How did Acharya Shri Chandanaji’s Veerayatan in a remote part of Bihar become a global oasis for Jain values? How did an organization made up of a small group of Sadhviji’s become a household word in hundreds of thousands of homes not just in India but globally? How did Acharyashri become Tai Ma?
What was the turning point for the organization? The story below has answers to all these questions.
Twenty-one years earlier, I was at Rajgir along with 125 other JAINA Yatris from the USA on our way to Shri Samed Shikharji. Our previous stop was Lachhuar – land of the three kalyanaks of Bhagwan Mahavir. Most of the yatris were saddened by the poor facilities at the only Dharmsala in Lachhuar. Even more disturbing was a visit to the local school requested by the principal of the school. Some of the yatris returned from the visit somber and sad. One yatri had tears in her eyes describing a dilapidated school building that was even missing a roof! Students were required to stand under the trees when it rained. Yatris decided that JAINA should build a school in Lachhuar – Chayanbhoomi, Janmabhumi and Dikshabhumi of our Bhagwan. As a group leader, I assured the yatris that we shall discuss the subject further once we get to Veerayatan.
Upon arriving at Veerayatan the yatri’s mood improved dramatically. Compared to Lachhuar, Veerayatan was a heavenly place. The rooms were clean, the food was wholesome, and our host – Acharyashriji was extremely gracious. At night, in a meeting with Acharyashriji, we asked her if JAINA were prepared to fund the building of a school in Luchhuar, can Veerayatan manage it? We had no idea how wide and open- ended our request was or the fact Veerayatan had never really worked outside of Rajgir or ever operated a school. But the answer was unambiguous. “Yes, if JAINA funds it, we will certainly run it”.
We thanked Acharyashriji for her magnanimity and called it a night being tired after a 16-hour day including road journey from Lachhuar. We were told to assemble bright and early next morning after breakfast for the flag hoisting ceremony.
The next day January 26 was designated as that of dual celebration – marking Republic Day and the Sixty-fifth birthday of Acharya Shri Chandanaji. The weather was cooperating offering up a cool sunny day and a light breeze. There was an air of anticipation for the festivities to begin. The plan was for everyone to assemble at ten in the morning in the courtyard around the flagpole. A marching band consisting of nearby school students in their cute and crisp uniform was on hand for the hoisting of the Tri-Ranga by the Acharya Shriji. After the solemn flag-raising ceremony, there was going to be a brief celebration of her birthday with some singing and speeches. Next, everyone was going to be treated to a royal feast. And a week later, Acharyashriji was to go to Rajkot to grant Diksha to a local lady.
Next morning at 10:30, everyone was in position, except Acharyashriji was nowhere to be seen. There was an unexplained delay, and some grumbling was afoot. Finally, around 11:30 Acharyashriji entered the crowd solemnly and swiftly proceeded to raise the flag. Next, she took the microphone and in an exceptionally soft trembling voice made the shocking announcement. A massive earthquake had hit Bhuj – Kutch a couple of hours earlier and mass casualties were feared. The festive mood became a somber tone. No further details were available of conditions in Kutch as Rajgir did not have a good cell phone reception and the landlines to Bhuj were not functioning.
Before the crowd could digest or make sense of the catastrophic events of Kutch, Acharyashriji made another announcement. I was standing right next to her under the flying flag of the nation when she declared that she and a few other Sadhvis of Veerayatan will travel to Kutch in a few days to take part in relief operations. What about Diksha ceremony in Rajkot I asked. With a spark in her eyes and a steely resolve, “Diksha can wait, Kutch cannot” was her answer. We were told she had never been to Kutch before, but she was determined to answer the call the land, the need of humanity.
The two decisions within the span of twenty-four hours – to build a school in Lachhuar and to launch a relief operation in faraway Kutch must be considered watershed events for the Veerayatan organization. The rest is history. Following up on those two decisions, Veerayatan metamorphosed into a true incarnation of its moto: Seva, Shiksha, and Sadhana. Veerayatan was no longer just a Rajgir entity. It was entering a new phase of activism and national visibility. From local, it was jumping into a global arena. The educational and humanitarian projects that materialized over the next twenty years are there for everyone to see and admire. But what I saw up-close in Acharyashriji was the inner resolve and a deep-seated stream of compassion. After all, the guiding principle of Veerayatan is “Compassion in Action.”
What a far-reaching beneficent vision of Acharyashriji? The Last twenty years have been a transformative and positive force for the scores of thousands of needy poor people in the most remote parts of the country. It has educated tens of thousands of students and pulled their families out of the cycle of perennial poverty. Recognizing the value of education along with an urgent need to protect our Tirthdhams, Acharyashriji has given us a slogan that is the guiding principle of Veerayatan now: “Jaha Jinalaya, Vaha Vidyalaya”. Acharyashriji believes that instead of building temples in the villages, we must make villages the Temples. With schools, environmental campaigns, vocational training, health and hygiene initiatives, villages can indeed be transformed into Temples. Veerayatan initiatives in Lachhuar, Pawapuri, Rudrani, Jhakhania and Osiaji etc, have proven the wisdom of Acharyashriji’s vision. It has also seen Veerayatan expanding in the UK, USA, and Kenya.
Seva– Shiksha and Sadhana. To Tai ma, these are not empty words. They are the marching orders for all the Veerayatan Sadhvijis, volunteers, and donors. If you were ever fascinated by the attentive skills of the ringmaster of a three-ring circus, you will be absolutely floored to learn of all the Veerayatan projects underway that she is presently shepherding. During the last 30 months, – the Covid period, Acharyashri was in residence at Rajgir. That unusual extended stay of Acharyashriji has been a tremendous boon to Rajgir as several new philanthropic and educational projects have spawned at Rajgir. Here is a glimpse of seven projects underway at Rajgir alone.
Veerayatan Diagnostic Center: A modern diagnostic center with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities budgeted at Rs 200 million is expected to be completed during the current year. The diagnostic center is being set up adjacent to the present eye hospital. The diagnostic center will initially comprise of two sections: Pathology and Radiology. The pathology section will house Histopathology, Clinical Pathology, immunoassay Room, Hematology/Coagulation room, and Serology lab. The Radiology section will have X-ray machines, Ultra-sonography, CT scans, and MRI equipment. Findings of the tests conducted here results will be shared electronically with the large center in Pune, where expert Doctors will analyze them and send back their recommendations to the diagnostic center.
As part of the diagnostic center, there will be a Telemedicine facility so the local population of Rajgir and its adjoining towns and villages can consult expert doctors for proper medication or further treatment. A full-fledged pharmacy will also be set up next to the diagnostic center.
JAINA Vidya Mandir: In view of the lack of high-quality education facilities for students in the region, a high school of international standard affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is being planned for 1100 students. The two hundred million Rs. project is being partially funded by JAINA of USA. Land for the project has been identified and land development and construction of the boundary wall has commenced. The construction of the school is expected to begin in the month of May of this year and the project will be completed in 24 months.