Vimla Devi, the 61-year-old cancer patient who courted death in Jaipur on Thursday, is not alone in doing so as more than 200 Jains embrace death every year in India through the ancient ritual of 'Santhara', according to a noted Indologist and Jain scholar here.
Jitendra Shah, who has been studying the origin and evolution of "Santhara" dating back to 250 BC, said though the recent death of the Jain woman in Jaipur has kicked up a national debate about the ritual with the matter also going to court, Jains from time immemorial have been practising this concept of 'Voluntary Peaceful Death'.
"In Jainism, 'Santhara' is a philosophical concept of attaining 'Samadhi' which dates back to over 2,000 years", said Shah, the director of L D Institute of Indology which houses some rare manuscripts and scriptures containing detailed references on the ritual.
"On an average, about 240 Jains (both Shewtambar and Digambar sects) attain Santhara, though most of it goes unnoticed and unrecorded", Shah told PTI.
"In Jainism, Santhara means spiritual withdrawal from worldly existence in tune with divinity", he said.
A 2000-year-old Jain scripture 'Samadhi-maran-payanna' at the LD institute specially deals with this concept of 'Santhara' also known as 'Samadhi-maran'.
Similarly, scriptures on 'Acharyasutra', 'Stanagsutra' and 'Vuasagdarshasutra' housed at this Insitute also contains detailed references to this ancient custom.
"As per these scriptures, a person cannot perform Santhara without the permission of their Guru", Shah said.