Palitana: A land with a thousand temples on the hill

Palitana | Shutterstock images

For the tourists, Palitana, situated in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat is a city of wonders. Home to one of the largest Jain pilgrimage centers in the world, this place offers visitors a world of awe-inspiring architecture, religious brotherhood, and compassion for fellow human beings. The vistas of thousands of temples built on the top of the hill are stunning and take us back to ancient times.

Palitana is a pilgrimage center for the Shwethambara, one of the two branches of Jainism, the other being the Digambara. Svetambara means "white-clad” and refers to its ascetics' practice of wearing white clothes, which sets it apart from the Digambara "sky-clad '' Jains, whose ascetic practitioners go naked. Svetambara’s, unlike Digambaras, do not believe that ascetics must practice nudity. Svetambara Jain communities are currently found mainly in Gujarat, Rajasthan and coastal regions of Maharashtra. The Shatrunjaya Mahathirth Hills in Palitana is a pilgrimage center that is considered sacred by the Jain community. There are more than 1300 marble temples located in Shatrunjaya Hills. Most of these are adorned with gold and silver donated by the devotees.

Apart from the Chaumukh Temple and the Adinath Temple, other famous temples are the Kumarpal, Vimal Shah, Sahasrakuda and Ashtapada temples. The 591 m high mountain is located on a rugged trail that stretches for about 4 km. Dolly and lift chairs are also available for those who have difficulty walking. These temples give the impression of being in Tibet or China. In the 17th century, Murad Baksh Palitana, the son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and the Governor of Gujarat, gifted the village to Shantidas Daveri, a prominent Jain merchant.

Following this, Jain temples were built in the area. Over time, the place became a favourite destination for Jain pilgrims from all over the world. In 2014, Palitana was legally declared as the first pure vegetarian village in the world. It also carries the record of being the only mountain city with a thousand temples. The most important temple complex is named after Rishabhanatha, the first Jain Tirthankar. Rishabhanatha, (Lord Bull) the first of the 24 Tirthankaras of Jainism. His name comes from the series of 14 auspicious dreams that his mother had, in which a bull (rishabha) appeared, before his birth. Foreigners are allowed to only enter the main temple complex.

It is against the law to take photos inside. Visitors are not allowed to carry food with them to the temple. Everyone, including the priests, must return before nightfall. Not just Jains, but this temple is a favourite of the Hindus and Muslims as well. There is a small Siva temple on the top of the hills. Muslims also come here to worship at the Dargah of Angar Peer Baba. Angar Peer Baba, a Sufi saint, is known as the savior of Palitana. It is illegal to kill animals for food here as meat is prohibited in this region. The sale of eggs or meat is strictly out of bounds here. The ban came following a hunger strike by Jain monks demanding an end to the use of meat, which according to them is detrimental to their practices and beliefs as it is a Jain-majority area.

How to get there?
Palitana is easily accessible from Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar. It can be reached by air and rail. Bhavnagar is the nearest air base located at a distance of 51 km from Palitana. There are direct trains to Palitana from all the major places in the country. This holy place is easily accessible by road. The best time to visit this place is from November to March.

Some of the most popular Jain temples in India
Ranakpur Jain Temple, Ranakpur (Rajasthan): The 15th century Ranakpur Temple is a major pilgrimage site for the Jain community and is often regarded as an architectural wonder worldwide. Located at Ranakpur village, 95 kilometres north of Udaipur, the temple was built by businessman Dharna Shah with the help of the Mewar ruler. The complex comprises of a number of temples namely the Chatutmukha Temple, Parsavanth Temple, Surya Temple and the Amba Temple. The most significant amongst all of them is the four-faced Chaturmukha Temple dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankara. Ranakpur Jain Temple is a dazzling sight and the entire structure is constructed with light coloured marble with turrets and cupolas majestically rising out of the jagged hilly terrain. Thousands of beautifully carved pillars support this heritage landmark and each one of them is designed uniquely. In every nook and cranny, finely engraved Jain scriptures can be found. The historic Ranakpur Temple was among the best 77 wonders while deciding the ‘7 Wonders of the World‘. It is truly one of the jewels of Rajasthan.

Dharmanath Temple, Kerala: One of the popular places for Jain pilgrimage, Dharmanath Temple in Kerala attracts devotees from every nook and corner of the world. The century-old temple offers utter serenity and is the perfect spot for meditation. The temple derives its name from the 15th Tirthankara – Dharmanath. Furthermore, the idols of four Jain Lords in the sanctum sanctorum achieve the sobriquet of a ‘theerth’. Splendid architecture coupled with impeccable cleanliness inside and outside the complex make it a must visit place. It is starkly similar to that of the Jain Dilwara Temple in Mount Abu. Additionally, the intricately carved pillars and walls tell a tale in their own way. The nearest Airport to Dharmanath Temple is the Cochin International Airport which is at a distance of 42 km.

Gomateshwara Temple: One of the oldest Jain temples in India, Gomateshwara temple is situated at Shravanabelagola in Hassan district of Karnataka. One of the most interesting facts about Gomateshwara Temple is that it is also known as Shravanabelagola Temple or Bahubali Temple. The temple has a 17-meter-high statue of the first Jain Tirthankara, the main deity, which is the largest monolithic statue in the world. The Gomateshwara temple was built in the 10th century by General Chamundarai, the king of the Ganga dynasty, Rajamalla. The inscriptions are believed to be written in Tamil and Kannada based on the statue. Mahamastakabhisheka is a major festival celebrated once in 12 years at the Gomateshwara temple, where the idol is bathed with milk, saffron, ghee and curd, during which a large number of Jain followers and tourists can be seen.

Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu (Rajasthan): Located at a distance of 2.5 kilometres from Mount Abu, Dilwara Temple is one of the exquisite Jain religious structures known for its impeccable architecture. The temple was built between 11th and 13th century by Vimal Shah and was beautifully designed by the Dhokla Jain Ministers. Although there are a number of Jain temples all over Rajasthan, culture hounds consider Dilwara Temple as one of the finest examples of architectural splendour. The beautiful temple majestically rises out of the pancake-flat land and sparkles in the sunlight. Devotees coming here do not only experience a strong connection with divinity but also enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings. The large complex is divided into five different sections dedicated to the Tirthankaras. The temple of Lord Adinath is the oldest amongst all. The entire complex showcases fine workmanship and intricate designs. The splendid carvings of lotus buds, flowers and petals adorned on the marble pillars and ceiling looks distinctive and adds to the beauty. Dilwara Temple also provides bathing facilities to the pilgrims which are mandatory before the puja.

Sonagiri temple: This white temple is dedicated to Digambar Jains, a small sect of Jainism. Located in a small and peaceful town of Sonagiri of Madhya Pradesh, this temple is located on a small mount, Shatrunjaya. The mount holds more than 900 temples, each one unique and interesting. This white temple is famous for its beauty during sunrise, unique rituals, and the countless architectural marvels. One need to climb 300 steps, bare footed. You can find jeweled statues, sculptures, carvings and many other interesting elements inside the temple. Since it is located in the middle of a serene and secluded mount, peace is inevitable.

Kulpakji Temple: Located in Telangana region, this temple is more than 2000 years old. It is an important pilgrimage site for Svetabaram Jains, a section of Jainism. This temple is decorated with red sandstones and white marbles. The temple holds idols of Lord Mahavira, Lord Rishabhanatha and Lord Neminatha. The idol of Lord Mahavira is the top attraction of this temple. This 130 cm long statue is made entirely out of one single piece of jade. This is an important site to visit if you are looking for a peaceful time.

Hanumantal Jain Temple, Jabalpur: Built in 17th century CE, Hanumantal Jain Temple is the place from where the annual Jain procession on the birthday of Lord Mahavira starts. One of the most famous Jain Temples in India, it is a treasure trove of stories. apart from spiritually, the temple additionally mirrors a fortress having twenty-two shrines. A heaven for ancient art lovers, the temple displays several images from different eras. The only idol here is, of Jain Goddess Padmavati. The 22 shrines of the temple make it the largest independent Jain Temple in India. Additionally, there are images from Kalachuri period to modern times which leave one spellbound. Pilgrims visiting the sacred place consider the black-stone statue of Lord Aadinath to be a Swayambhu Idol. Besides bliss, a scenic pond adds to the beauty of the place. One can also reach Hanumantal Jain Temple by deboarding at the Jabalpur Airport.

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