The History of Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington (JSMW)
The Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington was established in March 1980 with the objective of promoting a better understanding and following of Jain principles, preserving our rich heritage, and passing it on to our next generation. The constitution was ratified in June 1980, and the IRS non-profit permit was received in October 1980. The Jain Temple and the Jain Center were inaugurated in August 1989 and the church status for JSMW was received from the IRS. From the initial membership of 20 families in 1980, the Jain Society membership has grown to over 650 families and has always stayed as a cohesive harmonized Society.
The Jain Society of Metropolitan Washington (JSMW) has been a pioneer in starting a number of new Jain activities in North America. In 1981, JSMW held the first Jain camp in North America with Gurudev Shree Chitrabhanu. (These summer camps for children and adults continued being held annually with various scholars). In 1985, a bus trip to visit Siddhachalam was arranged and the annual Panch Teerth Yatra (bus trip to 5 Jain temples) was started in 1986. In 1986, JSMW started the celebration of Ahimsa Day on the Thanksgiving Day. In 1987, a religious musical drama “Chandanbala” was performed by 40 children for the first time in North America. Later on, another musical drama “Shripal Mayana” was performed by our children locally in 1993 and was also played at the JAINA Convention in Pittsburg. Other pioneering activities include holding Jainism knowledge competition program called the “Jain Academic Bowl” between Pathshala children and adults each year starting in 1988. The competition was a grand success. It was converted to a national “Jain Academic Bowl” competition organized by our center (JSMW) for youth groups of various Jain Centers at the JAINA conventions in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999. The Jain Academic Bowl program was then turned over to JAINA for execution in future conventions. This legacy has continued with more and more Jain center senior and junior Pathshala teams taking part.
Jain educational classes for children are held on alternate Sundays and current participation has increased to over 150 children. Religious education classes are also held for adults in parallel with the children’s classes. Separate off-site Jain camps for children and adults with Jain scholars were held every year at Mt. Saint Mary’s college campus which was available during their summer closings until 1993 (Campus facilities were not available after 1993 because the college started holding summer classes since 1994). These camps included speeches, meditation/yoga sessions, discussion sessions, crafts, group games, etc. These well-organized camps have been attended by a number of participants including some from very far distances. Lectures and videos on vegetarianism shown during these camps have motivated a large number of children to become vegetarian.
The JSMW has been very active in children’s activities. In addition to the regular Jain classes and camps, Mahavir Janma Kalyanak is celebrated every year with a religious stage program performed by children. Children and youth have also arranged and performed a number of other activities including religious knowledge competition programs; “Show and Tell” programs (wherein children explain one particular aspect of Jainism with the help of their posters). JSMW also arranged a celebration of “Mahavir Jayanti” program at Indian embassy.
Ahimsa Day is celebrated on the Thanksgiving Day by performing Ayambil, arranging lectures on vegetarianism, and inviting other local vegetarian organizations. Pooja and Bhavana programs are held regularly. In addition to regular religious programs, social programs are also held periodically to bring all members, adults as well as children, closer. JSMW has produced a professional audio cassette of devotional songs by Kumari Mangalam, and gave it to Veerayatan for raising funds for Veerayatan hospital. JSMW also takes an active part in the “Food for Homeless” program every year and other community outreach programs.
Paryushan Parva is celebrated with a number of religious activities including 2 to 3 Pravachans every day by an invited muni or Jain scholar. The speakers, as well as some members, stay at the Jain Center throughout the Paryushan Parva. Swapna Ceremony is celebrated with Swapna Gheeboli and carrying of Swapna’s to the beats of drums and music as traditionally done in India. Deravasi and Sthanakvasi Samvatsari Pratikramans are performed separately, and in parallel, Pratikraman in English is also held for children. Das Lakshan Parva is celebrated by holding Pravachans by a Jain scholar. Discourse and lecture programs by Jain munis and scholars are arranged throughout the year as a week-long series of speeches and meditation sessions.
Ahimsa Day is celebrated on the Thanksgiving Day by performing Ayambil, arranging lectures on vegetarianism, and inviting other local vegetarian organizations. Pooja and Bhavana programs are held regularly. In addition to regular religious programs, social programs are also held periodically to bring all members, adults as well as children, closer. JSMW has produced a professional audio cassette of devotional songs by Kumari Mangalam (now Sadhvi Sanmukhpriyaji), and gave it to Veerayatan for raising funds for Veerayatan hospital. JSMW also takes an active part in the “Food for Homeless” program every year and other community outreach programs.
JSMW took a leading role in the formation of the Federation of JAINA in 1981. After its formal establishment in May 1983, our Dr. Manoj Dharamsi was unanimously elected as the first president of JAINA. Our Dr. Sushil Jain was also elected as JAINA as President in 2011-2013. Our members have continued taking leading role in JAINA as members of Executive Committees and as chairpersons of various committees including Convention committees, Constitution Committee, World Community Service Committee, Public Affairs Committee, Award Committee, Marriage Information Services Committee, Media/Public Relations Committee, Membership Committee, Interfaith Committee and Committee on Uplifting Underprivileged Jains. Our youths have also taken a leading role in YJA and YJP. Our members arranged starting of US Congress assembly with Jain prayer in May 2001 to commemorate the 2600th birth anniversary of Lord Mahavir, and have also arranged several non-violence discussion sessions with U.S. Congress/Senate members at the Capitol. JAINA has awarded special recognition awards to a large number of our members including Jain Ratna award to our Dr. Manoj Dharamsi and Dr. Sushil Jain.
JSMW has also taken a leading role in forming “Association of Hindu and Jain Temples of Metropolitan Washington” comprising of the JSMW and other 12 Hindu temple organizations. This association is a member of the local interfaith organization and is playing an active role in these interfaith activities. In addition, it celebrates Diwali on a grand scale with participation by over 10,000 people.
Current Jain Center
The JSMW reached its major milestone in 1989 when it bought a property of 4.35 acres in an excellent neighborhood in Silver Spring, Maryland in March 1989 and the Pratishtha Mahotsav and the inauguration of the 4200 sq. ft. Jain Center with Jain temple was performed in August 1989. The temple has both Shwetambar and Digambar faith Pratimaji with Shantinath Bhagwan as Moolnayak and Chandrabhu and Naminath Bhagwan on either side of Moolnayak. Pratishtha was performed in the presence of Chaturvidh Sangh including 7 Sadhu and 2 Sadhvi, viz., Acharya Sushil Kumarji, Gurudev Chitrabhanuji, Bandhu Triputi (Munivijayji, Keertichandraji, and Jinchandraji), Charukeerti Bhattarakji, Amarendra Muniji, and Sadhvi Shree Madhusmitaji and Jaysmitaji.
Future Jain Center
With the continuous rise in the membership and religious/social activities, the current temple and the Jain Center facility is not adequate and there is a need for a larger facility. Hence, a 5.25-acre parcel of land was purchased in 2011 in Beltsville, Maryland near the crossing of I-495 Capital Beltway and I-95. The Jain Society is working on building a temple complex with 2 new Shikharbandhi Jain Temples (Shwetambar and Digambar) to establish and maintain a place of worship, along with a large Community Center for religious, educational, social, interfaith, cultural and other related activities.
The Shwetambar temple will have Shankheshwar Parshwanath Bhagwan as Moolnayak. Other Tirthankar murties will be of Bhagwan Adinath, Shantinath, Munisuvrat Swami & Neminath in Gabhara, and Shantinath, Chandrapraphu, Mahavir Swami and Simandhar Swami in Rang Mandap. The Digambar temple will have Adinath Bhagwan as Moolnayak and other murties will be of Parshwanath & Mahavir Swami in Gabhara, and Shantinath, Naminath and standing murties of Bahubali and Bharat. Both temples will also have murties of several Gandhar, Dev, Devi and Guru. In addition to the 6000 sq. ft. temple complex, the adjoining educational/social community center will be about 24000 sq. ft. and will have Upashray, Sthanak, class rooms, dining hall, kitchen, library, conference room, office and a multi-purpose hall, etc.