Shri Mota, social reformer and saint, would easily be even ona short list of people who transformed Gujarat in second half of the 20th century was a unique person, an amalgam of a staunch Gan-dhian, who took a spiritual turn in life and yet believed in science and techonolgy. Hedid not overlook the travails of common people. He did not preach escapism, even through religion.He dedicated his life to working for the poor,backward and disadvantaged peo-ple.
That some 8,766 rooms were added to village schools, often of a single room only then, in as many as 18 districts of Gujarat,due to his efforts, alone would have been a monument tall enough to measure his towering personality.
He was, unlike other monks, also not averse to science and technology.
Coming from a very poor family of weavers and dyers of cloth in central Gujarat, Mota, whose real name was Chunilal,worked all his life with a belief ; "Community is my God. I want to make efforts to invigorate our society." He collected nearly ten million rupees from the people,only to give it back to the community.
Besides money for school rooms, Mota strove for excellence is various other fields of life too. He gave funds to the University Grants Commission and various scientific institutions to give awards to foster talents in science and technology.He instituted awards for encouragement of literature,philosophy and several other branches of learning.He sent books to schools and educa-tional institutions and helped launch a Gujarati encyclopaedia pro-ject.
Thanks to him, there are swimming competitions in the sea in Gujarat and Maharashtra for the youth.There are swimming pools, hiking programmes in various places launched with his generous funding.
Although he led a life of simplicity and austerity,he had a modern mind that could grasp what was wrong with our society. ""It is only the life-and-death struggle that gives a rude, terrific shock to the time-worn ways of thinking-- old ruts of habit,traditional evaluation of things,outward beliefs, manners, customs and ways of life. Only then can a new influence of element of essential to man's growth find a passage for entry into his being."
He said: "Human mind has the inveterate habit of going along the beaten tracks and is never willing to change its course and think afresh. But, struggles create such circumstances as to com-pel it to seek or cut new channels for the flow of life. Every change in a man's circumstance owes its existence to some such compel-ling force."
Mota was a tireless worker,an embodiment of the concept of a karmayogi.To him serving others was like serving God. Had he not taken a spiritual turn,the country would have seen Chunilal grow into a tall Gandhian,devoted to the uplift of the backward classes.He left college in Baroda, paying heed to the Mahatma's call and went over to Gujarat Vidyapeeth, set up by Gandhiji in Ahmedabad,instead. Gandhi had appealed to the students at Vid-yapeeth to dedicate their lives to social service and uplift of the backward classes.Chunilal did it willingly and immedi-ately,umnmmindful of the hardships it might cause to him. Half-starving, he would sell Navjivan.
Poverty was nothing new to Chunilal,who was born in the pov-erty-stricken household of Asharam Bhagat and Surajba on Sep-tember 4,1898, in Savli village in Baroda district.Asharam, addicted to smoking and opium, eked out an uncertain living from dyeing cloth.Perturbed by humiliation and ill-treatment that poverty could evoke, the child decided early in life that he would rise above it, by becoming an officer.It was no empty resolve; Chunilal finished four years' course in two years, even as he did a helper's job,earning a fat salary of Rs.1.5 a month, sweeping class rooms, filling water pitchers,and doing other errands.
On completion of the elementary schooling, he had to join a shop as an assistant to a grain merchant.The basic strength of his character showed up early; although it was a back-breaking work,Chunilal did it cheerfully, and refused to become dishonest to earn a little more. The honesty and toiling paid whn a rich family subsidised his studies at Petlad.But, the spiritual streak was begin-ning to show up by then.Chunilal would serve wandering monks,without expecting a reward and even asking for any-thing.Making way through dire poverty, he went to a college in Baroda in 1919 but gave it up the next year to go to Vidyapeeth. He later joined Indulal Yagnik, then the right hand man of Gandhi, and worked for helping the Harijans.
A drastic change came in 1928 at an ashram at Bodal. It was night time, with everybody asleep.Since it was overflowing with visi-tors, some people like Chunilal were sleeping out in the open. A poisonous snake bit him. As the poison took effect, fears mounted about his chances for survival. The tiny village had no medical fa-cility to treat a snake bite.All rhat Chunilal could do till help from a city arrived was to silently recite Hari Om, Hari Om. It was 72 hours before he could be reached to the Mission Hopsital at Anand where a German Catholic doctor was surprised that the young man had survived deadly bite for such a long period. His life was saved, con-vincing Mota of the efficacy of chanting God's name.
He was a bit of a recluse from the early days and got involved deeper into spiritual practices such as total silence. Through chant-ing and silence, he learnt to make his mind still and began to at-tract notice. He would commend prayers and chanting as also ceaseless endeavours to do one's worldly duty.
Yet, he was averse to setting up any special cult or sect.He never preched in public. He did not go in for building temples; in-stead, he commended building school rooms, helping gymnasiums, fostering science.He was no blind follower of any religion and would offer prayers at the mosques too,observing fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramzan, according to his folllowers.The only facilities he allowed to be set up were three simple structures called Moun Mandir, temples of silence,where people could go in for keeping silence for specified days, in order to do introspection and come to terms with the self. The Lord abides in every heart was his dictum. He was a prolific writer, penning nearly 50 books on spiri-tual growth, derived from his own experiments and experiences.
On July 19, 1976, he wrote a will and testament: " I, Chunilal Asharam Bhagat alias Mota, residing at Hari Om Ashram,Nadiad, hereby declare that I will give up this body as an when I deem it necessary and proper, for now, it is not worthy of any social ser-vice. Let it be cremated in a solitary place with peaceful atmos-phere,just near the place of death, only in presence of six persons. The ashes should be completely immersed in the nearby river and no memorial or statue be erected in my memory. Any fund col-lected in my memory should be utilised in the construction of school rooms in villages in Guajrat."
He gave up his body just four days later on July 23, 1976, at Fa-jalpur, near Baroda, in presence of six people,as stipulated by him. The body was cremated without any pomp or show. His wishes were followed in letter and spirit.
Though there are no memorials for him Mota lives on in public memory as the prototype of Godmen a secular India needs.