The complete facts of the Antriksh Parshwanath Dispute
More than 350 years ago, a Jain monk, Shri Yashovijayji Maharaja composed a beautiful stavan (devotional hymn) dedicated to Shri Antriksh Parshwanath, which included the following lines -
कोड़ी देव मिलके न कर सके , एक अँगूठ रूप प्रतिचंद,
ऐसो अद्भुत रूप तिहारो , बरसत मानु अमृत के बून्द ,
जय ! जय ! जय ! जय ! पास जिणंद ,
अंतरिक्ष प्रभु ! त्रिभुवन तारण, भविक कमल उल्लास दिणंद !
Translated, it would mean -
“Even if the aura of a billon celestial beings be combined together, they would not be able to match even an ounce of your beauty!, Witnessing your divine beauty feels as if drops of nectar were falling from the heavens! O Lord Antriksh Parshwanath! Glory be to thee!”
After reading the above lines, one may wonder how beautiful was the idol of Antrikshji Parshwanath, which led Shri Yashovijayji to pen such a beautiful hymn. The divine idol which is said to be so miraculous that it floats mid-air is, however the centrepiece of a lethal dispute between the two Jain sects: the Shwetambars and the Digambars, both of whom claim possession of the deity. Looking at the current state of the idol, one wonders do the devotees really love their lord or just want to take control and ownership?
|The current condition of the divine idol of Antriksh ji Parshwanath|
Today, the derelict temple is surrounded by more policemen than devotees, which shows how an internal war between 2 sects can completely ruin an age old ancient pilgrimage. While the badly ruined idol remains locked up in the sanctum, only 2 pujaris (one of each sect) are allowed to conduct a daily Aarti while others are allowed to have a glimpse of the idol from a window situated at a distance. How did this happen? While it is very difficult to answer that, I try to provide the historical facts and the timeline of the entire dispute below-
|The Dilapidated temple of Antrikshji Parshwanath|
Timeline of Antriksh Parshwanath Jain Temple Dispute
1. Shri Antriksh Parshwanath, an ancient pilgrimage was highly revered by the Jain community. It was believed that this idol was built by Vidyadhar Raja (Husband of Ravan’s sister) and was the 3rd oldest Jain idol in the entire cosmos.
2. 1142 AD- The idol was found immersed in a well by the king of Achalpur named Shripal, who was cured of his illness by consuming its waters. With the help of celestial being Dharnendra, the idol was extracted from the well and was taken to Shripal’s kingdom for installation. However, against the orders of Dharnendra, the King looked back at the chariot (in which the idol was being carried) making the idol immovable and suspended midair in the town of Shirpur. Seeking guidance from Dharnendra, the hovering idol was installed in a newly constructed temple by Acharya Shri Abhaydevsuri Maharaja. It is believed that the idol floated 7 fingers above the ground, giving it the name of ‘Antriksh Parshwanath’.
The tirth even finds a name in the following Shwetambar scriptures-
6. 1867 – Antriksh Parshwanath temple was renovated and rebuilt. It was mentioned that the idol floated only 1 finger above the ground.
7. 1877 – An inscription on the Silver Dhwajj Dand (flag pole) mentions that the new flag pole was installed by the Shwetambar Jain community.
The tirth even finds a name in the following Shwetambar scriptures-
- Sakal Tirth Vandana Sutra
- Vividh Tirth Kalp by Acharya Jinaprabh Suri (13th Century)
- Kalikacharya Katha by Acharya Dharmaghosh Suri (14th Century)
- Shri Antriksh Parshwanath Chand by Lavanyavijayji (15th Century)
- Updeshtarangini by Gani Ratnamandir (16th Century)
- Hirsaubhagya Mahakavya by Acharya Devvimal Suri
- Chaturvinshati Jin Stuti by Acharya Shilratna Suri
- Purushadani Parshwadevnam Mala by Acharya Khushal Vijay Suri
- Gurjar Kavya Sanchay by Atmanand Sabha
- Prachin Tirth Mala Sangrah by Yashovijay Granthmala
- Antriksh Parshwanath Stotra by Anandvardhan Muni
- Tirthmala by Samaysundarji
- 108 holy pilgrimages of Lord Parshwanath.
The Tirth also finds a name in the following Digambar scriptures -
- Nirvan Kaand
- Apabhransh Nirvan Bhakti by Bhattarak Udaykirti
- Tirthvandana by Shri Gunkirti ji,
- Tirthvandana by Shri Meghraj ji,
- Tirthvandana by Shri Sumatisagarji,
- Tirthvandana by Shri Gyansagarji,
- Tirthvandana by Shri Jaysagarji etc.
4. 1658 AD – Ganivarya Shri Bhavvijayji, a Shwetambar monk, recovered his eyesight by just singing a hymn in front of the idol. Under his guidance, the temple was renovated and the idol was reinstalled on Chaitra Sud 6 (as per Antriksh Parshwanath Stotra)
5. 17th century – Due to migration of Jain population from Shirpur, the Maratha empire appointed Polkars (a local Marathi clan) to maintain the temple (in order to protect the shrine from the Mughal attacks).
7. 1877 – An inscription on the Silver Dhwajj Dand (flag pole) mentions that the new flag pole was installed by the Shwetambar Jain community.
8. 1881 - The Imperial Gazeteer of India published by the British Empire mentioned that the temple of Antariksh Parshwanath Bhagwan at Shirpur belonged to the Digambar community of Jains.
|Painting depicting the temple of Shri Antriksh Parshwanath|
9. 1901 – In course of time the Polkars, began to assert their rights to management of the temple which led to disputes between Polkars and Jains. Although Shirpur had no Shwetambar Jain residents, 50 families of Digambar community resided in the town. As a result of this, the devotees belonging to the Shwetambar and Digambar sects came together to oust the Polkars by filing a case in the District court.
10. 1903 –The Court held that the Jain Community was in exclusive possession of the property of Shri Antariksh Parshwanath Maharaj Sansthan and accordingly the Polkars were directed to hand over possession of the property to the Panchas of the Jain community. However, the court asked the Jain community to settle with the Polkars as their employee rights could not be waived away. The Jain community settled the case with Polkars and the following points were decided -
- 4 Polkars to be employed for cleaning/ maintenance of the temple
- A salary of Rs. 261/- p.a. to be paid to each of them
- Any currency deposited between Re. 1 to Rs. 10/- in the Bhandar (Donation box) to be handed over to Polkars. Any currency higher than Rs. 10/- to be deposited in the Temple trust.
11. 1905 & 1906- Following the settlement of dispute with Polkars, the Trust board included the Panchas which included both the Shwetambar Jains and Digambar Jains. In due course, both the communities started offering puja at the temple as per their ritualistic practices which led to disputes. Meetings were called for resolution of the dispute and following points were decided and agreed by both the communities-
- A time-table was formed wherein 4 time slots of 3 hrs each were given to the Shwetambars and Digambars for making their offerings (i.e 2 slots for both).
- On the occasion of (Shwetambar) Paryushan only one slot was given to Digambars (6 AM -9 AM). On other time slots, the idol was to be worshipped as per Shwetambar Traditions.
- On the occasion of (Digambar) Daslakshan only one slot was to be given to Shwetambars (6 AM -9 AM). On other time slots, the idol was to be worshipped as per Digambar Traditions.
- On the day of Kali Chaudas (day before Diwali) only one slot was to be given to Shwetambars (6 AM -9 AM). On other time slots, the idol was to be worshipped as per Digambar Traditions.
- On the day of Diwali only one slot was to be given to Digambars (6 AM -9 AM). On other time slots, the idol was to be worshiped as per Shwetambar Traditions.
- Members belonging to both the sects could do Darshan at any time of the day
|Time table for Puja of Shri Antriksh Parshwanath|
12. 12th February 1908 – Shwetambars initiated the process of Lep (plastering of the idol to repair it) in agreement with Digambars. Kalyanchand Lalchand Yewalkar was hired to undertake the job. Under the directions of Kalyanchand it was alleged that the artists who were to apply the plaster started making unauthorised additions and alterations to the idol and with a view to create and establish that it was an idol of Shwetambar sect. The difference between the two sects is that the Digambar Jains worship a totally nude idol while the Shwetambar worship an idol with a Kati-Sutra and Kachota. (a piece of clothing wrapped around the lower half of the body). Digambars objected to it and removed (the carvings) of Kati-sutra & Kandora with iron rods causing damage to the idol (The same was proved in the inspection notes made by Additional District Judge, Akola dated 24th June 1913). In response, the Shwetambars filed a case against Digambars for the complete possession of the idol and temple. More than 600 evidences were produced by Shwetambars to prove their ownership rights. The Shwetambars also produced evidences of various jewelry and ornaments gifted to the idol since the past many years proving their point as the Digambars do not decorate their idol with ornaments and jewelry.
13. March 1908 - Digambars filed a counter appeal against Shwetambars stating that-
- Shwetambars had wrongly framed the case. The temple belonged to Digambar community, so the complete possession of the temple had to be granted to the Digambars
- As the Shwetambars had agreed to the time-table (with Digambars) in 1905, absolute right of ownership could not be granted to Shwetambars
14. 11th February 1910 – The Additional District Judge, Akola delivered a 40-page judgement stating that-
- The temple and idol pertained to the Shwetambar community but as the Shwetambars had agreed to the time-table (with Digambars) in 1905, absolute right of ownership could not be granted to any sect.
- The Katisutra and Kachota were present on the idol before the Lep and Shwetambars had not added it later (as alleged by Digambars).
- Both the sects to observe the points agreed upon the Time Table set in 1905
- As the person who had defaced the Katisutra from the idol had not been identified and caught, no one could be held guilty for the same.
- Shwetambars had the right to conduct Lep and add Chakshus (eyes) to the idol and decorate it with Tika, Mugat (Crown) and Aangi.
- To protect the religious beliefs of Digambars, the Shwetambars were instructed to make the Katisutra and Kandora thinner.
- Digambars were asked not to obstruct on Kati-Sutra made by Shwetambars.
15. 1916 – The book, "Descriptive Lists of Inscriptions in the Central Provinces and Berar" published during the year mentioned that the temple belonged to the Digambar Jain community.
16. 17th July 1918 – For complete ownership of the idol & temple, Shwetambars filed an appeal at Judicial Commissioner, Nagpur.
17. 1st October 1923 – Judicial Commissioner, Nagpur court delivered the following judgement-
- “We declare that the Swetambaris are entitled to the exclusive management of the temple and the image of Shri Antariksha Parshwanath Maharaj at Kasbe Shirpur, with Katisutra, Kardora and Lape, and that they have the right to worship that image with Chakshu, Tika and Mugut and to put ornaments over the same in accordance with their custom.
- That the Digambaris have a right of worshipping the image in accordance with the arrangement made in 1905 without Chakshu, Tika and Mugut or ornaments, but are not to remove or interfere with the Kachota, Katisutra and Lape; we also declare that the Digambaris Sect are permanently restrained from obstructing the Swetambaris Sect in getting the image restored to its original form adorned with the Kachota, Katisutra and plastering the same now and hereafter”
18. 1923 – Dissatisfied with the court ruling, Digambars filed an appeal against the Judgement at the Privy Council (the highest Court during British Empire)
19. 1924 – As the idol had become very damaged, the Shwetambars initiated the process of Lep. The Digambars went to the court for a stay order which was refused. After the Lep process was completed, some members from the Digambar sect, allegedly poured boiling milk over the idol due to which the Lep got damaged.
20. 9th July 1929 –Privy Council ruled that the management of the temple should continue with the Shwetambars confirming the decree passed by the Judicial Commissioner's Court, Nagpur as the key witness Kalyanchand was absent from the proceedings. The Privy council added that the parties should continue to worship the idol according to old time table and asked both parties to maintain harmonious relations.
21. 1934 – Shwetambars initiated the process of restoration of the idol. Digambars objected to it and filed a fresh appeal against Shwetambars in Akola District Court stating that the privy council judgement had not clearly mentioned what would be the size and shape of Kati-Sutra and when could the process of Lep be initiated.
22. 11th January 1937- Akola Court dismissed the appeal. Aggrieved by the order, the Digambars moved to High Court. The High Court reordered the Lower court (Akola Court) not to dismiss the appeal and to decide on the size and shape of Kati-Sutra and Kachota.
23. 13th September 1944- Akola District court decided the following-
- Kati-Sutra’s width was to be of 1 inch. It should cover the waist of the idol in a semicircle with a width of 1/3rd of an inch.
- Kachota was to be of 2 inches in the beginning and 2.5 inch at the end.
- The authority of when to conduct Lep was to stay with Shwetambars and Digambars could not to object to it.
- When the lep was under process, Digambars were prohibited from making any offering until the Lep dried completely.
24. December 1944- Shwetambars initiated the process of Lep. Prior Advertisements were carried out in local newspapers by Shwetambars giving intimation about the Lep. Digambars objected to the process and filed a case in the Nagpur High Court against the plastering as they believed that the idol was made out of stone (and not sand & cow dung as stated by Shwetambars).
25. 8th July 1947 – British Judge, R.T. Pollock delivered the judgement in favour of Shwetambars and stated that Digambars were trying to delay the case on purpose. The court ordered Digambars to pay all costs to Shwetambars incurred by them w.r.t. the case. Aggrieved by the order, Digambars filed a Special Appeal for a stay order in the Nagpur High Court.
26. 17th March 1948 – Nagpur High Court dismissed the appeal and allowed the Shwetambars to carry on the Lep process.
27. 3rd October 1948 – Shwetamabars start the process of Lep which was completed on 13th November 1948.
|Idol of Shri Antrikshji Parshwanath after the lep (during Shwetambar rituals)|
|Idol of Shri Antrikshji Parshwanath after Lep (during Digambar rituals)|
28. 1949-1959 – Both sects peacefully conducted their offerings as per the agreed time-table.
29. November 1959 – The Shwetambars re-initiated the process of Lep as the condition of the idol had deteriorated in the previous 10 years. Accordingly, a retired sessions judge was appointed 'Lep commissioner' and along with two observers from each Shwetambar and Digambar sects, watched sculptors from Gujarat as they went about their work. The progress was meticulously documented every chip of plaster was sealed in a bag. After a certain stage, the Swetambars declared that the work of deplastering the idol was over and that replastering should begin. However, the Digambars insisted that deplastering go on as they were certain that the original form of idol when laid back before the world would prove their point. It was alleged by the Digambars that when the existing plaster was removed and it was found that idol was a Digambar idol and not Shwetambar idol. It was alleged by the Digambars that the idol is made out of a stone and not out of sand and that would also show that the idol is totally nude and belongs to Digambar sect. This allegation led to various disputes which took a violent turn forcing the Government to intervene and put a cage round the idol to protect it from its own devotees.
|The idol of Shri Antrikshji Parshwanath Bhagwan placed inside a cage. (Dated 26th January 1960)|
30. 1960- Subsequently, the Digambars instituted a civil suit in the Court of Civil Judge, Senior Division, at Washim to put a stay on the plastering and to declare that the judgement by Privy Council was obtained by fraud by the Shwetambars. The court case lingered on in the High Court and the Judge personally visited the Antriksh Parshwanath Temple to see whether the idol required Lep or not. Without Puja clothes, the Judge entered the Garbha Gruh (Sanctum) and scraped the idol with his nails to see the condition. On witnessing Sand particles inside his nails, the Judge observed that the necessity of plaster for this idol was obvious.
31. 1967-1969 - Both the sects, viz. Digambars and Shwetambars appointed a committee of Panchas, i.e. 5 eminent people namely Shri Babasaheb Naik, Shri Vinaykumar Parishar (M.L.C. & President of the Akola Municipal Council), Shri Jethmalji Maheshwari (M.L.C., Pusad), Shri Shriramappa (Pusad) and Shri Ramrao Zanak (M.L.A.) to suggest a way forward. The committee visited the temple in July 1967, October 1967 and February 1968 and made the following observations -
- Against the judgement of the Privy Council, the Digambars had placed various new articles and inscribed on the walls of the temple - "Digambar Sansthan"and "Digambar Vedi"
- The Digambars had installed new idols in the first and second cellars which were not present during previous visits.
- The original chatra above the main idol had been replaced.
- The idol of Padmavati Devi was found removed from its original place
This report was sent to the Govt. of Maharashtra to improve matters, but no major action was taken.
32. 1977 - Digambars filed a revision application in the Bombay High Court to remove the plaster on the idol as seen at end of November 1959. It was contended by the Shwetambars that the Digambars sought to convert the idol and temple into Digambar idol and temple which is prohibited by Section 3 read with Section 4 of the Places of Worship Act. The Digambars denied the allegations and stated that it was already a Digambar temple, therefore there was no question of converting it.
33. 22nd April 1981 – Continuing disputes, skirmishes and violent attacks between the Shwetambars and Digambars forced the Government to lock the temple.
34. 1991 - The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 came into effect to maintain the status quo and not to convert any place of worship at all. It is was declared that the religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day.
35. 8th March 2007 – Mumbai High Court abated the suit and declared that –
- The first round of litigation, i.e. Privy Council came to end in 1929. The new litigation commenced in 1960 and as on 15th August 1947 no litigation was pending.
- Findings showed that in 1947 the plaster on the idol already had the Kati-Sutra and Kachota. The court stated that one cannot say by certainty that prior to the period whether the idol was nude or not.
- Digambars wanted the primafacie character of the idol to be changed which would lead to the conversion, if at all the idol is found to be Digambari upon removal of the plaster. However, the law did not permit that as Section 3 of the Places of Worship Act 1991 which prohibited any kind of conversion or alterations on the status idols post its character as on 15th August 1947.
36. 5th April 2007 - The matter was referred to Supreme Court whose proceedings are underway (23 Hearings till 12th February 2020. Next Hearing will be held on third week of April 2020). While we do not know, what judgement will be delivered by the Supreme Court, I revisit some lines which I had posted in one of my earlier articles on Kesariyaji Tirth which faces a similar fate–
We must start loving our lord and stop dividing ourselves on the basis of beliefs. Where there is love, there are no differences, where there is love, there are no disputes, where there is love, there is only faith and devotion, which is selfless and unconditional. It is time we understand the meaning of true devotion as Shri Rakeshbhai Jhaveri puts it beautifully:
“To understand devotion, you must at least know what love is. He who has not loved in life, has never been in even worldly love, cannot understand the divine love either. Whatever love energy has manifested in you, pure or impure, direct it at the feet of God. Love when directed towards the dispassionate one cannot remain impure; it soon sheds off its impurities. It becomes pure, and gets transformed into devotion. In fact, while loving God, love increases in quality and quantity and eventually this devotion transforms into supreme devotion, oneness with the divine”
I conclude this post by quoting a few lines from one of the most beautiful prayers:
“भेद वो तो किसी में नहीं देखता , चाहता है वो सब में रहे एकता,
उसको इंसान बन कर दिखाएंगे हम , क्या हुआ बन न पाए अगर देवता ,
जिसने दी है हमें भावना, मन ऊसी की करो प्रार्थना"
|The badly damaged idol of Antriksh Parshwanath|
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