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World renowned Jain leader is no more

By Arvind Vora

The longest serving president of Digambara Jain Mahasabha took his last breath at the Tirthankara Mahaveer University Hospital near Delhi on Tuesday from COVID related causes while listening to the recitation of Jain Navkar Mantra.

I met Mr Sethi at one of the JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations in North America) biennial convention held usually during the July 4th weekend. We were instantly connected with each other having common purpose of promoting Jain principles.

During my first visit to New Delhi, having made a special effort by informing him that I will be visiting Delhi for only a few days, he invited me to his home. We talked may be for an hour so. He gave me copies of many issues of Prachin Jain Tirth Jirnodhar and other magazines that described in depth location, present conditions etc. of Jain places of worship. He had a dream of restoring as many temples as possible. According to him, there must be several thousand Jain temples all over the world in need of restoration and rehabilitation. He himself must have helped to restore more than 1,000 such temples in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam, Rajasthan, Bihar, and other states in India. His research and inventory were mindboggling.

He had a special request since I am in America and a Main Representative of Anuvibha at the UN. He wanted me to get in touch with UNESCO officials to provide help in archeological and restoration work. Obviously, I liked to help but needed to politely inform him that the UNESCO is based in France and most UN agencies stay away if religion is involved, with rare exceptions. Little I knew that it was a special day of celebration for him organized by his son. It was his 50th Wedding anniversary and he had let his wife go earlier but he waited for me. That meeting, with his gracious hospitality and intense commitment left me awestruck with what he has achieved and his dreams.

Mr Sethi travelled extensively and found Jain temples and artifacts in Sri Lanka, China & Indonesia; Mexico and Guatemala in South America; Ethiopia in Africa and even in America at Native American Reservations. He signed a Memorandum of Understanding with many entities including governments.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular and memorable events for Jains is Shri Bahubali Swamy Mahamastak Abhiseka that takes place every 12 years. Bahubali did a yearlong meditation in a standing position. This is depicted in a statue. It is the tallest monolithic statue in the world, carved out of a single block of granite. It is 57 foot high monolith and located between Bengaluru and Mysore in the Karnataka. We were lucky to participate and witness this memorable ceremony in 2006 as part of JAINA delegation when Nirmal Ji was president of the host committee.

He used to come to just about every JAINA Convention and both of us made time to go over activities and plans. At my last visit to India five or so years ago we again connected and enjoyed each other’s company.

Our last meeting was on March 14, 2021 at a webinar that he frequently organized about Jain matters. The subject matter of Sallekhana (welcoming the death) was extensively discussed as per Jain scriptures. He would invariably recognize my presence at these webinars.

Shri Nirmal Kumar Sethi Ji
1941-April 27, 2021 (Photos provided)

In many ways he was unique and a rare breed who committed almost his entire life in the service of Jains and Jainism. May his soul rest in perpetual peace.

The writer is main representative of Anuvibha at the UN.

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73rd Punya Tithi of Gandhi Ji observed at the Consulate

Shanti Fund and LIMFF organized the multifaith program

By Bakul Matalia

New York: On January 30, Volunteers of Shanti Fund in collaboration with the Long Island Multi Faith Forum (LIMFF) and Consulate General of India, observed the solemn occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 73rd Punya Tithi – death anniversary- at the ballroom of the Consulate here.

Since 2005 Shanti Fund, along with LIMFF, has been marking the day by replicating the Mahatma’s daily morning and evening ritual of multifaith prayers to promote peace, religious harmony, and tolerance. For the first 5 years, this event was held at the Indian Consulate and since 2010, at the Suffolk County Executive Office building in Hauppauge, Long Island, where a life size statue of Gandhiji graces the plaza level. This year it was back to the Consulate. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions only presenters were there in person, some speakers appearing virtually.

Priest Nikhil N. Trivedi recited slokas and Gayatri Mantra. (All photographs: Shanti Fund)

Consul General Randhir Jaiswal kicked off the event on time at 3 PM with warm welcoming words, emphasizing two qualities of Gandhi Ji – punctuality, and self-discipline.

Arvind Vora, co-founder of Shanti Fund, conducted the program. It began with Gandhi Ji’s favorite bhajan, “Vaishnav Jan Toh” by Ms. Yoomesh Sharma and Adhan-Muslim call to prayer by Imam Ibrahim Atasoy, who was born in Turkey and educated at Al-Azhar, a world renowned Egyptian University.

Imam Ibrahim Atasoy presented Adhan-Muslim call to prayer. (All photographs: Shanti Fund)

Nitin Ajmera, Chairman of the Board of the Parliament of World Religions, recited “Manglic”, a Jain prayer. Soh Young Lee sang Amazing Grace in Korean, Spanish and English. This Christian favorite was part of Biden’s inauguration. Hindu priest Nikhil Trivedi recited slokas and the Gayatri Mantra. Two Longwood High School students Angad Singh and Arjan Singh Bindra presented Anand Sahib – The Song of Bliss from the Sikh faith.

Rev. JoAnn Barrett, of Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship in Huntington, presented a peace prayer covering all faiths. Chandni Rodriguez honored Gandhiji in yogic gestures and by reciting The Eye of Wisdom poem written by her mother,  Gurani Anjali, who established the first yoga studio on Long Island, in Amityville.  Dr. Yousuf Syed, a physician, Islamic scholar and descendent of the Nizam dynasty of Hyderabad, spoke about the true message of peace according to Islam.

Bakul Matalia, a Shanti Fund volunteer, thanked all the presenters and the Consul General and Deputy Consul General Shatrughna Sinha for being gracious hosts.

The hour long meeting ended with Gandhiji’s other favorite bhajan, Raghupati Raghav Rajaram, recited by Soh Young Lee-Segredo and the audience joining in.

Soh Young Lee sang Amazing Grace and Raghu Pati Raghav. (All photographs: Shanti Fund)


Bakul Matalia, a volunteer of Shanti Fund and member of LIMFF, can be reached at


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What would Gandhi do in this pandemic?

By The SATimes News Service

By Arvind Vora

In 1910 Mahatma Gandhi founded the Tolstoy Farm on 1,100 acres of land donated by an German Jew architect named Hermann Kallenbach, outside Johannesburg in South Africa. It became a social laboratory. He insisted on cleanliness and expected to the displeasure of his own family, that everyone should clean after them. So, we can expect him to agree and emphasize washing hands to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Also, he did not hesitate to move his first ashram in India at Kochrab, Ahmedabad to the current location by Sabarmati river in the face of a plague outbreak. So, we can expect him to agree to be at a safe place (isolation, quarantine) during this pandemic.

His views on wearing a mask or face covering are not known, but one can surmise that he would support it, based on his upbringing in Porbandar with a sizable Jain  community. He brilliantly employed Jain principle of non-violence and his familiarity with Jain priestly class who always wear a white face mask.

In a four page article (December 6, 1917 at Nadiad) titled “Some General Suggestions Concerning Plague” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Volume 14:  1917-1918) he describes in detail to keep oneself clean, living area clean, surroundings clean, staying at and keeping distance etc. So, one can infer that the impending Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 when India lost more people in numbers and proportionately due to the arrival of returning World War I soldiers at Bombay and Madras, then spreading it all over the nation.

Gandhi would have filled the void in the current environment when worldwide moral authority is painfully absent.

Mahatma Gandhi tending to a leprosy patient. Photos: Shanti Fund

Arvind Vora is Volunteer of Shanti Fund, and Chairman of

Long Island Multi Faith Forum.

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By Arvind Vora

Chairman, Long Island Multi Faith Forum


Founded: Over 1500 years ago

Founder: Prophet Mohammed (also spelled Muhammad) – Born in Mecca circa 570 and died in Medina circa 632

Origin: Mecca (present day Saudi Arabia)

Belief: “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his apostle”

Place of Worship: Masjid or mosque, may have minaret (tower) to call to prayer

Scripture: Koran (Qur’an). Consists of 114 suras (chapters) in Arabic language. Each sura (except the 9th) begins with “In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate.”

Five Pillars: 1. Shahada – Recitation of the profession of faith (at least once in a lifetime as prescribed) 2. Salat – Five daily prayers preceded by ablutions 3. Zakat – The obligatory parting of wealth 4. Sawm – The fast from sunrise to sunset during the entire month of Ramadan 5. Hajj – The pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime is incumbent on every Muslim who is financially and physically able

Priestly Clan: Islam sees no need for an intermediary between humanity and God, as such no need for clergy. Though some congregations hire an Imam (scholar) to lead daily prayers, teach, advise, and deliver sermon

Peak Period: Still expanding worldwide

Population: Over 1.8 billion. Ten countries with more than 40 million populations are: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, and Sudan. There are around fifty countries with Muslim majority. 23 countries have Islam as official religion including seven where it is also State religion

Schism: Split into two sects, despite Mohammed’s urging to his followers in his last sermon not to split up after his death.

Holidays: Id–ul–Fitr marks breaking of the fast after Ramadan; Id–ul-Adha is the festival of sacrifice at the conclusion of Hajj; Islamic New Year; Ashura, a ten-day festival by Shia Muslims


Sunni: The main body of Islam, referring to the followers of the Way (Sunna) of the Prophet as recorded in the Tradition (Hadith). It has the largest following with 85% of Muslim followers. Sunnis believe that Mohammed died without appointing a successor; therefore the community’s election of Abu-Bakr (one of Mohammed’s earliest companions whom Mohammed designated to preside over the pilgrimage ceremonies a year before his death) as first Caliph (Khalifah – successor) was legitimate.

Shi’a: The Shi’as, in minority, believe that Mohammed designated his son-in-law Ali to succeed him. The main body of the Shi’as is the “Twelvers” who believe that the 12th and last Imam disappeared in the year 878 but that he is still living and will appear before the last day to save the world. It is a State religion in Iran. Most of them are in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and India. They even believed the text of the Koran is incomplete and the part specifically devoted to the praise of Ali has been expunged. They added “and Ali is his comrade” (waliy– chosen friend) at the end of “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his apostle”. Instead of Pilgrimage to Mecca, Shi’a may visit tombs of Shi’a saints – Ali at Najaf (Iraq), Hussain (son of Ali) at Karbala (Iraq), or of Fatima at Qom (Iran). There are several branches of Shias. Some of them are:

Isma’ilis: They are the followers of Ismail, whom they regard as the seventh Imam as opposed to his younger brother Musa recognized by “Twelvers”, hence also known as “Seveners”. Their main body is led by Aga Khan who is their spiritual and temporal head. The Karmatians, the Fatimids of Egypt, the Assassins and the Druze also belong to Ismailis. Another branch, Bohras in India, have their own separate leader

Zaidites: The followers of Zaid, a grandson of Hussain, are the Shias closest to Sunnis

Ahmadiyya: Founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad  (1835–1908), who claimed to be the manifestation (buruz) of Mohammed the Prophet. Because of the laws passed in Pakistan, Ahmadiyyas cannot vote in the election (Christian, Hindu, Parsi and other minority religions can vote) and their passport is stamped with “Non-Muslim” so they cannot go to Mecca or Medina

Claims to Fame: 12 Nobel Prizes including the first Muslim and first from Pakistan Abdus Salam (for Physics – Ahmadiyya Muslim), and youngest ever at age 17, Malala Yousafzai (born in Pakistan) in 2014 for Peace

General: Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity. Islamic arts, architecture have left a great impression. Sharia which prescribes religious and secular duties of Muslims has remained a matter of dispute within the countries as well as modern societies. Violence among Sunnis and Shias has left too many dead. At present many deaths occur daily due to war/conflict in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many Muslim majority countries. Loss of Ottoman and Mughal Empires greatly diminished Islamic spread and influence

USA: Muslims have been in America since 1539. The first formal Islamic prayer group was founded in North Dakota in 1900. The first mosque was built in 1934 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There are 3 to 4 million Muslims in the country

Long Island:  There are more than 25 mosques with some 80,000 Muslims on Long Island. Three largest mosques are: The Islamic Association of Long Island (also known as Selden Masjid) founded in 1974; Islamic Center of Long Island (Westbury mosque) was incorporated in 1982; The Muslim Center of Long Island (Masjid Darul Quran) in Bay Shore.

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