ONTARIO, Calif.– Every two years, JAINA, or the Federation of Jain Associations in North America, in partnership with a local community, hosts a biennial JAINA convention with attendees from across the world. This year, from July 4- July 7, JAINA in partnership with the Jain community of Southern California, hosted its 20th biennial convention at the Ontario Convention Center here.

It took two years of planning and more than nine months of preparations and dry runs perfecting it, according to a press release. In the end, JAINA, in partnership with the two host centers of Southern California, Jain Center of Southern California and Jain Center of Los Angeles, delivered an incredibly successful convention, attracting over 3,500 attendees, many from the Indian American community.

The theme was “Celebrating Jain Religion in 21st Century.” By many accounts this was one of the most successful conventions that JAINA has ever had. The convention remained true to its theme leaving behind an everlasting impression of JAINA and a unique immersion into self-realization with education and inspiration.

Convention convener Mahesh Wadher and co-conveners Dr. Nitin Shah and Dr. Jasvant Modi explained the theme and purpose of the convention and its five distinct tracks of learning about Jain principles and practices, representing the five elements – Seva, Satsang, Samarpan, Sadhana, and Self-Realization – and other tracks on focus groups, including for young Jain professionals, young adults, youths, and ‘Jain Connect’. The five tracks depicted in the convention logo represented the steps onto the path of progression of a spiritual journey towards achieving moksha, the final liberation. This convention was extraordinary also because over 600 youths and young adults were among the attendees.

Pre-recorded speeches from the world-renowned Jain acharyas Acharya Shri Yashovijayji Maharaj and Acharya Shri Vijay Ratna Sundar Suri Maharaj from India were played at the event. Furthermore, the convention was sanctified by 22 invited sadhus, sadhavis, and spiritual guides, such as Acharya Shri Chandanaji, Acharya Dr. Lokesh Muni, Acharya Namra Muniji, and Gurudev Shri Rakeshbhai Jhaveri.

Keynotes at the event were delivered by dignitaries from multiple faiths. These included Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Ingrid Newkirk, Philip Wollen, Gaur Gopal Das, and Nipun Mehta, among others. They spoke on the significance of a lifestyle that embodies Jain principles of non-violence (ahimsa), non-possessiveness (aparigrah), and multiple-viewpoints (anekantvad) – the main tenets of the Jain religion. There were 90 distinguished speakers, including professors, doctors, scientists, authors, scholars, and experts in various subjects. Besides 12 keynote sessions, the convention featured 86 breakout sessions among its eight tracks.

Many speakers left a lasting impression on the attendees on the significance of human life, noted the release. They conveyed impactful messages about living in harmony and peace while striking a balance towards multiple aspects of duties towards mankind. The scholars and speakers were the stars of this convention that recharged everyone’s spiritual batteries during this incredible three-day event. Gurudev Shri Rakeshbhai Jhaveri spoke on why in this day and age self-realization is elusive and how seva, satsang, samarpan and sadhana are the founding pillars toward achieving self-realization.

Gaur Gopal Das, a monk from ISKCON and a lifestyle coach, in his inimitable style, imparted life-long lessons on bringing balance and purpose to our lives. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and Philip Wollen, a former Citibank vice president and “venture capitalist for good causes,” spoke about the virtues of being vegan and why veganism is important in today’s time.

Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace, shared his message on seva, compassion, and humility and encouraged the audience to make the smallest, simplest acts of kindness to experience how they can radically transform your life.

Rahul Kapoor Jain, a motivational speaker from India, hosted interactive sessions to a standing-room only crowd, on harnessing the inner powers to reinvent ourselves.

The BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir of Los Angeles, under the oversight of the convention food committee and many volunteers, prepared fresh meals serving the attendees four-five times/day. It must be recognized that the members of convention food committee and over 100 dedicated volunteers of BAPS prepared and served 14 meals to 3,450 attendees over the four-day convention. If one does the math, in four days, they served approximately 48,300 meals.

At its welcome ceremony, the attendees observed a few minutes of silence in recognizing the Jain pioneers, late Gurudev Shri Chitrabhanuji, late Sushil Muniji, and late Amrendar Muniji, all deserving the credit for the grassroot efforts of establishing the Jain community in North America.

Noteworthy among many other firsts in this convention were a couple of service projects that were executed at the onset and closing of this convention. Sponsored by Sarva Mangal Family Trust and Dr. Atul Karia, on July 4 and July 7, respectively, the Jain volunteers representing youths and young adults, with the help of medical professionals, hosted a health fair at Karia’s office for dental and vision, at which they provided free services to 52 patients and donated 55 pairs of prescription eyeglasses, as well as packed 1,008 backpacks for the homeless.

The convention began July 9 afternoon with a grand procession featuring colorful artifacts represented by Jain centers from across North America, an unveiling ceremony of a uniquely constructed Jain Temple, and a swagatam ceremony welcoming the attendees in a grand ballroom.

The first of its kind at a convention like this, it took eight months for this Jain Temple’s plan, design and construction, prior to its installation in the 6,000-square feet of convention center space. The Jain Temple, with shikhar and gabhara with chovisi also displayed in its rangmandap, was an exhibit of a three-dimensional depiction of epic Jain stories of the lives and virtues of Jain tirthankars, including Bhagwan Mahavir.

While beautiful decorations of 22 displays decked the halls throughout and vibrant exhibit booths entertained the crowd during breaks, as the sun went down, the evening entertainment was highlighted by Garba-Raas on day one; a Jains ‘Got Talent’ competition and a Jain cultural program on day two; and a Bollywood concert was organized on the third day. Each program delivered a night of excitement with performances, music, and dance.

For the evening program July 5, the Jain cultural program, “One World, One Rhythm,” produced by the cultural committee of the convention, featured uniquely choregraphed performances representing the countries and cultures around the world. The performances were so well produced and featured non-stop music, dance, and performances by artists of all ages that they rocked the floor, bringing the audience to its feet during the two-hour show.

Among the extraordinary efforts put in by the 45 committees, the credit for the success of this convention’s keynote sessions and evening programs also goes to the convention’s multimedia and audio-visual committee. It not only built a huge LED wall screen covering the entire span of the stage, but also projected on it were pictures, images, and videos from around the world for each session, presentation, and performance. The LED screen enhanced the shows, highlighted their messaging, and provided unique special effects, as well as captured many live moments with the speakers, the performers, and the audience.

The safety and security team did an outstanding job managing 3,000+people in the main hall during the evening program, said the press release, when a 40-second earthquake of 6.9 magnitude hit the Los Angeles metro area and was felt by all in the audience. Needless to say, the show went on without an impact.

One of the significant youth education and development initiatives is a team-based competition, Jain Academic Bowl, launched for the first time about a decade ago. JAB is a Jeopardy-style vocabulary game in which young Jains compete with other teams. One hundred youths among 15 JAB teams, of ages 10 to 20, representing pathshalas from nine Jain centers around the country, participated in the JAB competition in front of hundreds of attendees. This 13th Jain Academic Bowl competition involved 33 hours of game play requiring JAB students to master 400 pages of Jain literature. This year’s winner from the senior team was team “Hrim” of the Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago, and from the junior team was team “Arham,” also of the Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago.

Presented for the first time at a JAINA convention was Shatavdhan at which Jaynesh Jain demonstrated his skills and talent by memorizing 100 questions, objects, and statements asked by a live audience, and then immediately recalling them and answering the questions in any order prescribed.

At each convention, JAINA announces the recipient of its most prestigious biennial award, JAINA Ratna, which is bestowed upon one deserving individual. Dr. Nitin Shah, chair of JAINA’s award committee, announced Ram Gada of Minnesota as the winner of the 2019 JAINA Ratna Award. Gada gave a heartfelt acceptance speech crediting his spiritual journey to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and recognizing Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary this year.

JAINA also conducts its biennial elections of the board of directors and executive committee. Election committee chair Anop Vora announced the results of this election: the officer bearers of the new JAINA executive committee elected for the next two-year term include Mahesh Wadher, president; Haresh Shah, first vice president; Hemant Shah, secretary; and Ashok Savla, treasurer.

Accepting the presidency, Wadher said that he is humbled by the trust invested in him by the community and promised to make JAINA stronger, vibrant, and more relevant in the lives of the Jains in North America as well as for communities across the world.

In a statement released by Dipak Doshi, chairman of the public relations and press-media committee of the convention, he conveyed that the JAINA conventions – which have occurred every two years since 1981 in North America – embody Jain values with a call to action.

This year’s convention highlighted these topics along with devotion, compassion, and transformation and created opportunities for exchange of ideas and dialogues on global issues. The convention brought together thousands of Jains with scholars and dignitaries in promoting Jain values. Doshi further stated that this convention represented a convention at its best. JAINA and its community will look at this convention as a benchmark against which it will model its future events and programs, he said, according to the release. None of this would have been possible without the relentless planning, preparation, pursuit, and delivery by a group of 600 volunteers that unquestionably deserve the biggest credit for making this convention a huge success, he noted. What was done was no small task. An incredible achievement has happened. This is what a Jain way of life is all about.

Founded in 1981, JAINA is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit organization, the umbrella organization of 70-plus North American centers/ temples in the U.S. and Canada. Operated by a staff of hundreds of volunteers, it functions as a philanthropic, educational, and service-focused organization.

JAINA is certified by USAID as a non-governmental humanitarian organization and was awarded the Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in 2006. Jain centers routinely organize free wellness clinics, hold classes on healthy lifestyles, conflict-resolution, inter-cultural dialogues, volunteer at animal shelters, food banks and homeless shelters, and partner with civic groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, Rotary, Lions and Boy/Girl Scouts.

JAINA also partners globally with humanitarian organizations to help in rendering disaster relief, medical aid, polio eradication, restorative limb camps, as well as organizing annual legislative conferences on peace, harmony and non-violence on Capitol Hill.

For more information, visit www.jainaconvention.org, or contact Dipak Doshi, chair of public relations and press-media committee, at dipakginni@gmail.com or Hemant Shah at hemantil@yahoo.com or Dr. Manoj Jain at mjainmd1@gmail.com.

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