May 5, 2008

Footprints of a Jain `acharya' : A Major Pilgrim Centre

By Swati Das

KUNDKUND NAGAR: Nestling on the hillock - Ponnur Malai - was found apair of ancient footprints (charan ) engraved on a rock found undera champa tree, believed to be that of the famous Jain monk Kund KundAcharya, who lived 2,000 years ago. This hillock, eight km fromVandavasi and 125 km south-west of Chennai, is today a major pilgrimcentre. The last one decade witnessed constant efforts to buildshelter around this spot for pilgrims and finally on February 20,the Acharya Kund Kund Jain Sanskruti Centre inaugurated the KundKund Kahan Students Hostel and the Shri Kund Kund Kahan Guest House.In no-man's land, where one has to travel at least eight km to evenfetch a match-box, the facility comes as a relief for the pilgrims.The inauguration was part of the 2600th birth anniversarycelebration of Lord Mahavira - January 1, 2000, to December 31,2001. Incidentally, Ponnur Malai was recently renamed Kund KundNagar in memory of the Jain Acharya, who wrote his 84 books on thishillock, preaching on Adhyatma - how to know oneself and to practicemeditation (dhyana).

The importance of this pilgrim centre dates back to the time whenmost of south was, according to one of the trustees Mr V CSreepalan, following the Jain way of life. ``Every 10 km, you wouldfind a Jain idol in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. But for fearof local religions, the temples in this region converted to Hinduones. Since then, they had been changing back and forth. Today, youwill find Hindu temples bearing Jain symbols and Jain templesbearing Hindu symbols on the walls and pillars,'' he pointed out.Acharya Kund Kund was considered special as he had the powers totravel to videh-kshetra (outer world), where the Tirthankar LordSimandraswami was preaching the principles of religion, for advise.The Acharya did his penance inside two small caves here and wrotehis 84 books on palm leaves. The above incident is mentioned in the ancient book - Darshan Saar by Devasenacharya - ``Jai paumandinahoseemandharsamidibbananen, na vidohai to samana kaha sumandpayanti.'' The local people too tell stories of this Acharya'sfrequent visit to the hillock.

The Acharya was born in a small village of Kondakonda - 14 km fromGuntakal town in Andhra Pradesh. Ancient legend has it that as acowherd in his previous birth, he had donated a religious book to aJain monk and so he was reborn in human form. He took initiation tothe ascetic order at the age of 12 and is known by various nameslike Yelacharya, Gradhapincha, Bakragrive and Padmanandi to name afew. He preached that every soul has the capacity and thecapability to become God. Self-realisation and reformation leads toeternal happiness. The books written by him were in Prakrit and onlyfive of his 84 books now survive - Samayasaar, Niyamasaar,Prabhachanasaar, Panchasthikay and Ashtaphaud.

The importance of this pilgrim centre dates back to the time whenmost of south was, according to one of the trustees Mr V CSreepalan, following the Jain way of life. ``Every 10 km, you wouldfind a Jain idol in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. But for fearof local religions, the temples in this region converted to Hinduones. Since then, they had been changing back and forth. Today, youwill find Hindu temples bearing Jain symbols and Jain templesbearing Hindu symbols on the walls and pillars,'' he pointed out.Acharya Kund Kund was considered special as he had the powers totravel to videh-kshetra (outer world), where the Tirthankar LordSimandraswami was preaching the principles of religion, for advise.The Acharya did his penance inside two small caves here and wrotehis 84 books on palm leaves. The above incident is mentioned in theancient book - Darshan Saar by Devasenacharya - ``Jai paumandinahoseemandharsamidibbananen, na vidohai to samana kaha sumandpayanti.'' The local people too tell stories of this Acharya'sfrequent visit to the hillock.

The Acharya was born in a small village of Kondakonda - 14 km fromGuntakal town in Andhra Pradesh. Ancient legend has it that as acowherd in his previous birth, he had donated a religious book to aJain monk and so he was reborn in human form. He took initiation tothe ascetic order at the age of 12 and is known by various nameslike Yelacharya, Gradhapincha, Bakragrive and Padmanandi to name afew. He preached that every soul has the capacity and thecapability to become God. Self-realisation and reformation leads toeternal happiness. The books written by him were in Prakrit and onlyfive of his 84 books now survive - Samayasaar, Niyamasaar,Prabhachanasaar, Panchasthikay and Ashtaphaud.

The theme and content of Kund Kund Swamy's writings have been fromtime to time explained by many authors. Acharya Amritchandra, AcharyaPadmaprabahamaldhari and Acharya Jaisena in Sanskrit and punditsJaichand Chabra and Banarasidas in Hindi have explained theprinciples of Adhyatma. In the last century (20th) Kanjiswamy fromSaurashtra gave wide publicity to the teachings of Kund Kund Swamy.A small temple was built over the footprints and an idol of LordMahavira was installed at the head of the footprint. The champa wasreplanted outside the temple. At the foot of the hillock is the newstudents' hostel and guest house. An industrial training instituteby the Acharya Kund Kund Educational Foundation and an engineeringcollege by others are also located in the vicinity.

``We want to start the students' hostel and will begin admission inApril for higher classes (standards VIII to XII). The education willbe in Tamil. We would like to expand further later. The teachings ofthe Acharya and Jainology would be part of syllabus. The guest housewill be for the use of the pilgrims and also for research scholarswho propagate Adhyatma,'' Mr Doshi said. The main contributiontowards the construction of the hostel and the guest house has comefrom another trustee, Ananthbhai Sheth. Incidentally, according toMr Sreepalan who is based in Kund Kund Nagar, the local Jains followthe preachings and teachings in Tamil and Jain books arealso available in Tamil.

There are about 200 Jain temples in the state and the Jain influencehas been found in caves, inscriptions, literatures and copperplates. Of the temples, Chittamoor, 40 km from Dina Kanchipuram, isthe Lord Parswanath (23rd) Tirthankar in sitting posture - known tobe 700 years old. A 10-day Brahmothsav in April is a famousfestival. The same place also has the 1000-year-old Lord Neminath(22nd) Tirthankar bass relief.

In Thirunarungkondai, 200 km south of Chennai, is a 1,800-year-oldbass relief of Parswanath in a cave with 40 steps also known asAppandainathar to the locals. In Tirumalai, 60 km from Vandavasi, isan 800-year-old 18-feet bass relief of Lord Neminath Tirthankar andin Arpakkam, 20 km from Kanchipuram, is the shrine of Lord AdinathTirthankar, more than 400 years old.

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