ARTICLE ON THE TRIBUNE SUNDAY AUG 07, 2005

 It is difficult to believe but it is true. Another Gandhi-like colossus has appeared on the scene. He speaks the language of the Mahatma. Gandhi could inspire a whole generation by his mantra of Ahimsa. Jain seer Acharya Sri Mahapragya’s unstinted efforts for peace, respect for all religions and promotion of non-violence through Ahmisa has inspired the present generation. His message is loud and clear: “The religion which does not bring about a change in man’s life, which does not impart peace to him, deserves to be thrown into the river Ganges rather than carried on as a burden on one’s shoulders. Rituals or idol worship alone are not enough unless one’s conduct also gets transformed. Unless one is righteous and honest, both to himself and others, and leads a value oriented life, he is not religious despite his proclamation”.

Honouring Acharya Sri with National Communal Harmony Award by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was indeed a tribute to his contribution to the promotion of communal harmony and national integration.

Acharya Mahapragya’s 4000-km-long ‘Ahimsa Yatra’ undertaken to douse the flames of Gujarat riots and spread the message communal harmony drew global attention and widely acclaimed. It passed through Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Starting the peace march from Rajasthan on a freezing morning of December, when the 82-year-old Acharya reached Gujarat, afflicted by a wave of communal violence, the temperature had soared to over 40 degrees. The Akashardham temple was attacked in the aftermath of the Godhra incident. Gujarat was undergoing the most traumatic experience at that time. Then, almost a miracle happened. Acharya’s message of communal amity had gone home and things started improving.

Then came the real test. The Jagannath Rath Yatra was to be taken out and the question on everybody’s lips was whether there would be recrudescence of violence. Should the Rath Yatra be aborted? Acharya Mahapragya came out with a clear answer: “This is a procession that has taken place every year for the past 112 years. To stop it this year would leave a negative impact on the minds of the people”.

He was so simple and clear that the procession was whole-heartedly welcomed by the Muslim community. After this success, the people of Gujarat began calling him a messenger of peace; the second Gandhi. Touched by the Acharya’s efforts, President Abdul Kalam met him. The then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and RSS Chief K.S. Sudarshan travelled to Gujarat and met the seer. For him, Ahimsa is not a mere slogan but a great mission. So impressed was the President with the Acharya that when the Ahimsa Yatra reached Mumbai, he met him twice.

Acharya Mahapragya’s message of non-violence even reached Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. He addressed a high-power delegation of Foundation for Unity of Religion and Enlightened Citizenship during a visit to Delhi. In a message to Pakistan President, the Acharya said, “Pakistan and India have similar problems and worries. We can only fight poverty, illiteracy and diseases rampant in our region, if our region is peaceful”. While praising the ‘Ahimsa Yatra’, President Musharraf hoped that it would come to Pakistan also to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony in his country.

Poet laureate Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ would call Acharya Mahapragya “second Vivekananda of India”. Described by his followers as “a living legend” and “mobile encyclopaedia”, the Acharya was born in 1921 at Tamkor, a small village in the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan. He became a monk at the tender age of 10. Under the guidance of Acharya Shree Tulsi, he got his education and proved to be a prodigy. Study of history, philosophy, logic and grammar made the foundation of his knowledge quite formidable. He also made an in-depth study of modern physics and Bio-sciences, Ayurveda, politics, economics and sociology along with the concepts of communism, socialism and capitalism. At the age of 59, he was appointed the successor-designate of Acharya Tulsi.

According to Acharya Mahapragya, the concept of war is first initiated in the minds of the people and it finds conclusion in the battlefield. Traits of violence too can be found in the mind. He believes that the right type of meditation can bring about a change in this trait. What is needed is a change in the mental attitude. He successfully applied this precept in Gujarat. An oft-repeated quote of the Acharya is: “When anger is conquered, the spirit of forgiveness springs in the soul”.