Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jain Temples of Jaisalmer Part 1 - Rikhabdev and Chandraprabhu Temples

Tucked in the westernmost Indian city of Jaisalmer, within the bastions of a “living fort” is an array of Jain Temples of exquisite beauty. Jainism, an Indian religious denomination that came into being between the 9th and 6th century BC, prescribes a path of non-violence towards living beings. As a religion, it subscribes to the practice of several vows: non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), celibacy (brahmacharya), and non-materialism (aparigraha). This has amassed a following of approximately 6 million worldwide.

Within the sturdy walls of the Jaisalmer Fort, seven Jain Temples stand amidst time-worn, narrow alleys. The temples are rather small compared to many temples we’ve seen in our travels, but they’re among the most intricately designed artworks; engaging in their soft and warm hues of yellow sandstones; lush in ambitiously calculated geometrical patterns and lavish in artistic grandeur. These temples are dedicated to the Jain hermits (tirthankar).

Most of the temples are situated beside each other, mostly without English signs. In entrances are reminders not to “tip” the Holy Men (“place them instead in donation boxes” reminded one). Leathers of any kind, except those that are part of a musical instrument, are not allowed anywhere within the temples. Main altars, found in inner sanctums, are strictly for “worshippers” only, thus there were parts of the temple I couldn’t see – but these are few. Most of these temples have limited viewing time, mostly in the morning before midday. I had to pay an entrance fee of 30 rupees and a camera fee of 70 rupees. Video cameras fetch higher rates at 120 rupees. These days, an all-in rate of 150 rupees is asked from visitors.

For completion, here are the seven temples at the fort: Chandraprabhu, Rikhabdev, Parasnath (with its beautiful “torana” or gateway), Shitalnath, Sambhavanth, Shantinath and Kunthunath.  In this post, we shall focus on two of them: the Rikhabdev and the Chandraprabhu Temples, the first two temples visitors are likely to check out first.

I proceeded to Rikhabdev Temple when I saw a big group enter Chandraprabhu. Rikhabdev boasts of beautiful sculptures framed with apsaras (celestial maidens), adorning the pillar walls. It’s easily navigated because there are only four narrow hallways in its rectangular room. I was, of course, tempted to trespass the inner sanctum. These nooks rankle with a sense of mystery for an outsider like me. 

Continued below…



Chandraprabhu Temple has affinity to the concept of the moon, the symbol associated with the eighth tirthankar – named Chandraprabhu - for whom this temple is dedicated. Reference to the moon has something to do with the holy man’s conception - or is it gestation? The story itself, fashioned like a fairy tale, is fascinating. According to legend, one day the queen was looking at the glowing full-moon all of a sudden, she had a strange desire to drink the glowing streak of moon light. The king cleverly managed to satisfy this strange desire of a pregnant mother. On the thirteenth day of the dark half of the month of Paush the queen gave birth to a healthy son who was fair and glowing like the moon. The name literally means “glow of the moon”.

The temple has an imposing exterior. Inside, you’re ushered into a two-story complex punctuated by the main altar that houses a white marble Buddha. Similar forms characterize the surroundings. The ceiling has an ornately sculpted design that reflects most of the balustrades, pillars, and arches in the circular hallway. I imagined an intimate amphitheater where performers could dance and sing at the central hall while an audience stands looking down from the upper level – but then this was designed as a temple, not a theatrical venue. The things your mind conjures when faced with boundless beauty.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

The local tourists contribute to the fascination in visiting these temples. They have such colorful dresses. 

Leathers not allowed inside. Leave your foot wear outside.


Ola said...

I wrote it before but I will repeat - the architecture is amazing and unusual!
I wrote the rules - interesting that if you buy a ticket for camera is ok, so it just a business:)
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eye in the sky said...

@ Ola:

It's a magnificent place. I think the entrance fees are really just for the upkeep of the place because they have to somehow do maintenance work from the onslaught of tourists. :)

R.Ramakrishnan said...

Amazing,exqusite,intricate,charming and captivating sculptures from the BC's. Astounding ! Dont know whether I will ever get to travel to Jaisalmer again(I visited around 10 years ago)

eye in the sky said...

It is an astounding set of temples. :)

Siddhartha Joshi said...

Awesome picture buddy! I am amazed that they allowed you to take so many pictures inside the temples...usually they are very strict about photography!

eye in the sky said...

You're right, Sid. But at that time, I didn't even think of it. I was running around from one temple to the next because all temples could only be seen from 10AM-12PM; one even opens for a mere 1 hour.