AHMEDABAD: An eight-year-old girl in India who stood to inherit a multi-million-dollar diamond fortune has instead been inducted as a nun to a strict religious order after renouncing worldly pleasures.
Devanshi Sanghvi was, until this week, an heiress to the Sanghvi and Sons jewellery business in the Gujarat city of Surat, known locally as “diamond city” for its prominence in the global gem trade.
Her family adheres to the Jain faith, a small but ancient Indian religion that preaches non-violence, strict vegetarianism and love for all creatures great and small.
This week, she was feted in a four-day ceremony to herald her new vocation, which at one point saw her ride in a carriage pulled by an elephant, according to pictures shared on local media.
On Wednesday, she arrived at a temple to trade her elaborate garments for a simple white cotton outfit, after having all her hair removed.
Sanghvi was known among members of Surat’s Jain community for her piousness even as a young child, according to a witness to Wednesday’s ceremony.
“Devanshi has never watched television, movies or gone to malls and restaurants,” they said, adding that the girl had been a regular presence at temple ceremonies.
The child is one of the youngest people to have taken “diksha”, a ceremony where new entrants to Jain monkhood take a vow to abandon material possessions.
Sanghvi’s parents said she had been eager to become a nun. Jain families are sometimes said to encourage their children to enter the monkhood to enhance their social standing.
Her family’s business, founded in 1981, has a net worth of five billion rupees ($61 million) according to ICRA, an Indian credit rating agency.
Jainism has more than four million followers in India, many of them -- such as Sanghvi’s family -- from affluent trading communities.
Followers adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and some monks and nuns cover their mouths with fabric to prevent them from accidentally swallowing insects.
The religion has come under criticism for some of its ritual practices, particularly for a tradition of extreme fast unto death.
A 13-year-old girl in Hyderabad fell into a coma and died in 2016 while undertaking a two-month fast as an act of penance, during which she was only allowed to drink warm water twice a day.
Her parents were charged by police with manslaughter and were subject to public outrage over claims the family had forced her into the fast.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2023