Antwerp’s humble diamantaires – by Estelle Hakner (Geographical – March 22, 2018)

Diamonds are perhaps the least modest of all jewels. But, in Antwerp, they have attracted a community known for its humility

On the outskirts of Antwerp, in the Wilrijk neighbourhood, a piece of India stands tall and serene: a magnificent and intricately ornate temple made from 3,500 tons of white, hand-carved Makrana marble, the same as that used in the Taj Mahal.

At its entrance, an Indian man in a white robe, no shoes and a square piece of cloth over his mouth sweeps the path before him as he walks, brushing away any insects so as not to tread on them. The cloth square on his mouth is a muhapatti and stops him accidentally inhaling and killing organisms in the air.

This regal and elaborate temple belongs to the Jains – a community that, since the early 1970s, has had an ever-growing presence in Belgium’s Flemish city. Guided by principles of non-possession and non-violence, they traditionally live in a way that does not harm other living beings.

Four hundred Jain families now live in the city, mostly from Palanpur in Gujarat, Western India, making their living in Antwerp’s most precious trade: diamonds. On weekdays, Jain businessmen travel to Antwerp’s diamond district to trade some of the €263million-worth of diamonds that passes through the city every day.

Their sharp suits and mobile phones hint that not all of the city’s Jains are as Orthodox as they used to be, but the presence of strict vegan Jain kitchens suggests that the main tenet of non-violence is still an important factor in most Jains’ day-to-day lives.

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