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Sheherwalis: The Bankers of Bengal who faded into oblivion after Partition

The Sheherwalis culture began after Manikchand became the first banker of Murshidabad and acquired the title of ‘jagat seth’ meaning banker of the world

A Jain Temple in Murshidabad. Image Source: Panoramio.com
  • Sheherwalis first came to settle in the fertile land of Bengal about 300 years back
  • The community played a significant role in establishment of the first jute mill in the region and leaded major business organizations across Bengal
  • The architecture of the 14 Jain temples in Murshidabad, constructed by the members of the community, also points to the community’s rich cultural heritage

While it was about 300 years back that the Sheherwalis first came to settle in the fertile land of Bengal, they have certainly left an indelible mark on its culture and tradition.

It all started when Manikchand, a rich Jain merchant migrated from the barren deserts of Rajasthan and encouraged Murshid Quli Khan, who later became the first Nawab of Bengal, to leave Dhaka and find a city with his name on the banks of the Hoogly.

Thereafter, the village of Maksudabad was transformed into a city named Murshidabad in 1717. After which, Manikchand became the Nawab’s personal banker.

The Sheherwalis culture began after Manikchand became the first banker of Murshidabad and acquired the title of ‘jagat seth’ meaning banker of the world, reported The Hindu.

Though the Nawabs of Murshidabad did not enjoy a long history and suffered a major blow with the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the culture of Sheherwalis continued to flourish.

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Manikchand also invited a number of  Jain families to settle in Murshidabad, and in the nearby  twin cities of Azimganj and Ziaganjj. And this is how, the Nahars, Dudhorias, Dugars, Nowlakhas, Singhis and Kotharis among other such communities settled in the area.

An opulent dinner in a Sheherwali home. Image source: Special Arrangement by The Hindu
An opulent dinner in a Sheherwali home. Image source: Special Arrangement by The Hindu

These new settlers also started adopting the native ways of living, including food, attire, customs and language and added to evolving a community different from the Marwaris.

Pradip Chopra, a Kolkata-based entrepreneur noted that Sheherwalis were discreet investors and so made a lot of money. Over a period of time, they came to be known as one among the wealthiest sections of Bengal.

Chopra further said, the Sheherwalis used to live in huge mansions, which were often designed by architects from England and France. In fact, the architecture of the 14 temples constructed by the Jain community in Murshidabad reflects the rich cultural heritage of the community.

“They were essentially bankers who introduced a system of doing transaction with hundis, or promissory notes, instead of actual money. It should be remembered that the entire revenue from Bengal, the most prosperous province during the time, was sent to the Mughal emperor through such hundis and was worth 20 million silver coins. Manikchand made a lot of money in the process,” he added.

The Sheherwali were also the chief moneylenders of the region. According to a document, they also gave money to the Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, who used to finance companies from France, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Britain, as well as some Indian Nawabs.

The community played a significant role in the establishment of the first jute mill in the region and leaded major business organizations across Bengal.

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Over the years, they emerged as one of the wealthiest communities of Bengal. The architecture of the 14 Jain temples in Murshidabad, constructed by the members of the community, also points to the community’s rich cultural heritage.

Apart from the industries, Sheherwalis immensely contributed to philanthropic works like funding the establishment of colleges and hospitals in Murshidabad.

Another interesting aspect of Sheherwalis culture is the influence of Bengali cuisine on their vegetarian food. Their use of ‘paanch phoron’ and adoption of ‘pitha’ are some of the examples of the community’s affinity for Bengali food.

Bengal immensely influenced Sheherwalis’ attire as well. The men simply wore kurta and dhoti along with a pagri (headgear) resembling that of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and pump shoes instead of their traditional Rajasthani attire.

The women switched to sarees but had their own unique style of draping it.

Though this community in East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) became disoriented and scattered after Partition, they are now struggling to orient the younger generation with their rich cultural past.

-prepared by Bulbul Sharma, a staff-writer at NewsGram. Twitter handle: iBulbul_


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Jain Humanitarian Organization ‘Veerayatan’ in USA takes Unique Projects to Spread Message of Peace

Jain humanitarian organization- Veerayatan spreads the message in U.S. about Palitana Project and Nepal Project

Feet prayer by Jains
A Jain Humanitarian Organization in US takes Unique Projects to Spread Message of Peace. Wikimedia
  • The organization, Veerayatan is made up of two words, ‘Veer’ for Lord Mahavir and ‘aayatan’ which means holy place
  • Palitana will be a university with a four-year program of studies, will include a study of Jainism and also science education, a modern curriculum with a spiritual base

New Jersey (U.S.A), July 28, 2017: There is an Indian humanitarian organization by the name Veerayatan, it draws inspiration from the Jain faith and is implementing some unique projects like a university for women aspiring into monkhood, with four years of study and a concerted effort to help Nepal to build a better life for its citizens.

The organization, Veerayatan is made up of two words, ‘Veer’ for Lord Mahavir and ‘aayatan’ which means a holy place. According to its website, it was founded in 1973, by Acharya Shri Chandana ji, and was inspired by the teachings of Tirthankar Mahavir and Rashtrasant Amar Muniji Maharaj. It describes itself as “a non-profit, non-governmental, socio-religious organization,” on its Facebook page.

5,000 Jains in Hyderabad gather to Chant ‘Navkar Manthra’

According to a TOI  report, Acharya Shri Chandanaji said, “the projects had been well received by the approximately 5,000 attendees,” at the JAINA Convention held in Edison, New Jersey, United States, from June 30 to July 4. Veerayatan was recognized as the Best Institution of the Year, by JAINA. It may be noted that Chandana was the first ever female Jain sadhvi  to have received the title of Acharya.

Acharya Shri Chandana Ji’s message at the Convention was that actions should replace talk about compassion and non-violence. “For thousands of years we have spoken on non-violence and compassion, but what is necessary is that- where we live and are surrounded by people who need food, whose eyes are filled with tears.  We should do something about that,” she said.

She added that one does not have to search for God. God will come to those who will do these acts. “Our organization is just a drop in the ocean in what should be a worldwide effort,” she said, noting, “JAINA Convention very patiently listened and our message was well received.”

On the ‘Nepal Project,’ Acharya Chandanaji said that They had been working in that country for the last 2 years and wants people from surrounding countries in the South Asian Subcontinent, the U.S., and around the world, to step forward and the Nepalese will achieve a better life and good governance. She found the people of Nepal, hardworking and gentle, who need and deserve help from people skilled in various areas of endeavor, and shared this message at the JAINA Convention.

“Our vision is that surrounding nations (and others) can help Nepal in the effort for development – both spiritually and to establish a good government,” Acharya Chandanaji said.

A Sadhvi being carried in Jain culture
A Sadhvi being carried in Jain culture. Wikimedia

The organization’s ‘Palitana Project ‘ named after the place where Veerayatan was first formed, seeks to create a center for Jain studies for sadhvis and those wanting to become one. This Project is led by Jainesh Mehta, a Texas-based longstanding IT software professional in the oil industry, and philanthropist whose Mehta Family Foundation is known for its charitable efforts. Mehta said that the vision is for Palitana to be a university with a four-year program of studies, will include a study of Jainism and also science education, a modern curriculum with a spiritual base. It is a place where education and worship go together. The campus would also offer- one day, one week, one month or other duration of courses to those needing them, he added.

Peace and Non-Violence: Inculcation of Jain Philosophies in the Youth for a Better Tomorrow

Last year alone, around 1,000 girls and women took Deeksha in Palitana, a vow by which worldly life is given up for an ascetic life. For this transformation, they have to give up their households to live in poverty but they don’t get an opportunity to have an education. “This project helps them live their life but also get this education. It is a one-of-a-kind campus being built,” to help fill the gap, Mehta indicated.

According to its website, Veerayatan stands on the three pillars-  Seva (service to humanity), Shiksha (education for all), and Sadhana (self-development) to inspire and empower lives.

Its various activities include Seva Mandirs, which include medical camps, eye surgeries, and post-surgery care for the most underserved populace; schools, colleges, hostels, and vocational training; rehabilitation and emergency relief programs in the wake of natural calamities; Brahmi Kala Mandir, an art gallery comprising inventive media to better understand life, culture, and religion; guest houses and libraries; and prayer halls, spiritual retreats, and inspirational programs for all age groups.

– prepared by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08

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‘Livelihood Creation in India’ : The Socio-economic well being of Women through West Bengal’s Murshidabad Handlooms

Women weaving , Wikimedia

Murshidabad, Jan 20, 2017: Handloom weaves have breathed a new lease of life in vulnerable women in West Bengal’s Murshidabad who would otherwise be at the risk of being trafficked thanks to a livelihood-creation project taken up by Harvard University’s South Asia Initiative (SAI) in collaboration with Tata Trusts.

Freeset Fabrics, an NGO working in Murshidabad, was selected by SAI as one of the six social enterprises that were given grants and support for rural livelihood creation in the Indian crafts sector.

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This is part of an 18-month project named ‘Livelihood Creation in India’.

“Our objective of supporting the NGO is livelihood creation in poor rural communities of Murshidabad for vulnerable women who would otherwise be at risk of trafficking into prostitution, bonded labour or migration,” said Shashank Shah, Project Director and Fellow Harvard University SAI.

The other five social enterprises that also received grants are Women Weave from Madhya Pradesh, Kumaun Grameen Udyog (KGU) from Uttarakhand, Craftizen Foundation from Karnataka, Chitrika from Andhra Pradesh and Raah Foundation from Maharashtra.

They have chosen handloom textiles to build on a tradition that was once thriving in this area but which has declined over recent decades, Shah added.

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The core theme of the project focuses on three key areas: rural livelihood creation through emphasis on the handicrafts and handloom sectors, educational, social and economic empowerment of women and science and technology-based social entrepreneurship.

“As part of this program, budding social entrepreneurs and crafts enterprises in India applied for social innovation grants totaling Rs 50 lakh, to stimulate interventions and scale up existing initiatives that can lead to greater impact in select geographies,” a statement said. (IANS)


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K. J. Somaiya Centre for Studies in Jainism announces admissions for its courses in Jainology

K. J. Somaiya Centre for Studies in Jainism introduces a course to study India’s sixth largest religion, Jainism

Jain Mahavir Temple. Image source: www.pagalparrot.com
  • K.J Somaiya Centre for Studies in Jainism has announced opening of admissions to its Mumbai University accredited courses in Jainology
  • Jainism teaches one to believe in non-violence and hence achieve liberation of the soul
  • The courses will be conducted in English, Hindi, and Gujarati

K.J Somaiya part of the esteemed Somaiya Vidyavihar clan is now all set to introduce its Jainism program to students all over India. Jainism is the study of life that believes in harmlessness and renunciation. It teaches one to believe in non-violence and hence achieve the liberation of the soul. Many people confuse Jainism with Buddhism. Though both the ancient religions were originated in India and both of them emphasize on non-violence but unlike Buddhism, Jainism puts non-violence, as it’s very core value.

With about 4,200,000 Jains in India as per the 2001 census, the Jainism program will be popular amongst a large number of the Indian population. The introduction of a course to study India’s sixth largest religion will not only aid the Jain population but also help people understand Jainism in a grander light. The courses being offered are:

  1. Certificate course in Jainology (one year part-time)
  2. Diploma course in Jainology (one year part-time)
  3. Prakrit language courses (one year part-time)
  4. A by research (two years)
  5. H.D philosophy (minimum two years)
  6. Short-term courses (three months part time)

Keeping in mind the varied population of India, coming from different backgrounds and speaking different languages, K.J Somaiya conducts the above courses in English, Hindi, and Gujarati. The courses are made available for the 9-5 working strata of the society too as flexibility in timing is available.

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About Somaiya VidyaVihar:

K.J.SOMAIYA CENTRE FOR BUDDHIST STUDIES Logo Image source: www.somaiya.edu
K.J.Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies Logo. Image source: www.somaiya.edu

Somaiya VidyaVihar encompasses 34 institutions, with more than 35,000 students and 1,400 faculties. Its main campus is in Mumbai, but Somaiya Vidyavihar also operates six schools in rural India. It was founded by the Shri Karamshi Jethabhai Somaiya in 1959, to provide quality holistic education.

Somaiya Vidyavihar has always been a place with a purpose – making a positive difference in the quality of life of its students and the community. It is known as much for its science, technology, engineering, management, social sciences and commerce programs, as for its programs for academic studies in various faiths and cultures of India.

You can check out their website at www.somaiya.edu

Jainism in Mumbai:

Jain Temples, Jain trusts and big industries owned by Jains, proves that Jainism is thriving in Mumbai. Adding to that, there are prosperous Jain communities living in many areas in Mumbai. Godiji Parshwanath Temple, one of the oldest temples in Mumbai constructed in 1812 symbolizes the growth of this religion in the metropolitan city. Another example is Dakshin Bharat Jain Sabha, a religious and social service organisation which is headquartered in Maharashtra, India.

-by Karishma Vanjani, an intern with NewsGram. Twitter @BladesnBoots