On Sunday morning, the first thing Manglaben Shah did was to rush to Vile Parle to take her chances of getting blessings of Acharya Hansratna Suri Maharajsaheb. When she did not get it, she came back again. She is not the only one.
Many like her trickled in through the day at Vile Parle Upashray to meet the Jain Sadhu who is on his way to completing a 180-day fast on boiled water (to be taken only between 6 am to 6 pm) for the sixth time. Starting on March 15, Sunday was his 153 rd day and September 11, going to be the 181st day when he will break his fast in a grand ceremony.
When Hansratna did it for the first time in 2014, he was among those who lived to the tradition of fasting for 180 days after Lord Mahavir started and did it twice in his time. A family bid Rs 21.33 crore to break his fast when he did it for the first time in a grand ceremony. The money raised to break the fast is normally used for welfare of the Sadhus and Derasars.
"The idea is to purify the self of the bad Karmas (deeds). In Jainism, fasts help you keep control of your desire for food which is among the many things that make people go astray and lead to bad karmas," said Hansratna while talking to FPJ.
At 56, he has a thin body but bright eyes that light up when he talks and gives blessings and resolve to anyone who wants to start a fast. Many feel with his blessings they will be able to complete their vow or resolve of fasting.
A follower who had already completed 12 days of fasting wanted to continue fasting for a longer period and asked for a Parna (vow). But Hansratna says he does not give one for less than 16 days. She then asks for a vow of a lesser number of days.
"This is where the weakness lies. It is all in the mind. The strength is there. It does not depend on the body. Fasting should be done like facing an enemy in battle where you do not fear being ahead for fear of losing life. If you lose your life, you will remove many of your bad karmas," he says.
Coming from a well to do family that ran grocery business, Hansratna took Diksha at the age of 12. His family was not religious. They had some four to five shops in Thane where the family moved two months after his birth in Kutch where it belonged and focused only in business.
"In Kutch, a friend asked my father to sit for pravachan (sermon). He felt the family was not doing anything that Dharma talks about. He stayed there for two months and then came back determined to follow Dharma. He took me for pravachan when I was in seventh standard," said Hansratna. His father, two of four brothers (including himself) and sister have taken Diksha.
Around two weeks into going for pravachan, he took Diksha under Acharya Bhuvan Bhanusuri MS. "There were many who took Diksha and his disciples included a number of children. I too took Diksha in the flow of it. But since he was a disciplinarian, I learnt a lot from him," said Hansratna.
The other Sadhu he credits immensely for his growth is Acharya Ratnasunder Suri MS.
Fasting for longer periods for which he is known, however, never came early in life. One day, a Sadhu of eight year old fasted for 30 days, merely two months after taking Diksha.
"I would do fast but even after 24 years into Sadhu life, I couldn't reach that figure. I felt that if he can do it, why not me?," said Sadhu.
At the age of 36, he fasted for the first time for 30 days. Fourteen years of practice led to the number of fasts increasing from 30 days to 44, then 77, 95, 108, 150 and then finally 180.
"I would vomit sometimes but managed. Since Lord Mahavir fasted for 180 days, our elders have put a cap on not going beyond that," he says.
Once the fasts is over, the Sadhu will take a break of a few months and again continue with fasts. Fasts, he says, finish off the bad karmas due to which people take birth to get rid of that burden.
"But after birth, instead of doing good deeds, we focus on bad karmas. Fasting is like good karma. People go all fresh and dressed to enjoy a lunch but cry when they have to fast. It should not be like that," said Sadhu.