Shatrunjay Jain Temple in Gujarat
¤ Magnificent Jain Temples
Perched At Shatrunjay
open air museum of Jain temples atop the Shatrunjay hill, near
Palitana in the western state of Gujarat is a pilgrims pride and
a tourists gateway to understanding the religion, are and
architecture of the peaceful liberators.
¤ The Great Legend Associated
The sacred hill with the calm river coiling it like a serpent at the
base of the southern edge has a lot to tell about the changing
fortunes of Shatrunjay.
Legend credits a Jain monk and his disciple who were adept in the art
of flying and creating gold to have founded this ethereal city on the
hill top that had two peaks, 2000 feet above the sea level. The hill
is held sacrosanct because of the numerous sages who attained Nirvana
here including the founding father or the first tirthankara (torch
bearers of the Jain philosophy) of the Jains who also happens to be
the patron saint of Palitana.
Though Girnar and Taranga hills in Gujarat are equally revered by the
Jains but they believe that in future a deluge will wash away
everything and the sole survivor will be the Shatrunjay (place of
¤ The Charm of Hundred of Temples Dispersed All Over The Hill
Its thanks to the 3764 steps hewn out of the hills that provide an
easy access to hundreds of temples scattered throughout the summit of
the hill. Usually tourists as well as barefoot pilgrims prefer to set
out before dawn when the morning air is still cool and pleasant. The
uphill task is a 90-minute affair for an average traveller, less than
an hour for an athlete, while two hours or more for those depending on
their walking sticks. The steps are well divided into broad,
well-maintained staircases with low and easy risers and
in-between resting spots where water is also available. For the weak
and infirm, sedan on a low string chair secured to bamboos and hoisted
on the shoulders of the bearers can be arranged. Negotiate the price
in advance, which depends on how much you weigh.
¤ A Picturesque Location
The 90minute journey across the hill exposes you to a variety of
picture perfect views and simultaneously riddles you with countless
questions and comments that you share with excited co-travellers. Why
not construct an aerial ropeway? quips a perspiring foreigner,
while a young student berates god for subjecting him to such a
Another pilgrim who overheard the student replied back, Penance
begets self realization. An old man who has paused to quench his
thirst inquires inquisitively about the number of steps that he has
still to cover. A more seasoned tourist who happened to be returning
from Junagarh boasts courage by comparing Girnar which is double the
height of Shatrunjay! A young monk who has traversed the hill a good
number of times, forwards a tip, try to zigzag your climb and
descent and this will reduce pressure on your knees. A chain of
white clad priests, who are Shvetambra Jains walk pass more swiftly as
if encouraging others to follow. The other sect of Digambara Jains who
go naked are rarely seen. A Jain scholar later told me that once in
the court of Siddharaja, Digambaras were defeated at a public
discussion and had to leave Gujarat as agreed upon earlier. It is
further amazing to know about another subset of Shvetambras, known as
Lonka who admonish idol worship arguing that there was no mention of
idols in the earliest of the Jaina texts.
¤ The Showcase of Temples Revealed
one approaches to top, bits of temples crowning the hill peek out as
if striving to communicate with the clouds above. Soon the early rays
of the sun takes over the numerous temples where the devotees and the
priests are to be seen at their best.
It is the twelfth century Adishwara temple with its facade carved
with nine symbols of Jain tradition and spire soaring high above all
other, housing the marble statue of Adinath under a canopy of red and
The entry is through a heavy brazen door that gives way to a more
pleasing inside with marble floor and the countless sculptures that
adorn the well with a variety of friezes, while the outside is equally
crowded with carvings that borrows heavily from Hindu pantheons.
¤ Temple Rituals
The daily ritual purification is among the most important event here
when the statue is scrubbed, rinsed and washed with water, milk,
honey, yogurt, sugar, etc. the more ardent among the pilgrims take
their bath, put on their appropriate garment that they usually bring
along, tie a kerchief over their mouth to prevent even the tiniest of
the fly or flea from entering in, carry a pot filled with water and
milk and proceed to mingle with the crowd that has already gathered
before the gate leading to the statue of Adinath. During select Jain
festivals the statue is decorated with gold ornaments including a
heavy crown, breast plate, necklaces, etc.
¤ The Devotees
With the day break, the charisma of the hill mingles with the
devotees whose number swells amidst the chant of hymns, peel of bells
and the aroma of incense that pervades the atmosphere.
The temple attendants dressed in white go about bathing and ritual
cleansing of each idol and thus preparing them for worship. On the
sidewalks can be seen several people selling flowers and garlands to
the devotees who place it before the statues. Besides flowers,
coconut, rice, yogurt and other commodities are used as offerings.
¤ The Exquisite Temple Costruction
863 temples sheltering over 10,000 statues across the hill are
bracketed into nine enclosures called tunks, each being named after
its principal benefactor.
The temple structures, constructed out of yellow and pink sandstone,
are monuments of history more than religion. Some of them have huge
torana dvaras (gateways) that demarcates the principal temple
entrance. James Ferguson, the most valued critic on Indian
architecture, who visited Palitana in 1840, compares it to Gothic
the Jain tradition, it merits to erect a temple or dedicate an idol
on the Shatrunjay. The Jains put their money into stone,
the saying goes.
The most popular story is that of Moti Shah, a 18th century exporter
from Bombay who pledged the entire proceed of his business
consignment, once he was saved from the evils of duplicity. Finding no
place on the hill, he caused the valley to be filled up and then
erected the Motishah tunk which houses over 3,000 idols in its 16
temples. Some impressive temples continue to be constructed at the
base of the hill.
¤ The Attraction of Chaumukhi Temple
The Somchand tunk includes the famous 17th century Chaumukhi temple
that house a quadruple image of Adinath, who gazes out in all
The more picturesque Nadishwar tunk features the tirthankara seated
on white pedestal amidst the back drop of colour lights filtering in
through the stained glass window. The Premavisi tunk shouldered on the
cliff houses an impressive five metre high tirthankara that almost
covers the entire enclosure.
Palitana has a history of marauding armies who destroyed it several
times and curiously each time Shatrunjay triumphed in reincarnation.
Though most of its original fragments dating back to the 4th century
adorn the shelves of Victoria and Albert Museum but still the temples
were extensively built and the process continues.
¤ The Idols of Jain Tirthankaras
All the temples and idols at Shatrunjay are dedicated to the 24
look-alike tirthankaras seated within the dim interiors of the
temples. The first among them was Adinath while the Vardhaaman
Mahavira was the 24th tirthankara, a contemporary of Buddha Sakyamuni.
The Jain concept of peace and spiritual vitality is splendidly imbued
in their statues, which are seated in cross legged meditation
(padmasna - the lotus posture) with hands palms-up in dhyanamudra
which translates to profound contemplation. Perhaps most striking of
all are the eyes, which reflects the rapture associated with the
attainment of enlightenment.
The statues lack anatomical details like muscles or bones. Possibly
the idea is to emphasize the corpus of a liberated being devoid of
even clothes (unlike Buddha) or other objects in their hands (unlike
Hindu idols). This renders the identification of the 24 tirthankaras
all the more difficult save for the specific animals or emblems
associated with them.
¤ Photography Prohibited
Unlike Hindu temples where entry may be restricted or photography
prohibited, Jain temples are a relief but they are against the idea of
idols being photographed. At Shatrunjay prior permission is required
which comes with a nominal fee per camera.
By afternoon the crowd gets diluted and so do rituals. Those who like
to stay on can enjoy the only available meal, the rich yogurt that
comes packed in tiny clay pots. Gradually the sun arcs steadily and
much before the sunset lesser tunks prepare to close down and finally
when the last rays of the sun greet the doors of Adishwara temple, it
is time to descend the unforgettable 3764 steps. Everyone climbs down
the mountain of gods, pilgrims, priests and the tourists, leaving the
idols in their holy communion.
¤ Jain Religion
Jainsim developed in the sixth century B.C as a reaction against the
predominant religious system known as Brahmanism, which implemented
rituals and animal sacrifices in religious ceremonies. These rituals
could only be performed by Brahmins who where members of the highest
caste. Jainism not only criticised the caste system but also denounced
the sacrificial killing and advocated Ahimsa (non violence).
Jains believe that every entity has a soul that in influenced by ones
former action (karma), resulting in cycle of rebirths. Their goal is
to break free from this cycle and attain liberation (Nirvana). Jainism
recognizes fourteen stages in the evolution of the soul from impurity
to liberation. Their entire ethical code is directed towards the
attainment of complete liberation by cultivating the three jewels
(ratna) namely right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.
¤ Travel Kit
How To Get There
Palitana is well linked by good motorable roads to different cities.
Bhavnaga is the nearest airport (62kms). Palitana is equally well
connected by rail and the recently introduced Royal Orient tours
(operated by Gujarat Tourism) make a halt at Palitana on the third day
of their itinerary. Saurashtra Darshan (another package tour conducted
by Gujarat Tourism) also incorporates Palitana.
Where To Stay
Hotel Sumeru run by Gujarat tourism is the first choice. However,
there are numerous dharamshalas and loges to cater to the influx of
pilgrims. Most of them are free but one is expected to pay a donation
according to his will.
¤ Best Time To Visit
Avoid summer (April-May) when the temperature shoots up to 46
Should you be interested to witness the Jain concentration of
pilgrims when the idols are decorated with jewels, consider March
during the Fegaon Sud Parikarma. Alternatively November is more
pleasing with the winter sun on the eve of Kartik Purnima.