Acharya Hemchandra was born in 1088 A
.D. into the Modha Vanik (merchant) caste, in the town of Dhandhuka, sixty
miles from the city Ahmedabad in Gujarat State. His parents were Chachadev
and Pahini. When Pahini was pregnant, she had a beautiful dream. She
narrated her dream to Acharya Devasuri, who was in Dhandhuka at that time.
The acharya said that Pahini was to give birth to a son who would make
great progress in the areas of spiritual knowledge, intuition, and
conduct. Upon the birth the child was named Changdeva.
The next time Acharya Devasuri was in
Dhandhuka, he saw Pahini carrying her son. He said to Pahini, "Let me take
care of this brilliant son. He is destined to be a great spiritual
leader." However, he could not convince her to give him her son. The
acharya kept pursuing and reminding that her son would become a famous
monk and would glorify the Jain Order. Again, he requested that she should
sacrifice her self-interest and love for the child for the good of the
people. Ultimately, Pahini let the acharya take her son with him.
He initiated Changdeva into monkshood and named him Somachandra. The
disciple was very intelligent and soon mastered the darshanas, scriptures,
nyaya, grammar, etc. At the same time, he cultivated excellent virtues
like forbearance, tolerance, holiness, simplicity, discipline, chastity,
and generosity. Somachandra was incomparable in administration and
efficiency. Acharaya Devasuri made Somachandra an acharya when he was only
twenty-one years old. At that time, he was given the name Hemchandra
The fame of Hemchandra's efficacy and
knowledge gradually spread everywhere. The noble culture was on the rise
in Gujarat due to the ability of Hemchandra and the cooperation of King
Siddharaja of Gujarat. King Siddharaja was succeeded by Kumarpal.
Hemchandra had predicted seven years earlier that Kumarpal would be the
king. Also, the acharya had once saved Kumarpal's life. Therefore,
Kumarpal considered Hemchandra his spiritual teacher (guru) and
benefactor. Kumarpal gave him the exceptional honor and sought his advice
in the shaping of his kingdom in Gujarat. In a very short time, Gujarat
became a center of non-violence, learning, and good culture.
Hemchandra did not only think of the
development of his own career, but always thought of the universal
welfare. In spite of this, some Brahmins were very jealous about this and
they were trying to disgrace Hemchandracharya and Jainism. Therefore, some
Brahmins approached King Kumarpal and said, "Hemchandracharya is a very
egoistic person and he does not respect Hindu Gods." King Kumarpal was not
ready to accept these views about his spiritual teacher, Hemchandracharya.
Brahmins requested King Kumarpal that he should invite Hemchandracharya to
come to the temple of Lord Shiva (God of destruction). The purpose of this
was to humiliate Hemchandracharya because they thought he would not go to
the temple of Lord Shiva and bow down to him. When Hemchandracharya came,
King Kumarpal said, "We would go to the temple of Lord Shiva." He accepted
the offer without any hesitation. Brahmins were happy in their mind
thinking that they would be able to make their point today and glorify
their religion. Yet, they were wrong. They underestimated Hemchandracharya.
To the surprise of those Brahmins, Hemchandracharya bowed down in front of
Lord Shiva but by saying,
kshaymupagata yasya; Brahma va Vishnurva haro Jino va namastasmai."
Meaning, "I am bowing down to that god, who has destroyed the passions
like attachment (Rag) and hatred (Dwesh) which are the cause of worldly
life, whether he is Brahma, Vishnu, or Jina."
This showed that indeed the acharya was
genius and had a broad-minded attitude based on basic Jain principles.
Under Hemchandra's influence, King Kumarpal accepted the Jainism. He
prohibited violence and killing of any animal in his kingdom. King
Kumarpal made many laws that nurtured the Jain religion. Vegetarianism was
found not only in the Jains, but also in all the people of Gujarat.
Jainism became the land of the region.
Hemchandra composed several literary
works that included many verses. The acharya was the first one to put
non-violence on a political platform. He was the architect of the
greatness and unity of Gujarat. In the field of metaphysics, he was a
Yogi. His work Yoga-Shastra, a treatise on yoga, is very famous. People
called him 'Kali-kala Sarvajna' meaning Ďall-knower in the dark periodí.
He died in 1173 A. D. at the age of eighty-four. The Jain culture still
shines brightly in Gujarat, due to the influence of the literary works
contributed by the great Acharya Hemchandra.