By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai: Last week, thousands of Jain families here and in Thane were pleasantly surprised to receive large, neatly packed flat boxes at their homes by courier.
The packets – some 136,000 of which were distributed with a gigantic 2 feet X 1 foot ornately printed invitation card – contained delicious almond halwa sprinkled with choicest dry-fruits. Besides, over 10,000 laddoos were distributed to Jains living in south Mumbai.
“These were sent to mark the commencement of the bi-centenary celebrations April 15 of the renowned Shri Godiji Parshvanath Maharaj Jain temple (SGPMJ), in Pydhonie, south Mumbai,” Surendra Savai, trustee and convener of the three-week long celebrations, told IANS.
The temple, with a chequered history, will May 1 complete two centuries of its existence and devotion of several generations of Jains in south Mumbai and other parts.
“Besides a series of religious, social and cultural programmes, we have organised a community lunch on an unprecedented scale in Mumbai and Thane districts. Over 800,000 Jains will enjoy an identical multi-course celebratory feast comprising aamras (fresh mango juice)- puri, vegetables, dhokla, corn-banana rolls, chapattis, rice, dal or curry and other accompaniments,” Savai said, reeling off the mouth-watering menu.
Though the main celebrations shall be held mostly in south Mumbai, the community feasting will be spread across 125 Jain centres.
For the community lunch, a whopping 150,000 kgs (1,500 tons) of mango juice has been ordered from different orchards in Maharashtra, besides 300 tons wheat flour, 240 tons Basmati rice, 100 tons dal, over 320 tons vegetables, 3000 large tins of oil, and thousands of tons of ghee, dhokla flour, fruits, pickles and chutneys.
“Keeping in mind ancient Jain tenets, all the food will be cooked and served fresh by a team of 125 chefs and 20,000 cooks. However, given the huge quantities, we have to make the preparations well in advance,” Girish Shah, a prominent Jain activist, philanthropist, environmentalist and head of Samast Mahajan trust, told IANS.
More than 200 years ago, the SGPMJ temple was first built as a teak wood structure in south Mumbai’s historic Fort area, now the commercial hub of the city.
According to legends, the 25-inch tall idol of Shri Godiji Parshvanath Maharaj was found in what is modern day Pakistan and brought to the erstwhile Bombay, already having a formidable reputation as a centre for domestic and international trade and commerce.
The venue was chosen since a majority of the Jains, residing in the seven islands which made up Bombay, were concentrated in Fort area, Savai said.
However, citing historical records, Shah said that over two centuries ago, a massive fire had engulfed the Fort area and raged for nearly four days.
“In those days, all houses and buildings were made of teak and other varieties of wood. They were reduced to ash. However, there is no authentic record available whether the SGPMH temple sustained damages,” he said.
Left homeless, the vast majority of the residents shifted around four kms to the north, in Pydhonie and surrounding areas which were not thickly populated in those days, Bombay’s total population spread across the seven isles was less than 500,000, according government records.
The idol of Shri Godiji Parshvanath Maharaj was installed in a tiny new wooden temple and worshipped in right earnest by the newly re-settled Jains in Pydhonie area.
Over the years, the growing city witnessed revolutionary changes – including the construction of India’s first railway line from Victoria Terminus (now, renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus-CST) to Thane, later a tramway to BEST buses, the development of Mumbai as one of the top business centres in south Asia, and influx of migrants from all over India.
Pydhonie and the localities became the hub of the city’s gold, silver, diamond, jewellery, hardware, iron and metals, cloth, grains, vegetables, fruits, automobile spares, plastics, pharmaceutical and other wholesale markets.
“As Bombay prospered and grew in leaps and bounds, these areas became heavily congested and continue to be so till today,” said Neena Gala, a Jain housewife who grew up in the area and is settled now in Dahisar after marriage.
It also represented the best of national integration with businessmen and people from different communities – Hindus like Maharashtrians, Gujaratis, Marwaris and other castes, Muslims like Dawoodi Bohras, Sunnis, Memons, Christians, Parsis, a sprinkling of Bengalis, Sikhs living in complete harmony since centuries.
In fact, the SGPMJ Temple is barely a few metres away from a sprawling mosque, which stands there since over a century.
Over four decades ago, the SGPMJ Temple trustees decided to go in for renovation of the temple. After much deliberations and views of experts, it was decided to renovate it from the foundation to the top, but without relocating the idol.
It was converted into a gleaming white and coloured carved marble edifice, standing out prominently among the ancient buildings looming around it and the renovations, costing around Rs.8 crore, is on the verge of completion.
Savai said that the 18-day celebrations kicks off April 15 (Sunday) and will end May 2 (total 18-days). The Government of India will issue a special Rs.5 commemorative stamp depicting the temple Tuesday (April 17).
“In addition to these, there will be many more programmes and events involving the Jain community and others through the 18-day celebrations to make it a historic occasion,” Savai promised.