We were welcomed at the Jain Samaj Manchester by Suresh Mehta, the Chair of Trustees at the temple. They are just building a large new annexe which has cost £1M. The centre was opened 18 years ago by Gerald Kaufman MP
Suresh showed us a picture of the huge temple complex at Palitana. Jains have 24 tirthinkaras in each time cycle, who have each reached nirvana. The first reached nirvana there
We moved into the temple room and rang the bell, as saw the statues of the three tirthinkaras that they have there: Mahavir , the 24th tirthanka 599 BC – 527 BC, Parshvanat the 23rd, born 877BC and Shantinath the 16th Tirthinkara.
Suresh spoke to us about the temple, the life of Mahavir and Jainism. He pointed out that he was talking about Mahavir’s version of Jainism as that is written down. Both Mahavir and Buddha came from Bihar and lived at more or less the same time, teaching very similar things. They walked everywhere, and many Jain priests and devotees will do the same today. 140 people took tiksha in 2016. They give up everything and live without possessions in the Ashram.
He explained that Jainism is built on three pillars:
- Ahimsa – non violence but taken to the extreme meaning not even thinking bad thoughts and including being able to forgive.
- Aparigrah – trying to live at a level of comfort, but not of excess. This leads to Jains being very generous.
- Anekantvad – there is no absolute truth, everyone is (potentially) right
Jainism follows a lunar calendar but add an extra month every fourth year. We are in the fifth of six segments of the current time cycle. During this period things will get worse. Suresh talked to us about how Jain beliefs and practices influenced the Hindu Mohatma Gandhi. Mahavir gave 5 rules for lay people to live by: ahimsa, truthfulness, not stealing, none aquisitionness, control over sexual desires.
Suresh talked a little bit about the Jain Community- they try to help the local community, and are open and pluralistic in their outlook. They started holding meetings in a hired school hall. Now they have 125 families. During the recent Paryushan celebrations ( a period of personal reflection), four people fasted for 8 days, no food and drinking only water during daylight. Suresh came from Kenya, where he lived next to the temple until he was 12.
On a Sunday evening, before a shared dinner, Gujarati hymns are sung. In July he flag on top of the shrine is changed in a special ceremony. Diwali is celebrated , as well as a Christmas party! The temple is like one you would have in a house, so this doesn’t need a priest to wash the idols each day and carry out other duties. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the temple is open and people can come and pray in a personal way.
We then moved on to the Sri Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara where we were met by Sukhbir Singh.
Having removed our shoes, covered our heads and washed our hands we went into the Diwan Hall. Sukhbir demonstrated how he would enter the prayer hall.
He gave us a quick overview of the history of Guru Nani Dev Ji and the founding of Sikhism, leading on to key beliefs and practices, including the five virtues, the Gurus and the Harminder Sahib. He talked about what happens at the gurdwara, both religious and cultural/community practices.
He explained that there are three pillars of Sikhism:
- Nama Jappo, praying to God.
- Vand Chako, share everything you have
- Kirat Karo, get what you can honestly through hard work.
A family who had just had a baby arrived straight from the hospital and we were able to listen as the granthi read a prayer from the Guru Granth Sahib. The first letter of the reading gave the family the start of the name, and they chose the name Ishtar. The granthi then prayed, for the baby and the family, including the blessing “bole so nihal”, “sat sari Amal” and we were blessed as the father offered us chocolates to show their thanks.
We finished off in the Langar Hall where we were served some delicious vegetarian pilau.