Mrs Varsha A Bakhai, January 2018 (London)
Palitana, one of the holiest places in Gujarat, is visited every year by thousands who climb up Mount Shatrunjaya to pay reverence to Bhagwan Rishabhdev, the first Tirthankar who meditated there. Here a new vision has begun to take shape, a vision of great significance and value for the future of Jain Dharma.
A new Veerayatan complex is being constructed where education will be intertwined with spiritual growth, with personal development whilst helping others in need. Thus, even as you enter the town of Palitana you are blessed with the presence of Veerayatan, with Acharyashriji’s photo blessing the town from a large billboard.
The first section already completed in the complex is the “Tirthankar Mahavir Vidya Mandir”. This school that has come to town offering free education to some 150 children aged between 4 and 10 years all belonging to local families, many of whom are working as “Doliwala” to take pilgrims up and down Mount Shatrunjaya,
The school set in the periphery of Palitana welcomes you with open arms. The clean crisp air, the outdoor play area, the greenery and the cleanliness. As you enter, there is sense of calm and belonging. The smiles of the children, the warmth of the teachers, a peaceful place where children can learn with love and joy, structure but also a sense of freedom combined with Jain principles. The children, full of hope, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose seem set for life with the educational and spiritual start Veerayatan gives them.
The school building
The Playground area with Shatrunjaya in the background
As I visit each class, what strikes me the most is the politeness of the children, their pride in showing me their work and the simple happiness that is evident in everything they do. Teachers willingly welcome an intrusive visitor and demonstrate their day’s work by getting the children to sing for me or showing me their workbooks. As I walk into a special needs class, a teacher explains to me the various Montessori like equipment being used to help a child using various teaching methods to make greater progress so they can join the normal class.
As I go upstairs I see a number of mums busy on the sewing machines learning to make dresses and blouses so they can also become self-sufficient.
The children’s syllabus encompasses not only academic subjects including English, but also arts and craft, physical exercise including yoga and Jain philosophy. The daily presence of the Sadhvijis has enriched the children’s lives with great role models. Each child bowed to me with a “Jai Jinendra” as they leave to go home, eagerly waiting to return the next day!
One of the teachers said to me that whilst giving feedback to one of the parents at a teacher parents evening, she was astounded when the parent said to her “I can now write my own name, you won’t need my finger print on the signature box”. The parent smiled proudly saying her son had taught her after learning to write at the school.
Since it’s opening in June 2017, the school has transformed, in leaps and bounds, the lives of these children and as it expands by offering secondary schooling, I await with great anticipation the young adults who will be inspired by the school.
I am already planning my next trip back to the school and I recommend it to anyone else also visiting Palitana. As the children grow, so will the complex housing the school and the small trees in the playground will become fully grown in the beautiful sunshine of Palitana.
One of the most satisfying things in life is being somewhere when seeds are beginning to take growth in people’s lives or in their school playground. That’s a special moment when we also recall that we too were once children growing in buildings just like these. And all of a sudden as we realise this, we connect with those innocent times in our past when being a child in a great school was one of the best experiences we could have.
Me with the Teachers and the School Head