Vihar in Rural India

Spirituality has been a part of my existence and as I grow older I’ve had the inclination to delve into it more. Vihar has always fascinated me. Our Jain Monks are allowed to stay at one place only during the monsoon months. The rest of the eight months they must travel by foot, from place to place, to ensure no attachment to materialistic things like people or place. Till now I had just been a bystanders watching the monks walking through our towns & cities and always wondered what their life must be all about. How they planned their route, food or a place to stay the night.

I have been a close follower of Param Pujya Acharya Hemvallabhsuri Maharaj Saheb (Marasaheb) for some years now. To get an audience with him was tough and I wanted to spend time in his presence, experiencing his aura and imbibing his thoughts. I had heard that during Vihar it was possible to do that and jumped when one such opportunity came my way.

My journey started in the small town of DHAMNAGAR, GUJARAT. I arrived there by 1p.m. but got held up in a call. The person who was supposed to receive and host me waited patiently for an hour and a half, till my call was over. I didn’t realize the repercussions this had. The entire family waited to have their lunch, including the domestic animals. A family with such humble means, yet I was overwhelmed by their warm, respectful, hospitality and chided myself for having kept them waiting. After a marvelous lunch I joined Marasaheb by foot to the next village 14 km away.

We were a party of five – two monks, two disciplines intending to take diksha, and myself. It was such a surreal feeling being part of the Vihar. Through the 14km walk to SURNIVAS I looked at the landscape around us from a totally different perspective. I was in no hurry and had enough time to take in the surroundings. The scenery kept changing footstep by footstep. I saw laborers and vehicles pass by and found myself introspecting on my own life. Driving in a car rushing from meeting to meeting I had never thought about those walking on the road. I wondered now, why these vehicles went by so fast and did they ever observe our small group and what our mission was? Did they ever feel like stopping and enquiring? Me! in my car I had never done that. My life had been so harried that I had possibly missed that bright flower growing by the dusty road, because I was too busy to even acknowledge it’s existence.

We saw a transmission tower in the distance and Marasaheb pointed out that the tower indicated that our village was a few kilometres away.

Arrangements had been made in a semi constructed temple at SURNIVAS. I looked around and wondered how I would be able to sleep there in the bitter cold. By then the monks has started their evening prayers called Pratikraman. How did they have the energy to do it and that too on Aayambil*. Mind you I had only walked 14km in the second half while Marasaheb had done 12km in the first half of the day. He showed no signs of tiredness.

I knew I would not be able to sleep at the temple, it was bitter cold and was relieved when the person in charge invited me home. What hospitality I experienced. He made a hot cup of tea, asked me to take a hot bath knowing how tired I was, handing me a fresh towel. Then we went back to the temple and I could not stand there for even five minutes. The tiredness and cold just enveloped me.

I took leave from Marasaheb and went back to the gentleman’s home. Requested the lady of the house for a blanket, which I felt was too thin, so she gave me an additional shawl. Refused dinner, went into the pooja room assigned to me and flaked out. I don’t remember having slept so soundly in years. The next day woke up early, freshened up, met Marasaheb at the temple and started our journey at 6.45a.m.

We walked a stretch of 7km and reached PARVADI. PARVADI had a Jain temple but no Jains, all had migrated. The temple was managed by a Hindu poojari. Marasaheb advised us to break journey there after the morning pooja. The poojari had made arrangements at his home for breakfast. His wife was away at a wedding, nonetheless he and his children took care of us so lovingly. A sumptuous breakfast was served – upma, mung, khakra and the best tea I’ve ever had. While conversing with the youngsters I learnt that their school only offered arts and commerce. It really surprised me as to why science was not being taught. After breakfast, I was dropped by vehicle to join Marasaheb, who had already left an hour earlier. Since the roads were in poor condition he suggested going at a slower pace, and we together covered another 7km to reach DUDHALA.

At DUDHALA, our stay was arranged at a school, with a strength of 300 students. The school incharge was entrusted with the job of taking care of us. He had cooked a lovely lunch, including for Marasaheb. And was deeply offended when Marasaheb refused to eat. It took a bit of convincing to explain to him that Jain Monks had to obtain food via alms. Food must never be cooked for them as it adds to their Karma and they must partake of leftovers.

At the school while talking to the incharge I learnt the shocking truth as to why small villages in India offered only arts & commerce. He said that while on one hand a minimum of 48 students were required for the government to begin the science stream. On the other hand these children came from such impoverished families their parents didn’t even know what a science education was.  Most kids opted for arts, so even commerce was not a preference. I was at a loss for words. Majority of the youngsters living in our villages didn’t have access to science education. Since there was no demand there was no supply. This indeed spoke of a very bleak future for our country. Besides, I had learnt such an impactful reality only by accident. How little I knew about my own land and its workings.

I also learnt that there were only 3 teachers assigned for 300 students. The incharge had fought for two more. An additional two were employed through donations. We complain of a 1:50 student teacher ratio in our urban schools. Here the entire school had just 3 teachers +2 +2 thanks to the initiative shown by the incharge. It was Republic day and I met 70 boarders, 50 boys and 20 girls. There was major jugaad** going on using an old TV, a pen drive, a CD and someone’s mobile internet to download the movie ‘Bhuj’.

The enterprising kids failed at their experiment but I was so amused by their innocence and enthusiasm.

We are so used to seeing any movie or show at the click of a button. Here these kids went through an entire day attempting to watch a single movie.

We rested for a while, had tea, the incharge gave me some local treatment for my leg which was hurting and we left. Walking another 7km more we finally reached GHETIPALI the foothills of PALITANA. That day I had walked a total of 21km for the first time in my life.

The next day Marasaheb wanted to climb the PALITANA hill but I took his leave at the foothills because by now my leg had swollen up.

The journey over the two days gave me so much. First and foremost I was at peace. On the spiritual side, I truly felt enriched in the presence of this great monk and my conversations with him. He was an epitome of patience, yet told me that whatever time I had left, I must continue working for the betterment of others. Marasaheb also left me with a valuable insight. He said whatever happens, happens because of the combination 5 factors. Your efforts contribute 20%, 20% comes from your karma, 20% is the timing, 20% comes your character. Althought the remaining 20% comes from your destiny, it is destiny that decides the balance of the earlier 4 factors. So if things go your way, know that it came from a combination of the above and if they don’t, accept it, because only 20% was in your hands. I also appreciated his keenness to learn about technology.

On the facts I learnt first hand, it had been my long standing belief that sports and technology would lead India to success. Now this belief had considerably altered. Our country badly needs education. A shift from only vernacular medium to also introducing English, Science education a must with a larger focus on Commerce and a far better student teacher ratio. With 60% of our people living in villages and India boasting a young population, it was difficult to fathom the reality. Facts really hit you like a ton of bricks don’t they? No wonder Gandhi was known as the Father of the Nation. He did the unthinkable and impossible by travelling the length and breadth of the country. Only by living in the hinterlands of India could he understand what made her tick and what her problems were.

*Aayambil – An austere form of living allowing only one meal a day devoid of dairy, oil, fruit, dry fruit, vegetables, salt, spices or sugar.

**Jugaad – flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way. Countries around the world are beginning to adopt jugaad in order to maximize resources.

Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah

Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust ( and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore.


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