3. The Role of Place in Shaping the Practice and Meaning of Seva among Jain Ascetics in Gujarat, India

Religion and Senses of Place - Graham Harvey

Bindi V. Shah [+-]
University of Southampton
Bindi V. Shah is a sociologist at the University of Southampton, UK. She is a specialist in migration and religion and her research has addressed the ways in which ethnicity, religion, class, and gender construct identity, belonging, and citizenship among Asian immigrants and their children in the UK and the US. Currently, she is examining diasporic Jain transnational engagements in India, and leading a project to document and digitally archive the key contributions of British South Asians to modern Britain. She has also published widely on second-generation Laotians in the USA, on second-generation Jains in the UK and USA, and on diasporic faith spaces in London suburbs.
N. Rajaram [+-]
N.Rajaram served as Professor of Sociology at the Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, and at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. His research interest is social development. This interest resulted in working on different research projects of collaborative nature on transnational migration, return migration, and global circulation of ideas. These collaborations resulted in joint publications in various journals. In addition, his other areas of research interest and extensive publications are on rural development, health, gender, politics and development of marginal communities. His academic work has taken him to UK and several times to USA and China. He was also a Fulbright Fellow at New York University.


The roots of philanthropy amongst Jains can be linked to religious values and duties with regard to alms giving. Classically, dān is a disinterested gift, a gift without expectation of return, debt or reciprocity. In a hierarchical order of different types of gifts, a gift to a worthy recipient is the highest form of dān a lay person can make, to the only really worthy recipients, renouncers seeking liberation. In this paper I examine the practice of dān by diasporic lay Jains to a Jain socio-spiritual organisation established by a Jain nun in India. While Jain ascetics are expected to renounce all worldly possessions and focus their life mission to work toward their own internal purification, the Jain nun has reinterpreted this ascetic path and argues that compassion in action practiced through seva is the key message of the Jain tradition. In reinterpreting the ascetic path as seva and creating an institutional organisation through which to fulfil this worldly mission, the nun has allowed for the possibility of dān in the form of private voluntary philanthropy to Veerayatan. I draw on in-depth qualitative interviews with 24 diasporic Jains, in the UK, USA and Singapore, who have engaged in philanthropic giving to Veerayatan for a period of over twenty years to examine whether classical understandings of dān and the ethic of seva or “Western” understandings of giving shape the motivations and sustainability of philanthropic donations to Veerayatan. I contend that their philanthropy merges classical forms of Jain giving and Western ideas of humanitarianism. Veerayatan, the organisation, has become a worthy vessel for receiving dān, rather than the individual nuns that are part of the organisation. Classical understandings of dān also merge with “Western” ideas of giving, as is evident in displays of attachment to and concern for impact of the gifts. Additionally, some regard such philanthropy as an important avenue to transmit Jain religiosity and norms of compassion among Jain children in the diaspora. Overall, my respondents view philanthropy to Veeryatan as enacting Jain religiosity and being Jain in the modern world. I argue that such philanthropy allows diasporic Jains to strengthen ties to co-religionists in India and the diaspora, and facilitates the reconstruction of identities, communities and religiosity.

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Shah, Bindi; Rajaram, N.. 3. The Role of Place in Shaping the Practice and Meaning of Seva among Jain Ascetics in Gujarat, India. Religion and Senses of Place. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Nov 2021. ISBN 9780000000000. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=41476. Date accessed: 13 Jul 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.41476. Nov 2021

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