On Nov. 12, 2019, the whole world celebrated the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, an apostle of peace, harmony, coexistence and respect between all religions and human beings. On the same day, India and Pakistan inaugurated the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor connecting the two holiest Sikh shrines in India and Pakistan. This has already enabled thousands of devotees to go freely to the holy places easily.
Jainism is one of the oldest and Sikhism the youngest religions of the world. In terms of population Sikhism is the 5th largest and Jainism the 6th largest in the world. Both religions are in the minority in India.
There is so much in common between Jainism and Sikhism. Since the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Sikhism, Jains and Sikhs have been working and walking together. This is a living and true example of interfaith dialogue, inter-dependence, co-existence, respect, cooperation, sharing, caring and helping each other.
In this brief article, we provide a quick glimpse of this rich and impressive history.
Much of the history of Jains and Sikhs are inter-twined. About 2,600 years ago, Bhagwan Mahavir was born in Bihar and Jainism flourished in Bihar. Patna (Bihar) is where a lot of Sikh history was made. Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Govind Singh Ji lived in Patna. Guru Govind Singh Ji was born in Patna.
About 350 years ago Salis Rai Johri, a prominent Jain in Patna, hosted Guru Teg Bahadur Ji (Sikhs’ 9th Guru) and his family on his way to Assam. The wife of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, Mata Gujri, stayed with this Jain family for several years. In this Jain household Guru Govind Singh Ji (the 10th Guru of Sikhs) was born and grew up to the age of 6.
Later this Jain family donated a piece of land for the dharamshala and eventually the Sri Patna Sahib Takht (a Sikh holy place and place of worship) was built there. 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 in the same campus just separated by a simple wall are a unique example of respect for 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. Jains and Sikhs working together made Ludhiana a hosiery capital of the world. Some Jain sadhus/monks have come from Sikh families and, in Punjab, Jain sadhus often stay at Sikh homes and also get their gochari (food) from them. Punjabi University Patiala has a Department of Jainology.
Jains served Sikh Maharajas in important positions. All Sikh Maharajas in their ruled states in Punjab (Patiala, Nabha, Fridkot, Jind, etc.) employed Jains in very important and trustworthy positions such as treasurers, etc., because of the Jains’ trust and honesty.
Jains and Sikhs have not only co-existed but have provided safety and shelters to each other. Some examples:
Migration of Jains and Sikhs from Pakistan in 1947 and the protection provided by a Jain Acharya.
Celebration of Diwali: Jains for nirvan of Bhagwan Mahavir and Sikhs for release of Guru Hargovind Ji from Gwalior Fort is celebrated same day all over India .
Unconditional Ahimsa (nonviolence) is the core principle of Jains. A Jain is known by the practice of Ahimsa in all his/her professions and walks of life. Sikhs practice Ahimsa by Seva (service to others) to the needy and afflicted in distress and in natural and manmade calamities, and their practice of free langars (since last 550 years) throughout the world are the hallmark of Sikh tradition.
Both Jains and Sikhs have no caste system and stand for equal rights and respect for all humans including women.
Both Jainism and Sikhism are least known and most misunderstood in the West.
As a result, Sikhs often become victims of hate and terrorism and their Gurudwaras and followers are attacked and killed often.
Academic study of Jainism and Sikhism has significantly lagged behind other Indic religions in North America. Jain and Sikh community leaders are closing this gap by establishing centers for Jain and Sikh studies. These initiatives are unique and historical in nature. They are emulating Takht Sri Patna Sahib at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles; San Diego State University, San Diego, Calif.; Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, Calif.; Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, Europe; International School for Jain Studies, India, working with Guru Nanak Dev University-Amritsar); Jain and Sikh Studies chairs at the University of California at Irvine, Riverside and Santa Barbara. A comprehensive book on interdependence of Jain and Sikhs is being planned. This is just a beginning; many more to come.
By working together and learning from each other; these centers are working to tear down even the symbolic walls that separate them.
“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 beauties of each tradition and dismantle all the walls of hatred and mistrust. This is the real and true message of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Dr. Harvinder Singh Sahota,
Laguna Beach, Calif.
Dr. Sulekh C. Jain,
Las Vegas, Nevada