(Last Updated on : 20/03/2014)
During the fifteenth century Lonka or Lonka Shah lived in Gujarat
. He was a rich, mighty and learned man who later became the founding father of the Sthanakvasi. He had powerful connections amongst the Moslem authorities in Ahmedabad
. Lonka Shah was a very skilled man whose skills in calligraphy led to an invitation to copy the Holy Scriptures. He did a through study of the Holy Scriptures and understood that the practise of Jainism
around was totally corrupt. He thus accepted the authority of only thirty-two of the scriptural texts and rejected the rest. He also took some sort of ascetic initiation and became a charismatic teacher. He weaned many people belonging to the Swetambara Sect
from their image-related practices.
Formation of Sthanakvasi
The Sthanakvasis were formed by the seventeenth century Gujarati merchant called Lavaji. He along with another merchant Dharmasimha broke away from the Lonka gaccha. It is doubtful whether Lavaji took formal ascetic initiation but there is no doubt that the substance of his criticism of the Lonka gaccha was directed to its general laxity. He had advised to revert to the model of ascetic behaviour that was found in the Dashavaikalika. This however, did not include the worship of images. Three monks succeeded him in pupillary succession. They followed the practice envisaged in the earliest Holy Scriptures of staying in ruined and deserted building. It was for this reason that the monks of this nascent sub sect were called Dhumdhiya, meaning 'Searchers.'
The Sthanakvasis meaning 'Living in Lodging Houses (Sthanaka), have thus evolved from these monks. The monks belonging to this denomination rejected the upashrayas lodgings that the image-worshippers had erected in the vicinity of temples. Lavaji introduced a practise that distinguished Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi monks from those of other Swetambara denominations. Jains wear a strip of cloth across the mouth that remains tied behind the ears. It is known as muhpatti or mouth-shield. This minimises the destruction of air-bodies and tiny insects through the outflow or inflow of breath. The wearing of the muhpatti is a sign of the ascetic's dedication to ahimsa
The monks of the Swetambara denomination tie or hold in hand the muhpatti only on special worship or rite occasions. They also tie up a handkerchief over their mouth and nostrils while praying close to the image. On the other hand the monks of the Sthanakvasis and Terapanthis wear the muhpatti permanently.
It is important to note here that the apparent reason for their emergence was a process of ascetic reform initiated by Lavaji and Dharmasimha. It is however, suggested that it was also evident that those who became Sthanakvasis were in fact trying to break away from high caste domination. The Sthanakvasis split at a fairly early stage into branches and formed as many as twenty-two branches. The Sthanakvasis have remained a resilient part of the Jain community who bear a high reputation for their devotion towards the tenets of ahimsa and compassion. Earlier the Sthanakvasis were located chiefly in the north and the west in towns such as Ludhiana
and Limbdi in Gujarat
Currently however, due to increasing internal migration by the Sthanakvasi laity in India, they have become more widespread. The Sthanakvasi monks can often be seen passing caturmas i.e. the four month rainy season retreat in the south of the subcontinent.