This data was last updated on 27 September 2018.
History: The Jain Center of Greater Boston was founded on September 9th, 1973 when twenty families gathered in a home to celebrate Paryushana Parva, a holiday commemorating the birth of Mahavira, the historical founder of Jainism. Throughout the 1970s the group met at the MIT Student Center or Rindge Tower apartments (where many of the families lived) for pujas (devotional services), stavans (chanting) and lectures. With the inspiration and help of Maharaj Sushil Kumar, the first Jain spiritual leader to come to America, in 1981 the families collected $6700, with which they made a down payment on the building of a former Swedish Lutheran Church in Norwood. The temple was inaugurated on September 6th, 1981 with the Murti Sthapana ceremony of installation of the murti of tirthankara (“ford maker” or spiritual pathfinder) Parshvanath, which was brought from a temple in Bombay by members of the community. The event was well attended. Neighbors were invited. The temple in Norwood became the first Jain derasar (temple) in North America. Since its establishment, the Jain Center of Greater Boston has made a substantial contribution to the organization and education of the wider American Jain community, most notably through its numerous widely circulated publications.
Description: The derasar (temple) is located in a residential neighborhood in the town of Norwood (about 12 miles south of Boston) and is accessible by commuter rail. Housed in the building of a former Swedish Lutheran church, which was built in 1893, the temple provides space for the community's religious and social activities. The colorful décor of the well-lit main hall of the temple is complete with a marble altar that houses murtis of Adinath, Parshvanath, and Mahavira tirthankaras in Svetambar and Digambar iconographic styles. Behind the altar there is also a small room that serves as a library. The lower level contains a kitchen, a dining area that is used for meals and social functions, and a women’s prayer room. The temple is equipped with sound and video systems. As of early 2010, the JCGB has purchased a former synagogue in Norwood with the goal of creating a new derasar.
Activities and Schedule: Center activities include celebrations of major holidays including Paryushana Parva (Svetambar), Das Lakshana Parva (Digambar), the most important Jain festival of the year, Mahavira Nirvana Din (celebration of Mahavira’s spiritual liberation), Mahavira Janma-Kalyanak or Jayanti Din (Mahavira’s birthday), Ayambil Oli (a period of fasting), Gautam Swamino Din (Jain New Year), and Diwali (the Indian festival of lights). On the third Sunday of each month the temple holds the performance of a Snatra Puja (Svetambar), a ritual enactment of the birth of tirthankara Mahavira (Svetambar). On the fourth Sunday of each month the center observes the Dev Shastra Guru Puja (Digambar), a service in homage of the tirthankaras, scriptures, and spiritual teachers (Digambar). All weekend services are followed by Jain vegetarian meals. Services are conducted in Prakrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and English. Every summer the center organizes an annual picnic, a lively social event with vegetarian barbeque and cricket matches. The center also arranges retreats at Siddhachalam, the Jain ashram in New Jersey. In addition, the center hosts lectures by visiting scholars and semi-ordained Terapanthi mendicants. It also sponsors a Sunday school (pathshala) and seminars for religious study and discussion (swadhyay). The pathshala classes are held monthly at the Norwood Senior High School and have nearly 100 regularly attending students. A number of the pathshala students have participated in the annual Jain youth camp. The center is currently initiating participation in a variety of activities of other non-Jain organizations. Since 2000, the center has been taking part in the annual festival of the Boston Vegetarian Society. At the festival the JCGB sets up a booth where they offer Jain vegetarian food and have recipes available for those who are interested. Recently, a group from the center visited the Peace Abbey, a multi-faith retreat center in Sherborn, Massachusetts, where a path will be named Jain Marg in commemoration of the influence of Jain tenets on Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. Visitors are invited to all activities and celebrations, but are asked to call in advance to confirm the timing. Please do not to park on the street. Parking is available at the lot of the nearby professional building.
Publications: The center has published a quarterly Jain Study Circular (1981-1987), four editions of the Jain Directory of North America (1979, 1987, 1993, 1997), the Jain Prayer Book (1987), Essentials of Jainism (1984), and has compiled intersectarian puja (devotional service) books. In more recent years the center has sponsored the publication of a number of Jain books including the re-issue of the Tattvarth Sutra and the Bhaktamar Stotra CDs. Some members of the community have independently issued several publications. Mukund and Dhira Mehta published the Kalpa Sutra, Dr. Asha Khasgiwala published Jinvani. Laxmi Jain, one of the founding members of the center, published Indian Cuisine Made Easy together with her son, Manoj Jain. Currently, senior students of the pathshala are working to compile a book on the Jain way of life, in which the group is reinterpreting Jain values and practices into the modern vernacular.
The Story of the Jain Center of Greater Boston (2002) by Dr. Vinay Jain
The following is an account of the life of the Boston Jains by Dr. Vinay Jain. It is adapted from an article Dr. Jain previously published in the Jain Center of Greater Boston Partistha 2002 Souvenir Book. Dr. Jain and his wife Laxmi are the original members of the Jain Center of Greater Boston and have been active contributors to the life of the local Jain community since 1973.
Beginnings: The three of us: Dr. Sulekh Jain, Harshad Shah, and I, each gave $5 to air an ad on the Sunday morning radio show “Sounds of India” to announce the first gathering of Jains in Boston. On a beautiful fall day of September 9 in 1973, 20 families gathered in Malden, Massachusetts to celebrate Paryushana Parva. After the stavans (chants)and introductions the group decided to form a center. This was the humble beginning of the Jain Center of Greater Boston. Of the 51 families who participated in the founding of the JCGB in the early 1970's, 13 (25%) are still members of our center. Back then, none of us could imagine that our center would become the most innovative and vibrant center in North America in promoting Jain religion and culture. What follows is a story of us—the Jains of Boston.
The Early Days: In the early 1970’s, most Jains in Boston were fresh graduates from master’s programs, recently married immigrants, or newly arrived students of local universities. The programs took place at the Student Center, the Rindge Tower apartments (where many of the families lived), or the community halls of MIT. They consisted of pujas (devotional services), stavans and lectures by scholars. In the early days with such a small community in the Boston area, the vision was to keep alive our traditions by celebrating Jain festivals. At that time no other city in North America except New York had a Jain Center. Back then we did not have many Jain scholars and we looked to Gurudeo Chitrabhanu ji and Acharya Sushil Kumar ji, the first Jain religious leaders to come to the West, for guidance and inspiration. Their broad views have helped tremendously in charting not only our future course, but also the future of Jains in America.
Acharya Sushil Kumar's Challenge: Acharya Sushil Kumar first visited Boston in 1975. This was the first time that any Jain monk visited the US. We not only welcomed his stay, but also started a public relations campaign with the media. Acharya Kumar ji and members of the Jain community were invited to participate in a local television show. Professors from Harvard and Boston universities interviewed Acharya Sushil Kumar ji. The interview was aired on television on November 18, 1975, in a Sunday morning show called the “Show of Faith.” Muni Sushil Kumar ji revisited Boston in 1976 to celebrate Mahavira Jayanti, the birthday of tirthankara Mahavira. He stayed with us and the morning before the function he asked me about the location for the planned celebration. I said that it will take place at the MIT student center. Acharya Kumar ji said, “Vinay bhai, how long will you be celebrating Jain festivals in different places? Why not have a place of your own?” I immediately said, “Maharaj ji, we have a small community and we cannot afford to buy a building.” To my surprise, that afternoon Maharaj ji posed the same question to our community. At the gathering, he suggested that the Jains of Boston should have a place of their own. He made a request for contributions. That day we collected $1,200 in donations and $5,500 in loans, a large sum in times when only a few thousand dollars were needed as a down payment to buy a building.
Our Temple: In September of 1976, after much discussion, the JCGB executive committee decided to go ahead with the establishment of our own bhavan (temple-home). A five-year plan to collect the funds and find a place was put into action. Since back then many of us were unsettled, this proved to be a monumental task in terms of financial commitment and community effort. The search for the building began in 1976. The Jain community was vibrant and growing and the funds were coming together. By the early 1980’s, many of the Boston Jains bought homes, settled in the area and were busy raising their children. The search for property continued. On one rainy Sunday morning, a broker called my wife, Mrs. Laxmi Jain, to inform her that an Anglo-Italian church had come onto the market. We immediately went to see the property, which resembled a church in the popular TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” The property was the right size, but more importantly, the right price ($32,000). The excitement of having our own temple was initially curbed by the reality of the financial commitment. Many of the Jain families still believed that they would eventually return to India. After many late-night meetings the executive committee made the decision to purchase the church at 15 Cedar Street in Norwood. The opening ceremony was scheduled a few days before the five-year committee’s target date. At that time Dr. Arvind and his wife Bharti Shah were returning from India. They brought with them a panchadhatu (five metal amalgam) murti of bhagavan Parshvanath from a temple in Bombay. On September 6, 1981, we inaugurated our new temple with the Murti Sthapana ceremony of the installation of the Parshvanath image in the presence of more than 300 attendees. This event made history as the opening of the first Jain temple in North America. For the past 23 years the temple has provided a home for our Jain Center and has served as a spiritual haven for the Jains of the Boston area.
Leadership in Publication: The history of our Jain Center of Greater Boston is rich with projects to strengthen the foundation for the upcoming generation. Towards these ends, we supported the distribution of the quarterly Jain Study Circular, which was published by Dr. Dulichand Jain of New York from 1981 until 1987. The Jain Study Circular was the first national Jain publication in North America. The spirit of volunteerism prevailed as 15 to 20 members gathered to stamp, collate, label, and bag thousands of these circulars that went out free of charge to the Jain families across the country. In 1984 the JCGB published and distributed Essentials of Jainism, a volume edited by Dr. Prem Suman Jain. Because of our diverse Jain community and the respect that we have for a variety of Jain traditions, our functions were rich in Gujarati, Hindi, Digambar, and Svetambar prayers. To facilitate joint prayers, the next natural project was to compile prayers of all sects, not only for us here, but also for the larger North American Jain community. Dinesh Dalal and Dr. Rajendra Jain compiled and published the Prayer Book in 1987, which contained English transliteration and translation of Jain prayers. This type of publication was another first in North America. Dr. Ratilal Dodhia compiled puja books, which we use regularly in our Jain center. In recent years, we have sponsored the publication of many Jain books including the re-printing of the Tattvarth Sutra scriptures and the Bhaktamar Stotra CD's. Several other JCGB members independently issued the Kalpa Sutra (Mukund and Dhira Mehta), Jinvani (Dr. Asha Khasgiwala) and several other publications.
Bringing the Nation-Wide Community Together: The Jain Directory of North America Project: We had a vision of organizing Jains not only in Boston, but also across the whole of North America so as to keep our religion and tradition alive and strong in this part of the world. We took on the challenge of collecting and publishing the directory of Jains in the US. This was a long and arduous task, given that there were hardly any other Jain Centers that existed in the country. We went to libraries to find names and addresses of people with names such as Jain, Shah, Mehta, Parikh, etc. in the local telephone books. Letters were sent for information. A number of replies came back. Many Jains were excited to know that such a project was under way in a place that is far away from their homeland. Armed with the latest computer technology provided by Rajendra Jain (then a Ph.D. student at Harvard University and an active member of our community) we collected and entered into a “computer database” over 800 names. Rajendra wrote a “customized” FORTRAN program that allowed for remote dial-in (on the state of the art 1200 baud–1.2 kbps line). In the evenings and on the weekends several members logged onto Harvard University’s computer facilities from remote locations and hung out at Harvard entering the data. The directory included not only the names and addresses of American Jains, but also family, professional and Indian hometown information details. In 1979, 1000 copies of the Jain Directory of North America were distributed among the Jains in the US and Canada free of charge. Our team did not stop here. Backed by the enormous success of the first directory, subsequent editions were published in 1987, 1993 and 1997. The current edition contains over 8000 Jain contact entries. Although the real impact of the directory cannot be quantified, we do know that many American Jains organized communities and started Jain Centers with the help of the information provided by the directory. Many families were united with other Jains sharing the same Indian hometown and many found spouses using the directory as a handy reference for matrimonial information.
Cultural and Religious Activities: From the onset of our center the women of our community not only participated in supporting the volunteer food programs, but also have been active participants of the center’s executive committee and cultural programs. For instance, Neela S. Shah has been managing our finances for many years. One particular episode, which I remember vividly, took place in 1982 when Sruti Mehta, our cultural director, mentioned that she could not locate good music for a dance drama. I introduced her to Nem Rajul’s song on an LP record; she choreographed the "Nem Rajul Dance Drama," an hour-long show. After the enormous success that the show had in Boston, our team was invited to the New Jersey Jain Center. In the play, which was performed in New Jersey in May of 1983, as Nem renounced his worldly life and Rajul begged Nem to return, the audience was left in tears. Other major productions included "Mahasati Chandanbala" directed by Dilip Gandhi and Chandu Shah. Over the years our center produced imaginative plays and cultural programs under the leadership of Sunita Gandhi, Aarti Mehta, Preeti Jain, Sweta Mepani, Veena Teli, and Eshani Shah, to name just a few. Neela V. and Vinod Shah always led the Ras Garbha dance program.
Pathshala: Our Sunday School: Living next to the world’s leading educational institutions, the Boston Jains were leaders in promoting Jain education. After establishing a more permanent center, a pathshala (Sunday school) was started in 1982 by Dr. Rajendra Jain and Yogendra Jain in response to the needs of the growing number of Jain children. The first pathshala sessions were held once every few months with no formal registration and through the use of ad-hoc material. The first pathshala teachers compiled Level I, II, and III books for the use in our pathshala. As the word about our pathshala spread, our books were in demand by the larger US-wide Jain community. Dr. Ratilal Dodhia and Kishore Shah took over the leadership. In 1985 we had approximately 25 students. As new families joined our community, they enriched us with their background, talent, and dedication. For the next 10 years, the pathshala grew under the leadership of Pankaj Shah and later Hemant Shah. Today we have almost 100 registered students and 6 active teachers. The younger children are taught through art and stories and senior level students undertake more challenging projects. The students are divided into six levels. In addition to these six levels, we hold a popular monthly swadhyay (religious study group). Our students have presented their projects at the national Jain conventions for the benefit of the entire Jain community of North America. Another first by our community was the organization of the first JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations in North America) Pathshala Convention in May of 1998. More than 60 teachers and scholars came from all over the US under the guidance of Pankaj Shah and Yogendra Jain. Collectively, our team proposed a curriculum and a new set of study materials to propel Jain education into the 21st century.
Our Participaion in National Conventions: The strong contingent from the Jain Center of Greater Boston has not only visited every convention, but has also contributed with unique and thought-provoking presentations. At the 1993 JAINA convention in Pittsburgh Dilip Gandhi and Kashmira Vora presented an exhibition on the theme of the Jain experience, which was attended by more than 5000 people. The team built a beautiful entrance that led to a 60 X 90 foot area with an almost life-sized temple, made from foam core. Harendra Shah wrote, “The artistically modeled temple was eye catching. The exhibits of Samovarana, Jain images and objects, Philosophy of Jain Food, History of Jainism, Path to Liberation, and Life Story of bhagavan Mahavira all drew the interest and attention of the crowd... A computer quiz at the last stop of the exhibition was a fun challenge for everyone, young and old.” The presentations at the Pittsburg convention reinforced our leadership in putting on unique and creative projects. This was the beginning of our participation in the JAINA conventions. At the Toronto convention, we presented “Ancient Scriptures Come Alive,” a multi-media Tattvarth Sutra presentation prepared by Yogendra Jain and senior students of the pathshala.” Over 1,500 people were captivated by this experience. We continued our strong participation in the JAINA conventions in Chicago and Pittsburg. Our pathshala students organized and participated in the Jain Academic Bowl and presented projects such as Gunasthan, a play about Jain life in the 21st century. Several of our younger members have participated in the Conventions of the Young Jains of America, the youth chapter of JAINA. This year a group of the pathshala students presented a skit based on a popular TV show, “Saved by the Bell.” Rakhi Jain, our youth coordinator, who overlooked the production of the skit, now serves on the YJA executive committee.
Beyond the Jain community: In the recent years, we have sponsored interactive activities with non-Jain communities and organizations. Every year a team of volunteers organizes the homeless dinner, participates in the Vegetarian Food Festival, and in the Walk for Hunger. We have presented the Tattvarth Sutra at the Harvard Divinity School and worked with other local Indian organizations to promote Jain values. In 2001, our community generously donated $32,000 toward the construction of a school for the victims of a recent earthquake in the Bhuj region of Gujarat.
A Note from the Author: The material presented in this article is based on the research of old JCGB circulars, executive committee meeting notes and my recollection of the events of the past 30 years. Due to limited space, many names and events could not be mentioned. Sincere apologies for errors and omission of names, events, and numerous other accomplishments of the JCGB community. - Dr. Vinay Jain