Acharya Hemchandra was born in 1088 A .D.
into the Modha Vanik (merchant) caste, in the town of Dhandhuka, sixty miles
from the city Ahmedabad in Gujarat State. His parents were Chachadev and
Pahini. When Pahini was pregnant, she had a beautiful dream. She narrated
her dream to Acharya Devasuri, who was in Dhandhuka at that time. The
acharya said that Pahini was to give birth to a son who would make great
progress in the areas of spiritual knowledge, intuition, and conduct. Upon
the birth the child was named Changdeva.
The next time Acharya Devasuri was in
Dhandhuka, he saw Pahini carrying her son. He said to Pahini, "Let me take
care of this brilliant son. He is destined to be a great spiritual leader."
However, he could not convince her to give him her son. The acharya kept
pursuing and reminding that her son would become a famous monk and would
glorify the Jain Order. Again, he requested that she should sacrifice her
self-interest and love for the child for the good of the people. Ultimately,
Pahini let the acharya take her son with him.
He initiated Changdeva into monkshood and named him Somachandra. The
disciple was very intelligent and soon mastered the darshanas, scriptures,
nyaya, grammar, etc. At the same time, he cultivated excellent virtues like
forbearance, tolerance, holiness, simplicity, discipline, chastity, and
generosity. Somachandra was incomparable in administration and efficiency.
Acharaya Devasuri made Somachandra an acharya when he was only twenty-one
years old. At that time, he was given the name Hemchandra Acharya.
The fame of Hemchandra's efficacy and
knowledge gradually spread everywhere. The noble culture was on the rise in
Gujarat due to the ability of Hemchandra and the cooperation of King
Siddharaja of Gujarat. King Siddharaja was succeeded by Kumarpal. Hemchandra
had predicted seven years earlier that Kumarpal would be the king. Also, the
acharya had once saved Kumarpal's life. Therefore, Kumarpal considered
Hemchandra his spiritual teacher (guru) and benefactor. Kumarpal gave him
the exceptional honor and sought his advice in the shaping of his kingdom in
Gujarat. In a very short time, Gujarat became a center of non-violence,
learning, and good culture.
Hemchandra did not only think of the
development of his own career, but always thought of the universal welfare.
In spite of this, some Brahmins were very jealous about this and they were
trying to disgrace Hemchandracharya and Jainism. Therefore, some Brahmins
approached King Kumarpal and said, "Hemchandracharya is a very egoistic
person and he does not respect Hindu Gods." King Kumarpal was not ready to
accept these views about his spiritual teacher, Hemchandracharya. Brahmins
requested King Kumarpal that he should invite Hemchandracharya to come to
the temple of Lord Shiva (God of destruction). The purpose of this was to
humiliate Hemchandracharya because they thought he would not go to the
temple of Lord Shiva and bow down to him. When Hemchandracharya came, King
Kumarpal said, "We would go to the temple of Lord Shiva." He accepted the
offer without any hesitation. Brahmins were happy in their mind thinking
that they would be able to make their point today and glorify their
religion. Yet, they were wrong. They underestimated Hemchandracharya. To the
surprise of those Brahmins, Hemchandracharya bowed down in front of Lord
Shiva but by saying,
kshaymupagata yasya; Brahma va Vishnurva haro Jino va namastasmai." Meaning,
"I am bowing down to that god, who has destroyed the passions like
attachment (Rag) and hatred (Dwesh) which are the cause of worldly life,
whether he is Brahma, Vishnu, or Jina."
This showed that indeed the acharya was
genius and had a broad-minded attitude based on basic Jain principles. Under
Hemchandra's influence, King Kumarpal accepted the Jainism. He prohibited
violence and killing of any animal in his kingdom. King Kumarpal made many
laws that nurtured the Jain religion. Vegetarianism was found not only in
the Jains, but also in all the people of Gujarat. Jainism became the land of
Hemchandra composed several literary works
that included many verses. The acharya was the first one to put non-violence
on a political platform. He was the architect of the greatness and unity of
Gujarat. In the field of metaphysics, he was a Yogi. His work Yoga-Shastra,
a treatise on yoga, is very famous. People called him 'Kali-kala Sarvajna'
meaning Ďall-knower in the dark periodí. He died in 1173 A. D. at the age of
eighty-four. The Jain culture still shines brightly in Gujarat, due to the
influence of the literary works contributed by the great Acharya Hemchandra.