It is announced with immense joy that Pujya Acharya Shri Chandanaji Maharaj (fondly known as Pujya Tai Ma) has been bestowed the distinguished civilian honour of ‘Padma Shri’ by the Government of India on 25th January 2022. What a fitting 86th birthday tribute! In the history of the last 2,500 years, Pujya Tai Ma is not only the first female Acharya but now is the first Sadhvi who has been accorded Padma Shri. To be given this prestigious accolade is a proud moment for the entire Jain community!
Pujya Tai Ma is a remarkable, peaceful and compassionate soul, who has only one thing in her heart – ‘Friendship with all beings’. Whether it is to a small ant, to a bird, to a cow, to a child, to an adult man or woman, it does not matter! There is love and friendship with one and all! Pujya Tai Ma has dedicated her entire life to transforming the lives of underprivileged children, women and men through education, health care and rejuvenating disaster-stricken areas. This award is a testimony of Pujya Tai Ma’s humanitarian service touching millions of lives worldwide.
With humbleness, Pujya Tai Ma says that this award is for all her disciples and others who have wholeheartedly supported the cause of Veerayatan for the past fifty years.
Pujya Tai Ma spoke about Bhagwan Mahavir’s message of there being only one human race and how she has taken this divine message and applied this in all the work which is being undertaken by Veerayatan. She continued, ‘Without seeing any differences in caste, creed, religion and sect, we should do as much as we can to be each other’s allies. We are alive with the cooperation of nature, with the cooperation of others in this world. We don't grow food, we don't work in the fields, we don't make clothes, we don't build houses, but someone does all this for us and we just utilise it all. So, when we are alive due to the labour of others, then it is imperative that we should also try and become helpful to others.’
Pujya Tai Ma said that getting the Padma Shri was an honour, an honour for all those who have contributed to the work of Veerayatan, the Sadhvi Sangha, the Veerayatan committee and all the wonderful volunteers. She had one message for all of us, ‘Whenever you get any opportunity to do a small good deed, then do not let that opportunity pass by, do that good deed.’
Pujya Tai Ma also gave us this precious message, ‘A new idea that Dharma (religion) and Karma (actions) are not separate, they are both part of life. Just as a bird has two wings, Dharma and Karma are also part of human life, with both bringing perfection to life. Karma is incomplete without Dharma and similarly Dharma is incomplete without Karma. With these two, ascension in the flight of life can be achieved.’
It was Pujya Tai Ma’s 86th birthday on 26th January, India’s Republic day. The virtual program, wonderfully compered by Sadhvi Shri Shilapiji, was graced by renowned dignitaries, friends and disciples. All the dignitaries highlighted not only the work of Pujya Tai Ma but they also spoke of the unwavering resolve of Pujya Tai Ma, so strong that no dacoits, unruly environment, unfamiliar lands of Bihar and Kutch, struggles and impediments stirred this resolve even slightly. And they also mentioned how Pujya Tai Ma has moved forward only with friendship, love and compassion, regardless of race, caste, creed or religion.
One of the dignitaries, Brijesh Singh, Managing Editor from News 18 also applauded Pujya Tai Ma’s achievements as the first female Acharya of Jain society and the first Padma Shri Sadhvi of Jain community, and in taking Diksha at the age of just 14 years of age. He stated, ‘In the 1940's and 1950's, when women were not even allowed to leave the house, at that time you (Pujya Tai Ma) took initiation and started the work of service. In the 1970’s, when you would have been only 35 years old, it was not easy to work in Bihar, where there was an atmosphere of unrest and violence - doing the humanitarian work at that time is commendable.’
To watch and listen to all the speeches of the dignitaries: https://youtu.be/c-eNQN7HOEU
Every year Pujya Tai Ma’s birthday is celebrated in Rajgir by establishing an eye camp at Netra Jyoti Sewa Mandiram. This year was no different and despite many COVID restrictions, around 105 operations were performed. The target is for between 100-200 eye patients to be operated, free of any cost, once a month throughout 2022.
This year the children living in and around Rajgir, for whom a new school is being built, were given new outfits as a gift for Pujya Tai Ma’s birthday. Over the past year Pujya Tai Ma has been personally teaching around 200-300 destitute children who have no access to education.
Children of SCVP Jain school UK, produced some amazing, creative cards with beautiful messages, appreciating the qualities of Pujya Tai Ma and thanking her for her vision in opening the Jain school in the UK. One of the children from SCVP Jain School wrote the following for Pujya Tai Ma:
You are the light
That helps people without might
Your compassion is incomparable
Your life as great as a fable.
Love for everyone,
In equality and equanimity
You treat all with respect
With no animosity
Kindness and humanity,
Touching many lives,
A deeply caring soul,
Your love filling a dark hole.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts,
For helping us and sharing love with us all,
Happy Birthday Tai Ma!
- by Aarav Shah, 12 years old
On the occasion of Pujya Tai Ma’s birthday, Veerayatan Kenya together with Young Jain Nairobi organised a party for the children of the cerebral palsy unit. The children were treated with goodies and gift bags, which were donated by various well-wishers as well as a musical therapy drive, where the children danced and had much fun. Children also had their faces painted and wore balloon hats to create a beautiful and very colourful party atmosphere. The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves and had big smiles on their faces! It was an amazing moment for all!
This newsletter is dedicated to highlighting the noble work of Veerayatan in the field of education.
Providing education, without regard to caste, creed or religion, has been paramount as Pujya Tai Ma feels that this is the only way to break the cycle of generational poverty and dreadful lives that are hindered by disease, unhealthy living and outdated attitudes. When Pujya Tai Ma first set foot in Bihar, one of the very first activities she started was educating the local children, teaching them values and the importance of cleanliness and good hygiene.
Pujya Tai Ma’s motto is:
‘Where there is a temple, there must be a school!’
her aim being to create good quality schools at every Jain pilgrimage site!
In the last twenty years, seven educational centres have been established in Bihar (Pawapuri, Harikeshiya and Lachhuar), Gujarat (Kutch and Palitana) and, Rajasthan (Osian and Sanchore). To date 200,000 children and youth from impoverished rural areas have been educated in Veerayatan educational institutions whether these are primary schools, secondary schools or undergraduate degree colleges. The work of education in Nepal (Kathmandu) following the 2015 earthquake is also continuing.
Two more schools have been envisioned and are going to be built within the Veerayatan Rajgir campus. This will mean that the children in and around Rajgir will now have access to a good quality school without travelling a long distance. And this will be of immense benefit to the destitute children who have no access to education, with their parents struggling to provide for even one meal a day! To listen to Pujya Tai Ma’s vision for these schools: https://youtu.be/dqn9p9B5sPY
Pujya Tai Ma’s approach to education and learning is holistic. She understands that imparting education does not just mean building a physical structure. The achievement of all the Veerayatan primary and secondary schools is in:
The outstanding state-of-the-art schools, known as Tirthankar Mahavir Vidya Mandir, were established in the birthplace of Bhagwan Mahavir – Lachhuar - and in the nirvana place of Bhagwan Mahavir - Pawapuri. These well-equipped, CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) accredited schools have been a source of inspiration to many, inculcating high moral values along with formal academic education, thereby resulting in a reduction in crime rates, especially in Lachhuar. In Pawapuri, Tirthankar Mahavir Vidya Mandir has drawn hundreds of children off the streets where life revolved around begging and is educating them for a productive life ahead.
Pujya Tai Ma, determined to break the cycle of discrimination which is rife for children from the lowest of the low castes, Musahar caste, established Harikeshiya School in Pawapuri in 2017. These children, living in an appalling state and who have nothing, not even a pair of clothes and hardly any food to eat, are now given this amazing opportunity to change the course of their wretched lives!
Watch video on Harikeshiya school: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0DgOh-7dEk
For more information on the schools in Bihar, Click Here
Education in Kutch started from the day Pujya Tai Ma, along with her devoted Sadhvijis reached Kutch following the terrible earthquake in 2001. Initially working from make-shift tents, Veerayatan has now established amazing modern permanent centres of learning. Using a professional approach, Veerayatan has indeed created a revolution in the educational field in rural Kutch.
Veerayatan has primary and secondary schools in Jakhania for the rural children. Currently around 750 children are studying at the school with many children from single parent backgrounds being sponsored. A beautiful primary school in Rudrani village has allowed children of nomadic families to gain access to formal education for the first time in generations, free of any cost. The school has been pivotal in ensuring that girls are educated thus breaking the shackles of child marriages. At present around 400 children are studying in this school and and nutritious meal is provided to all children daily.
Modern hostel facilities are provided to those who would otherwise have no access to education near home, thus giving opportunities to the disadvantaged to escape the poverty trap.
For more information on the schools in Kutch, Click Here
Tirthankar Mahavir Vidya Mandir (TMVM) opened in 2017 for children from Palitana and the neighbouring villages with most of the children coming from the socially deprived Doliwalla and Bhilwas communities. Many of the children of the Doliwalla community, instead of going to school and being educated, were working to take the pilgrims to the temples on top of Shatrunjay hill. TMVM school is pivotal in breaking the cycle of extreme poverty and giving the opportunity for brighter futures! Further, particular emphasis has been placed to uplift and educate girls.
Education is not only about gaining academic knowledge, but the ethos of the school is to ensure that creativity is also developed in children. Activities which students get involved with include:
For more information on the school in Palitana, Click Here
In 2017 Veerayatan took over the running of two beautiful English medium schools in the rural areas of Osian and Sanchore, Rajasthan, where literacy rates are far below the national average. These schools have been transformed, now open to all without any distinction of caste, creed, religion or socio-economic background. These schools are providing high standards of education to underprivileged children who would otherwise not get an opportunity to be educated. Girls are encouraged to attend school and efforts are taking place to discourage child marriages. To improve access to the school, Veerayatan has school buses to transport children. This is so important as some children have to travel up to 25km one way to come to school each day!
Osian school has grown from 82 to 140 students and Sanchore school started with 176 students and now has 300 students. Academically the students have been doing very well. The parents and the children really appreciate the ethos of the school and are so happy and satisfied with the level of education provided.
Due to the lack of access to higher education in rural India, Veerayatan is committed in bringing professional education to rural areas to educate and train young people to become part of the professional workforce. This noteworthy initiative of Veerayatan is providing a boost to employment prospects for the youth in Bihar, Kutch and in Gujarat overall.
In Bihar, recruiting well-trained, knowledgeable and qualified teachers has been extremely difficult. Veerayatan, therefore, established in 2007 a B Ed College with the aim of training teachers not only to teach modern subjects but also to teach timeless values so that children become good citizens of the world and an asset to society.
Veerayatan has established excellent eco-friendly higher education institutions in Kutch offering undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes. Special scholarship schemes are offered to disadvantaged students in the college. These colleges include:
The Institute of Pharmacy, The Institute of Management and Computer applications and The Veerayatan Institute of Engineering, Research and Technology.
For more information on the colleges in Kutch, Click Here
Lachhuar School was up and running and hundreds of children from the Naxalite areas were studying there. I kept getting good reports of the progress of the school and the impact the school was making in this area which was tarnished by very high levels of crime. I remember it was the occasion of Mahavir Jayanti celebration when we happened to visit the Lachhuar School. The journey from Rajgir to Lachhuar was rather difficult and by the time we reached there it was evening…… To read more
Veerayatan’s work for the past 50 years has had a dramatic impact on thousands of lives. Transforming lives, building futures – here are stories of some children who has experienced this.
Nearly 9 years of age, Mahera could not walk, when her parents brought her to enrol at the Tirthankar Mahavir Vidya Mandir, Palitana School in June 2017. No other school was giving her admission because of her disability. She could neither read nor write! Recognising her needs, she was placed in a special class in which two amazing teachers gave individual attention to every special needs’ student. In no time at all, Mahera gained confidence and started walking to school without the assistance of her parents and she also started reading and writing. Not only this but she loves dancing and doing yoga at the school. With all this progress, Mahera was soon moved into the mainstream class. What a difference this school is making to children like Mahera……
Leelavanti, 14 years old, comes from a small village in Kutch. Her family and her whole village were severely affected by Covid 19, sadly leading to the death of her father. The departure of the head of the family is not easy, with all the lives of her family shattered. In this time of need, her mother heard of Pujya Tai Ma’s vision to support and educate all the children who have lost one or both their parents. Leelavanti now stays in the hostel in Veerayatan and attends the school in Jakhania. Currently Veerayatan is looking after 40 plus Covid-affected children who are all sponsored. Sadhvi Shri Shilapiji is working tirelessly to ensure that these children are consoled, they settle well in the hostel and their needs met and they are learning well at the school.