On Nov. 12, the world celebrated the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji, an apostle of peace, harmony, coexistence and respect between all religions and human beings. Since the birth of Guru Nanak Devji, Jains and Sikhs have been working and walking together. There is much in common between the two faiths.
Jainism is one of the oldest and Sikhism among the youngest religions of the world; Sikhism is the fifth largest and Jainism the sixth largest in the world.
There is a lot of intertwining of Sikh and Jain history. About 2,600 years ago, Bhagwan Mahavir was born in Bihar and Jainism flourished there; Bihar, Patna in particular, was the site of a lot of Sikh history.
About 350 years ago, Salis Rai Johri, a prominent Jain in Patna, hosted Guru Teg Bahadur and his family while he was on his way to Assam. The wife of Guru Teg Bahadur, Mata Gujri, stayed with this Jain family for several years. In this Jain household Guru Gobind Singh (the 10th Guru) was born and raised till the age of six.
This Jain family donated a piece of land for a dharamshala which eventually became the Sri Patna Sahib Takht. This same Jain Johri also built a Jain Temple next door. The Jain temple and Sikh Gurudwara on the same land, next to each other, on the same campus, separated only by a simple wall, is a unique example of coexistence, respect and cooperation with each other.
Sikhs and Jains have never harmed, quarreled or destroyed each other’s places of worship. In Punjab, Jains attend Sikh colleges and Sikhs attend Jain Colleges. The Punjabi University, Patiala, has a Department of Jainology.
Together, the members of both faiths have made Ludhiana a hosiery capital of the world.
Some Jain monks have come from Sikh families and in Punjab, Jain sadhus often stay at Sikh homes and also get their gochari (food) from them.
Jains have served Sikh Maharajas in important positions. All Sikh Maharajas whether in Patiala, Nabha, Fridkot, Jind, or other states, employed Jains in trustworthy positions such as treasurer as they were known for their honesty.
Jains and Sikhs have not only co-existed but have provided safe havens for each other as, for example, during the 1947 migration from Pakistan in 1947 when protection was provided by a Jain acharya.
Diwali is celebrated on the same day by followers of both religions. For Jains it is the day when Bhagwan Mahavir got nirvana and for Sikhs it is when Guru Hargovind was released from the Gwalior Fort.
Unconditional Ahimsa is the core principle of Jains. Sikhs practice Ahimsa by Seva (service to others) to the needy and the practice of free langars.
Both Jains and Sikhs have no caste system and stand for equal rights and respect for all humans, including women.
Academic study of Jainism and Sikhism has significantly lagged behind other Indic religions in North America. This gap is being closed with the establishment of centers for Jain and Sikh Studies. The Takht Sri Patna Sahib is being emulated in the U.S. with Jain and Sikh Studies Chairs at the University of California in Irvine Riverside and Santa Barbara; Loyola Marymount University in LA; San Diego State University, San Diego; Claremont School of Theology in Claremont; Charles University in the Czech Republic; and in India at the International School for Jain Studies working with Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar. A comprehensive book on interdependence of Jain and Sikhs is being planned.
From Southern California comes a very inspiring example of working together: Five years ago, the Jain and Sikh community in Los Angeles established the first joint Center for Study and Teaching of Jainism and Sikhism at Loyola Marymount University. After a thorough search, Dr. Niranjan Kaur Khalsa, a Sikh scholar with a Ph.D. in Sikhism from the University of Michigan, was hired as the professor for this Center. Prof. Khalsa taught standalone classes in Jainism and Sikkim with separate syllabi. She taught both the religions with equal love, sincerity, passion, dedication and high scholastic content. A well liked professor, her classes were always full. She took her students each semester to the Jain and Sikh temples in Los Angeles.
By working together and learning from each other; these centers are working to tear down even the symbolic walls that separate them. We are sure there are hundreds of such opportunities all around us waiting to be explored and started.
“Water is the same in all. Only utensils are of different colors,” said Sant Kabir. Let us work together even more to learn from the beauty of each tradition and dismantle all the walls of hatred and mistrust.
Dr. Harvinder Singh Sahota,
Laguna Beach, Calif., and
Dr. Sulekh C. Jain,
Las Vegas, Nevada