GUJARAT: Indian Jain monk Varshil Shah, 17, leaves after taking part in a ritual to become a Jain disciple in Surat yesterday. —AFP

AHMEDABAD: An Indian teenager who topped his state in his final exams renounced worldly pleasures and committed to the austere life of a monk yesterday in an elaborate ceremony on the banks of a holy river. Varshil Shah, who graduated just a fortnight ago in Gujarat with the highest possible score, emerged from the pre-dawn ritual a Jain disciple with shaved head and white robes after receiving the blessings of his family and guru. Jains follow a strict vegetarian diet and some monks and nuns cover their mouths with fabric to prevent them from accidentally swallowing insects.

The 17-year-old eschewed the path so valued by Indian graduates-college and a successful job-to wander the countryside living an ascetic life, meditating and studying the scriptures. "I always wanted to attain happiness without hurting anybody. Scoring top rank in board exams does not give happiness," Shah told reporters in Surat the day before his ordination. "The material world does not give eternal happiness that millions seek. So, I chose to become a Jain Monk to experience eternal happiness without hurting anybody."

Shah had become concerned with the value placed on money in society, and told his father-a tax accountant-and mother that he wished to achieve happiness without harming others. After many years of wandering and prayer Shah-who was renamed SuviryaRatna Vijayji Maharaj after the ceremony-can ascend to the level of guru and guide his own disciples in the ancient Indian faith. His uncle Nayan Sutariya, a chartered accountant, said Shah had decided to become a monk almost immediately after he received his state-topping 99.99 percent exam result.

Hundreds of family and friends attended the ceremony, which saw Shah dressed with embroidered headgear and a beige tunic before he took his vows and donned the monastic uniform. "We strongly believe that there is no real peace in the world we live in. For eternal peace one has to leave everything," Sutariya said yesterday after the ceremony. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion-followed by less than one percent of India's 1.25 billion people-that preaches non-violence and love for all creatures, great and small._ AFP