PALITANA JAIN TEMPLES – INTRODUCTION
The Shatrunjaya Hill in Palitana, a small town in the Indian state of Gujarat, is adorned with the highest concentration of beautifully carved Jain temples to be found anywhere in the world. Palitana is an important pilgrimage for the followers of Jainism but equally important are, the architecture of the temples and the elaborate carvings on them.
PALITANA JAIN TEMPLES – ARCHITECTURE
The Jain temples of Palitana were constructed in the north Indian style of temple architecture and Vastushastra (ancient principles of building) served as a practical handbook for the architecture of these temples.
As the Jain often walk barefoot to their temples and cover their mouths with a cloth to stop the inhalation of insects, their temples were built in groups, to make the pilgrimage easier. This also gave each temple an identity of its own despite being part of a cluster. Like the Jains who prefer the purity of white, their temples too are usually white, a combination of plaster and marble. And because they record the devotion of the Jains towards their 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual leaders), the temples end up being elaborate, with many ornamental details. The Jain temples at Dilwara are profusely and intricately carved and are the best examples of Jain temples in India and the world.
As a result, the Jain temple becomes a stage more for the artisan and the stone carver than the architect. But, at the same time, it must be remembered that the temple architects were rarely distanced from craft skills, and in temple building, the two activities often went hand in hand.
PALITANA JAIN TEMPLES – MONUMENTS OF INDIA
Palitana has the largest concentration of Jain temples anywhere in the world. From the base to the peak of the Shatrunjaya Hill, where the Palitana temples are located, there are, in all, 863 temples. These were built in two phases-during the 11 and 12th centuries as part of the resurgence of temple building all over India, and in the 16th century following the desecration of many of the monuments of India by invaders (Gujarat, accessible by sea and land, often faced the brunt of these invasions).
The act of ascending a path to reach a place of pilgrimage is a part of the Hindu and Jain consciousness, which is why many of the holiest temples are located along hills and mountain ranges. The Jains have five separate hill locations for their holiest clusters of temples, with Shatrunjaya Hill at Palitana being the most important. Another group is in Girnar (Junagadh), not too far away, while others are located in the states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. While the temples at Palitana are not the most beautiful temples the Jains have built (the marble temple of Ranakpur, and the Dilwara temples in Rajasthan, are by far the best), they have excellent architectural style. For nothing can match the vision of a hillside covered with the spires of hundreds of temples, each stretching higher still, as if anxious to establish communion with the skies.
The Palitana Jain temples are grouped in enclosures called tuks. Each enclosure contains temples, which may be major, or minor depending on the deity enshrined in the sanctum sanctorum. Typically, each major temple is built according to the tenets of medieval temple architecture, complete with an entrance porch, hallway, assembly hall, sanctum sanctorum, and circumambulatory. The smaller temples are simpler, sometimes with a small assembly hall outside the sanctum, and a circumambulatory or being complete with just the sanctorum.
The temples in Palitana are simpler than other Jain temples with their profusion of sculptures and carving, but they are no less impressive. Many of the smaller temples have used white plaster for their principal walls, saving the marble for the domes and spires. The result is a large number of pristine white temples that seem to cleanse the air with their very presence.
Among the most important temple here is the Chaumukh temple with its four-faced deity of Adinath enshrined on a marble pedestal in a shrine open on all four sides (an aberration in itself). Built in early 17th century, it is located on the northern edge of the hill. The Vimalshah temple is, architecturally, one of the most impressive. It is planned as a large square subdivided into smaller squares, each structure topped by a dome. The innermost five dome-topped squares form a cross, and represent the five hills sacred to the Jains. The Adiswara temple is probably the most profusely decorated in Palitana, its ornate pillars and roofs decorated with intricately cut marble in the shape of dragons. Other temples worth architectural mention are the Sampriti Raja and Kumarpal.
As most of the followers of Jain faith belonged to the prosperous merchant class, they expressed their devotion by donating large sums of money to the building of intricately carved temples and the temples in Palitana are evidence of this.
Palitana Jain Temples
One of the most important temples in Palitana is the Digamber Jain Temple. It is an ancient temple that encompasses 9 shrines with the idols of all the Tirthankaras. The main shrine contains the idol of the principal deity, 1008 Bhagwan Shantinath. It is made of white stone and can be seen in Padmasana posture. According to the Jain calendar, it was installed here in 1686. The temple also houses beautiful idols of Yudhishthir, Bheem & Arjun. Two other idols of Bhagwan Parsavnath are located here.
One is called Chintamani Parshvanath and other is called Vighnaharan Parshvanath. On the both sides of northern gate, foot images of Bhagwan Adinath & Bhagwan Sambhavanath can be seen. It is said that Bhagwan Adinath visited Shatrunjay Hill 93 times. All the Jain temples of Palitana are built in marble and stand adorned with ornate sculptures. Each and every temple located on this hill is a specimen of art. The temple trail starts from the foot of the hill. There are 3745 steps up to the peak of the summit.
Devotees take around two hours to reach the top. The steps were constructed in 13th century, under the supervision of Jain Minister, Vastupal. On their way up, the pilgrims are not allowed to take any eatables along. They are only allowed to drink water. For the purpose, a number of water posts have been made available along the course. The pilgrims eat only after they descend the mountain. The major spot up the hill is the one with the footprints of the Tirthankaras. All the shrines contain the idols of the Tirthankaras, with bejeweled eyes.
The devotees make offerings at the main shrine of Bhagwan Adinath. The magnificent temple has been renovated and rebuilt a number of times. The original temple was made of wood. Later, Siddhraj Jaisimha’s minister Udaymehta built it in marble. Siddhraj’s descendant Kumarpal further extended the temple. Besides these, there are other shrines dedicated to Adinath, Kumarpal, Vimalshah, Samprati Raja and the Chomukh. You will also find temples dedicated to Hindu Gods and Goddesses here. There is also a Muslim shrine known as the Angar Pir. Childless women pray here for children.
HOW TO REACH PALITANA JAIN TEMPLES
Palitana does not have an airport and the nearest airport is at Bhavnagar, which is 60 km from Palitana. A meter gauge railway line connects Palitana to Sihor and then on to Ahmedabad, which is 275 kilometer away. State transport corporation buses, private buses, taxis, and conducted tours connect Palitana to Bhavanagar and other important places in Gujarat. Travelers and pilgrims have to climb the Shatrunjaya hill to see the exquisite temples or they can be carried up on a doli (rope chair).