Jankidevi Bajaj was born on 7th January 1893,here, as this was where in a respectable Vaishnav Marwari family of Jaora in Madhya Pradesh.
Jaora was ruled by Nawabs at that time. Her father, Shri Girdharilalji Jajodia was a follower of Shri Ramanuj Sampradaya. The whole family followed the Hindu religion with complete faith and devotion. They were wealthy and equally generous. People from all classes, castes and religions benefited from them.
Jankidevi had an elder brother, Chiranji Lalji and a younger brother, Purushottam Das. Her mother, Maina Devi was the epitome of simplicity and tenderness. She helped not only the neighbours but also her servants in their work.
Under this influence, Jankidevi adopted the Ekadashi Vrata and started reciting Om Namo Narayanay in solitude, from the tender age of 6 -7 years. She regularly performed Puja and visited temples and also recited Vishnu Sahasra Nam. She was adored by all and received a lot of fond attention in the joint family.
Jankidevi's childhood was spent in such noble influences of a loving family life.
Janki was a product of the then contemporary social beliefs and tradition and she had no opportunity to receive formal schooling. However at the age of 6-7 years, she was fascinated by the idea of 'talking paper' and wanted to learn reading and writing. Janki's desire impressed Shri Girdhari Lalji and he arranged to educate her at home.
She was impacted by her mother's caring ways and was extremely capable. She was an expert in knitting and embroidery and was very eager to learn and understand everything.
Married Life (from Jaora of Madhya Pradesh to Wardha of Maharashtra)
Wardha in those days had the glitter of Seth Bachhraj's glory. All he lacked was a child. For generations the family lineage had been maintained by resorting to adoption. The adopted son Ramdhan Das too departed and Seth Bachhraj went to Kashi ka Vas (Rajasthan) and adopted Jamnalal, the four-year-old son of Shri Kaniram Bajaj (no relation).
Jankidevi was chosen when she was a four-year-old child, as a match for Shri Jamnalal Bajaj.
At the age of eight and a half years, she got married to him and Janki became Jankidevi the Grih Laxmi, the Lady of the House in the Bajaj Family. After their marriage, she came to Wardha in 1902. Even Shri Jamnalal Bajaj probably had no idea that the innocent girl he had brought home as his bride, would go on to become a shining inspiration to the Bajaj family, the society and the country.
Husband as the Inspiration
The foremost personality among those who deeply influenced Jankidevi, was her husband Shri Jamnalal Bajaj who was not only a rich businessman, but also a religious devotee, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, a social reformer, a staunch Nationalist and a worshipper of the Cow.
The progressive husband initially taught his bride at home and increased her general knowledge by having a Parsee lady read newspapers to her.
So began the marital life of Jankidevi; decked in ornaments of gold, silver, pearls and diamonds. In due course she gave birth to five children, two sons and three daughters; Kamla (27-8-1912), Kamalnayan (23-1-1915), Madalsa (27-7-1917), Uma (Om) (12-7-1919) and Ramkrishna (22-9-1923), in that order. The issueless lineage of Shri Bachhraj came alive with young chatter.
Jankidevi became engrossed in bringing up the children and looking after the household duties. Her husband's greatness gradually unfolded before her. Inspired by his noble thoughts, Jankidevi, who was brought up in a traditional family gave up the parda in the year 1919.
Adopting simplicity, the greatest ornament in the world, in the year 1921 at the age of 28 years, she gave up all the ornaments. At the same time, she also gave up the use of foreign garments and embraced swadeshi Khadi. This action which appears easy today; was a revolutionary step in those tradition-bound times. Jankidevi had to face society's displeasure and social boycott.
She was impressed by Jamnalalji's constructive work in the field of Promoting Khadi, Serving the villages, Participating in the Freedom Struggle, Goseva, Women's upliftment, etc. and forsaking the comforts of affluence, she readily followed the footsteps of her husband.
In the company of Gandhi and Vinoba
India in those days was in the shackles of foreign rule.
Gandhiji's revolutionary call for Truth and Non-violence to bring about consistent progress for the Nation as well as the society influenced many men and women and Jankidevi was one of the first to follow.
What is the essence of Life? Is there anyone who practices what he preaches? Shri Jamnalal pondered over such issues and was always searching for the right personality. And in the year 1915, his search led him to a guide, the unparalleled Gandhiji. The Bajaj family accepted Gandhiji with complete faith and commitment.
In the year 1921, inspired by Gandhiji, Jankidevi burnt foreign clothes being used in and out of the home. She clad everyone in Khadi. Through the day and the night, she worked on the Charkha and the spindle and went from house to house teaching spinning of the Charkha. The potential lying within her was expressed manifold in the company of Bapu. Her creative talent took a constructive turn and love for the motherland became dominant within her. Economy and optimum use of every object became part of her way of life. She spent every moment of her life in constructive work and brought her conviction to life.
Jankidevi writes ...
Shri Jamnalal became the fifth son of Bapu in 1920 and I his fifth daughter-in-law. Khadi revolutionised the religious bent of my mind and filled it with love for the country. Since then Khadi, the Gomata and donating wells - Koopdaan - have become the pillars of my life. Cow begets the bull who tills the land and the land feeds all life, provides Khadi and freedom. This is the essence of my life.
Participating in the freedom struggle along with the family, betterment of Harijans and working for their free entry in the temples (in 1928), women's development and Goseva constituted her life.
Saint Vinoba Bhave was the spiritual guide for the Bajaj family. The enlightened Vinoba was won over by the childlike simplicity of Jankidevi and he became her younger brother. Thus Jankidevi, with her love and affection, got the right to bless the Baba (Vinoba Bhave) whose blessings the world sought.
Death of her elder son Kamalnayan in 1972 was a big blow to her. Here is when she took refuge with Shri Vinobaji. She would go daily to Paunar Ashram where Vinobaji would write one name from 'Vishnusahasranaam' (1000 names of Vishnu) in a graphical form and explain the same to her. The same has been subsequently printed.
Describing the influence of Gandhi and Vinoba on her life, Jankidevi says:
"I was not an educated person; but life became an enlightenment in the company of these two great personalities. I am moved by their thoughts. A sea of bliss encompasses my inner self."
Under the influence of Gandhi and as a true disciple of Vinoba Bhave, she became a source of inspiration for others to follow. Her personality went on improving with many noble characteristics and her actions had their firm approval. Both Gandhiji and Vinobaji took active interest in her development.
The whole character of Jankidevi acquired a wonderful aura on account of the company and the sound advice of Bapu and the affection and blessings of Vinoba, as also the self-discipline and constructive creativity she herself had. She became the first among the Gandhian social workers of her time.