Melbourne’s Jain community has much to cheer for

By Indira Laisram
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In the early 2000s, the Jain community in Melbourne was still a fledgling one. Yet they were able to knit together as a group in ways other diasporic relationships do. Starting with small gatherings which ‘slowly and steadily’ picked momentum, they would sow a dream together for building a Jain temple in this pulsing multicultural city.

For Nitin Doshi, who has been president of the Melbourne Shwetambar Jain Sangh ever since its inception in 2007, that dream came true this August 4 with the laying of the foundation stone of the Jain temple—the first of its kind in Melbourne. And for the 500 or more Jain families here, this is a significant project for a fraternity small in size.

Sneha Mehta, a community member, believes this is not just an event but a vivid emotion. “Emotion as a result of relentless hard work and unwavering commitment graced with gratitude for his blessings. An emotion laying the foundation of our connection to the almighty. An emotion envisioning our dream eventuating into reality—that is the Shilyanhas (foundation).”

Doshi reminisces the idea for the temple was floated in 2016. “That year we collectively decided that we need to have the temple for the benefit of the current and the future generation.”

Of course, apart from the determination what is needed is money. So Doshi and his team visited 275 Jain families personally at the time and explained to them the significance of what they wanted to achieve. They immediately got a support of $3.2 million, a sign that the Jains hold everything in common. “We allowed everybody two years to pay for it and as soon as we received this commitment of $3.2 million, we started the search for a place.”

Fortunately for them, it was a comfort that the place they had been utilising for community and other activities on a rental basis for the past 12 years at Rowans Rd, Morabbin was up for grabs. The Masonic Lodge that had rented out the property to the Jains decided to sell it and approached the community directly saying if they wanted it, they wouldn’t even go to the market.

Doshi believes there is divine intervention there. “In a hot property market like what we currently have, it all seemed a bit unreal.” And after a bit of negotiation, the Melbourne Shwetambar Jain Sangh acquired the property at the cost of $2.9 million in a well-established area, 16.5 km from the CBD, about three fourth of an acre or roughly 2,800 sq metre.

Everything else fell into place. With a worship permit already there, they lodged an application for a planning permit which was granted within seven months, thanks to “the tremendous support from the city of Kingston, Mayor, councillors and officials as typically this takes anywhere between 15-18 months”.

For any good project, the Jains believe there has to be a guru to spiritually guide it. Fortunately again for them, they found that guidance in Guru Param Pujya Acharya Jagvallabh Suri Maharaja from India. “We got the blessing of God that’s why we got the idea of building the temple, and now we got the blessing of the guru so we commenced our journey,” says Doshi.

The guru’s guidance means a constant spiritual supervision at every stage of the project—from the selection of auspicious days to puja preparations and so on.

Interestingly, the community also got its start with the observance of fasts as members sought to effect goodness and sacrifice towards realising the temple dream. “As soon as we decided, some of the community members came forward and took a vow that until we establish the Jain temple, one member will do the fasting every day. The first fast took place on August 17, 2016 and it is still going on. It is like a chain and a form of tapasya (penance). We are telling God that this is our commitment to you that we will continue to fast until you help us establish our goal,” explains Doshi. So far, more than 1,815 fasts have been completed and is ongoing.

The temple, as the Jains conceive, will be a replica of any Jain temple in India full of architectural marvels. Renowned Indian architect Rajesh Sompura will be leading the project. And the overall estimated cost, including the acquisition of the land, is expected to be about $13 million.

The prominent features will be the marble carvings that will be linked to Jain history, says Doshi. The carving work commenced in November last year in India and eight specialised workers from India will come to validate the structure here and put together 5,500 carved marbles weighing 1,500 tonnes.

“The consignments have not yet arrived for two reasons—one, the foundation stone had to be laid and two, because of the pandemic the specialised eight people who are supposed to come for the installation have not been able to do so,” says Doshi.

The other unique aspect of the temple will be the foundation, says Doshi, which will be along the lines of the Jain Shilpa Shashtra, the ancient manuals for art and crafts and temple construction-related principles that have been laid down thousands of years ago. “We do not use steel as it can erode and it is not a rich material. In any typical foundation, the concreting has steel. But we are using a substitute material for steel for our foundation as it has to be strong to hold 1,500 tonnes of marble. We are using one of the latest technology called fibre reinforcement and this structure has to be signed off by the Australian Structural Engineer otherwise we cannot build.

“Many professionals in the construction industry are scratching their heads thinking how 1,500 tonnes of marble can stand on a structure without steel. But as you and I know, in India there are temples that have existed for thousands of years without the use of steel and our Melbourne temple will be no different,” says Doshi, adding, “When we build our house, we use the best material, when we build a house for our God it has to be even better.”

If everything goes well subject to, of course, the corona, the Melbourne Shwetambar Jain Sangh hopes to commence the actual construction by end of this year. “We want to finish by June 2023, 22-23 months from today,” says Doshi. He also hopes to publish a book that will contain the significance of every piece of marble that is being carved once the project is completed.

Doshi, who migrated to Australia in 1992 leaving behind a lucrative career, believes a plan was drawn for him. “It seems to me now that God has brought me to Australia only for this purpose… I have been over the moon simply because I am part of this temple project from day one and I will see it through.”

Fom what it appears though, the Jain temple promises a world of architectural excellence and learning.


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