
Shri Virchand Raghavji Gandhi was not only a philosophical thinker but also he had the welfare of the nation at heart. There prevailed in America the belief that India is a country of tigers, serpents and kings. Christian missionaries also presented to foreign countries a distorted picture of the people of India. Virchand Gandhi made as great efforts as Vivekanand did to give the right understanding of India to the people abroad. Explaining the importance of Indian culture to forei- gners, he said. “It is an astonishing fact that foreigners have been constantly attack- ing India and in the face of all those aggressions the soul of India has stood vital and watchful. Her conduct and religion are safe and the whole world looks at India with a steady gaze.”
“Cultural distinctions, agriculture, art. artistic skill, literature, good conduct, means of knowledge and science, hospitality, feminism, love and respect- all these are found in India in quite a different from. If that culture was purchas- able, England could have purchased it, adopted it. But it has not happened, it cannot happen.”.
Shri Virchandbhai made such a great impact that the conveners and scholars of the conference of world religions awarded silver medal to him. Subsequently on 8th August 1984 the citizens of Kasadoga awarded gold medal to him. In this city he delivered a lecture on ‘Some mistakes corrected’. The news paper titled ‘Buffalo Carrier notes that after the lecture was over he was again and again requested to deliver the lecture. In America he founded two institutions namely, The Gandhi Philosophical Society and The School of Oriental Philosophy. In Chicago he founded the institution named Society for the Educa- tion of Women of India’. The secretary of this institution was Mrs. Howard who had adopted pure vegetarianism and Jainism under the influence of Virchandbhai. As sister Nivedita became Swami Vivekananda’s disciple, so Mrs. Howard became Vitchandbhai’s disciple and like Jains she practised samayika ritually.
Thus a young man of twenty-nine preached religion in foreign countries in the face of opposition of his own community to travels abroad not only once but thrice to preach not only the Jain philosophy but also the Indian Philosophy. This was indeed a rare incident.
Even the short life span of Shri Virchand Raghavji Gandhi is full of multi- farious glorious achievements. He was the first graduate of the Jain society who got his B. A. with Hons. in 1884. When his father died in 1890 he abandoned in those days bad custom of weeping and breast-beating in mourning. It is no ordi nary feat. At the age of twenty one, as the secretary of Shri Jain Association of India’ he worked for the abolition of poll-tax levied on pilgrims to Palitana. Anno- yed by poll-tax and other harassments the Anandji Kalyanji firm had filed a suit against the ruler of Palitana.
But Sursinghji, the ruler (Thakor) of Palitana was a right-hand man of the Political Agent. The Political Agent did not give fair justice. Virchandbkai took up the problem. In those days to rise against the ruler was to engage in an encounter with death. He often went from Mahuva to palitana and prepared a background for compromise. He met Lord Ray, the Governor of Bombay and Colonel Watson, the Political Agent, made a strong representation, and got the poll-tax abolished. An English man installed on Mt. Sametshikhar a factory for extracting pig’s fat on order; to stop it Virchand went to Calcutta. In order to understand the documents, he stayed in Calcutta for six months and learnt the Bengali Language and ulti- mately got the judgement-Sametshikar is a place of Jain pilgrimage and nobody else has a right to interfere there.” He became quiet only after getting this judgement and after getting the factory closed down. He brought the dispute regar- ding the temple at Kavi to a happy soultion.
Virchandhai Gandhi passed away in the midst of his prime youth in 1901 when he was only thirty seven. He rendered yeomen service to India and Jainism by interpreting this to the western world. Indian culture and religion in its true spirit opened the doors of Indian philosophy to the West. In this respect he enjoys pride of place in the galaxy of Indian thinkers and philosophers and will as such be long remembered in history.