I did my Ayambil in Singapore

June, 2024 by Yifan Singharaja

With Samanji Shrutpragya after Ayambil Oli in Singapore, he gave me the Jain name Mumukshu Manak.

On April 23rd, 2023, I successfully completed my second Ayambil Oli. Looking ahead, I am considering the possibility of undertaking a longer Ayambil Oli in Southeast Asia or another part of the world. Throughout the experience of participating in Ayambil Oli and upon its completion, I have been greeted with heartfelt blessings such as “Satama” and “Kubh Kubh Annumodana.” In return, I have learned about these terms and responded with gratitude. From what I gather, Ayambil Oli goes beyond just practicing Tapas for physical and spiritual well-being. It also involves a profound appreciation for giving and receiving. While receiving selfless service from others, the receivers are also encouraged to take action and perform acts of service themselves, while also acknowledging and valuing the service provided by others.

In Singapore, I reside in the neighborhood of Chinatown, which is a considerable distance from Eunos, the home of the Singapore Jain Religious Society. The commute to and from there by bus takes approximately one hour each way. During these two hours, I took the opportunity to reflect on my experiences on the buses, my daily Ayambil Oli practices for spiritual growth, and double-check my daily fieldwork schedules. During an interview on Sadhvi Saumyaji’s completion of 1008 days Ayambil Tap, I mentioned that through occasional Ayambil Oli throughout the year, I have come to realize: 1. Practicing Ayambil Oli has helped me develop self-discipline, which is highly valued in Jainism. 2. Engaging in a systematic Tap like Ayambil can assist in detoxifying both the body and mind, highlighting the benefits of incorporating Ayambil Oli into my routine. 3. During my doctorate fieldwork, Ayambil Oli provides an opportunity for me to gain valuable insights from the community’s spiritual activities.

 

The institutional body of SJRS (Singapore Jain Religious Society) serves as a unifying space for Jains in Singapore, regardless of their sects. It offers a spiritual sanctuary for Jains in the midst of Singapore’s fast-paced society. The concept of a unified Jain identity is currently a topic of discussion within the global Jain community. The communal activity of Ayambil Oli allowed settler Jains and diasporic Jains, particularly those of the Shwetambar sect, to come together and practice their Tap in a shared space. Through my fieldwork in various locations such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, I have observed an interesting characteristic of the Singaporean Jain community. Despite being in a small city-state like Singapore, they exhibit a remarkable level of interconnectedness and cohesion. Unlike other communities that may be fragmented into different clusters, the Singaporean Jains remain united under the umbrella of the SJRS, exemplifying their own version of “Unity in Diversity.” There is a prevailing notion of a unified Jain identity in Singapore. While individual Jains may have their own interpretations of Jainism, they come together under one Jain Society and one officially registered place of gathering and worship. This strengthens their identity as Singaporean Jains, regardless of whether they are settlers or expats. In the Aymbil Oli, the Tap makers, cooks, and service providers come together to create a memorable Jain event in Singapore. This event allows them to embrace their Jain identity in a diasporic environment, reconnect with their religious tradition, and strengthen their sense of Jainness.

With Panna didi during the Aymbil time at SJRS.

Panna Timbadia, an Jainsgala educator at SJRS, consistently imparts knowledge about Jainism to children of different age groups. She is also a dedicated disciple of Shree Namramuni, a highly respected Jain monk in India and a spiritual mentor to numerous individuals. During this April, 2024 Ayambil Oli, she had dedicated herself in making food for the Tapasvis who chose to undertake the Tap partially or completely. The serene kitchen area of the SJRS area became livelier during the Ayambil Oli time, as the women of the Jain Society immersed themselves in culinary pursuits. With their extensive cooking expertise, they transformed humble beans and lentils into nourishing and spiritually uplifting lunches at the SJRS premises. Panna Timbadia, an educator at SJRS, consistently imparts knowledge about Jainism to children of different age groups. She is also a dedicated follower of Shree Namramuni, a well-known Jain monk in India and a spiritual Guru to many. Everyday during the whole nine days Tap she arrived the kitchen premise of the SJRS to prepare the meal for the forthcoming Tap makers, she is very good at making the South Indian food of Dosa but in a Jain manner. Without the sincere support of the Ladies Wing, the Aymbil Tap event would not be successful for the Jain community members in Singapore. Several other Jain ladies, like Panna Timbadia, worked together to support each other. The Jain community’s peer support played a crucial role in ensuring the seamless provision of food, spiritual guidance, service, and fostering faith.

With Manish Mehta Bhai in Singapore in mid May, 2024

Nimish Shah, a cheerful Jain gentleman, was highly involved during the Ayambil Oli period. He wholeheartedly dedicates himself to serving the Tap makers(Sevā) at the ISJS building. Additionally, he undertakes a vow of silence(Mona) for the entire duration of the Ayambil Oli. Through his case, I observed numerous aspects of the Jain culture, not just within the building premises during this event, but also on a broader scale within Singaporean society. He emphasized the importance of Sevā and Mona for spiritual growth as a Jain, while also maintaining his Jain identity in a fast-paced society like Singapore. He managed to strike a balance between his professional life and his spiritual well-being as a Jain. As I sat on the floor in a Sukhasana (cross-legged easy pose) with fellow Ayambil Tap participants, a gentle individual approached us to offer the food items for Ayambil. Through hand gestures, he effectively communicated with us, and we experienced a seamless exchange. The Ayambil process created a purifying and harmonizing atmosphere, enhancing communication among everyone present.

Compared to the Ayambil Oli I participated in last October in Bangkok; I have gained both actual experiences and a comparable level of motivation. In Bangkok, the hall beneath the Derasar is smaller and separate from the Aymbil Hall. During the Tap, people often visit the Derasar to engage in religious rituals or socialize outside of the dining hall. In Singapore, the hall and the Sthanak are closely connected, providing a convenient space for dining. It is common for people to go straight to Ayambil Tap without waiting in line. The distinction between the Singaporean Jain community and the Bangkokian Jain community lies in their composition. The Singaporean Jain community comprises both Jain settlers and expats, while the Bangkokian Jain community is predominantly composed of expatriates. The inclusion of the Ayambil Oli feature serves as a means for Jain settlers and sojourners to come together and establish a deeper understanding of one another. This event aims to minimize potential divisions between these two groups. As the sole centralized Jain religious institution in Singapore, the SJRS is actively working towards strengthening the unity of Jain identities among various groups of Jains in Singapore.

With the Kannada Jain friend Chandrakant.

Chandrakant, a Jain expat from Karnataka, also participated in the Ayambil Tap at SJRS. Despite being a Digambar Jain, he shared that as a Kannada Jain expat in Singapore, he appreciated the inclusiveness of SJRS. Being part of a Gujarati predominant Jain community in Singapore, he found that SJRS provided a space where he could connect with his Jain identity, even though it was not the mainstream in the diasporic environment. As a Kannada Jain professional expat working in a fast-paced working environment, he made it a point to participate in Ayambil Tap a few times. During our conversation, he shared that like many other Jain expats, one of their top priorities upon arriving in Singapore is to locate the Jain Society/Association in the area. This allows them to uphold their religious traditions and practices with the support of their peers, while also helping them to integrate into the diasporic society and enhance their careers and businesses.

With Nimish Bhai and the other friends at SJRS in late May.

Interestingly, a number of Jain men also invited their Hindu colleagues and friends to join them at SJRS for Ayambil Tap practices. From what I observed and heard in conversations, the young Hindu professionals seemed to genuinely enjoy participating in this spiritual practice and appreciated the company of their Jain friends. The expression of the Jain-Hindu connection is evident not just in India, but also in diasporic communities like the one in Singapore. I would argue that in a regular Jain festival like Ayambil Oli, for the Jain community members in Singapore, it is more than just a religious festival. It serves as an opportunity to showcase and affirm their Jain identity within the diasporic setting of Singapore. Additionally, it allows them to foster connections with fellow Jains both locally and in the wider community, while also preserving and celebrating their traditions in a unified and innovative manner. As I contemplate my next Ayambil Oli, I find myself in a unique position, straddling the line between being an insider and an outsider. I ponder whether I should embark on this spiritual journey alone or join my fellow Jains in a different location.

About Author

zyf_2006_2006@hotmail.com
What’sapp: +32495907605
Facebook: Yifan Singharaja

My name is Yifan, but you may call me Singha, after the “Singha” in the phrase “Singharaja,” which refers to a mystic guardian of the Dharma, and of course for now I have a Jain name given by Samanji Shrutpragya called Mumukshu Manak. Currently, I am pursuing a doctoral degree in Jainism at Ghent University in Belgium. My research focuses on the Urban Jains residing in several Southeast Asian metropolitan cities, including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Singapore. Specifically, I am examining their identities and unique characteristics within the context of their respective host societies. Commencing from the end of August of the current year until August of 2024, I intend to undertake a comprehensive fieldwork in the afore-mentioned locations. The purpose of this endeavor is to employ ethnographic and qualitative research methods to investigate the Jain community and their associated members within the cultural domain of Southeast Asia. Establishing connections with Jain communities prior to the commencement of fieldwork would be advantageous in laying a more robust foundation for this novel research topic. I express my genuine gratitude and extend an invitation to establish a friendship, should you be a Jain acquaintance hailing from Southeast Asia. Lots of appreciation.

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