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Cambay (Khambhat), once upon a time, used to be a renowned port, having trade links with a number of cities and towns in the country and outside. It is said that in those days of prosperity, there were about one hundred millionaires in that town. The inhabitants were all devout and the town could boast of 85 temples and 45 upashraya (home for monks and nuns). was in Cambay tl)at omniscient Hemchandracharya, a truly enlightened soul, had been initiated into the religious order (diksha). Hemchandracharya had helped king Kumarpal to hide himself among the piles of books in an upashraya and saved his life. It was in Cambay that the poet Rishabhdas had composed his volume on raas (a popular folk form) and businessmen Rajiya-Vajiya, Tejpal Sanghavi and others had earned fame as philanthropists. Numerous religious and charitable activities were undertaken under the guidance of]agadguru (title of universal preceptor) Shri Hirvijaysuriji, Shri Somsundarsuriji and other acharyas (head of a medicant group).
Acharya Dharmamurti stayed in Cambay and a millionaire Jain layman (Shravak) used to visit him daily for his darshan. He would first go to jinalaya (temple of jina) and then pay his respects to the Acharya. Though a millionaire, he had no false pride and his heart was full of devotion.
One day, as was his routine, he went to the Acharya to pay his respects. He was accompanied by his grand daughter Dharmalaxmi. Eight-year-old Dharmalaxmi bowed to the Acharya. The Acharya looked at her and felt that she was no ordinary girl. He said to the rich shravak, “This little girl, your grand-daughter, is no ordinary girl. She will hold aloft the banner of]inshashan (Jain order). I ask you to give her to me to be a nun.]inshashan will be proud to have her as a sadhvi.”
The grandfather was stunned to hear the words of the Acharya. “How would an eightyear old girl withstand the rigours of the life of a sadhvi?”, he thought. The Acharya saw that the grandfather was a worried man. He said, “Don’t worry. Such an extraordinary being is born after long, long years. Let her grow into a pillar of religion.” The Shravak felt relieved at the Acharya’s words and his misgivings were dispelled. Dharmalaxmi (Padmalaxmi) was given to the Acharya to be a sadhvi par excellence. True to her name, she became an ornament of her religion.
Dharmalaxmi began her austere life as a sadhvi at the age of eight. She was endowed with an acute mind and began the study of scriptures. In a short time, she mastered them all. At the age of eleven, she was appointed pravartini of seven hundred sadhvis, and became sadhvi mahattara. She continued her pursuit of knowledge and practised severe penance. At the age of twenty eight Dharmalaxmi left for heavenly abode.
The idol of Dharmalaxmi is found in the jinalaya in Matar in Gujarat. This is the only instance of an idol of a sadhvi and of one who attained a very high status at such a young age.
Bhagwan Mahavir had said: “True devotion is very rare.” It is only true devotion and faith that leads to attainment of spiritual heights. Spirituality is beyond age, gender or caste. Sadhvi Dharmlaxmi was, in the true, sense, a pillar of religion and spirituality, a devotee par excellence. Her Sadhana (sustained devotion to a cause) ensured for her an important place in the history of Jainism.