Virachand Raghav Gandhi (Gujarati: વીરચંદ રાઘવ ગાંધી; 1864–1901) from Mahuva represented Jains at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 and won a silver medal. Gandhi was most likely the first Jain & First Gujarati to travel to the United States and his statue still stands at the Jain temple in Chicago. In his time he was world famous personality .
Gandhi represented Jains in Chicago because the Great Jain Saint Param Pujya Acharya Vijayanandsuri, also known as Acharya Atmaram, was invited to represent the Jain religion at first World Parliament of Religions held in 1893. As Jain monks do not travel overseas, he recommended the bright young scholar Virchand Gandhi to be the emissary for the religion. Atmaramji provided 6 months training to VRG . His disciple Param Pujya Vijay Vallabsuri also used to assist VRG & same is traced by Natuji Shah (Europe) and written in book " Jainism: The World of Conquerors". The 29 year-old Virchand Gandhi impressed everyone with his expressiveness, brilliance and tremendous erudition.
Strangers In This Land by E. Allen Richardson mentions this Parliament and Gandhi's subsequent interview with The New York Times.
In 1885 at the age of 21, Gandhi became the first honorary secretary of the Jain Association of India. During this time the ruler of Gujarat levied a tax on pilgrims visiting Mt. Shatrunjay, Palitana. With great courage and risking his life, Shri Gandhi fought against this tax that he considered to be a horrible injustice. In his fight against the tax Gandhi met Lord Reay, the British colonial governor of Bombay, and Colonel John Watson of the Kathiawar Agency. With the help of these two individuals, Gandhi ultimately negotiated an annual fixed payment of Rs.15000, rather than an individual tax on each pilgrim. Because of this fixed payment, Jains could visit their holy shrines freely.
In 1891 Mr. Boddam, an English man, started a factory for slaughtering animals near Mount Sametshikhar, a holy place of Jain pilgrimage. Virchand Gandhi stayed in Calcutta for six months learning Bengali while preparing his case against the factory and was eventually successful in getting the factory closed.
Gandhi was a contemporary to Swami Vivekanand. Swami Vivekanand used to deeply adore Virchand Gandhi . Swami Vivekanand wrote in 1894 while he was in U.S.A. "This man defends his countrymen and religion. People of this country like him very much. But what are they doing who sent him over? They are trying to outcast him."
Herbert Warren studied Jainism under him and adopted the Jain religion. Warren published a book on Virchand Gandhi's lectures titled Herbert Warren's Jainism.
One American newspaper wrote regarding V.R.Gandhi, "of all Eastern scholars, it was this youth whose lectures on Jain Faith and Conduct was listened to with the greatest interest and attention". In Kasadova, he delivered a lecture on 'Some Mistakes Corrected' on 8 August 1894, which prompted the citizens of the city to award him a gold medal. The newspaper, 'Buffalo Courier', recorded the immense success of that lecture.
At Parliament Gandhi said:
You know, my brothers and sisters, that we are not an independent nation, we are subjects of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, 'defender of the faith'. But if we are a nation in all that name implies, with our own government and our own rulers, with our laws and institutions controlled by us, free and independent, I affirm that we should seek to establish and forever maintain peaceful relations with all the nations of the world." "It is an astonishing fact that foreigners have been constantly attacking India and in the face of all this aggression the soul of India has stood vital and watchful. Her conduct and religion are safe and the whole world looks at India with a steady gaze." He added "Cultural distinctions, agriculture, art, artistic skill, literature, good conduct, means of knowledge, science, hospitality, feminism, love, and respect - all these are found in India in quite a different form. If that culture was purchasable, England would have purchased it, adopted it. But it has not happened, it cannot happen.
Virchand Raghav Gandhi corrected the false, twisted and perverse impression of India being the land of Maharajahs, tigers, cobras, magicians, and heathens without any culture or civilization. He spoke as a Jain, but as an Indian first. His approach was the most nonsectarian. He had studied Buddhism, Vedanta Philosophy, Christianity, and Western Philosophy, all of which enabled him to talk on various subjects and present his views with confidence. Gandhi had a clear vision, an unbiased approach, and clarity in his explanation.V.R.Gandhi defended Indian culture, Hindu religion under unjust criticism in the Parliament and elsewhere by elaborating its principles. He praised Mogul emperor Akbar for his being equal to all religions.
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