- Pujya Mota
Pujya Shree Mota (
September 4, 1898- July 23-1976), or Chunilal Asharam Bhavsar, was a spiritual leader who established ashrams in Nadiadand Suratin Gujarat, India.
Mota was born on September 4, 1898, in Savli, a village the district of Panchmahals,
Gujaratto a poor low caste family of the Bhavasars (dyers). Owing to his fondness for singing hymns, the father, Asharam, was called 'Bhagat' (meaning a devotee) who was an opiumaddict. Surajba, was the name of the child mother. Bhaichand, the grandfather managed their dyeing business. The couple had four sons, the second of whom was Chunilal, affectionately shortened into 'Chunia' or 'Chunio', he was also called 'Saniyo' as born on Saturday.
Following the death of his grandfather, Bhaichand, his family gave up the dyeing business and left Savli for the town
Kalol. Surajba, Chunilal's mother, served as a housemaid while his father, Asharam, worked and continued his opium habit. The family lived in a one-room tenement in a slum quarter on a broad street. The stench, moreover, exhumed by soaked hides was a constant feature of this dwelling. Chunilal watched his father and mother working very hard for family's daily need and joined them, undertaking menial jobs in the field (farm), in brick-kiln (building-material of baked clay), in a grain merchant's shop, and the like.
Despite the poverty Chunilal lived in he was able to attend an Anglo-Vernacular school in Kalol with the help of the Head Master who helped him to cover the first four years' course in one and a half. He worked at the school for a monthly salary of a rupee and a half performing more menial tasks. In between work he would study. He moved on to
Petladfor further studies and stayed with Shree Ghanubhai's aunt, Prabhaben (Prabhaben, daughter-in-law of the Dewan of the Cutch State). Prabhaben become Chunilal's veritable mother and guided him in matters spiritual and material.
aint's holy company
Jankidas Maharaj, a highly evolved saint, used to visit Petlad occasionally at the invitation of Sheth Rangwala the owner of a dyeing mill. After the close of the school, Chunilal would often serve him by sweeping his place and wash his clothes. He attentively listened to the words of wisdom that fell from the saint's lips. All this won the saint's heart. By his power of seeing the future he warned Chunilal of a coming serious illness and advised him to be ready in full trim with his studies for the exam before the illness disabled him and, what is more, he directed the principal of the local Sanskritschool to bring Chunilal up to the mark of Sanskrit. On his part Chunilal accepted the warning and learned the Sanskrit grammar with the principal's help and other subjects with that of the guide-book. Shortly after, some business sent him to Ahmedabad. The forecast from Jankidas Maharaj was soon fulfilled as Chunilal caught a very serious illness. For several days he lay in his bed entirely unconscious. The doctor insisted on complete rest and no studies, and so Chunilal could not appear at the necessary Preliminary Examination in Petlad. Owing to the soft corner the Head Master had for his bright pupil, however, he exempted Chunilal and gave him the entrance form for the Matriculation Examination of the University held at Ahmedabad.
Jankidas Maharaj told Chunilal, he would not have any health problem at exam time in Ahmedabad and asked him to take blessings of Saryudasji of Ramji Mandir at Premdarwaja (Ahmedabad). Chunilal got good marks in that exam from Petlad School, which opened his door for college.
India in turmoil
While still in college, the repressive
Rowlatt Actswere passed by the British Rajin March 1919. Indian leaders were extremely critical of the Act. Mahatma Gandhi announced a one-day strike on 6 April, 1919with fasting, prayer, and a public meeting. The response of the whole country was generally peaceful, but there were regular outbursts of violence, especially in the Punjab, as it was already seething with unrest owing to the harsh way in which recruits for the First World War had been enlisted. Martial Lawwas enforced and shocking methods were employed to suppress the agitation.
The climax was reached at
Amritsaron 13 April, where a public meeting, the prohibition of which was very little advertised, was taken by General Richard Dyer to mean a rebellion and 'to teach the insurgents a lesson.' He shot at the only egress of the meeting-place till the bullets were exhausted. The result was the Jallianwala Bagh massacrewhich resulted in the killing of about 2,000 people. Thus the Rowlatt Acts, nicknamed the Blacks Acts, the martial law in the Punjab and other places, specially the Amritsarholocaust, the disappointing Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, and the last straw. At a special session of the Indian National Congress in 1920, Gandhi got a resolution of non-cooperation with the British Government, which passed by a solid majority. The resolution, among other boycotts, appealed to students to give up the 'slave-breeding' education imparted in government-recognized schools and colleges and join independent national institutions.
Chunilal's struggled to make a decision on whether to stay in college or follow the boycott of government recognized schools. If he left his college, he would have to bid adieu, once for all and let down the family and friends who helped him get to college in the first place. On the other side there was the call, his homeland was in distress and disgrace. Whether Gandhi's scheme would succeed or fail, whether it was fanciful or practical, was not the issue.
Chunilal left Baroda got himself admitted to
Gujarat Vidyapith, a national college. After some time, the atmosphere in Gujarat Vidyapith also became totally unfit for serious study. There were frequent rallies to promote the movement and the Vidyapith students joined them enthusiastically. Then there were visits by noted political leaders, whose address to the students consumed with keenness. All this made the essentially quiet life of a student an impossibility in those hectic days. Added to this was an exhortation by Gandhiji himself: "The Congress resolution apart", he said in effect, "my personal object in drawing you out of your colleges was not to provide you a change from the protected shelter of one college to that of another. I wanted and want you to spread out to our villages in order to bring the new light of freedom to their doors. What you did was simply to change your moha (infatuation) for one kind of 'degrees' to that of another." The cutting remark went home. It spurted Chunilal to a new resolution. One of Chunilal's principles was to immediately follow up in action a decision once made.
Chunilal gave up the national college forthwith, took some necessary training at the
Swaraj Ashram, was then established under the guidance of Shree Gidvani (Shree Gidvani was formerly the Principal of a college in Sindh. In company with two professors, Shree Kripalani and Shree Sipahimalani, they left their secure lucrative job in response to Gandhiji's call. The three then joined the Gujarat Vidyapith) and began at once to serve a backward 'Taluka' (county) Vagra, of the backward district Bharuch. Too many difficulties blocked his way. He had no experience and no guidance to show him how to win over the villagers' hearts as they often looked askance at any unknown outsider. And he had to provide for his traveling and postage expenses from his own slender purse. He was therefore compelled to give up this village service and return to Ahmedabad.
Chunilal then decided to rejoin the Vidyapith college, but there were two hurdles he had to cross. First place, he had to pass an examination, which he would accomplish. Next he would need a certificate signed by
SardarVallabhabhai to prove that he had served particular villages in a specific Taluka (county). Chunilal got that certificate also.
With only a few months left to pass before appearing at the final examination for the Snatak (Bachelor of Arts) degree, Gandhi visited the Vidyapith and made another moving appeal: "The country is in a fire. How can you, at this crisis, sit at ease and go on with your studies, as though nothing is the matter with our land?" The sting cut Chunilal to the quick. With only three or four months left before the degree examination and with his certainty that he was sure to pass, he gave up completely whatever fascination he had to get a degree and to be respectable in society.
His elder brother Shree Jamanadas was an
Arya Samajist, but was in deteriorating health. Shree Indulalbhai, then a right hand man of Gandhi, asked Chunilal, to take up his brother's work. Chunilal thus became the superintendent of the hostel of 'untouchable' students in Nadiad; the first of its kind in Gujarat. Chunilal's brothers Muljibhai Somabhai also began to serve untouchables soon after. Chunilal added to his duties, becoming the superintendent of the Antyaja (untouchables) hostel, the work of the Head Master of the local Antyaja School. He thus served two masters - Shree Indulalbhai Yagnik and the Gujarat Vidyapith, which was directly under Gandhi.
Chunilal cooked and cleaned and encouraged the students to go to the school with him. Neither the parents nor the children had any desire for education. To create the love for it, Chunilal would spend nights in singing bhajans (hymns), as even the most backward in India love to sing and listen to religious stories and songs. The friendship thus struck up between him and the young and the old members of the Antyaja localities stood him in good stead and the Antyaja school was quite well attended. He also held some meetings just to chat with the students, and at times even slept in their company. He took them to solitary places to enjoy picnics.
Once he went to the students' villages, there he slept with the boys, even the
Bhangiboys in their own quarters. (Bhangi is the lowest caste among even the outcaste "untouchables.") They took the jars and utensils of the "untouchables" to the nearby river or the pond, gave them quite a bright polish by vigorously brushing and cleaning them, and then filled them with water and brought them home. At the sight of "untouchables" using the water of the river or the pond, caste-men would be infuriated. They were scolded and even threatened with dire results. But they cooked their food at night in the same "untouchables" locality and then held hymn-singing parties. Chunilal thus incurred the displeasure, even anger, of the orthodox caste people, but he stood it all.
Encounter with Gandhi and Bessant
The difficulties for Chunilal did not decline. His patron, Shree Indulalbhai Yagnik, surrendered the charge of the Antyaja Seva Mandal whose quarters were then shifted to
Godhra. Chunilal's work simultaneously in two institutions, and the consequent pay from both of them became the object of criticism from some in authority in the Gujarat Vidyapith. A complaint was laid before Gandhi to the effect that Chunilal was getting too high a salary for a servant of poor India. Gandhi therefore questioned him. "Is it right," he was asked in substance, "for a man to draw such a high salary, when he is out to serve our poor people?" His eldest brother was in bed with one of the then most expensive illness, tuberculosis. He was also maintaining a family of 6 persons; his mother and brother's wife had to toil for making both the ends meet even after the salary he drew, etc.
Gandhi then put him the second question, "How can you, at this young age, work at a time for two institutions, each of which demands great physical labour and mental efficiency?" Chunilal drew himself up. He burst out in English, "William Pith, the younger, was the Prime Minister of England at the age of 24." Gandhi laughed. The interview was over. A short time later he was told, "You cannot properly mind two institution at one time," and was asked to select one out of the two. Nobody had examined the proficiency or otherwise of his work.
Quietly, he chose to serve the Antyaja School at Nadiad. He did it though for a short while only. The hostel was closed and the boys were shifted to Godhra hostel under the reconstituted Antyaja Seva Mandal. Chunilal still continued his practice of winning the love of the untouchables even after the school hours. However, there was a teacher of the Antyaja school who showed irritation at the fact that Chunilal gave up the hostel work without any protest. He goaded him: "This is a most shameful insult. Why don't you rise up against this papal bull? You are a coward. No guts to stand up for justice and truth." But Chunilal was already a believer in "balance and just are God's decrees." In 1919, British government imposed Black Acts (Rowlatt Act), against the Mahasabha, which came up with big agitation. At that time
Annie Besantwas the President of the organization. She started Home Rule League, and fought in the whole country against the British. Once when Annie Beasant came to Nadiad, then local leaders linked with different institute at Nadiad arranged her visit of their institution. In the evening she was to visit Antyaja Seva Mandal where Chunilal worked. Visit of different institute took longer time than expected.
Because of that she was not able to reach to the Antyaja Seva Mandal in the evening, at the closing time of the school. Leaders pass on the message to Chunilal "Not to allow the children studying to leave until they reach over there even if it is late. Chunilal was in confusion, innocent small children were kept in up till evening, and now to keep them late would be torturing. Chunilal's heart did not like that and children were allowed to go home. Late when Annie Beasant accompanied by the leaders arrived they were angry seeing this. Oh' Chunilal, How could children were allowed to leave? We are feeling depressed. Without obliging to the leaders Chunilal straight away told them, children are not sheep or goat (animal) that they can be kept in one place with a stick in our hand. You could not reach at the fixed time, for that, to punish children. After that, looking at Annie Beasant said, Sister, if I have done wrong you give justice. This impressed Annie Beasant and laughing replied, brother, you are absolutely right- children are like flying birds in the sky, forcibly if we keep them would be like keeping them in prison.
Gandhi–Irwin Pactreleased civil disobedience prisoners from the jails and a meeting was held at Nadiad to reorganize the disrupted work of the Antyaja Seva Mandal. The Vice - President, Shree Narasinhbhai Patel, presided. Though aged, he had not lost his old fire. In his youth he was a revolutionary, a believer in the religious group of the bomb, and had to suffer exile for many years. For removing untouchability he pooh-poohed, what he termed, and the cart-speed method of providing education etc., which the Antyaja Seva Mandal had adopted. His anger was directed also against the digging of wells in Antyaja localities, which he thought - not quite wrongly - strengthened rather than removed the bar sinister against the outcastes.
"What was wanted," he emphasized, "was for brave high caste volunteers to get their heads broken at the public wells, ponds, temples etc. to establish the untouchables' right of equal citizenship. That is real removal of untouchability. Your method is consistent with your own safety." He had, he must have thought, the support of Gandhiji in this view, since the latter had just recently helped a Satyagraha of that type at Vaikom in South India. After this toss at the workers, he left the meeting. Chunilal was not the man to take it lying down. There was an exchange of meaningful glances between him and a colleague. There and then both of them tendered their resignations and the next morning went directly to Shree Narsinhbhai's residence at Anand. "We have come," Chunilal said, "to get our heads broken. We have resigned. Now be our leader for a Satyagraha at a public well."
Shree Narsinhbhai was astounded at this most unexpected and immediate acceptance of what was in effect a challenge thrown by him. He said he would consult Gandhi and on his approval call them. For two reasons perhaps Gandhiji demurred. The Ezhuvas in S. India (an untouchable community) were highly enlightened, conscious of their rights and prepared to suffer the worst. Nothing of the kind with the Gujarati untouchables. They would be crushed if caste Hindus were red with anger. Besides he did not want to create any confusion just then. The Gandhi - Irwin pact had brought the country at the crossroads. The whole Congress had put its faith in Gandhiji. He was invited to the 2nd Round Table Conference (the first without the Congress had failed). He could do so with honour, only if certain hitches were cleared. He was, therefore, in constant touch with the Viceroy. Clearly, any internal ruffle would lower the Congress prestige, then at its zenith, and harm its interests.
The times were thus out of joint. The program was cancelled, but those does not in the least detract from Chunilal's attraction for dare - devil deeds. The stakes in his case were quite high. He risked not merely his personal safety but also the maintenance of a whole family.
Reverting to the earlier times, Chunilal found himself in the grip of a nasty disease. Following his brothers death from tuberculosis, his income was suffering. At the same time Chunilal had already taken, with the holy water on his palm, an irrevocable oath to serve the country on a modest salary and never to accept any offer of a tempting lucrative job. He was thus in a torturing fix. Intensely he yearned to free himself from the worries of a rigorous debtor, the insults heaped upon him and the pricks of his conscience, but saw no way to do so. Pressed on all sides, he found himself a helpless victim of overpowering emotion and inability to extricate himself from the besetting circumstances. All this preyed upon his mind so heavily and persistently that he began to have fits of unconsciousness. He had even the experience of a sudden onset, which made him fall down from his cycle and see the institution's coins loosely scattered on the road.
Chunilal had, it seems, an innate love for solitude. For relaxation from the irritating situation, he resorted twice to solitary places on the bank of the holy Narmada. As all that is God's expression and more so, as rivers sustain life, they are worshiped in India as God's emblems, as Divine Mothers. On the first occasion, Chunilal was accompanied by Shree Maheshbhai Mehta and Shree Bhanuprasad Pandya. He made the second trip without a single companion and stayed in the Ranchhodji Temple beyond the Mokhdi ghat (ghat = bank) of Narmada.
A saintly sannyasi lived there. In pursuance of his habit he served that saint there. The saint saw Chunilal succumb to the fits and, to bless him for his loving service, said, "Chant the holy Name. It will cure you. " And then followed his prophecy: "After one year, you will happen to meet your Guru." Chunilal wistfully reflected: "Mere chanting a cure for this fell disease ! Impossible. Oh if only he had given me some potent charm!" (Sadhu's do something possesses charms or effective drugs.)
His gloom sank deeper still. "What a shame," he said to himself. "Only weak-minded, over-sensitive women catch this disease, and I, a young man in his twenties, so effeminate as to be a prey to it! Better death than this." So he came to the desperate resolve of ending his life. On his return from the Ranchhodji Temple, he came to a high rock, a very solitary place up the river, higher up than Garudeshwar. 'Just the site for me,' he thought and down he threw himself from that high rock into the still and deep waters of Narmada.
Miracle saves him
Hardly did his soles touch the water of the
Narmada Riverwhen a gigantic wave rose up and hurled him back on the bank far beyond the spot from which he had fallen. And in the middle of that huge wave he had the vision of a charming nymph. 'Mother Narmada Herself!' he was convinced. This vision and the up throw assured him: "By the (GOD'S) grace I am meant for something." That was turning point of His life. Since then there arose within him an urge to turn his life-course God ward and its intensity grew and grew until it became the one and only passion of his life.
Contact with saints
Chunilal's patroness was more to him than his own mother, - one to whom he could disclose his deepest secrets. To her he went straight from the place of the above miracle, - but alas! His want of faith in the potency of chanting the Name continued. God comes to the rescue of his would-be whole-hearted devotee when he persists in his error. In her house, too, Chunilal had a hysteric fit just when he came on the second floor at the top-end of the staircase. Like a stone, he rolled down every step until he fell with a thud on the paved bricks on the first floor. In this semi-conscious state he had the vision of the benevolent sadhu whom he had met earlier. "Why won't you even try chanting? What do you lose?" The
sadhuurged in irritation. Even this vision and the reproach had no immediate effect.
But at that time Chunilal's mind and other internal implements had no desire at all for spiritual effort and no faith in the chanting. All the same the vision was too impressive to be overlooked and he narrated it to his trusted mother. "Dear, dear," she exclaimed. "You are very fortunate! Now just go on chanting the God's name at all times - the while you eat and drink, walk and talk, do anything whatever or sit at ease. It is sure to cure you." Chunilal had at that time greater faith in her spiritual mother than in that sannayasi. It was her persuasion that made Chunilal begin chanting.
So, at last, Chunilal began chanting the Hari Om
mantra. Thence began his sadhana (spiritual effort or process of the elevation of the soul to Life Divine). The chant provided a healthy substitute for his absorption in low thoughts. A new interest in life, an enthusiasm for coming out of its groove, courage, moral and mental stamina, and proneness to equipoise, increased day by day and the fits subsided entirely in 3 or 4 months.
The race of death
Even after this announcement he kept up his habit of going to the South where
Guru Purnimaused to be celebrated. His visits of Surat and Nadiad Ashrams alternately were also continued as before. And all the while the diseases and old age illness (he was nearly 78 at the end) told on him and his body began to exact its price.
For the first time, in July 1976, he dropped his regular visit of South India to observe the Guru PurnimaDay there. He had already announced that he would retire to a secret refuge and refuse to meet anybody thenceforth. But according to the previously fixed program he was to start for the quiet secret stay in the morning of the Guru Purnima from the Surat Ashram. Hence his devotees there requested him to let them celebrate that day and give him their meed. He agreed to wait till 7.30 a.m. only. Under torrential rain and in the early morning a large number of devotees managed to come to the Ashram 8 miles away from the city. They performed Guru- Pooja (worship) and offered prayers and their mite of money. At 7.30 a.m. sharp Pujya Shree Mota left the Surat Ashram for Vidyanagar (his intended resort) near Anand in Kaira District to stay with a devotee- couple there.
Owing to the unusually heavy downpour many tunnels had overflowed. Pujya Shree Mota's car tried several routes but all roads were impassable and he returned to the Surat Ashram at 12 noon. The next day again the same attempt was made. This time he could reach Baroda, but had to stop there for the same reason of water flowing over roads in the city. He went to Sri Ramandhai Amin, the famous proprietor of Alembic Chemical Works, and with great difficulty at last reached his Ashram at Nadiad.
The last flicker
There was a serious crisis in his health at the Nadiad Ashram. On
16 July(1976) the prostate trouble grew deadly and for 36 hours there was no discharge of urine. The rain had made the Ashram a peninsula unforgivable on three sides. Wading through knee-deep water on the one side left crossable. Dr. Kantaben (wife among the devoted couple he wanted to go to at Vidyanagar) brought Dr. Virendrabhai, the well-known urologist, who too had to wade through water. He put a catheter. Nearly 3 liters of urine had accumulated in the receptacle, when Dr. Virendrabhai came again the next day on 18 July.
The body's last refuge
The decision was made to give up the body voluntarily and then cremated on
July 19, 1976. According to the program already fixed he was to go on July 22, 1976to Fazalpur, where Sri Ramanbhai Amin had a bungalow at a secluded spot on the bank of the Mahi River. In spite of his hazardous health and the fact that it was raining cats and dogs, he was determined to keep the program as best as he could.
On the morning of
22 July, four persons held a tarpaulinover his head to see him brought safely into a car. Dr. Mrs. Kantaben's Fiat preceded his as a pilot car. The very second the approach road was passed and they came up to the main road, all the electric lights of the Nadiad Ashram went off. It was a symbolic gesture and an inmate even cry out, "Mota has now gone for ever." On the preceding day Pujya Shree Mota took a round in his wheel chair and passed by each and every one of the trees and shrubs in the Ashram to bid his final goodbye to them.
In view of the incessantly heavy rain and so of difficulty in cremation, Sri Nandubhai suggested that death might be postponed for about three days. Pujya Shree Mota burst out in English to emphasize his point of a stern refusal, "This is not a matter of discussion." At 3-p.m.
July 22, 1976Sri Ramanbhai Amin was asked in a phone to come up to Fazalpur (from Baroda). After his arrival Pujya Shree Mota sent hurriedly Sri Ramanbhai's children who came to greet Mota, back to Baroda.
Under his instruction Pujya Shree Mota was taken into a room at 4 p.m. Only 6 persons - Sri Nandubhai, Mr. and Mrs. Ramanbhai, Mr. and Mrs. Ram (Dr. Mrs. Kantaben) and Sri Rajendra - were then present and they were called into the room. He told them, "You may sit in the room or go out, just as you please. Nobody should speak to me or touch me. Let my catheter remain with the body - it is my life-mate. You may chant the name of Lord." All the six decided to stay on in the room and remember God, each according to his or her liking.
At 00.30 a.m. Dr. Mrs. Kantaben felt his pulse. It was irregular at 30 to 35 beats a minute. Earlier, Sri Nandubhai had a feeling that in alignment with Pujya Shree Aurobindo, Pujya Shree Mota also would give up the body at 1.30 a.m. (on Friday
23 July). He did so.
Moun Mandir (Silence Rooms)
During his period of
sadhana, Pujya Sri Motaji had to undergo many hardships for want of a suitable solitary place and for want of getting a regular supply of food. To save others from such troubles and worries, he established Moun Mandir (Silence Rooms) in his ashrams to provide spiritual aspirants with an absolutely secluded and safe shelter, a regular supply of food and other daily necessities.
These Silence Rooms may quite properly be termed as "caves of old with modern facilities." They are available to everyone without any distinction of caste or creed. No advice or guidance is given to the occupant unless he specifically asks for it. He can chant any mantra or prayers he likes, and he can worship any deity.
Since they were established, thousands of persons have taken advantage of these Silence Rooms. The aspiring entrant must first contact the manager of the ashram to reserve one such room, as rooms are few compared to the demand for them. The room is booked for 7, 14, 21 or even more days. As an experiment the entrant should take to silence for, at best, a week. His followers believe that prayers and meditations in these Silence Rooms purify the mind, create indelible and powerful samskaras (spiritual impressions that will germinate later on), and make the pilgrim's path smoother. Silence does not just mean outward silence, but silence of thought, urges and attitudes.
The routine begins at 4.00 a.m. At 4.45 a.m., tea is served and then hot water for a bath. Personal belongings may be given out for wash and are returned in the afternoon. Lunch is provided at 10.00 a.m., followed by tea at 2.00 p.m. and supper at 5.00 a.m. Everything is supplied through a two-way window. As no post or newspapers are given, the entrant is almost cut of from the outside world. The rooms have an electric alarm bell for use in an emergency.
There is a nominal charge to cover the upkeep of the building, water supply, alert attendance around the clock, electricity, washing of clothes, hot water, two meals and hot drinks. Milk may also be supplied for an extra charge.
* [http://hariom.org/ Hariom.org]
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