Saturday, September 05, 2015

Extreme Fasting

In ancient Indian history, one of topics that fascinates me is the reign of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (340-298 BCE), and the manner in which it ended.

Chandragupta, the first ruler to unify most of Greater India into one state, decides one day to renouce his throne. He then dons the garments of a Jain monk, steps out of his former capital city Magadha and walks 2184 km to a hill near Sravanabelagola, and slowly, deliberately starves himself to death.

I always thought this was a one-off event. Perhaps the last display of a man's iron will, to prove to himself that just as he could kill and conquer a sub-continent, he could just as methodically conquer his own desire to eat, drink and, to stay alive.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a report in the papers that an elderly doctor in Rajasthan was locking horns with the Indian judiciary because he wanted to follow his father's example by doing exactly the same thing!

It is a living tradition that goes back 2500 years. The Swetambara's call it Santhara while the Digambara sect calls it Sallekhana. Both refer the act of self-purification when an individual decides that all the purposes of life have been served, or when they figure that their body is unable to serve any purpose in life.

On 10 August 2015, the Rajasthan High Court ruled that this Jain practice was illegal because it amounted to 'abetment of suicide' punishable under sections 306 and 309 of the Indian Penal Code. Last week, on 31 Aug., 2015, this decision was stayed by the Supreme Court which noted that the RHC decision lacked a basic understanding of the tenets of Jainism.

In a country where religious practices are often reduced to gaudy publicity stunts, it is good to know that there are traditions at the other end of the spectum as well!


* Sallekhana -
* I too want a beautifu death -
* Chandragiri Hill -

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