Death by fasting: why hallkhana is increasing among Tamil Jains

Jain monk Suprabhat Mathi Mataji who recently achieved Maran samadhi in Chennai.

A few months ago in Chennai, a 74-year-old Jain monk stopped eating and drinking. As human passions and Sunamra Sagarji Maharaj’s body began to thin out, people gathered to watch, seek blessings, and participate in rituals. Almost three weeks ago, Sunamra Sagarji Maharaj achieved “samadhi maran” through hallkhana (santhara), a religious death through fasting.

A day later, his sick disciple Suprabhat Mathi Mataji followed suit after undergoing hallkhana for over a week. At least 18 Jains, including seven male and six female ascetics, have achieved Maran Samadhi after undergoing Sallekhana in Tamil Nadu since 2017, indicating an increasing trend in the number of Jains undergoing Sallekhana in the state.

The researchers point out two reasons. One, after the Mahamastakabhisheka of Bahubali Gommateshwara statue in Shravanabelagola (Karnataka) in 2018, many belonging to the Jain community from states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan started to visit ancient Jain monuments and mutts of Tamil Nadu .

“The Mahamastakabhisheka is observed once every 12 years. Jains who visited the great consecration in 2018 also visited the sites of Tamil Nadu. After seeing the ancient Jain sites where ascetics once lived, some have decided to choose Tamil Nadu as the ideal place to observe hallkhana, ”explains P Rajendra Prasad, a Jain scholar. Although the trend started with the Mahamastakabhisheka in 2006, it only gained momentum after the great consecration of 2018.

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