January 2007




January 2007

 Real Issues
 Santhara - death by


 Life at IITs

 Cruising backwaters
 of Kerala

 Bollywood's social

 Chandok's 'Formula'
 for success

 Jeev joins the league
 of Top 20




 the craft shop

 the print gallery

 the art gallery


 Between Heaven and Hell

  Silk Road on Wheels

 The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

 Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in









   about us              back-issues           contact us         search             data bank


  craft shop

print gallery




Srikant Prasad

They renounce life willingly, intellect unimpaired and spirit unafraid - well aware that once the step is taken there is no turning back. Vimla Devi Bhansali’s recent death was not an ordinary one. She died because she wanted to.


Vimla Devi Bhansali, 60, knew exactly what she was doing—she was inducing death. In a bid to seek a shortcut to moksha---uncoiling a few life cycles in the bargain---she gave up all forms of nourishment, a resolve she kept up for thirteen days till death finally embraced her.

The scene was serene and devoid of any hysteria. The placard outside the door urged visitors to observe maun [silence] befitting the occasion. Inside, the woman sitting on a platform in her Jaipur residence hardly conveyed the impression of someone all set to die. After all she was keeping alive the Jain tradition of Santhara---the community’s age old route to salvation and sainthood.

The family, somewhat impassive in its response, had little inclination to make her budge from her resolution. The attitude of most of the household members being, "she wants to meet death on her own terms, in the fullness of her reason. She wants us to accept her condition without shedding tears."

Nothing can be possibly as exacting as courting death--having to stem the tide of desire and resisting all temptations of a finite nature. But nothing could shake Vimla Devi’s steely resolve; even though---physically speaking---she was sinking fast.

At the end of 13 days of fast and penance, she developed slight breathing problem and heaved a huge sigh of intense relief--the ultimate one.

Final March

Her body draped in a red sari was taken in a funeral procession attended by hundreds of people---especially women who sounded a note of triumph rather than sorrow, exuded an air of quiet joy instead of grief. One could not escape the feeling that quite a few of the `mourners' were palpably envious of the gutsy woman who had the strength to die of her own accord.

The ceremony might confound a non-Jain. However, for the Jain community Vimla Devi’s final march constitutes the fulfillment of a cherished dream--the ultimate goal of a true believer. Santhara, as the Jains term the penance that she underwent, is hardly for the weak-willed as per the precepts of the religion. Staring death in the eye particularly with hordes of visitors sitting wide-eyed all around, can certainly not be an experience for the weak hearted.

The death ceremony has now sparked off a serious debate. Was it possible for the law to stop her? A section of the legal eagles say she should have been stopped from taking the ultimate step. They equate it to suicide or even Sati (where a woman immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre) and say those who sat around her should be charged with abetting suicide.

Leading members of the Jain community, on the other hand call Santhara the purest form of dying where a person willingly and consciously rejects life which he or she feels has served its full purpose. Vimla Devi decided to observe the Santhara a month ago after doctors told her that her liver cancer and brain tumour were both terminal. She declared: "I want to give up my body before it gives me up."

As a first step she renounced food and water. "I am not enamored of life any more," Vimla Devi declared, "I am not afraid of death. I am renouncing possession of my body." The resolve was grounded on the firm belief that all worldly actions and emotions are transient, and an indifference to these forces, cultivated single-mindedly through a rational and spiritual insight and demanded expression in the form of that unusual action.

The logic behind Santhara is that, once the human body has served its full term, it should be given up voluntarily. "Like every material thing, the body too is separate from the soul and must be renounced," Naveen Jain, a prominent member of Jaipur’s Jain community. explains.

So, when Vimla Devi realized that after cancer life would mean several visits to the hospital for chemotherapy or being nailed down to bed with drips and drains which supplied life-saving drugs, she decided to say `No' to such medication. She literally threw in the towel since the body had already served its purpose.

Though some family members initially tried to persuade her to forsake Santhara but she did not relent. Though life in the Bhansali household had virtually come to a standstill but by then the entire family stoically exhibited immense pride in the decision of Vimla Devi to give up life voluntarily. The onlookers included husband Sohan Lal who had married her when she was still a pretty young teenager.

Before dying Vimla Devi claimed she had received telepathic sanction of her Santhara from none other than the first of the Jain Acharyas. She said he blessed her and gently waved as she set foot on her eternal journey.



Copyright © 2000 - 2007 []. Intellectual Property. All rights reserved.