Jain Center of America (The Main Interview)
I am fortunate and grateful to have had the chance to interview Ms. Sadhana Shah for this project. Her insights about my own culture and tradition that I was not aware of are very valuable. I am glad that she was able to communicate the Jain principles and traditions in the most accurate way and I was able to achieve the objectives of this project precisely because of her wonderful contribution.
Following is the interview conversation between the videographer, Smrita Jain and the interviewee Sadhana Shah.
My name is Sadhna Shah. I’m part of Jain Center of America, New York. I work as a pujari (or priest). In the morning, I clean the temple and Bhagwan, I do kesar (or saffron) and the puja. I also help outside whenever needed. I spend 3-4 hours every day at the Jain Center because this is my temple and this temple is really very good. For small kids we have pathshala (or school) every Sunday from 10:30 to 12 PM. Almost 100 kids come every Sunday of different age groups and learn about the Jain religion and participate in several activities such as going to the park, playing religious games. They also talk to each other and mentor younger kids on religion. Sometimes they argue back if they don’t like something, but the teacher explains to them and they really enjoy it and we love them. We want to do more activities. We have senior activities too where they come once a month for yoga and for samayak (or meditation). Every once a month we have the dada guru puja on the 4th floor. Every once a month we have snahatra puja in the Mahavir Swami template on the 2nd floor. Whenever we have the chance, some scholars come and give us lectures. We really love it and we really like it.
Question: What is Jainism? What are its principles?
We believe in nonviolence. We never eat any kind of root vegetables like potato, onion, garlic, carrots.
Meat is a long way away. Even certain vegetables are restricted like potato, onion, garlic, carrots, spinach.
Question: And why do Jains not eat these?
Because they grow underground, each time these vegetables are harvested, we do jeev hinsa (or killing of animals). We believe in ahinsa or nonviolence, so even killing small insects and microbes is not allowed. Our religion says we have to even boil water before drinking. Every day in the morning we have to drink boiled water. We even cover the tap with a special cloth, so the water is filtered. Every morning we have to drink boiled water. When we take shower, we cover the shower also with a cloth to filter the water. Even in the temple we have to take care of all these rules to follow our religion and we love it.
Question: So, the 24 tirthankars are our main Gods, right?
Yes, they are.
Question: What was the mantra (prayer) you just said while doing the puja? Can you explain that a little?
That is a special mantra for our dhoop and deepak. Every puja has its own mantra. For example, when we do water puja, we have a mantra for that. It has been recited for ages. We have a special chandan puja, which also has a special mantra. We have pushp (flower) puja for which there’s a special mantra too.
We have 8 pujas every single day. Jal means water, chandan means sandalwood, pushp means flowers, dhoop means essence stick, deepak means candle, akshat means rice, naived means sweets, and phal means fruit. Every single day we have to have these 8 pujas no matter what. The meaning of these 8 pujas is breaking the 8 karmas. We have 8 karmas and to break them, we need to perform these 8 pujas every single day.
Question: For the present and future generations that we invite to the Center and do activities with them, so the religion propagates and people are informed of what is Jainism. I just want to know a little bit about what a lot of people say you are a Gujarati Jain or a Bengali Jain, and what kind of a Jain you are. I’m a simple Jain.
We are Jains. Doesn’t matter where we are born, we talk in that language. It doesn’t matter we are Jains. If they are south Indian, if they are Bengali, they are Punjabi, if they are Marwari, Gujarati, Marathi, doesn’t matter. Just they are born in Jain religion. It’s not about the language, it’s about the religion.
Question: And it’s not about the location of the state?
Yeah, it doesn’t matter. They have the same God and we have the same God. Gujaratis have the same God, Bengalis have the same God, Marwari have the same God, Marathi have the same God. Everyone has the same God. Just that they talk their language at home. But in the temple, they all say Namokar Mantra in the same language. Doesn’t matter what they speak at home. It does not make any difference.