Jains find gathering place in Lewis Center
For T.J. Salgia, community is the key to spiritual fulfillment.
He hopes the Jain Center of Central Ohio, the region's first and only Jain temple, can be a social and spiritual hub for followers of the faith.
Salgia, a trustee and co-founder of the temple, practices Jainism, an Indian religion with a small but growing presence in the United States.
He grew up in Mumbai and moved to the U.S. 19 years ago to study finance. From the beginning, he dreamed about building a vibrant Jain community, he said.
Nearly 20 years later, his dream is a reality. The $2.2 million temple opened its doors July 20 at 6651 S. Old State Road in Lewis Center. Its opening celebration drew practitioners from all over Ohio and from as far as New York and Florida.
Salgia calls Jainism a "do-it-yourself religion" that many followers practice privately, but he said isolation can be limiting.
"With this temple, we can get to know each other and help each other, and our children can know each other, and that is how we can grow as a community," he said.
The new temple hosts weekly prayer services, religious classes and other activities, including two weekly yoga classes.
It's just the third Jain temple in Ohio. Others are located in Cleveland and Cincinnati. Volunteers raised more than $800,000 over four years to help fund its construction.
In years past, Jains in Columbus rented space in an office complex for prayer gatherings. They later considered renovating an old church, but opted to pursue building a new facility. It was finished in July.
The new temple's large prayer room features a white marble floor and an altar to the religion's prominent figures. Portraits of Jain prophets line the walls in a hallway that followers walk as part of a weekly ritual.
Jainism is an ancient tradition of nonviolence. Adherents are strict vegetarians and are careful to leave even the smallest insects unharmed. They own and take only what they need and stress a detachment from worldly possessions.
The American Jain population is growing, but followers remain scarce. Salgia estimates about 1,000 Jain families reside in Ohio.
Anish Doshi has been involved with the local Jain community for about 20 years. He worked for years organizing efforts to build the new temple.
Doshi agrees community is key.
"If you play football, you can't play by yourself. You have to have a whole team to help you. It's the same for us," Doshi said. "Spirituality is something that you can eventually discover on your own, but having a place to go for help and support is very important."
So far, about 40 families regularly attend the weekly services, and many others come for special occasions.
Prayer service is held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays. Religious classes for all ages also are held in the temple's classroom during that time.
Salgia said Jainism is a personal way of life, and Jains don't work to convert others to the faith.
He acknowledges most Americans have never heard of Jainism, and welcomes non-Jains who want to learn more -- but don't forget to leave your shoes at the door.
"Cleanliness is godliness," Salgia said.