BUENA PARK, CA - Over 2,000 delegates from all over the country, Canada and India converged on the holiday weekend for the 15th Biennial JAINA Convention held at the Jain Center in here from July 2 to 5. While the number appears to be large, in reality this figure actually represents a drop in attendance compared to the 5,000 attendees at previous conventions in recent years. The fall was due to the financial downturn the country is still reeling under. Officials speaking at the opening ceremony explained that these are the circumstances that prompted them to move the event from the Anaheim Convention Center to the Jain Center to conserve financial resources.
The change of venue did not in any way diminish the spirit of the event and the huge congregation gathered for four days of educational, religious, social and entertainment activities with a host of programs filling up the days. The theme of the convention was “Ecology – the Jain Way,” a subject most appropriate for the present times when the future of the planet itself is at enormous risk on account of rampant overuse of natural resources and excessive emissions. The three keynote speakers at the convention spoke on the Jain Way of Going Green – a concept which has been an integral component of the religion from the time of Lord Mahavira.
“ I stand before you as a Jain and not an American” said Dr Gary Francione, Distinguished Professor from Rutgers University in his keynote address at the opening ceremony on July 3 morning which was met with thunderous applause. What is needed today ,he proclaimed, is a change of heart, adherence to the tenets of Jainism and the practice of ahimsa . Carrying the concept still further he appealed to all Jains to consider giving up all dairy foods because he stated “ there is more suffering in a glass of milk than in a pound of steak,” with an explanation of the suffering endured by cows and calves when separated to produce milk and milk products commercially.
Speaking with occasional touches of humor on the serious subject “ Nurturing Nature Back to the Past,” Dr Jagdish Sheth, Professor at Emory University expounded on the urgent need to understand the dynamics of nature and nurturing it as against radical attempts to changing its processes for short term gains. He referred to Jainism as a “scientific” religion in that it recognizes nature in its principle of “ live and let live” and suggested that Jains should not hesitate to market its beliefs to make people aware of the need of cooperating with nature for the well being of the planet.
In his keynote address on July 4, Dr Dipak C Jain , Professor at Northwestern University provided valuable tips on how to exercise restraint on usage of valuable resources such as water and power in one’s day to day life. He spoke on how core Jain principles combined with proper faith, knowledge and conduct can serve as a valuable framework to cultivate enlightened leadership to address a range of global issues.
Participants to the convention started arriving by the afternoon of July 2 which started with pujas and ended with Raas Garba. The official program commenced the next morning with a colorful procession around the temple with ladies singing songs and dancing to the beat of a dhol. Several dignitaries also joined the march along with a few hundred attendees , many bearing bright standards with the name of the chapter they represented.
The business segments of the event started with the recital of the Namkar Mantra and the Manglacharan. The event received the blessing of Gurudev Chitrabhanu , the pioneering Jain monk who brought the Jain message to America. He said he was very happy to have been able to see his dream in the mid 1960s of the Jain dharma take root and establish itself in the USA come true.
Hamilton Brewart, the main sponsor with $51,000 lit the inaugural lamp.
Conveners Rashmi Shah, Dr.Nitin Shah and Lata Champsee, President of JAINA , Dilip Shah, Jain Center of California President Ashok Savla and Founder President of Jain Center, Southern California Mahendra Khandhar also spoke on the occasion.
The convention was loaded with several discourses and discussions moderated and led by prominent speakers and experts on a variety of subjects apart from 14 specific sessions on ecology and going green. Meetings were held concurrently , 4 at a time in both the Jain Center and the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Fullerton.
Several competitive Jaina Awards were presented to individuals during the Convention , selected by a committee from nominations received from all over US and Canada. The prestigious Jaina Ratna Award went to Dr Sulekh Jain from Sugar Land , TX and the Jaina Recognition Awards for Adults were picked up by Amita Desai(Anaheim,CA), Narendra Jain(Torrance,CA), Rakesh Jain (Columbus,OH), Mayur Mehta ( Clarksville TN,) Kirit Shah ( Edison, NJ), Nilesh Shah(Clarksville,MD) Pravin Turakhia (Fremont,CA) Hamir Vadi(Mountainside NJ) and Rasik Vagadia( Foxboro,MA) . Corresponding youth awards were presented to Naman Jain ( Norwood,MA), Rajiv Jain (Odenton,MD) Pina Mehta (Tustin,CA), Parinda Shah (Schaumburg ,IL), and Shaneshi Shah ( Torrance,CA). The Jaina Presidential Awards in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the community were presented to Udai C Jain (Sugar Land . TX), the longest serving member of the JAINA Executive Committee and to Mahendra G Mehta( Mumbai, India) who established the Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust 2 decades ago with a vision to tackle problems of poverty in Mumbai.
The entertainment highlights included the world premiere of the play “ Siddha Hem” based on the life of Acharya Hemchendra Charya and a Bollywood show “ Black” presented by 10 blind performers. There were fun activities for children and adults of different age groups which comprised cruises, dancing, treasure hunts, movies, stand up comedies and a mega mela at the hotel with 10 stalls for games. One of the most popular features among the youth were the morning Masala Bhangra workouts conducted by the Sarina Jain. Numerous stalls were also set up on the premises of the Jain Center with vendors providing various products and services.
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