The Land Donor

Shri Bhagwanji Kachara Shah

The Land Donor

Bhagwanjibhai was born in April 1906 to mother Umaben and father Kachra Bharmal Gosrani at Champaberaja in halar district of Jamnagar state. He did schooling up to Standard 5 and left at age of 13 years to join family farming business. Kachra Bharmal family owned nearly fifty acres and two wadis and was well respected in the community.

Bhagwanjibhai detested the hard and dirty work in hot climate and kept dreaming and wishing of getting away to new pastures and activity to achieve worthwhile objects in life. At the age of fourteen he was married to Daiben, daughter of Karamshi Samat of Dabasang. One Popatbhai, a former resident of Baraja returned for a visit after residing in Kenya for three years, showing off valuable possessions and wearing smart clothes impressed Bhagwanjibhai, and convinced him that his destiny is to emigrate to Kenya.

Initially the family objected to his wishes, for they were worried of him being alone in a strange country, but after continuous pleadings and cries by him, the family reluctantly gave permission. He sailed in a dhow in company of a known family of Khetshibhai and landed at Mombasa port on 20th June 1924. After two days he joined as clerk in Nairobi in the firm of Meghji Ladha & Company where he worked for two years and gained experience in trading, when the cousin brother of Daiben, Jivraj Devraj asked him to join as shop manager in one of his shop at Forthall, where he continued until 1927. He traded business in partnership with his brother-in-law Mohanlal Karamshi at Eldoret. The partnership opened a branch in Kitale in 1928, which was managed by him.

Bhagwanjibhai was the first Oshwal to arrive in Kitale and was not very welcomed by other close-knit communities. In few months, partnership was dissolved and was taken over by Bhagwanjibhai as the sole owner. Over the years with hard work and intelligence, the business expanded into many branches in towns around Kitale and shops in large farm estates, owned by Europeans. He called many young relations from India and settled them in various shops, some of whom have now grown into large businesses and industries. The business developed into wholesalers and high-class department store in Kitale and expanded by opening a wholesale and import business in Mombasa, which was handled by his younger brother Laljibhai. His foresight and acumen for business expanded into property developments and investments in Kitale, Kisumu, Eldoret, Mombasa, Nairobi and Jamnagar.

In late 1940s Kenyan Indians followed India's Independence movement very excitedly by organising morning processions and holding meetings for support. Bhagwanjibhai was so much impressed by Gandhiji that he read all the books available about Gandhiji including the correspondence Gandhiji had with Shrimad Rajchandra, who had influenced Gandhiji immensely.

In 1949 Bhagwanjibhai had serious life-threatening motor car accident near Kimilili while returning from Oshwal Conference in Nairobi, which became a turning point of his life towards vairagya and purpose of life. In 1949 he attended Convention of Indian National Congress in Nasik, as one of the representatives of Kenya Indians, where he stayed at home of Kamalnay Bajaj and also met personally Vinoba Bhave, Kaka Kalelkar, Mahadevbhai Desai and many other leaders. He then visited all the places connected to Gandhiji, such as Porbander, Sevagram, Sabarmati Ashram, Birla Mandir and Agakhan Mahel in Poona. Later he repeated same venture by visiting all the places connected with Shrimadji, such as Vavania, Agas, Ider, Vadva and Khambat, as he was equally impressed with the philosophy of Jainism pronounced by Rajchandraji.

The main phase and purpose of his life became apparent, and he found his goal of life in 1947, when Daiben's uncle Dharamshi Devshi visited Kitale and stayed for over a month with the family. He introduced Bhagwanjibhai to Pujya Kanjiswami and his teachings of jain tatva and insisted him to visit Songadh during his next trip to India.

Bhagwanjibhai visited Songadh during his trip of 1949 and stayed for three days but could not follow the teachings and returned back to Kenya. However, he was convinced and had faith that this was the true path of salvation and returned back with strong determination. He stayed for three months and took lessons in basic principles and continued explorations with scholars living in Songadh and finally decided to devote his life to practice of tatva.

On his return to Kenya, he wound up all his personal affairs and retired from business life, and left Kitale business to his nephew Premchandbhai and his son Somchandbhai to manage and Mombasa business to his brother and second son Laxmichandbhai to manage. He returned to Songadh with Daiben in 1952 deciding to live permanently there and rented a flat and in 1956 built a modest comfortable home named 'Suresh Sadan?. Meanwhile arranged admission of his deaf daughter Muktaben in a special school in Ahmedabad and his sons. Suresh and Bipin in special school for slow learning in Deolali and later interned at Jain boarding in Songadh. Bhagwanjibhai lived in Songadh until 1979 with intermittent breaks to visit Kenya or Mumbai when family social obligations required.

Bhagwanjibhai involved himself enthusiastically in learning and practicing of jain tatva and contributed passionately in promoting the true jain tatva as much as possible. He infused the value of learning and practicing of tatva to whole his extended family and taught and conducted classes for the family. The legacy he left still continues today in his generations. He was the main initiator and inspiration for establishment of mandal and Mandir in London. He donated unreservedly to subsidise publication of books by Todarmal Smark, Jaipur and Songadh Trust on jain literature so as to make it affordable to reach wider public. Students of jain Shastri cariculam were and are still being sponsored in various vidyalayas around the country.

Bhagwanjibhai was fortunate to lay foundation stone of majestic Parmagam Mandir in Songadh and jain Mandir in Jamnagar and jain Mandir in London. He attended many pratishthas, yatras and shibirs held in presence of Gurudevshree Kanjiswami. He also donated for subsidising meals at dinning facility (bhojansaia) at Songadh and Jaipur and also for Saraswati complex at Jaipur. His devotion to satdharm was demonstrated by building Rajchandra Smrutigrah in Mombasa.

Bhagwanjibhai's priority was practice and propagation of satdharm but his philanthropic nature did not ignore other needs of society and accordingly he established Charitable Trusts in Kenya, India and England, which are still performing and helping deserving causes. The list of donations by Bhagwanjibhai can fill pages and some amongst that includes donations to school and social hall in Kitale, Pandya. Memorial Hospital and Polio Clinic in Mombasa, Social Service League Hospital in Nairobi, Oshwal centers and boardings in Kenya, India and England. Kasturba Vikas Kendra, Jamnagar. Oshwal Atithi Grah, Songadh. and 4 acres of valuable land to Oshwal Education Trust, Jamnagar. He did not forget his roots and donations were made for school, gaushala and well in Champaberaja. His legend continues by the family.