|Other names||Shantidas Zaveri, Shantidas Jawahari, Shanti Das, Santidas|
|Occupation||Trader and moneylender|
|Title||Nagarsheth (city chief)|
|Denomination||Svetambara (Sagar gaccha)|
Shantidas Jhaveri (c. 1580s–1659) was an influential Indian jeweller, sarraf (bullion) trader and sahukar (moneylender) during the Mughal era. He was the wealthiest merchant in the Ahmedabad city during the 17th century. He was also a philanthropist, who made donations to temples and schools.
Shantidas Jhaveri was a Jain from the Ahmedabad region. His father Sahasra Kiran had migrated to Ahmedabad in the late 16th century. Shantidas expanded his father's jewellery retail business by setting up a sarrafa (bullion trading) business.
Shantidas retailed jewellery to the rich, including the Mughal royalty and nobility. Farmans from Emperor Jahangir and Dara Shikoh indicate that he was asked to offer jewellery to the Mughal royalty. In 1639, Asaf Khan the brother of Nur Jahan and the father of Mumtaz Mahal purchased a large quantity of jewels from Shantidas. After he died, the Emperor Shah Jahan forced Shantidas to take back the jewels and refund the money.
Shantidas also traded with the European companies (British East India Company and Dutch VOC), as well as Persian and Arab traders, in commodities such as cloves. In September 1635, Shantidas and some other merchants from Surat and Ahmedabad, lost their goods to English pirates. He used his influence and political connections to recover his loss from the English.
He however became most influential as a moneylender: most of the capital lent to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in India came from Shantidas and his close associate Virji Vora. These associations provided him with excellent profits and strong and constant flow of gold-denominated interest payments, making him a wealthy man.
As a court jeweller, Shantidas had access to the Mughal household. Modern Jain tradition asserts that Shantidas was addressed as mama (maternal uncle) by the Emperor Shah Jahan. Farmans issued by the Mughal emperors Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb suggest that the Mughal royalty maintained good relations with him. Jehangir is said to have conferred the title of "Nagarsheth" upon him. Though no verifiable historical evidence has been provided to substantiate this or any other claims relating to his "special relations" with the Mughal Court. His existence within a cultural framework where myth is well intertwined with verifiable historical events, raises the possibility that most of these stories are no more than apocryphal.
In 1645, the Mughal prince Aurangzeb desecrated the Chintamani Parshvanath temple constructed by Shantidas, after being appointed the Governor of Gujarat. According to the French traveller Jean de Thévenot (1666), Aurangzeb caused a cow to be killed in the temple premises, destroyed the noses of all idols in the temple, and then converted the place into a mosque called Quvval-ul-Islam ("the Might of Islam"). Shantidas complained to Aurangzeb's father Emperor Shah Jahan. In 1648, the Emperor issued a firman declaring that the building should be handed over to Shantidas, and a wall should be raised between the mihrabs (niches in the mosque walls) and the rest of the original temple building. It also declared that the Muslim fakirs housed in the mosque premises should be removed, and the materials carried away from the temple should be restored.
After becoming the emperor, Aurangzeb acknowledged the influence of Shantidas in the merchant community. In 1657, Shah Jahan's son Murad Baksh had compelled Shantidas to lend him Rs. 550,000 (550,000). After Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb imprisoned Murad. Shantidas managed to secure from the new emperor, a firman ordering the imperial dewan Rahmat Khan to pay him Rs. 100,000 from the royal treasury as part of the loan recovery. Aurangzeb also sent a firman asking him to convey the emperor's goodwill to the merchants and other inhabitants of Ahmedabad.
Religious and political activities
Shantidas was a devout Jain, who was gave generously to the Gujarati Jain community. He spent a substantial amount of money on conducting the sanghas and protecting Jain temples. He helped the monks in setting up pathshalas (schools). A contemporary Sanskrit language document states that he took great interest in maintaining manuscripts, and encouraged the monks to develop literature.
In 1622, Shantidas started the construction of the Chintamani Parshvanath temple at Saraspur, Ahmedabad. The construction was completed in 1638, and cost Rs. 900,000 (900,000). The temple has been described in the writings of the foreign travellers such as the German adventurer Johan Albrecht de Mandelslo. His philanthropy does not appear to have extended beyond his own Jain community.
Shantidas also participated in the contemporary religious politics. At that time, there were several Jain factions (gachhas) within the Svetambara Jain sect, and Shantidas belonged to the Sagar gaccha. Muktisagar, a monk of the Sagar gaccha was a close friend of Shantidas, and in 1625, he had installed an idol in the Chintamani Parshawanath temple constructed by him. Shantidas wanted to see Muktisagar become an acharya (the highest leader of a Jain order), but the request was declined by Vijayadeva Suri, a senior acharya belonging to the Tapa gachha. Shantidas sought the help of Shrimalla, a merchant from Cambay, who had played an important role in Vijayadeva's promotion to the acharya post in 1601. With his influence, Muktisagar was appointed as an acharya in 1630, under the name "Rajsagar". Later, Shantidas planned a shastrartha (religious debate) between Vijayadeva Suri and Muktisagar (Rajsagar Suri) in Jalore. His intention was to raise the prestige of his faction (and perhaps, to increase his own influence), but Muktisagar lost courage and backed out of the debate before it began.
Shantidas also led a boycott against the Lonka gaccha, which criticised idol worship (something that Shantidas's own gachha accepted). In September 1644, he exerted his influence to enforcing a ban against the Lonkas, with respect to inter-marrying and inter-dining. The Lonkas of Ahmedabad complained to the Emperor Shah Jahan, but the Emperor refused to intervene in the matter.
Khushalchand (1680–1748), the grandson of Shantidas, was also a prominent merchant, and paid ransom to the Marathas to save Ahmedabad from plunder. Khushalchand's son Vakhatchand (1740–1814) was also a noted businessman. The Lalbhai family of modern India, which owns the Arvind Mills, traces its ancestry to Shantidas through Lalbhai Dalpatbhai, the great-great-great-grandson of Khushalchand.
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