In the second half of the nineteenth century, a Svetambara Jain temple cluster was built in Manicktala, Calcutta (now Kolkata). The first temple of this cluster, the Shitalnath temple, was built in 1867 and was dedicated to the twenty-third Jain tirthankara Parsvanath, while the mul nayaka (main deity) of the temple is the tenth tirthankara Shitalnath; the second temple, Mahavirswami temple, built in 1868, houses the twenty-fourth tirthankara Mahavirswami; and third one, Chandraprabhaji temple, built in 1895, is dedicated to the eighth tirthankara Chandraprabhaji; a dadawadi (Jain shrine), originally built in 1810, completes the cluster.
The temples were built by renowned jewellers and businessmen of the time, Badridas Mookim (Mookim means court jeweler, originally a title given to Badridas by Lord Mayo, which became a family surname), Sukhlal Johari and Ganeshilal Kapoorchand Kharad Johari, respectively, who belonged to the Jain Johari Sath community (johari means jeweller and sath means community).
The Johari Sath community has been instrumental in the sociocultural construction of nineteenth-century Calcutta. The city, ever since its inception in 1690, has attracted seekers of fortune. By the late eighteenth century, Calcutta had become a thriving trading centre of the British Empire inviting people from different regions, religions, communities, and ethnicities to come and be a part of the city’s sociocultural fabric. By the nineteenth century, a Jain settlement began to form in Calcutta. The Johari Saths mainly resided around the Beadon Street and Harrison Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) areas. (Fig. 1) The Johari Sath community comprises of the Shrimal and the Oswal Jains; the Shrimal Jains were originally from Shrimal or Bhinmal, a town in the southern part of Rajasthan, and the Oswals were originally from the Marwar area in Rajasthan. Badridas Mookim (November 26, 1832–1913/14) was instrumental in establishing the Johari Sath community in Calcutta.
Introduction of the Jain Religion in Bengal
The people of the Johari Sath community were not the first Jains to set foot in Bengal. The region already had a strong presence of Jains within its religious fold. Jainism originated in the eastern part of India as Mahavira was born in the sixth century CE in the present-day Bihar. At least two Jain texts, Acharanga Sutra (written between the second and fifth century BCE) and Bhagwati Sutra (or Vyakhyaprajnapti, the fifth Jain agama composed by Sudharmaswami) mention that Mahavira himself had spent a long time in Panit Bhumi, a part of the Rarh region in the western part of Bengal. Mahavira and the other Jain monks were not exactly welcomed in Bengal; the Acaranga Sutra mentions that the monks who came to preach Jainism in Ladha (as the Rarh region was called in the Jain texts) from Magadha, located in what is now the southern part of Bihar, through present-day Purulia, were not trusted by the locals and sometimes faced physical attacks.
Various Jain canons mentions Vanga (central Bengal) multiple times; the Jain text Divyavadana mentions the presence of Nirgranthas, what Jainism was known till the Gupta period, in Pundravardhan, an ancient territory located in North Bengal and present-day Bangladesh, during the reign of Ashoka (third century BCE). Hiuen Tsiang (Xuanzang), visited India in the seventh century AD and as he travelled to the eastern part, he observed, ‘The naked Nirgranthas are the most numerous’ when he was in Pundravardhan. He pointed out the same thing when he was travelling through Samatata (eastern Bengal, now in Bangladesh): ‘The naked ascetic called Nirgranthas (Ni-kien) are most numerous.’ So, by the seventh century, different parts of Bengal had a settled and thriving Jain culture. By the eighth century, Jain merchants had been trading in the Bay of Bengal through various rivers along the Rarh region through the Tamralipta port town (present-day Tamluk in Midnapore).
From the ruins of many Jain temples found in Purulia and Bankura, it can be speculated that there was once a thriving Jain settlement around the place. In his article titled ‘Notes on a Tour in Maunbhoom’ in 1894–65, Lieutenant-colonel E. T. Dalton, then-Commissioner of Chota Nagpur, describes numerous ruins of Jain temples and idols in the villages along the rivers Kangsabati, Damodar and others and he further adds that these temples were probably built along the route that Mahavira took. However, the temples that survive today are dated from the ninth to twelfth century. The attack on Bengal by Bakhtiyar Khalji that established Muslim rule in the region essentially ended any temple building activity and the Jain community of the Rarh region were cut off from the Jain communities from the other parts of India; eventually, the Jain temples were appropriated by the Hindus. Dalton states that a temple of Virrup (Shiva) in Telkupi in Purulia might have been a temple once dedicated to Vira or Mahavira and he adds at least two more examples of such appropriation.
Dalton had, in fact, encountered the Jain community of Rarh. He writes that they were variously called Serap, Serab, Serak, or Srawaka and practised both agriculture and moneylending as professions. This community now called the Saraks still survives along the regions of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, though significantly small in number. They follow the Jain tradition of vegetarianism, worship Parvanath as their patron, and celebrate Mahavir Jayanti along with Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja.
The Jains of Murshidabad
The next wave of Jain migration came during the eighteenth century. This time it was in Murshidabad, the capital of Bengal in the eighteenth century. According to J.H. Tull Walsh, Civil Surgeon of Murshidabad at the end of eighteenth century and the early part of nineteenth century, a Jain man Seth Hiranand or Hira Nand Saha, originally from Nagar in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, came to Patna in Bihar in 1652 and set up his gadi (business firm). Legend says, initially he did not have much luck but later inherited immense wealth from an old man whom he nursed in his deathbed. Hiranand increased the inherited wealth manifold and established gadis for his seven sons in seven parts of India. The youngest (according to another version of the legend, the fifth son), Manickchand went to Decca (now in Bangladesh) in Bengal and established his office as a banker/moneylender. In 1700 when Murshid Quli Khan, who would go on to be the first Nawab of Bengal, became the dewan and arrived in Decca, he became close allies with Manickchand because of their financial relations. In 1704, when the dewan shifted the capital to Murshidabad, Manickchand also went with him and built a house in Mahimapur and continued his trade; according to Tull Walsh, by that time Manickchand had also become an adviser to Murshid Quili Khan. Manickchand received the title of Seth in 1715. He adopted his nephew Fatehchand as his heir; in 1724, Fatehchand became the first Jagat Seth (a hereditary title conferred upon the eldest sons of Fatehchand’s lineage; it means the banker of the world, honouring their capacity of lending money even to the Nawabs of Bengal) initiating generations of Jagat Seths who played crucial roles in the decision-making processes of the Nawabs including Shuja-ud-Din and Sarfaraz Khan to Alivardi Khan and Siraj-ud-Daulah. The role of the Jagat Seths in Indian politics is well known; over time, the Jagat Seths continued to financially assist both the Nawabs and the British. With their assistance, the British effectively ended the Nawabi rule establishing the East India Company as the ruler of Bengal and India.
Since the early decades of the 1720s, the powerful presence of the Jagat Seth family had been inviting Jain businessmen and bankers to Murshidabad, the capital of Bengal and one of the most active and famous trading centres in India at that time. The fact that there was a large Jain population is confirmed by the presence of a temple dedicated to the twenty-second tirthankara Neminath in Mahajantuli. In his A History of Murshidabad, Tull Walsh mentions a large Jain population in both Azimganj and Jiaganj with Azimganj being the main Jain colony. According to the 1901 census, there were 998 Jains in Murshidabad, counted as part of the Hindus and Brahmo communities and described as ‘a dissenting sect of Hindus’. Azimganj-Jiaganj still has a large population of Jains, now called the Saharwali Jains; many of them took active parts in India’s freedom movement and other activities that contributed to various national interests. The Saharwali Jains, while adhering to their religious practices, have also picked up some cultural components of Bengal. For example, the vegetarian elements of the local Bengali food have been incorporated within the Jain cuisine; also, at some point in the nineteenth century, soi patano (a ritual ceremony to establish female friendship, with exchange of gifts and nicknames), a popular practice among Bengali women of the time was widely endorsed by the women of the Saharwali community.
Jains of Calcutta: Badridas Mookim of the Johari Sath Community
After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the power of the Nawabs started diminishing and, in 1793, the capital of Bengal, by then under the rule of the East India Company, was moved to Calcutta. As the seat of power shifted, the flow of migration turned towards the young city and many Jain traders, bankers and businessmen from the western and northern parts of India started to migrate to Calcutta. The presence of the dadawadi at Manicktala and a Svetamabara Jain temple built in 1814 (now called the Burra Mandir) at Tulapatti/Cotton Street, Burrabazar, prove that by the early nineteenth century there was a sizeable Jain population in Calcutta.
Originally from Lucknow, Badridas Mookim was one such migrant. His father Shri Kalkadas Sindhar passed away when Mookim was very young. In the 1850s, the political situation in Lucknow was in turmoil. In 1856, when Awadh was felled and annexed by the Company, the tenth and last Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta; he died in 1887 without ever going back to Lucknow. This kind of deteriorating political climate often encourages migration. With Lucknow losing its former glory, many residents began to shift their base elsewhere in search of new work opportunities and livelihoods. It was around this time, in 1853, that Mookim decided to move to Calcutta with his family, where he set up his own jewellery business and soon became a prominent jeweller. In the 1860s, he began to build the Parsvanath temple (also called Shitalnath temple or Calcutta Jain temple) in Manicktala in the northern part of Calcutta. (Fig. 2)
The Calcutta Jain Temple Complex: The Available History
As the legend goes, Mookim, a regular visitor of the dadawadi in Manickatala, one day witnessed some people mistreating the fish and other water creatures in the pond situated in the dadawadi compound. He bought the adjacent land and, following his mother Kushala Devi’s advice, began to build a temple. Shitalnathji, the mula nayaka of this temple, is literally the protector god of aquatic creatures. The Parsvanath temple was completed in 1867, and within the next 30 years two more temples were built around the place creating a ‘temple city’ or a cluster of multiple temples, one of the structural characteristics of Jain religious architecture.
The Parsvanath temple was designed entirely by Badridas Mookim. Replete with coloured glass imported from Belgium, Italian chandeliers, painted tiles, marble statues, paintings and Chinese vases, the temple reflects the creative sensibility of a jewellery designer. (Fig. 3)The primary building material of the temple was marble. The marble workers were brought from Rajasthan and the brick layers, masons, and other technical staff were locals. While the Parsvanath temple is marked by sheer opulence and lavishness, the other two temples built later, with the absence of its grandeur, reflect a kind of subdued charm. The original dadawadi from 1810 had been renovated and the new structure was entirely built in marble. The richness of materials and the brightness of the immaculate white marble embody the eternal wealth and social position of the founders and the community. The temples also represent a particular phase in the visual language of Calcutta during the nineteenth century. It was the time when, through the interaction of Indian and European elements, a unique language of expression emerged and it could be felt in most sociocultural spheres such as art and architecture, education, food, fashion, entertainment, and so on. The temples, by blending the quintessentially Jain architectural elements with European architectural and visual languages, created a unique example of our hybrid modernity.
The Man and the Myth: Biography of Badridas Mookim and the Problem of Writing History
The Parsvanath temple is closely associated with Badridas Mookim at various levels. In 1910, Mookim installed a statue of himself in the temple compound. The almost life-size kneeling statue with folded palms is placed on a dais with a lotus dome elevating the figure; so, while Mookim is shown as a devotee, he sits at a height above the other devotees who come to worship at the temple. Perhaps not surprisingly, the domed altar appears to be a microcosm of the adjacent dadawadi. The whole arrangement is strategically placed right in front of the temple diagonally facing the idol of the main deity. Within the physical space of the temple, along with his abstract presence as the creator, the presence of Mookim as the ideal devotee was firmly confirmed. His iconised presence is becoming an integral part of the transcendental site of worship and, thus, his historical personality goes out of the mundane and becomes the material for myth.
How Mookim found the idol for the empty temple was an extraordinary event that places Mookim the devotee in a charismatic history. The booklet that was published by the temple trust on the occasion of the one-fiftieth anniversary of the temple in 2017 narrates the story behind the temple and the idol. After the temple was constructed, Mookim’s teacher Sri Kalyan Suriji advised him to embark on a journey to find the most suitable idol for the temple. Upon much searching, Badridas arrived in Agra. An unknown ascetic whom he met at a religious procession accompanied him into a temple inside a cave where he found an idol of Sitalnathji along with a burning lamp. Right after this discovery the ascetic vanished. Mookim carried the idol and lamp to the newly built temple and installed it. The akhyand jyoti (eternal lamp) has continuously been burning for more than 150 years. It is also said that the white shade hanging over the lamp would blacken only when the temple is tainted in any way.
The reasons behind narrating these myths of the mysterious holy man and the ever-burning lamp are manifold. Myths and legends have always been an integral part of popular imagination, especially when it comes to religious institutions, events, and personalities for it lends them legitimacy and a sense of timelessness. Personalities such as Mirabai, Kabir, and Gorakhnath or religious establishments like the Kali temple in Kalighat in Kolkata had to be mythicised. Very often, these legends gain legitimacy in the popular culture to be eventually assimilated as historical accounts.
This point brings us to our next reason, the concept of historicity in Indian context. History as the process of documenting past incidents through research was absent prior to the British coming to India. For Indians, past was a matter of legends, folklores and epic poems that were to be sung, recited, or told and could be changed as the audience or the patron demanded. When the practice of documenting history in written form was introduced, these myths and folklores, subjects of oral narrative traditions, easily found their way into actual events of the past. Thus, our sense of history was replete with stories of divine intervention, divine origin, and miraculous events. For example, Bengali linguist and author from Calcutta of the first half of the nineteenth century, Mrityunjay Vidyalankar’s Rajabali, a Bengali book written in 1808 and thought to be the very first attempt to write a serialised history of India, and James Todd’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan written in 1829 incorporate references to divine origin, mythical kings and beings, and then slip smoothly into describing events and people that historically happened or existed. In our collective consciousness, the mythical space and real space coexist peacefully and without question. The available biographies of Mookim follow the same structure, hence the incorporation of the miracles of the holy man and the lamp that clearly has elements from oral narratives within a very real chronological narrative of the temples.
In fact, we can guess how popular and well-received these miraculous incidents were when we find so many sources including the 1967 issue of the Calcutta Municipal Gazette (volume 86) promoting the story of the holy man and the lamp within the biographical notes of Mookim; this is also done in both Wikipedia and a website called Encyclopaedia of Jainism. In Mrityunjay Vidyalankar’s Rajabali, we see that the Company rule was declared to be predestined because the British were sent by the Almighty to rescue Hindustan from the destructions caused by the sins of the Muslim rulers. Divine intervention promotes the idea of the inevitability of a certain incident. The mysterious holy man choosing Mookim to unearth the hidden idol takes him within the realm of myths beyond the confines of reality and, in our collective popular imagination, establishes the idea of the inevitability of the existence of temple.
The problem with this kind of amalgamation of myths and history is that it tends to create a non-critical, myopic vision. Mookim was not exactly an obscure man from a distance past; he existed less than 200 years ago. He, along with many others of his community, was actively involved in different philanthropic works in Calcutta and beyond, and his efforts were acknowledged. In 1871, he was appointed the Mookim of the British by Lord Mayo. In 1877, he was conferred the Rai Bahadur title by Lord Lytton during the historical Delhi Durbar on the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India. He was one of the founders of the Johari Bazaar Dharamkanta (weighing scale for heavy vehicles) Association and the Calcutta Pinjrapole (shelters for abandoned or sick animals, especially cows) Society. In 1873, he became the founder-president of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, the very first chamber of commerce in India. He was a renowned jewellery designer as well, and some of his designs were published in jewellery books in Germany. He was one of the 36 members of a committee, which also included Madan Mohan Malavya that, in 1911, appealed to Harcourt Butler for a Hindu university in India; the appeal that led to the foundation of the Banaras Hindu University in 1916.
Many contemporary books, encyclopaedias and collections of biographies such as Man in India (volume 67), The Golden Book of India, and so on mention Rai Bahadur Badridas Mookim and the Parsvanath temple. The author of Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta (1905), Reverent W. K. Firminger, in the section titled ‘Jain Temples’, had made an effort to locate the Jain temple and the Jains of Calcutta within the larger concept of Jainism by quoting passages from the annual address in the Bengal Asiatic Society (1888) on Jainism. He describes Mookim as ‘pride and ornament of the Jain community’ and ‘the prince of jewellers in Calcutta’ and then goes on to give a detailed description of the Parsvanath temple. Other mentions of Mookim can be found in The Calcutta Weekly Notes (volume XXVI) that describes a high profile court case in 1919 involving the ownership of an ancestral nose ring and states that Mookim had estimated the value of said nose ring. In her Thakurbarir Gagan Thakur, Purnima Devi, the daughter of the renowned artist Gaganendranath Thakur, mentions that Gaganendranath Tagore, in the spirit of nationalist idealism, got all her wedding jewellery made by ‘Badridas’ instead of Cooke and Kelvey, the British owned clock-makers and jewellers; there is no further information, but we can assume that this Badridas is indeed Rai Bahadur Badridas Mookim as, not only the name, but the profession and time period also match.
There is indeed some hagiographic accounts available on Mookim and some mentions of the Johari Sath community; however, there has been no attempt to create a comprehensive history of either of them. The temple cluster was not the only achievement of the community; the Johari Sath community happened to produce a number of people, along with Badridas Mookim, who were pillars of the sociocultural and economic structure of Calcutta. The founders of the other two temple of the cluster were renowned in their own rights. Both Sukhlal Johari and Ganeshilal Johari were wealthy merchants. Ganeshilal dealt in precious stones that he imported from Burma (now Myanmar) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), among other places; Sukhlal Johri’s influence in Calcutta can be gauged from the eponymous Sukhlal Johari Lane in the city’s Burrabazar area. (Fig. 4)
Bengali literature of the nineteenth century across genres had invested considerable energy and time to engage with the exploits and antics of the Hindu elites both in positive and negative lights. Yet it was strangely silent about the Jain community and its leaders in spite of their immense contribution to the cultural and economic heritage of Calcutta. The Marwari Heritage, a book by business historian D. K. Taknet published in 2015, deals with the Marwari community and their history of migration, trade, and businesses and other involvements. As part of the Marwari community, the Jains who migrated from Rajasthan to Calcutta indeed feature in the book. The book mentions that by 1911, there were 15,000 Marwaris in Calcutta alone and 75,000 in the various states in the eastern parts of India. But as the Marwari community includes both Hindus and Jains, and a minority belonging to other faiths, it is not very clear how many of them were Jains and, specifically, the Johari Sath Jains. In fact, the Johari Saths and their activities have mostly escaped the attention of the large repertoire of scholarly and popular historical and ethnographic texts dealing with nineteenth-century Calcutta and the communities that helped build it.
 Majumdar, History of Bengal, 9.
 Majumdar, History of Bengal, 409.
 Beal, tr., Si-Yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, 195.
 R. C. Majumdar states that the Nirgranthas seemed to have disappeared after that as none of the inscriptions from the Pala or Sena dynasties mention them. He conjectures that the ‘naked Nirgranthas’ might have merged with the Avadhutas, another group of naked ascetics adherent to Hindu religion.
 Beal, tr., Si-Yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, 199.
 Dalton, ‘Notes on a Tour in Maunbhoom in 1894-65,’ 186.
 ibid, 187.
 Ancient Tailakampa, a trading hub from the tenth to thirteenth century. Most of the area, along with many temples, is now submerged in water because of a dam.
 Dalton, ‘Notes on a Tour in Maunbhoom in 1894-65,’ 189.
 Tull Walsh, A History of Murshidabad District (Bengal) with Biographies of Some Noted families, 254.
 Taknet, The Marwari Heritage, 63.
 Roy, Murshidabad Kahini, 7. According to Nikhil Nath Roy, this temple contained both Svetambara and Digambara idols. The author is a little vague about the date of this temple. According to him, it has been there since Kashim Bajar had been established as a trade centre around 1652. Majumdar, The Musnud of Murshidabad describes it as the oldest Jain temple in Murshidabad.
 Tull Walsh, A History of Murshidabad District (Bengal) with Biographies of Some Noted families, 47–48.
 Ibid, 55.
 ibid, 61.
 Smita Khator, a Saharwali Jain from Azimganj, in conversation with the author.
 Basu, Bangala Gaddya-Sahityer Itihas, 85.
 Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, 81.
 Vidyalankar, Rajabali, 120.
 Sajendar Mookim, a direct descendent of Badridas Mookim, in conversation with the author.
 Firminger, Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta, 64–65.
 Calcutta High Court, The Calcutta Weekly Notes, 776.
 Basu, ‘Swadeshi Juge Meyeder Sajbodoler Pala,’ 64.
 Taknet, The Marwari Heritage, 85.
 Tanket, The Marwari Heritage. ‘Despite the fact that the Marwaris originated from Marwar in erstwhile Rajputana, the community later made its presence felt in every corner of India, providing a new impetus to the country’s social and economic development…The word Marwari, as it is recognized today, came to encompass all those who resided in Rajputana, Haryana, Malwa and areas adjacent to them. They followed a common culture and lifestyle and spoke a common language, irrespective of whether they themselves or their ancestors settled in any other part of India or abroad. Initially, the term Marwari was used for the business class alone, but gradually, all castes linked to traditional Rajputana culture embraced the term. Consequently, the Marwaris included not only Agarwals, Maheswaris, Oswals… but also Brahmins, Rajputs, Jats, Malis, Muslims, Harijans and others who formed part of the cultural heritage of Rajputana.’
Basu, Shyamali. ‘Swadeshi Juge Meyeder Sajbodoler Pala.’ In Sekal o Sekalini, 62–65. Kolkata: Subarnarekha, 2006.
Basu, Jaharlal. ‘Tritiyo Jug.’ In Bangala Gaddya-Sahityer Itihas, 47–159. Calcutta: Ideal Press, 1936. Accessed June 25, 2020. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.512373
Beal, Samuel, tr.‘Book X’, Si-Yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, 186–234. London: Trubner & Co., 1884. Accessed June 18, 2020. https://archive.org/details/siyukibuddhistre02hsuoft
Calcutta High Court. The Calcutta Weekly Notes, vol XXVI. Calcutta: Weekly Notes Office, 1921–1922.
Dalton, E. T. ‘Notes on a Tour in Maunbhoom in 1894-65.’ Journal of Asiatic society XXXV, no. 1 (1866):186–195. Accessed June 20, 2020. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/114418#page/244/mode/1up
Firminger, W. K. Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co, 1906. Accessed June 7, 2020. https://archive.org/details/thackersguidetoc00firm
Majumdar, R. C. History of Bengal, vol. 1: Dacca: The University of Dacca: May, 1953. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.69821/page/n5/mode/2up
Majumdar., Purna Ch. The Musnud Of Murshidabad. Alcester, England: Read Books, 2008.
Sripantha, Metiaburujer Nabab. Kolkata: Ananda Publishers Private Limited, 2016.
Taknet, D.K. The Marwari Heritage. Hyderabad: D.K. Print world Ltd, 2015. Accessed June 28, 2020.
Tull Walsh, J. H. ‘Murshidabad,’ A History of Murshidabad District (Bengal) with Biographies of Some Noted families: London: Jarrold and Sons, 1902. Accessed June 18, 2020. https://archive.org/details/cu31924008675047/page/n7/mode/2up
Tod, James. Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, vol 1. London: Smith, Elder, 1829. Accessed June 9, 2020. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.33487
Vidyalankar, Mrityunjay. Rajabali: Calcutta: Srirampur Press, 1838. Accessed June 25, 2020. https://archive.org/details/bub_man_968aa8e84ceae78c3fa8d897fbd6ebaa