Death by fasting: Why sallekhana is rising among Tamil Jains

Jain monk Suprabhat Mathi Mataji who attained samadhi maran in Chennai recently.

A few months ago in Chennai, a 74-year-old Jain monk stopped eating food and taking fluids. As Sunamra Sagarji Maharaj’s human passions and body began to thin, people gathered around to watch, seek blessings and partake in the rituals. Nearly three weeks back, Sunamra Sagarji Maharaj attained ‘samadhi maran’ by way of sallekhana (santhara), a religious death through fasting.

A day later, his ailing disciple Suprabhat Mathi Mataji followed suit after undergoing sallekhana for more than a week. At least 18 Jains, including seven male and six female ascetics, have attained samadhi maran after undergoing sallekhana in Tamil Nadu since 2017 pointing to a trend of a rising number of Jains undergoing sallekhana in the state.

Scholars point to two reasons. One, after the Mahamastakabhisheka of the Bahubali Gommateshwara statue in Shravanabelagola (Karnataka) in 2018, many belonging to the Jain community from states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan started visiting the ancient Jain monuments and mutts in Tamil Nadu.

“The Mahamastakabhisheka is observed once in every 12 years. The Jains who visited the grand consecration in 2018 happened to visit the sites in Tamil Nadu as well. After seeing the ancient Jain sites where the ascetics once lived, a few decided to choose Tamil Nadu as an ideal place to observe sallekhana,” says P Rajendra Prasad, a Jain scholar. Although the trend began with the Mahamastakabhisheka in 2006, it attained momentum only after the grand consecration in 2018.

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