82-year-old Sohini Devi decides to observe Santhara, ‘win over death’
Sohini Devi Dugar (82), owing to her determination to mark a victory over death, has risen over being just an ordinary elderly Jain woman suffering from incurable cancer and waiting to die.
She has been referred to as “shraddha ki pratimurti” (the epitome of respect) by Acahrya Shri Mahashraman for her bold decision to observe Santhara or Sallekhana, the highest vow in Jainism where a person aims to mark a victory over death.
Samadhi Mantra or Sanyas mantra is the last vow prescribed by the Jain ethical code of conduct and is a highly respected practice among the members of Jain Community. In 2015, Rajasthan High Court banned the practice calling it suicide. The Jain community launched a countrywide silent protest and on August 31, 2015, the Supreme Court stayed the decision of Rajasthan High Court and lifted the ban.
Born in the renowned Terapanthi Dugar family, she is the wife of Budhamall Dugar and the mother of Suresh, Tulsi and Kamal, all well-known industrialists.
The flat 4A and C of Ideal Garden on Mandeville Garden has turned into a pilgrimage where 4,000 people including Jain monks and nuns and also the state Education minister Partha Chatterjee have visited in the past nine days since she has been observing Santhara. Her two daughters, relatives and grandchildren are all around and round the clock bhajan and kirtan are being held which take the mind to a higher plane.
“This is not a time for grief but there is a feeling of mental tranquillity in all the members present here because of the highest decision of life which she has taken. We are all showing our respect to her,” said Kamal Dugar adding, “the holy scriptures tell us that you are not body but soul and moksha is the highest aim of life where you are detached from everything, your body, husband, children and near and dear ones.” In Chapter II of Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”
Sohini Devi has been suffering from Cancer for the past 14 months and every attempt was made to cure her. Being a pious Jain devotee, she decided to observe Santhara. For the past nine days she has not taken a drop of water or food or any medicine. She has been meditating throughout the day to win over death.
The Jain texts make a clear distinction between Santhara or Sallekhana vow and suicide. In “Purusarthasiddhyupaya”, it has been said, “When death is imminent, the vow of Sallekhana is observed by progressively slenderizing the body and the passion. Since one starts observing Sallekhana, one is devoid of all passions like attachment, it is not suicide.”
In 300 BC, Chadragupta Maurya, the founder of Maurya Dynasty undertook Sallekhana atop Chandragiri Hills, Sravan Belgola. Acharya Shantisagar, a highly respected Digambar monk took Sallekhana on August 18, 1955, because he was unable to walk without help due to poor eyesight. He died on September 18, 1955.