History of Jains in North America: “Evolution”

“People will not judge us by the creed we profess or slogan we shout, but our work, sacrifice, honesty, and purity of character” – Mahatma Gandhi

Prof. Paul Dundas in his book �The Jains� writes that Jainism, India�s and possibly the world�s oldest Religion is least known and least understood outside India. Jains through the ages have made great contributions to the culture, literature, art, architecture, education, welfare and betterment of the India Society.

According to Prof. Noel King of University of California and Dr. Surendra Singhvi of Cincinnati, �Jainas and Jaina Scholars did leave India�s shore many times during the last 2000 years. In eighteenth and nineteenth century Jainism was somewhat known to the west from some of the Indian books which found their way to Europe and then to New England in U.S.A. These were mostly brought here by Christian Missionaries and scholars.�

Our clear and documented story begins over 100 years ago in 1893. A New York Times article in September 1893 talked of dignitaries from India who arrived in New York aboard the steam ship PARIS in transit to Chicago to attend the first Parliament of World�s Religions. Among them was a Jaina, Virchand R. Gandhi who was described as a young man with heavy black mustache. To Mr. Pipe, a reporter of the New York Times, Mr. Gandhi explained that Jaina faith was the oldest in the world and went on to state �I come from India, the mother of religions. I represent Jainism, a faith older than Buddhism, similar to, it in ethics, but different from it in its psychology and professed by 1,500,000 of India�s most peaceful and law-abiding citizens�.

Many attempts have been made to capture the history of Jainism in North America, but �No serious attempts have been made to record the role of individual Jains in the development of Jainism in North America.� Following are some of the major events that took place in the last 50 years which have shaped and enriched our history:

– Virchand Panchand Inc was established in 1944 at 15 Park Raw, New York. In 1945/46, Jethalal Khimchand Kachra Gudka came and lived in New York for three years. In 1948, 10 Jain students arrived to USA for studies, one of them was Shri Keshav Chandaria presently in Toronto, Canada, Suresh Zaveri who currently lives in Honolulu, Jayantilal Nemchand Fulchand who currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya – but where are the others?

– In 1949, Dhirajlal Premchand Vrajpal came for studies to the USA and he currently lives in Mombasa, Kenya.

– In August 1959 Dr. Vastupal Parikh � professor of Chemistry � was possible the first Jain to settle in Canada. Probably around the same time, Anil and Induben Mehta arrived to Canada and established a printing press in Ottawa.

– In 1962, Mahendra Mehta, an Engineer was possibly the first Jain to arrive to Alberta, Canada.

– In 1966 Jain Center of America, NY was established.

– In 1969 Jain Center of Metropolitan Chicago was established.

– In 1971, Gurudev Chitrabhanu first visited the USA, the first Jain Monk to part with monastic traditions, to spread the message of Jainism and non-violence. He permanently arrived to the USA in 1974 and established Jain Meditation International Center.

– In 1973 Jain Center of Greater Boston and Jain Society of Toronto were established.

– In 1975, Acharya Sushil Kumarji arrived in the USA. At the Mahavir Jayanti Celebrations in Cleveland in 1979, the formation and establishment of Jain umbrella organization was discussed between Dr. Tansukh Salgia and Gurudev Chitrabhanu and later on with Acharya Sushil Kumarji. In the same year Jain Center of Northern California and Jain Society of Greater Detroit were established.

– Between 1976 and 1980, 10 Jain Centers were established including the Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington (1980)

– The first edition of Jain Directory of North America was released by JCGB.

– The first Jain Convention was held in 1981 in Los Angeles and was graced by Gurudev Chitrabhanu, Acharya Sushil Kumarji, and Dr. Padmanabh Jaini largely with the efforts of Dr. Lalit Shah, Dr. Tansukh Salgia and Dr. Manoj Dharamsi. It was here that an umbrella organization of all Jain organizations in North America was started and an ad-hoc committee comprising of Dr. Lalit Shah, Dr. Tansukh Salgia, Dr. Manoj Dharamsi, Dinesh Dalal and Girish Shah, was formed under the Presidency of Dr. Lalit Shah, currently living in Ahmedabad. At the second Jain convention held in May 1983 in New York, the constitution of JAINA was adopted by delegates from 11 Jain centers and the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) was formally established with Dr. Manoj Dharamsi as President.

– Between 1983 and 1993, under the Presidencies of Dr. Manoj Dharamsi, Dr. Tansukh Salgia and Dr. Sulekh Jain, 38 new Jain Centers were established.

These are just some of the hi-lights of the major events that took place and encouraged the Jain leaders and the Jain community in the last 50 years to continue to work towards spreading the message of Lord Mahavir and Jainism in North America. With the arrival and the inspiration of Jain Munis Gurudev Chitrabhanu and Acharya Sushil Kumarji as well as the establishment of JAINA, the desire to learn more about the history of Jainism and the Jain pioneers in North America has increased tremendously. Therefore, a History Committee under JAINA has been formed. The purpose and objectives of the committee are as follows:

To capture the history of Jainism and it�s followers, and to record the development of Jain organizations and temples in North America.

1. To record the role-played by the spiritual leaders, scholars, educationists, writers and community leaders and others in shaping the history of Jains in North America.

2. To publish various works based on the collected history of Jains in North America in the book form or in other media to advance the knowledge and understanding of Jainism.

3. To record oral history from Jain history makers, capturing their experiences, vision, and life stories in their own words.

4. To educate the current and future generations about Jainism, its principles and its message of peace, love, ahimsa (non-violence) and tolerance.

5. To work with other Jain Organizations/ Centers in North America and the world to advance the preservation of the history of Jainism.

6. To publish a directory of Jain history organizations around the world.

7. To encourage and assist JAINA members and its Affiliate members in forming their own history committees and work with JAINA towards a common goal of collecting and preserving Jain History.

8. To establish a Jain History Center (Museum) in conjunction with JAINA Library where collected materials will be archived.

9. To record the contribution of Jains in the political, social, economic, scientific and arts fields and their life philosophy of harmonious co-existence based on non-violence to the well-being, progress and prosperity of North American multi-cultural societal mosaic.

To capture the history of development of Jainism, the Jain Centers, Jain Scholars, educationist, writers and prominent Jains and their role in developments and in the spread of basic principles of Jainism in North America.

Following are the main 2 committees that will oversee writing of this History Book.

North American Jains History Committee:
Jasvant (JV) Mehta, Chair
Dr. Vastupal Parikh, Co-chair
Ram Gada, Co-chair
Dr. Tansukh Salgia
Dr. Manoj Dharamsi
Dr. Dhiraj Shah
Prakash Mody

Jaina History Advisory Committee:
Keshav Chandaria
Dr. Rati Dodhia
Satish Shah
Dr. Sulekh Jain
Dr. Manibhai Mehta

Jain Centers:
We are hoping that each Jain Center will create it�s own History Committee and work with us in establishing their records, research past minutes and available documents of their center, talk with their past executive members and pioneers and provide the following data:

– History – when was your Center established, pratistha, expansion etc

– Brief biography of your pioneers

– Historic photograph and bibliography � past & present

– Details of your Jain or Hindu/Jain temple.

– Any other useful information available which would be of interest to readers of Jain history.

– Old souvenir books, newsletters, magazines, books written by North American authors.

Anyone having any information like articles & books written by the members of your center, details about Jain artifacts with any of your members history of local centers, timeline of milestone of events, etc. which can be used in making this publication complete and comprehensive should be forwarded to us. Any info-material used will be suitably acknowledged with credit.

Let us capture this momentum and document our over 100 years of history and leave this legacy for the generations.

Jasvant Mehta, Chair,
Jaina History Executive Committee.
(previously published, 30 Dec 2003)

JAINA has decided to compile the “History of Jainism and Jains in North America”. During the past century, lots of efforts have gone in bringing Jainism in North America but nothing noteworthy has been recorded. There is a rich history of how Jainism is known over fifty states of America and ten provinces of Canada and how Jains throughout America have established themselves. Each of the more than seventy-five Jain organizations in more than sixty cities have their own stories as part of their contribution in the growth and development of Jainism. Now, it is necessary to put everything into one huge docu-book for the benefit of the future generation.

For this great project of importance, call is given for support and cooperation and thus help in writing the true exhaustive history. Anyone having any information like articles and books written by you and/or others, details about Jain artifacts with you and/or at other places, history of local centres, timeline of milestone of events, etc. which can be used in making this publication complete and comprehensive. Any info-material used will be suitably acknowledged with credit. For details contact Mr. Jaswant Mehta at jvmehta2000@yahoo.com

Jasvant Mehta, Chair,
Jaina History Executive Committee.