Jain Center in Atlanta Celebrates Momentous Occasion
March 5th, 2023 was a momentous day for not just the Jain Community of Greater Atlanta but a cause of great celebration for the South Asian diasporic community in Georgia. The occasion was precipitated by a generous gift of $250,000 given by Atlanta couple Dr. Shailendra Palvia and Mrs. Rajkumari Palvia to Georgia College and State University (GCSU), the University System of Georgia’s public Liberal Arts University. This gift establishes the VeetraagVigyaan Endowed Professorship in Jain Studies, housed in the Department of Philosophy, Religion and Liberal Studies (PALS) at GCSU, to further the study of Jainism.
The event was hosted by the Palvia family and attended by administrators, faculty and students from GCSU. The Palvia family included the donors, Dr. and Mrs. Palvia, Shailendra Palvia’s brother Prashant and Pankaj, and their wives, Madhu and Smita. GCSU was represented by Dr. Eric Tenbus (Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences), Mr. Bob Preston (Senior Engagement Officer, GCSU Foundation), Dr. Sunita Manian (Chair, PALS), Dr. James Winchester (Coordinator, Philosophy Program), Dr. Justin Henry (Lecturer of South Asian Studies) and students, Basil Cooper (Liberal Studies and Art History major) and Liam Landry (Mathematics Major and Philosophy minor). There were about 200 people who joined the celebrants, drawn from the Jain Community of Georgia as well as university administrators from Emory University and Kennesaw State University.
The celebrations began with a visit to the Digambar temple in the lower level of the Jain Community Center to seek blessings, followed by a grand event at the Auditorium at the JSGA that included felicitations from Jain Community members who played a key role in making the Endowed Professorship in Jain Studies a reality and ended with Aarti in the Swetamber temple at the upper-level of JSGA.
[Right] Namokar Mantra
Dr. Palvia spoke passionately and with great humor about the journey that brought us to the momentous gift: “The deal was sealed in my mind when Sulekhji asked me to call 20-30 potential donors prior to our momentous Zoom Meeting on October 17. Idea was to get commitment from as many donors as possible towards the goal of $250K.” Rather than find many people to contribute, he decided to fund it himself. However, he needed critical clearance from my wife Rajkumari. “What a pleasant surprise! She immediately agreed.”
Dr. Palvia and Mrs. Palvia have had a life-long commitment to living life through Jaina principles: “What led to we making such a huge donation was my Quest for the Truth since the age of 14 when there is an unending mystery of the universe we will live in.” Mrs. Rajkumari Palviahas been engaging in the in-depth study of Jain Philosophy prior to their marriage in 1972, and the Palvias continued that commitment throughout their married lives. “So, with our huge commitment like this, such a gift was bound to happen. We are delighted to be part of the history making establishment of this endowment – the first in the state of Georgia. And this happened in record time, nine months, the period in which great creations happen.”
Dean Eric Tenbus, himself a historian, spoke eloquently about Georgia College and State University’s role in Georgia as the State’s only designated Public Liberal Arts University and the ways in which studying Jain Religion, Culture and Art enhances the University’s Liberal Arts mission: “The gift to endow a professorship in Jain Studies is a wonderful opportunity for Georgia College students to further explore the diverse religious cultures of the wider world and to learn about the similarities and differences between various religious traditions, all with the understanding that the world is becoming a smaller place and that we in higher education have an obligation to encourage our students to seek out knowledge and understanding from across the vastness of human civilization. That is at the core of a liberal arts education.”
Dr. Sunita Manian, Chair of PALS, in her speech shared the ways in which Jain Studies was already taking place at GCSU. The department will be hosting a panel discussion on Mahavir, Mahatma and MLK’s Message of Ahimsa in March and a lecture on Jain Art in April. She introduced two students Basil Cooper, who intends to study Jain Art, and Liam Landry who plans to study Jain Philosophy and Religion. She extended an invitation to young people in the audience to choose GCSU where they would be mentored by the Endowed Professor in the academic study of Jainism enriching their undergraduate and post-graduate lives.
[Left] Kneeling JSGA
Dr. Justin Henry in his speech highlighted to many ways in which Jainism help youth today in the many challenges they face, including anxiety disorders: “Our undergraduate students today have grown up in a world of almost debilitating digital stimulation—they are from adolescence immersed in a social media environment which demands that users curate a personal brand to be evaluated and critiqued by friends and strangers alike.In the realm of the personal and the psychological, the Jain lifestyle—particularly the ideal of equanimity (mādhyastha)—offers the possibility of repose and mental quietude in an age of perpetual hyper-stimulus.”
Speeches by other dignitaries included Drs. Sulekh Jain, the lynchpin whose untiring commitment to Jain Studies has resulted in Endowed Positions across the world, Dr. Jagdish Sheth, the Padma Bhushan recipient of 2020 who is the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing at the Goizueta Business School of Emory University and Mrs. Madhu Sheth, the moving felicitations by the brothers of Dr. Shailendra Palvia, Prashant and Pankaj. Dr. Nuru Akinyemi, Director, Center for African Studies, Kennesaw State University: “I look forward to exploring with Georgia College's Jain program, Jainism's relevance as an alternative approach to dealing with the various challenges of ethnic, racial, religious and political intolerance facing parts of the African continent.”
The leaders of the Jain community felicitated Dean Tenbus, Dr. Manian and Dr. Henry with scarfs and gifted to GCSU banners with the Namokar Mantra and the Jain greeting Jai Jinendra.
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