The South Asian Times

20 September 2019 18:58 PM

The Forgotten Gandhi

By Pankaz Hingarh and Hiral Dholakia-Dave


Virchand R Gandhi (1864-1901) was a friend to Mahatma Gandhi and a contemporary of Swami Vivekananda; he represented Jainism at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 in Chicago. August 25thwas his 148th birth anniversary. The community recognises this scholar, humanitarian, reformer and exponent of Indian culture.

While great Swami Vivekananda received his recognition primarily for his speech in the first ever World Parliament of Religions in 1893, where he represented Hinduism, hardly little is known about one more Indian legend who at the same event boldly expressed his patriotism, defended Indian culture and Hinduism and represented Jainism. He was the charismatic and captivating Virchand Raghavji Gandhi (VRG).


VRG’s forceful speeches and his fearless yet courteous expressions created such a deep brilliant image that the American people were magnetically attracted towards him and at their request VRG prolonged his stay for two years and was invited twice later in 1897 and 1899. Virchand Gandhi received equal attention as did Swami Vivekananda.

VRG delivered 535 lectures mainly in Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington of USA, England, France, Germany and other European countries and was nationally and internationally felicitated with many medals. A polyglot, he knew 14 languages. His captivating speeches were on the fundamentals of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Indian culture. He also spoke on a plethora of subjects like Indian international trade system, Indian economic and industrial outlook, real estate, ancient history of Indian civilization, science of eating, yoga, concentration, hypnotism, astral vision and astral body, occultism and vegetarianism. He spoke as a non-sectarian Jain but as an Indian first. He had studied Vedanta Philosophy, Buddhism, Christianity and Western philosophy which enabled him to talk on various subjects and present his views with confidence. He had clear vision, unbiased approach and clarity in his explanation.

Before birth of Virchand Gandhi, Shree Padmavati Devi had appeared in dream of his father Sheth Raghavji Tejpalji Gandhi (a business tycoon) and had conveyed that his wife Smt. Manbai would give birth to a Narkesari whose fame would spread across the world and as auspicious token Lord Parswanathji's ancient idol would be discovered from his house. The dream came true, when the area was excavated and Lord Parswanathji's idol was discovered and his wife had given birth to a son in Mahuva in Gujarat (India).

Originally Muni Atmaramji alias Acharya Vijayanandsuriji , the learned high priest of the Jains in India was invited to represent Jainism at the 1893 Chicago World Parliament of Religions. But as he couldn’t attend he deputed his disciple Virchand Gandhi for same.

The same year Virchand Gandhi was also acknowledged as an interesting participant in World’s Real Estate Congress in the 26th Oct 1893’s New York Times coverage. His another international participation as an all-India sole delegate was in the world’s third important historic conference, i.e. International Congress of Commerce by Philadelphia Commercial Museum at seventh day session on 19th October, 1899. One can imagine his versatility.

When he visited USA, he was just 29 years old. He died at early age of 37 due to lung hemorrhage. But in short life span , VRG’s immense success was covered by the following list of leading newspapers, and periodicals of USA: A) New York Times, B) St. Joseph Gazette, C) The Jamestown New York, D) Editors Bureau, E) Chicago Daily Sun, F) Chicago Herald, G) Chicago Suburban Star, H) Light of Truth, Cincinnati, I) Buffalo Times, J) The Illustrated Buffalo Express, K) Morning Star, L) Buffalo Evening Times, M) Buffalo Express, N) Buffalo Courier, O) The Evangelist, P) Evening Post, Q) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, R) The Rochester Herald, S) Rev. R. A. White, Chicago, T) Addison Parker Pastor of leading Baptist Church.

Publication The Evangelist from New York on Aug. 23, 1894 quoted “ Mr. Gandhi is an exponent of all the religions of India.”

Publication Buffalo Evening Times on Aug. 13, 1894 quoted “Mr.Virchand R. Gandhi, the east Indian, who represented 5,000,000 of his co-religionists at the congress of Religions, preaches the universal brotherhood of man. He is much farther advanced in the Esoteric philosophy than the western Theosophists, and gives far more lucid explanations of the Oriental teachings. The Hindu is decidedly the Lion of the season.”

He is credited for translating a rare book ‘Unknown Life of Jesus Christ’ from French to English and Publication Chicago Herald on August 4, 1894 quoted “Virchand R. Gandhi, who was a prominent member at the Parliament of Religions, has just published a correct translation of the “Unknown Life Of Jesus Christ”, and being a native of India, and having traveled much in that country, has been able to add to his book a fine picture of the Himis Monastery where Notovitch discovered the manuscript. Also, he has added many other illustrations, and a most scholarly and exhaustive introduction, altogether giving to his work a dignity that no other translation possesses. Everyone should possess a copy of this most scholarly translation.”

Important modern researches about Virchand Gandhi reveal that at several instances Mahatma Gandhi was misunderstood as V R Gandhi.

1. In a June 13, 1931 letter, Mahatma Gandhi clarifies to Miss Emelia Mac Bean of Chicago when she mistook him as VRG, “Madam, I have your letter for which I thank you. You are giving me credit of which I am wholly undeserving. You are thinking of another Mr. Gandhi my name-sake but in no way related to me. He and I were, however, friends and lived together for some time. You will be sorry to hear that he died many years ago, leaving an only son. It was he who visited America and made many friends. I have never had the privilege of visiting your continent.”

2. Mark Twain, father of American literature, was too impressed by Virchand Gandhi and his philosophy. His newspaper Buffalo Express had widely covered VRG . In his ‘Mark Twain on Biblical and Hindu Miracles’, GB Singh states that Virchand Gandhi had met Mark Twain on his visit to India but somehow ‘Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ by Andrew Hoffman mistook Virchand Gandhi as Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi, at this stage of Mark Twain’s travel, was living in South Africa.

As a reformer for promoting Indian philosophy/culture VRG had founded the following four institutions in the West in his three long journeys from 1893 to 1901, the year of his death: Gandhi Philosophical Society in Washington; Society for the Education of Women in India in Chicago (Under this banner of SEWI, several Indian women came to U.S.A. for studies); School of the Oriental Philosophy in London; and Jain Literature Society in London.(Under which Mr. Herbert Warren adopted Jain Religion and wrote a book "Herbert warren's Jainism'.)

VRG was admired by personalities such as Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak, Mark Twain, British Governor Lord Reay, British Col. Watson, Herbert Warren, Mrs. Charles Howard, Dr. Paul Carus, Alexander Fullerton, Miss Lilian Whiting, Annie H.S. Olcott, Swami Vivekananda, Chief Justice Govind Ranade, High Court Justice Sir Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar, William Pipe, George Francis Train, Helmut von Glasenapp, and many others. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 in Mumbai. VRG, Ranade and Chandavarkar were key members of the Indian National Congress.

It is real tragedy that VRG a great Jain scholar, a humanitarian (he was responsible to send ship-load of grains from America to India in worst famine in 1896-97), a reformer (who founded "Society for the Education of Women in India") and a patriot (who talked about freedom of India, at the 1893 Parliament of the World Religions five decades before India's independence) is totally forgotten by the larger community.

Param Pujya Gurudev Chitrabhanuji tried to revive Virchand Gandhi in 1964. In 1990’s a major initiative was done by Shri Nemu Chandaria (UK) and Shri Tansukh Salgia (USA) and Padmashri Kumarpal Desai (Ahmadabad) by installing his statue in Chicago and Mahuva.

Chandresh Gandhi, great grandson of VRG has started conducting small lectures on him.

Recently due to major efforts of Mahesh Gandhi (Mumbai), Prakash Mody (Canada), Pradip Jain (Patna), Pratap Bhogilal (Batliboi), Pravin C Shah (NY), the Indian Government had issued commemorative postal stamps to honor this legend.

Recently a Coffee Table Book 'Gandhi Before Gandhi' by Dr. Bipin Doshi and Pritiben Shah was released by Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi and a drama based on same has completed 200 shows.

Dr. Dhiraj Shah, Kirit Daftary, Arvind Vora, Kamlesh Mehta and JAINA have too always supported for Virchand Gandhi projects.

The Ohio State Historical Society had given a big bronze plaque to Cincinnati-Dayton Jain Center in 1994 marking 100 years of VRG’s lecture in Cleveland on September 18, 1894 mentioning that VRG brought Jainism to Ohio State.

From last 20 years NY’s Pravin C Shah (Founder JAINA VRG Chair , 1997-2010) has been working tirelessly. He has suggested several programs to celebrate VRG's 150th centenary which includes: Pursue for the VRG Chair either in India and / or U.S.A; Pursue with governments to include about VRG Biography in school curriculum; and to erect VRG statues and naming of roads in the name of VRG; Pursue with Kalayanji Anandji Pedhi / or other appropriate authorities to acknowledge VRG's contribution at Palitana (who got Pilgrimage Tax removed ) and Sammet Shikhar (where he got slaughter houses removed) by installing a VRG statues/busts at both places.

Aforementioned are efforts made by the Jain community but today when the Indian Govt. has plans to celebrate 150th Anniversary of Swami Vivekanand in 2013, the question that remains is will Virchand Gandhi also be recognized by Indians and Indian Govt. in 2014 on completion of his 150th anniversary and will Virchand Gandhi’s services be duly recognized?

(The author Pankaz Chandmal Hingarh (India: JAINA,VRG) is credited with world’s maximum modern researches on Virchand Gandhi.)


Update: 05 Sep, 2012