Millennium Post

Tranquil Town of Pilgrimage

An otherwise ordinary village to look at, Raunakpur is famous for its temples – it has some splendid carvings and architecture, built during the 15th century

Tranquil Town of Pilgrimage

For those who do not know, there is a very small community which has some of the richest people in India. While they make up only 0.4 per cent of the Indian population, the Jains are one of the most educated and wealthy class. They have always had a great impact on the Indian economy.

The roots of Jainism lie in the Indus Valley Civilisation prior to the Vedic period. The founder of the Jain sect was Lord Mahavira, who was actually the 24th tirthankara (avatar) and an older contemporary of Buddha. Jains trace their history through 24 tirthankaras and revere Rishabhanatha as the first tirthankara. According to Jain texts, the 22nd Tirthankara Arshth-nemi lived about 85,000 years ago and was the cousin of Hindu god Krishna. Jains consider their religion to be eternal.

Jainism and Buddhism are similar in ascetic beliefs. Both emphasise non-violence. In Jainism, like Buddhism, there is a belief in reincarnation which eventually leads to liberation (moksha).

Tirthankara Rishabhanatha is the presiding deity at the Ranakpur Jain temple or Chaturmukha Dharanavihara. The Ranakpur temple is one of the largest and most important temples of Jain culture, located in Ranakpur near Sadri town (Pali district) of Rajasthan.

In the 15th century, a local Jain businessman named Dharna Shah, started construction of the temple after he had a divine vision. The temple and the town of Ranakpur are named after the provincial monarch at the time, Rana Kumbha, who supported the construction of the temple. The temple honors Adinath – the first Tirthankar of the Jains.

It must have been white marble when built, but now it is turning into a pale yellow texture, through the ravages of time. We have been informed that it is cleaned once a year, back to its pristine whiteness, for a particular festival where Jains from across the world flock here for darshan.

The temple, built over an area of 60 x 62 meters, with its distinctive turrets and cupolas rests on 1,444 marble pillars. I didn't believe when many books stated that no two pillars look alike – take a close look at each pillar, click photographs and identify, if you can, similarities between any two. I was also told that it is impossible to count the pillars. If you are done counting pillars, look up at the exquisitely carved roofs – amazing skill and workmanship of the artisans of the 15th century.

The temple is designed as chaumukha – with four faces. The construction of the temple and the gigantic image symbolise the Tirthankara's conquest of the four cardinal directions of the cosmos.

There is a beautiful carving of 1008 headed snakes made out of a single marble rock where one cannot find the end of the tails.

On the western side is a 6 feet high white idol of Adinatha, the main deity of the temple. The sun temple at Ranakpur dates back to the 13th century . After its destruction, it was rebuilt in the 15th century.

The Architecture here is vastly different from all the temples one can find across the country, whether North or South. Scholars identify this as an entirely Western Indian architecture, identified as the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture, very visible in the temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat, where architecture is treated sculpturally.

The temple underwent periodic renovations with the help and support of several families. The temple has been managed by the Anandji Kalyanji Pedhi trust for the past century. One of the most endearing things to note about this place of worship is the fact that it is so clean and the lines at the ticket windows are ever so orderly. There were visitors from the US, China and Japan. They were happy clicking pictures from all angles. The wide open spaces all around are clean and well kept and one can find places to park oneself.

Rajasthan being what it is, full of little palaces and royal homes, is heartening to note that the many havelis that dot the landscape, have been transformed into niche boutique hotels.

The Fateh Bagh Hotel, four kilometres away from Ranakpur was a treat – showcasing the best of Rajput architecture. The imposing square shaped, beige walls and majestic arches, intricately carved pillars and pavilions, beautiful domes and the wonderful fountain in the foreground, all add to the vintage charm of the place.

We had a nice lunch – typical Rajasthani fare kadhi, laal maas and gatte ki sabzi. Young Gattu who works for the Heritage Hotels chain was our guide for the meal. It was delightful – just the right blend of everything and delightful flavors.

Mr Bhagwati Lal Jain, a businessman from Mumbai, whom I met on the Udaipur bound flight from Mumbai, was very proud of the fact that the Ranakpur Temple is well looked after and that people visit the place for its architectural splendor.

He says, "Jains have some beautiful temples and the Ranakpur temple is a work of art more than anything else, especially when you think of those times and what few facilities were available to the artisans and sculptors. We go there once in three or four years. Unfortunately the only route to the temple is via Udaipur, after which one has to arrange some kind of road transport. The other more visited Jain temple is the Shatrunjaya Peeth at Palitana (Gujarat). There are no compulsions in our religion that we have to visit so and so temple and do so and so ritual. Our faith is all about karma – do your duty and do it well."

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