The Great Grandma


--Vipul Shaha, Baramati.  February  09, 09.

We normally like to share our stories of joy, happiness, achievements and progress.  Today, I write you on a rather sad note.  My great grandma passed away a couple of days ago.  I feel that her story ought to be shared so that it may inspire others as it continues to inspire me.

‘Maa’ as we used to fondly call her, left for heavenly abode at the age of 96.  For a Jain, it is highest achievement to be able to leave this body while in a state of complete consciousness, peace, zero craving and aversion and out of pure voluntary will.  The Jain philosophy believes that one who masters the art of dying masters the art of living.  It aims at breaking the bondage that arises from the cycle of life and death.  We call it ‘Sallekhana’.  Maa approached her death with utmost calmness.  She was chanting Jain mantras right until the last moment of her life.  Since Diwali last year (Nov 08) she had been taking only liquid diet and was gradually reducing her intake.  A day prior to her death, she was given a ‘Niyama Sallekhana’--a self rule that binds a person to one place.  A few hours before her death, she accepted a ‘Yama Sallekhana’—a voluntary renunciation of possessions, and food of all kind (including water).  She was determined not to take any modern medications except select Ayurvedic ones.  Her resolve was so firm that when just two days before her death, she was put on an artificial oxygen supply, she refused to take it.   Since long ago she had told the family members about her wish that she does not want to be hospitalized come what may. 


Of many things that make her an extraordinary human being is the fact that despite all the prosperity and wealth in her family (she was married into one of the most famous gold merchant families of Maharashtra—the Sarafs of Baramati), her life was all about simple living and serving others.  She, at a young age of 23, along with her husband took the vow to observe Brahmacharya—a voluntary observance of chaste life and control over senses.  An equally remarkable is the fact that she observed more than 2600 absolute fasts in her life—that is almost one tenth of her life was spent without taking any food—not even water.  No need to say that it requires tremendous willpower and self-control. 
Her life was a living example of an ideal practitioner of a religion.  An aura of love, compassion, self-less service and peace surrounded her.  It was almost a divinely experience to spend even few moments in her presence.    Starting the day at 4 am, regular practise of meditation three times in a day, taking only one meal in the afternoon, no food after the sun-set, absolute fasting four days in a month, regularly reading the Jain scriptures by herself....are but a few aspects of her life that show her discipline and devotion.  All her life, she served others—those in need, her grandchildren (who lost their mother at a very early age) and most importantly the countless Jain monks who came by her town.    Even at this age, she preferred to cook her own meals and contribute in the household chores.  The Jain community in Baramati held her in high respect and sought for her wisdom on various matters of community and religious engagement. 


To me, her life remained somewhat mystique.  Personally, I do not follow Jainism the strict way that it should be followed. I do follow the normal simple rules of vegetarianism etc. but I could never fully understand the practices and principles with which our 'maa' used to practice religion.  I am sure they have a deep meaning.  What I do understand is that rare are such extraordinary human beings to find in these times of inner and outer turbulence.  Religion, for her, was a way of life, an expression of humanity in every action.   What inspires me about her is the amount of faith and discipline put in every little thing that she did.  I only pray for the courage to live up to the legacy which she has left behind. 

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