Few Malaysians are familiar with the ancient community of the Jains. There is only one temple of the Jain faith in Southeast Asia, and it is located in Ipoh. HIMANSHU BHATT writes

Jan 18: JAINISM, one of the ancient religions to emerge from India, is perhaps best known for its strict philosophy of non-violence and its followers are accepted as some of the most peace-loving people in the world.
Equality of people and all life-forms is a central doctrine of the religion, which has existed for several thousand years.
So deep is the principle of non-violence that besides being strict vegetarians, senior monks wear mouth-covers to prevent minuscule life-forms like insects and germs from entering their mouths.
So deep is the faith that many Jains fast for days, some even for weeks in a row, abstaining from food as an act of penance, cleansing and meditation.
Jain influence has, over the centuries, affected much of the art, architecture and literature of the Indian sub-continent.
Sadly, there are today only five million Jains in the world, with just a handful of temples outside India.
Few Malaysians know this, but one of these rare temples is located in Ipoh. It is the only Jain temple building in Southeast Asia.
There are about 2,500 Jains in Malaysia. They are mostly ethnic Gujaratis, with a lineage in Malaysia of several generations.
It is possible that some of the early Jains arrived way back in the 15th and 16th centuries in Malacca, which today has a strong community.
The small temple in First Garden, Ipoh, stands majestic with its ornate dome rising above the rooftops of the surrounding neighbourhood.
The temple was built about two years ago, inspired by the family of businessman Bharat Jasani.
"We initially wanted to build a shrine in the home, but one thing led to another and we ended up building a whole temple," Jasani told the New Sunday Times.
The design of the temple follows that of a famous one in Tithal, India. The temple houses the statue of Parshvanath, one of the divine figures Jains believe reincarnate on Earth on a cyclical basis to guide humankind.
The carving was done by a sculptor in Jaipur whose family has been designing Jain statues for five generations.
Great care was taken when planning the temple to ensure that the Jain heritage was properly reflected in its design. Even the temple bell was brought in from India.
"The sound of the bell is very important," Jasani explained. "It can absorb negative feelings and discharge positive ones to those in the vicinity." The temple today serves more than just the 10 Jain families in Ipoh. People come from far and wide to worship there.
The temple has become a cultural centre, helping to generate awareness of this small community in the country. It is managed under the auspices of the Shantiniketan Foundation, a charity trust formed to help support Jain culture in Malaysia.
Indeed, the temple's presence has inspired many young Malaysian Jains to discover their traditions and roots.
"We get people from many places, including Singapore, coming here. Very often, even visitors from India make a point to come here when they are in Malaysia," Jasani said.
During the opening ceremony in February last year, some 1,000 people converged at the temple, coming from as far as the United States, Hong Kong and India. Indian satellite TV channel Aastha sent a crew to produce a feature on this unique place.
Significantly enough, in true Malaysian spirit, the opening of the temple featured a local lion-dance troupe, demonstrating how open and embracing the Jain community is to other cultures.
"Compassion and tolerance are some of the key spiritual codes of Jainism. The soul is pure, it is perfect. Feelings and emotions are just coatings around it," Jasani said.
Jainism's main figure is the ascetic Mahavir, who was a contemporary of Buddha. Both lived in India some 2,600 years ago.
Mahavir preached abstention from hurting living beings not just by physical acts but also through mind and speech. The day of Mahavir's death coin-cides with Deepavali, the last day of the north Indian Hindu and Jain calendar.
There are two traditions that have emerged in Jainism over the years. The Digambar sect is more orthodox and their senior monks are so detached from materialism that they shun even clothing. Almost all Malaysian Jains belong to the other sect, the Svetambar.
Today, in Malaysia, the Jains practise many of the old rituals and customs.
One noteworthy event is the Paryushan held in either August or September, when eight to 10 days are observed with strict fasting and introspection.
During Paryushan, many Jains go for as long as a week or even a fortnight without consuming food, taking only boiled water at night.
Many find the discipline extremely cleansing, and emerge from the experience with renewed vigour.
This unique temple in Ipoh stands not just as a centre for the local Jain community. It is also a small but beautiful testament of Malaysia's diverse, and always surprising, multihued heritage. Article Courtesy: emedia.com.my and New Straits Times

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