The first World’s Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, was almost a tailpiece, an afterthought of the great Columbian Exhibition of 1892 and has been acclaimed as equal to if not greater than Ashok’s Council of Pataliputra, Constantine’s at Nicaea or Akbar’s meetings at Fatehpur Sikri. Today, the 1893 Parliament is recognized as the birthplace of the worldwide interfaith movement. It lasted for seventeen days in September of 1893 and brought together some four hundred men and women representing forty-one denominations and religious traditions.
The entry hall of the new Jain Center of Metropolitan Chicago contains a bronze image and plaque honouring Virchand Raghavji Gandhi. The Indian Postal Department honoured him by issuing a postal stamp with his image. A drama based on his life, Gandhi Before Gandhi, completed 200 shows throughout the world. So, who was Virchand Raghavji Gandhi and why he is so special and honoured?
Virchand R Gandhi was a great scholar of Jainism as well as an outstanding exponent of the various systems of Indian Philosophy and Indian culture. He was the only the Jain representing Jainism at the first parliament of world religion held in Chicago in 1893. Due to his success and popularity at the conference, he stayed a further two years in the USA and delivered many hundreds of lectures on Jainism, Yoga, Indian systems of philosophy, Indian culture, occultism, and spiritualism at various institutions.
Certain personalities leave indelible footprints on the sands of time their legacy is not affected by the constantly revolving wheel of time. At the World Religions Conference held in Chicago, U. S. A., almost a century ago, America, and the west, for the first time, heard the determined, spirited, resonant voice of ancient India, and the message of Indian philosophy and culture. Two Indian delegates participating at this conference awakened the western world to the spiritual heritage of India.
The second half of the Nineteenth Century was the golden era for Madhumoti Tirth – Mahuva, where pious “Aura and Urja” were showered by Jivitswami Tirthankar Mahavir-Swami. The history of Mahuva, situated on the West coast of Saurashtra, Gujarat goes back more than two thousand years.
Sunday morning of October 29, 2023, Gujarati Samaj Hall in Queens, New York, was filled with over five hundred smiling Jains dressed in their festive Desi outfits. The weather was unseasonably nice. A procession with drums, singing, and dancing devotees had just landed on the side doors of the hall as the eighty-year-old Lady of the Hour entered. The crowd erupted with slogans of “Jainam Jayati Shasanam” and “Tapaswi Amar Raho”.
Many people have heard of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s (1869-1948) effective resistance to British colonialism which resulted in the latter’s withdrawal from India and subsequent Indian independence (1947). Moreover,
Mahātmā Gāndhi, the Father of the Nation, was not only a political leader but also a spiritual guide whose philosophy and actions continue to inspire people around the world. He proudly accepted that the immense influential source of his ideology was Jainism. Gāndhi was deeply influenced by Jain values, which played a pivotal role in shaping his approach to non-violence, truth, and social reform. These principles resonated deeply with Gāndhi and played a pivotal role in shaping his worldview.
The great Jain Acharya Shri Samantbhadra declared that “Sotyeti Dharmamatmin, Na Dharmo Dharmikair Vinah” – Religion (Dharma) cannot exist separately without a religious person
The personal relationship of Shrimadji and his contemporary Mahatma Gandhiji, is a bright chapter not only in their personal lives, not only for the state of Gujarat, but for the cultural, political, and spiritual history of the whole of India.