Jain Temples in India

Posted: 04.07.2012
Updated on: 16.07.2012

To call the Mughal period as an age of innovation and renaissance in the arts of architecture and sculpture, is a mistake, because, in fact, it was a continuation of the techniques and processes of the Sultanate period during which the existing Indian and Islamic types of architecture blended together. There is no doubt that the Mughals developed the art to a very high degree of proficiency and erected monuments of exquisite beauty and skill. Taj Mahal is one such monument in marble which attracts visitors from all corners of the world. But India has many other monuments dating to earlier periods, which, if equally publicised, will be found embodiments of fine technique and skill. Two Jain Dilwara temples at Mount Abu, built at a height of more than 3000 feet above sea-level, in pure marble with idols, pillars and ceilings full of beautiful and remarkable carvings, engravings and in layings, speak silently of the labour, money and exquisite workmanship of those who spent precious years of their lives in building these edifices of beauty, grandeur and sublimity.

Jain temples are found all over India and are being built even at present by the votaries of this faith, but the ones that were built in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and South India when Jainism was supported by the royalty, are a sight to see. By the end of the third century, Jainism had taken firm roots throughout India. It had started from Magadha and slowly spread to Kalinga, now Orissa, in the east, Mathura in the north, Mahura in the west and Deccan and Tamil Nadu in the south. Royal patronage was one contributing factor to its rapid growth. It, however, soon lost grip on the royalty in the north. But the middle classes, composed of merchants, bankers and big businessmen, continued to be its strong supporters.

In the South, Jainism gained popularity and the ruling families became its votaries up to the eighth century. It continued to have its strongholds south of the Vindhyas where famous Jain Temples were built in the caves as well as on the ground. These shrines hold their own against other notable structures of that kind. The Gupta period, when there was a revival of Hinduism, saw a decline of Jainism. In Bengal and ironically in Bihar, where it had originated, it lost its hold. The Ganga Kings of Mysore were intimately associated with Jainism.

It is not possible to say exactly when temples started getting built in India. Moreover, the temples of the various faiths do not have substantial differences from the architectural angle. The difference mainly lies in the deities and subsidiary data and sculpture inspired by respective branches of mythology.

The Jains, however, unlike others, selected picturesque sites for their temples, paying attention to the effect of environments on architecture. Comments from a foreigner that the ideology and spirit of the Jain religion and its culture are reflected in the Jaina art and architecture, are quite appreciative of the Jaina art. The atmosphere in a Jain temple situated on natural sites with idols representing the Tirthankaras who achieved salvation, radiates stillness and peace and pervades the votaries to emulate the Lord and endeavour to attain eternal bliss rather than hanker after material gains.

 

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Nandishvara-dvipa-pata, Ranakpur

 

The Jaina art displayed in these shrines, while reflecting the fine taste for beauty to the extent it can elevate that taste, also inculcates a spirit of coexistence in man to become a noble member of the human society, having respect for the personality of others. Jain temples have sculpture of very high order which depicts themes that besides being monumental, have a religious appeal and ethical import. Jaina philosophy does not believe in god being the creator, sustainer or destroyer and as such idol-worship is not catered for by this faith. But idol-worship got introduced, because the common man wanted something to concentrate upon. It is presumed that idol worship among the Jains was allowed in the belief that it was ideal-worship and not idol-worship and that the image of the Lord would arouse a longing in the minds of the devotees to emulate the lord who had lived as a human being and whose soul had reached perfection.

While this might be the justification to allow the building of temples, there is no doubt that in giving this sanction, weight would have also been given to the possibility of Jains going astray and worshipping elements of a non-Jaina character. The aesthetic side of the temple was given attention gradually during its evolution. It is, however, true that the real purpose of ideal-worship in the Jain temple, is not being achieved at present, as these have become places more for social gatherings rather than for peaceful meditation. A Jain temple is neither a funeral relic nor a memorial to some Tirthankara, nor a sanctified place because a certain Tirthankara went to moksha from that particular place.

According to Professor Gopi Lal Amar, a renowned scholar on Jainism, it is most probably a representation of the Somavasaran-the fascinating auditorium of the Tirthankaras who delivered sermons there. A Jain temple, therefore, had to have the main deity and cater to the requirements of an auditorium. In this small article, it is not possible to deal with all the Jain temples in India, but it should suffice to describe the structural and other norms which must be adhered to. It is intended to give a detailed view of certain temples which have stood as landmarks in the annals of the Jain community in India. It is not intended to undermine the importance of other temples as they have their own importance, but the ones dealt with here are outstanding with respect to art, beauty and rare workmanship exhibited by the artists of this country.

 

Jain Temples in Rajasthan

The Jain faith gained ascendency in Rajasthan and from 8th to 10th century A. D. It had its hold on the royalty as well as the people in general, especially in the regions of Shirmal, Jalore, Osia, Chittoor and Mount Abu.

Dilwara Temples

Situated at Mount Abu, two out of the five Dilwara temples built in pure marble at a height of more than twelve hundred metres above sealevel, are superb in architectural and sculptural efficiency and leave the visitors amazed at the achievements of those who took huge blocks of marble to that height and then handled them like any other easily maneuverable material. Mount Abu caters to the pleasures of a hilly resort but at the same has calm and quiet natural surroundings consisting of a valley covered with luxuriant vegetation. The whole region provides a beautiful background for these temples.

The two Dilwara temples are known as Vimal Vasaihi and Loon Vasaihi. They were built in 1031 A. D. and 1032 A. D. by Vimal Shah, the Minister and Commander-in-Chief of a Chalukian ruler, Bhim Dev and his two brothers, Tejpal and Vastupal, Ministers of Vir Dhawal, the King of Dhadha respectively. The latter was built in the memory of Loon Singh, the son of Tejpal. The Vimal Vasaihi temple is dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankara, whose image is installed in the main shrine. The second temple is dedicated to Neminath, the 21st Tirthankara whose big basalt image adorns the sanctum. Both these temples are built alike. The intricate and delicate carvings on the ceilings and walls illustrate incidents from Jain literature. These carvings and the exuberance of detail and effective repetition of motifs win appreciation even from the masters of art. The architectural efficiency and competence of those days in chiselling such remarkable carvings in stone, remains unrivalled till today.

The Achalgarh Temple

At Achalgarh, is another beautifully built temple called Achaleshwar. Its beauty lies in its rising on the hill-side of Mount Abu and creating a beautiful sight for the people to see. It is said to have images of gold.

Adinatha Temple at Ranakpur

One of the most famous temples of Rajasthan, was built in 1436 A. D., at Ranakpur in Jodhpur on an area of 40,000 square feet. This three-storeyed massive structure, is four-faced (Chaturmukhi) and has 26 mandapas and 420 pillars. The carvings on the pillars and columns relate to various aspects of Jainism. The one beauty of art displayed in this temple is that the carvings on the pillars are different. The temple is dedicated to Adinath, whose quadruple image graces the main shrine.

Soniji Ki Nasiyan Temple at Ajmer

A three-storeyed temple of Ajmer, known as the Nasiana Temple, is imposing in structure. It is one of the few temples with coloured pictures and glass engravings on the walls. It has been the seat of Bhattaraks, some of whom were very learned and famous masters. It has a big collection of hand-written Jain scriptures of the 15th century A. D. The auditorium in this temple is quite spacious and well laid out.

 

Jain Temples in South India

The Jain temple of Meguti at Aihole in Bijapur, Deccan, was built in 634 A. D. by one Ravikirti during the reign of the Chalukian King Pulakesin I. It was built in the Dravidian style, following the model of the well-recognised group of temples which were flat-roofed and square, having a covered ambulatory around the sanctum and preceded by a porch in front. They were sometimes provided with a second storey. The quality of masonry and technique of this temple is commendable - while its ornamental work speaks of noticeable delicacy and refinement. The temple is a long rectangular building consisting of two parts-the shrine with its surrounding gallery and the front hall on pillars. These two parts are joined by a vestibule. This ingenuity in the designing of the temple had immense influence on future architecture.

Shravanabelgola Jain Temples and Statue of Gomateshwara

Shravana Belgola in Mysore is situated on the slopes of Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri hills on the bank of a huge tank. It is a holy place of Jains and abounds in temples which speak of the sway that Jainism had in ‘South India till the 12th century A. D. when the Hoysala King Vishnu-vardhana was converted to Vaishnavism by Ramanuja. There are about five hundred stone inscriptions giving valuable historical and other information about the place and the temples.

The most striking work of art and beauty is seen in the colossal statue of Gomateshwara, on the top of the Vindhyagiri hills. According to Jain tradition, Bhadrabahu, the great Jain saint, led about 12,000 Northern Jainas to the South in the end of the 3rd century B. C. in the times of the Mauryas. Chandra Gupta Maurya is said to have migrated with Bhadrabahu, his preceptor. Bhadrabahu died at Chandragiri hill before he completed his migration and Chandragupta served him till his death. Chandragupta followed the Jain vows for twelve years at the same place and died there itself. This migration was followed by others and Jainism gained prominence practically over the whole of South India under great acharyas like Kalakacharya, Visakhacharya and Kundakunda who was a Dravidian. They won even the royalty to the side of Jainism.

The Ganga Kings of Mysore were great patrons of this faith. Chamunda Raja, Minister and General of a Ganga ruler, built the Gomateshwara near about 983 A. D. Gomateshwara represents the statue of Bahubali, the son of Rishabhadeva, the first Jain Tirthankara. Bahubali had renounced everything and attained salvation. The 57-feet tall statue, cut out of a rock in symmetrical proportions and aesthetic disposition, radiates a peaceful and calm atmosphere all around and emphasises his ideas of the immortality of the soul. It also speaks of what he stood for-renunciation, devotion, non-violence and supreme bliss. Silhouetted against a background of vastness, achievement, mystic ecstasy and devotion, this statue gives a silent message to the world. Though it is a Jain statue, it belongs to the whole world as a rare asset in art. There are many temples on the Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri hills which speak of the Jaina art and philosophy. Chandragiri hill has many temples, all built in the Dravidian style and enclosed in a boundary. There are valuable inscriptions on this hill which are of great historical importance.

Jain Temples at Halebid

Sixty four miles away from Shravana Belgola, we come across three famous Jain temples at Halebid. The Parashvanath temple, the largest and the most important of the three, was built in 1133 A. D. at Halebid. It has a standing statue of Parashvanath, the 23rd Jain Tirthankara. It has 14 pillars. The temple does not have much ornamentation outside, but the carving and the workmanship on the inside are superb and can be appreciated better by seeing than by reading a description of it. The other two important temples are dedicated to Rishabhadeva and Lord Shantinath. The Shantinath temple like the statue of Parshvanath has a 14-feet tall image of Shantinath.

 

 Jain Temples at Khajuraho

Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh is known for its temples. Exquisite specimens of Hindu architecture and sculpture are to be found there. The sculpture there pivots round “Woman” and is sensuous, but sublime. These temples were built between 950 and 1050 A.D. There are Jain temples too in Khajuraho, Parashvanath temple is the largest and the finest of the Jain temples found here. Its sanctum contains an ornamental throne and it has on its outside walls beautiful sculpture in not amorous but playful moods-a woman fondling a child, another writing a letter, a petite one, extracting a thorn from her foot and a woman at her toilet. The carvings on the ceilings are full of intricate workmanship.

 

The Jain Cave Temples

The structural method of erecting temples with its immense scope in the hands of the builders, had started replacing in the 8th century A. D. the archaic rock-cut mode, in spite of its long use and peculiar advantages. The rock-cut mode necessitated driving axially the shrines and the halls into the interior of the hill-side while the structural method left the builder free to design and build.

On account of their characteristic fondness for heights, the Jains excavated hills to have caves to house their shrines and also their sages and saints, before the structural method of building temples came to be adopted. The chiselling of stones in these caves to serve as halls and rooms is unrivalled. Statues in these caves also speak of rare artistic skill.

Jain caves of uncommon beauty are found in Bihar, Orissa and Southern India, because Jainism thrived there and small hills were available in abundance in these regions. The two Sonbhandar caves in Rajgir (Bihar) were excavated at the instance of the sage Vairadeva in 3rd or 4th century A. D. The caves got dilapidated but have been renovated to a certain extent. Inside the eastern cave, on the southern wall, there are six small figures of the Jain Tirthankaras carved in relief.

Khandagiri and Udayagiri are twin hills in Orissa which are honey-combed with Jain caves. They reveal the sculptural art of the second century. The most famous of these caves, known as Rani Gufa or Hathi Gufa, is the largest of all. It is two-storeyed and has 16 rooms and one 20-feet long verandah supported by pillars. Carvings on the doors, walls and the pillars depict incidents from Jain literature. The paintings in this cave are of a very high quality. Valuable inscriptions have also been found here.

The Jain caves at Ellora in Hyderabad, six in number, were excavated from the 8th century to the 13th century A. D. An interesting inscription dated 1234-35 A. D. was found on the cushion of the seat of the Parashvanath statue.

The Badami caves excavated during the Chalukian period are very spacious and have tall statues of Parshvanath and Bahubali. Sitannavasal and Narttamalai hills, in the Pudukkottai State in Tamil Nadu, contain rock-beds which the Jain monks occupied and Jain cave temples. The temple of Arhat is reported to have been built on the first hill by the Pallava King, Mahendravarman I, in 7th century A. D. The picturesque paintings in this temple are unique and are found on the ceilings, beams and upper parts of the pillars. These paintings, depict scenes which present a variety of Jaina religious art.

The Nartta malai hills have rock-cut Jain sculptures depicting the Tirthankaras and monasteries for the Jain monks. The steep Kalugumalai hill, situated in the Koilpatti taluk of Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu contains hard rock Jain images and temples of superb workmanship in honour of the Tirthankaras. The Jain sculptures lie at an altitude higher than that of others and are carved in relief on the smooth surfaces of the overhanging rocks. The description of the work, given by P. B. Desai, Assistant Super-intendent for Epigraphy, Department of Archeology, Ooty, in 1957, in his book Jainism in South India, is very apt and is reproduced below:

“The rockcut sculpture in Kalugumalai Hill presents a glowing picture of the religious ardour and artistic excellence attained by the adherents of Jainism in Tamilnadu. The richness of imagery, the wealth of details and refinement of execution exhibited in them are really admirable. This imperishable gallery of art created by the superior intellect of man on the strength of Nature’s bounty, will ever stand as a unique monument of Jaina culture in South India.”

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