The Jain Temples at Palitana

This article describes about the Jain temples in Palitana

The jains in our country have influenced the growth of art, architecture, culture and literature to a considerable extent. Gujarat can lay claim to eminence as the proud successor of many Jain temples which have earned worldwide recognition for their exquisite sculptural workmanship. They are marvellous works of art in marble and stone, and a feast to the eyes.

On river Shetrunji, is Palitana, the base town that leads to Shatrunjaya hill, one of the 5 most sacred hills of jains, on the summit of which there is the “city of temples". Jutting into the sky about 600 mts above sea level, the hill has a conglomeration of more than 860 Jain shrines built by devotees during the period spanning 900 years from the 11th century.

The name Palitana is derived from “padalipta or palita". It is said that the great yogi Nagarjuna established the city of Palitana named after his teacher Palitta.
Shatrunjaya hill is sacred to Adinatha or Rishabhadeva, who is the first of the 24 jain tirthankaras. The summit of the hill consists of 2 long ridges spreading north and south, each about 300 m long. The shrines are built along these ridges, both the groups joining to form a semi-circle.

The intervening ravine between the 2 peaks has been filled with masonary. The entire space is kept spotlessly clean. There is complete peace and silence all around.

Apart from the numerous temples, one finds nothing else on the hillside. This place is meant for religious purposes alone and it is not used for any other purpose by the people. The area sorrounded by fortifications and strong gates, which are closed in the evenings.

Most of the temples are located in the 9 “tunks" or sacred enclosures. Among them, the Adinatha temple, built during the 17th century on the topmost peak of the northern ridge is outstanding in its composition, style and architecture. This design is simple and plain, though it is more ornate with a low-roofed hall decorated with a peculiar type of dragons. It is studded with intricate sculpture in and around. It is the largest temple and can be seen from a long distance.

The Choumukh temple is 4-faced in construction, with entrances to the sanctum on all the 4 sides. The main entrance leads to an assembly hall where pilgrims offer prayers. Jain scriptures are engraved on marble slabs on all sides. The idol of Adinath is on a white marble pedestal in the centre.

These temples are architectural marvels created by the craftsmen of Rajasthan. Idols of different Tirthankaras in meditative posture are found all around. There are hundreds of such idols on this sacred hill side, and this city of temples creates a profound impression on the pilgrims who come here seeking spiritual inspiration.

Other important temples are Sampritiraj, Kunarapal and Vimal Shah. With the exception of one temple which belongs to the Digambara sect of Jains, all other Shatrunjaya temples belong to the Swetambara cult.

Although Shatrunjaya hill is considered as a place of Jain pilgrimage, there is a Shiva temple with the “window of liberation". There are temples of Hingalaj mata and Hanuman. There is a stone elephant and the devotees crawl under its body through an aperture as it is believed to be a sacred act. There are many kunds or reservoirs cut out of solid rock to store rain water.

Nearby is a Muslim dargah dedicated to Augar Peer. In a shrine near Adinatha temple, are seen the footprints believed to be those of Saint Suri belonging to the times of the Mughal emperor Akbar.

It is a strange sight to see a large number of tiny wooden cradles tied to a tree adjoining the shrine. Childless women offer these cradles to this shrine to be blessed with children.

Glistening in the sunlight, these temples of marble and stone appear like an intricately arranged group of ivory miniatures. Standing on the top of the hill, one may see and enjoy the panoramic sight of the surrounding hills and the humming of the Shetrunji River.

The approach from the foot of the hill to the temples on the summit is by a flight of cut and laid stone steps about 4km long, which takes about 2 hours to climb. The ascent in certain points is very steep. Those who cannot climb can hire dholis or sting chairs carried by 2 persons. Walking sticks are also available on hire at the foot of the hill.

Pilgrims are expected to adhere to certain religious customs and strict observance of rules. No leather footwear or any article of leather is allowed on the hill.
Cotton and plastic footwear may be worn. Clean clothes should be worn before entering the shrines. No eatables should be carried by the pilgrims. All these will add to the austerity and the devotional attitude of the pilgrims.

At the foot of the hill, there are some fine temples constructed during the recent times. The important ones are the Agama Mandir, Babu's temple and the temple of mirrors, so called because of its dome carved with multi-coloured mirrors.
The jain kala Sangrahalaya is a museum containing a collection of jain carvings in wood and marble, and paintings in miniature style.
Pilgrims and visitors can also stay at many of the dharmashalas which accommodate non –jains as well as jains.


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