A TOUCH OF OLD

Rishi Majumder checks out the vast collection of ancient texts at the Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal Library

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Gangaram, the keeper at Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal Library
Gangaram, the keeper at Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal Library
   The number of Jainas in India is a little more than two million. Still the religion professed by them is one of the world’s living faiths.” This is how the preface to Pramana Naya Tattvalokalamkara by Dr Hari Satya Bhattacharya begins. The age of this text, if not made clear from Jains being termed Jainas or the author’s archaic name, could be derived by the fact that as far back as the 2001 census, the Jains in India numbered 4,225,053, with Maharashtra holding the largest number at 1,301,842.
   But let’s rewind. This book is from the Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal Library in Vile Parle, begun in 1948 by industrialist Late Amrutlal K Doshi. “He believed in the ‘union of Laxmi and Saraswati’,” quotes Doshi’s wife Mrs C C Doshi from a letter written in her husband’s praise. She adds: “Besides running his company Amar Dye Chemicals, he wished to pursue philosophy; this library will have no ‘chalu’ books.”
   The Jain religion is famous for its ‘extreme path’ (as opposed to Buddhism’s middle-path). The library reflects this austerity. But for a small picture of its founder, its never-ending walls boast only cabinets (iron and wood) with an endless collection of Jain literature. Gangaram, the Doshis’ Man Friday and library keeper, guides us through volumes of the Prabodh Gita (a Jain howto on religious and social fundamentals), abhinandan granths (long discourses on the philosophies of various Jain saints — published as ‘abhinandan’ per public appearance), Prashant Vayita (a Jain ritual guide book). Also, umpteen ancient and modern Jain philosophical debates in Gujarati, Hindi and English. And finally, the praths, or old papers tied together with slabs of wood or cloth on either side. “Some of these are over a thousand years old,” Mrs Doshi smiles. 
 
A Jain text

A Jain text

   Most of these books have been published by the Mandal itself. “But today no one prints copies,” Gangaram sighs. “Maybe because Jains today have little time for anything but business and puja. Who will read?” Mrs Doshi takes another view: “Today, who will understand such intense psychology?”
   Let’s end with an example from the same source. To follow its arguments, one has to hold reference points in memory for over four pages. “Is the relationship of the signifier and the signified identical with either the former or the latter,” it reads on the relationship between ‘word’ and ‘object’. “This is impossible as the relation has already been premised to be different from the related.” Is Socrates listening?

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:    http://alturl.com/y3rb

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