Indian diamond tycoon's eight-year-old daughter becomes a Jain nun

She will now wear only white robes and live an austere life

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An eight-year-old girl has renounced worldly comforts to become a Jain nun and live an austere life, forgoing even basics such as toothbrush and soap in pursuit of salvation.

Devanshi Sanghvi, the eldest daughter of diamond baron Dhanesh Sanghvi and his wife Ami, took vows of renunciation on Wednesday in the presence of a Jain nun in Surat in western Gujarat.

More than 35,000 devotees attended the event as the young girl vowed to live an austere life.

A pavilion-like seating arrangement was made in a huge palace-like canopy so that thousands of people could enjoy the initiation ceremony.

The ceremony began last Saturday and continued for five days.

A religious procession with elephants, camels and horses was taken out in the city as Devanshi dressed up in finery for one last time before her transition to the life of a nun.

She will now wear only white robes and cover her mouth with fabric to prevent herself from accidentally swallowing insects.

Nuns from the Jain community attend the Sparsh Mahotsav festival in Ahmedabad on Monday. AFP

Jainism is one of the world's oldest religions and followers adhere to five principles, which include non-violence and non-possession.

They observe a strict vegetarian diet, do not eat root vegetables and particular fruits and abstain from eating greens in certain months.

Those who embrace monkhood are required to follow other strict rules such as walking barefoot, visiting temples and monasteries and carrying handmade wooden bowls to eat food.

They must not bathe, make no permanent home, and never use modern technology, such as the internet or a mobile phone, in accordance with the tenets of Jainism. They also pull out their hair as part of the rituals.

Devanshi, whose father is the owner of a nearly three-decade-old diamond polishing and export firm in Surat, was always inclined towards spiritual life and never used a mobile phone of watched television, Raveendra Shah, a family friend said, adding that Mr Sanghvi was delighted with his daughter's decision.

"He believes like when somebody goes for higher studies abroad, parents are always happy. [It is] the same that his daughter is going for true happiness and real spiritual path to study Jainism and learn the real happiness," Mr Shah told The National.

"As a father, of course he will miss her, but on the contrary, he is very happy that she is on the right track," he said.

Alka Singh, the head of policy and advocacy for Save the Children in India, said eight years old was too young to consent to a life-changing lifestyle.

"Religious things are personal choice but this is a serious concern. Under 12 anyway is a very sensitive [age] and is not considered for consent of any sort," she said.

"It is purely more of a parent or guardian fault."

Ms Singh said the case ought to be reviewed to consider the child's social circumstances and what influenced her decision. "Such decisions that affect the child's life and future should be guided properly by the law. This is serious."

Last year, a pharmaceutical magnate with assets worth about $4 million and his family pledged to live their lives as monks.

Jains are a religious minority but a largely affluent community. There are fewer than five million followers in India.

In recent years, the faith was criticised for practices such as Santhara, an act of penance in which a person fasts to death.

In 2016, a 13-year-old Jain girl died after fasting for 68 days as part of the ritual.

Last week an 83-year-old man in Rajasthan died after observing an 18-day fast.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 5:05 PM
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