Today and Hereafter ~ Sallekhana Specialist Tara Dakliya, Jalgaon

by on December 5, 2016

I have known of people competent in arts and crafts, people who specialise in their professions, but this was something I was hearing for the first time! Eighty year-old Tara Dakliya is a Sallekhana specialist, known in the Jain community for easing the passage to death. Sallekhana (also known as santhara) means ‘fasting unto death’, the last vow prescribed in the Jain ethical code. It entails abstinence from food and all material comforts, with the intention of preparing for death.
I first met Taraji at her brother Ashokji Galada’s residence in Chennai during her visit last month. Confident, frank and friendly, she is inspiration personified. Rather than restricting her activities to the four walls of her house, as many in her generation would have, she keeps herself well-informed and busy. In fact, she takes a keen interest in the social and religious activities in her locality, and is often asked to speak at important gatherings. An extempore speaker, she willingly addresses the audience, winning their rapt attention and is only too happy to shoulder the responsibility of the activities of the sangha (religious congregation).
As we spoke, I realised this was someone who firmly believes that sharing and caring are the ideal ways to live.

Tara Dakliya Jalgaon
Pranam Taraji. Having heard much about you from your brother’s family, I have been looking forward to meeting you. Can we start with your childhood?

I was born in Bodwad, a town in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra. It was a full house with my five sisters and four brothers. My mother trained us in housework, which held us in good stead later on in life.
How old were you when you got married?

I was barely 15 when I got married to the late Madanlalji Dakliya and moved to Jalgaon. It was a joint family and the atmosphere at home was strict, rigorous and religious.
Is that what triggered your deep interest in religion?

Religious activities are an intrinsic part of most Jain families. Even in my own peehar [maternal family], they observed several religious practices, which became a way of life for us. I have never consumed any root vegetables in my life, not even carrots or ginger. For the past 50 years, I also make it a point to eat before sunset.
How did your love for religious literature blossom?

I always loved reading! I can read Hindi, Prakrit and Sanskrit. I think I was inspired towards reading religious literature because of the shivir [religious camps]. Several competitions and exams were organised in these shivir and I always came through with flying colours. Perhaps the highlight among all this was the time I heard the Uttaradhyayana Sutra. It was a truly enriching experience and propelled me further in the direction of a deeper study of the scriptures.
Was there any significant event at the time that you would like to share?

Renowned Jain monk Acharya Hastimalji came and stayed in Jalgaon for his chaturmas [holy period from July to October]. As you are aware, Jain ascetics stay in one place during the four rainy months of chaturmas. He noticed my religious interest and asked me one day, “What is the use of restricting your knowledge within the four walls of your home? Step out and put what you have learnt to good use.” I was really moved by what he said, feeling blessed and honoured. So I came home and asked my husband. He agreed and I then became a swadhyayi, which means religious teacher. From then on, almost every year, I would go to some place as a swadhyayi during Paryushan [a Jain religious festival] to spread awareness about religion.
How difficult was it to manage both the housework and your outdoor religious activities?

Managing anything is what you make of it. It is only a matter of balancing things out. As a community, Jains are very hospitable. I have five daughters and two sons, and all my children helped a lot. My daughters are married. Now, we are a happy joint family comprising my sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Balancing the house and outdoor activities was never an issue, either then or even now, whether it was just the family or attending to visitors and guests.
Did you employ a cook to manage the kitchen?

Oh no! I firmly believe it is important for us to cook for the family ourselves. When we cook, the food gets infused with the vibrations of the positive and loving thoughts we have. Can a professional cook ever have the same selfless love and care as a mother has for her children? I believe in cooking as well as serving with my own hands. If you were to understand that love is caring for and nurturing someone, you will never feel the need to eat out.
What if people have different tastes? What do you do to accommodate the fussy?

The reality is that no two people think alike. But you have to contain everyone—that is what life is all about. Staying together, understanding, adjusting and sharing with each other become the ideal way to live.
What are some of your favourite dishes?

I appreciate healthy food the most! I have never ever eaten fried snacks. There are so many healthy traditional dishes to choose from. I strongly recommend jowar—it is light to digest and a healthy staple. I am very particular about cow’s milk as I find it light to digest, and we use it to make ghee. I think my diet has kept me in good health. I have suffered two heart attacks but have sailed through quite easily on account of my healthy eating habits.
I have heard so much about your expertise with Sallekhana. Tell us about the immense responsibility that surrounds this practice and enormity of the decision.

Undoubtedly, it is an immense responsibility. But it is also a great honour for both: the one who undertakes the vow and the one giving the vow. First of all, we must ascertain whether the person is really ready for Sallekhana. I check their bodily functions and evaluate their mental strength. After that, their family has to give permission. My father always wanted to undertake diksha [renunciation] but the family did not grant him permission. So as his end neared, I initiated him into diksha, with the permission of the family members and sangha, and followed it up with the vow of Sallekhana. He passed away within two hours. To date, I feel a sense of peace whenever I think about his end.
For how many people have you facilitated this process?

I have not kept count but I am sure it has been more than 50 people. When our sadhus and sadhvis are around, they bestow the vow of Sallekhana upon the saadhak [spiritual aspirant]. But basically, our sadhus and sadhvis are wanderers and do not stay in one place. Hence, this responsibility often falls on a few of us who are well-informed about the vow.
Thank you for sharing this. My last question: How do you respond to changing times?

Change is natural as it is certain, but one should be able to differentiate between change thatis good and change that is bad for us. I notice a definite change in the way today’s parents are bringing up their children. I am not saying which is a better system, but today’s parents are far more attentive. Earlier, families were large and children just grew up in each other’s company. I don’t ever remember needing my mother’s attention. That too had its own advantage!
Photo Courtesy: Harmony Magazine

Part-2 of this post is the recipe of Pune ke Baingan, a no-brinjal recipe of stuffed rotis from Tara Dakliya’s kitchen.
First published in ‘Heart to Hearth’ – a column in Harmony Celebrate Age magazine. A series about elders who believe in nurturing the body and mind as the key to joy.


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