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RANAKPUR JAIN TEMPLE: 1444 Pillars & 108 Snakes

ZUZANA ZWIEBEL

STANDING IN THE HEART OF THIS TEMPLE I HAVE TO PARAPHRASE MICHELANGELO'S QUOTE “I SAW THE ANGEL IN THE MARBLE AND CARVED UNTIL I SET HIM FREE.” MY SOUL HAS FOUND THE WINGS OF THAT ANGEL HERE.

Nestled in a valley amongst the Aravalli Hills, Ranakpur Temple dates to the 15th century. Local legend holds that construction began in 1437 following a divine vision received by Dharna Shah, a local Jain business person. The temple and its town are named after their patron, Rana Kumbha, the Mewar hero of Kumbhalgarh fame.

JAINISM

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion. Followers of Jainism are called Jains, a word derived from the Sanskrit word jina (victory) and connoting the path of victory in crossing over life's stream of rebirths through an ethical and spiritual life. Jains trace their history through a succession of 24 victorious saviours and teachers known as tirthankaras, with the first being Rishabhanatha, who according to tradition lived millions of years ago, and twenty-fourth being the Mahavira around 500 BC. Jains believe that Jainism is an eternal dharma with the tirthankaras guiding every cycle of the Jain cosmology.

PARASPAROPAGRAHO JIVANAM
-
“All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence”

With origins in the 6th century in the era of King Vatsaraja, several Jain temples were built around the 11th to the 14th century under the dynasties of Chauhan, Gohil and Parmar. By the 15th century, Rajasthan was firmly established as the indispensable pilgrimage destination for Jains under the patronage of the Rajasthan rulers. 

TIRTHANKARAS

Jainism doesn't have a single founder. The truth has been revealed at different times by a Tirthankara, which means a teacher who shows the way, who appears in the world to teach the way to moksha, or liberation. A Tirthankar is not an incarnation of the God. He is an ordinary soul that is born as a human and attains the states of a Tirthankar as a result of intense practices of penance, equanimity and meditation. He is the ultimate pure developed state of the soul.
Tirthankaras were not founders of any religion, but great omniscient teachers who lived at various times in man's cultural history. They accomplished the highest spiritual goal of existence and then taught their contemporaries the way to reach it by crossing over to the safe shores of spiritual purity. Each new Tirthankara preaches the same basic Jain philosophy, but they give the Jain way of life subtly different forms in order to suit the age and the culture in which they teach.

ADINATHA  - THE 1ST TIRTHANKARA

The first Tirthankara is called Adinatha, which literally means “The first Lord”. Or he is called Rishabhanatha, which means "The Bull". Jain legends depict him as having lived millions of years ago. According to Jain traditional accounts, he was born to king Nabhi and queen Marudevi in north Indian city of Ayodhya, also called Vinita. He had two wives, Sunanda and Sumangala. Sumangala is described as the mother of his ninety-nine sons (including Bharata) and one daughter, Brahmi. Sunanda is depicted as the mother of Bahubali and Sundari. The sudden death of Nilanjana, one of the dancers of Indra, reminded him of the world's transitory nature and he developed a desire for renunciation. After renouncing, the Jain legends state he wandered without food for a whole year. The day on which he got his first ahara (food), is celebrated as Akshaya Tritiya by Jains. He is said to have attained Moksha on Mount Asthapada. 
His icons include the eponymous bull as his emblem, the Nyagrodha tree, Gomukha (bull faced) Yaksha, and Chakreshvari Yakshi.

The huge temple complex has temples for Adinath, Pasvanath, Neminath, Amba Matha and Surya. Among all the temples, the Chaumukha temple is dedicated to Adinath, the first of the 24 Tirtankaras of Jainism, also called as Rishabdev. The main chamber of the temple has four huge and identical white marble idols of Bhagavan Adinath measuring 72 inches (6 feet) tall that are installed facing four cardinal directions.

MAHAVIRA - THE 24TH TIRTHANKARA

Mahavira is regarded as the man who gave Jainism its present-day form. Some suggesting he lived in the 5th century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira was originally born as Vardhamana in north east India in 599 BCE . He was a prince, the son of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, who were members of the kshatriya (warrior) caste and followers of the teachings of Parshva. When Prince Vardhamana reached thirty years of age, not long after the death of both his parents, he left the royal palace to live the life of an ascetic, or a sadhana (one who renounces all worldly pleasures and comforts). He spent twelve and a half years subjecting himself to extremely long, arduous periods of fasting and meditation. Eventually his efforts bore fruit, and Vardhamana attained Kevalnyan, enlightenment, and therefore was later called Mahavira (the name is from maha - great and vira - hero). From that day forward Mahavira taught the path he had discovered to other seekers. His teaching career lasted until his physical death in 527 BCE, when he was 72 years old. After a final period of intensive fasting he attained moksha, the final liberation from all rebirth. According to tradition Mahavira is said to have established a community of 14,000 monks and 36,000 nuns before he died. Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative posture with the symbol of a lion beneath him.

Legend has it that Dhanna Shah dreamt of a nalini-gulmavimana, which literally means ‘pillar-cluster-flying-palace’ reserved for celestial beings. He asked architects to build him one but none of their designs satisfied him until one carefree artisan named Depa came up with the design that delighted Dhanna. Depa was not popular amongst the artisans: he loved art, hated servility and so preferred poverty to compromise. In Dhanna, he found the perfect patron. Dhanna had the money, the vision, and the faith, while Depa had the sublime artistry needed for the project. So began the construction of one of the finest Jain temples in India. The land was granted by the local king, Rana Kumbha, which is why it is called the Ranakpur temple.

JAIN SECTS – SVETAMBARA AND DIGAMBARA

Jains are divided into two major sects: the Digambara (meaning sky clad) sect and the Svetambara (meaning white clad) sect.The two sects agree on the basics of Jainism, but disagree on: details of the life of Mahavira; the spiritual status of women; whether monks should wear clothes; rituals; which texts should be accepted as scripture. 

The Digambara sect is more austere, and is closer in its ways to the Jains at the time of Mahavira. Both groups accept the basic Jain philosophy and the five basic vows. The philosophical differences between the groups mostly affect monks and nuns, or the very pious. Each of these sects is also divided into subgroups

Main differences in iconography: Digambara images of tirthankaras have downcast eyes, Svetambara images have prominent staring eyes. Digambara images are plain (and always carved as naked figures), Svetambara images are richly decorated. 

A large number of columns are carved elaborately, and it is said that no two pillars are alike in design. At a space that penetrates through two to three stories, various heights of domes are placed, and their ceilings have sculptures that are unbelievably intricate. Light is abundantly coming inside through gaps between ceilings and from courtyards, highlighting the intertwined spaces and fine carvings all around. The splendor of the space is so pure as the entire temple from the floors to the ceilings is made of white marble. It also might be described as the realization of the Pure Land, as Takeo Kamiya stated.

THE THREE JEWELS OF JAINISM

RIGHT FAITH (Samyak Darshana) - This doesn't mean believing what you're told, but means seeing (hearing, feeling, etc.) things properly, and avoiding preconceptions and superstitions that get in the way of seeing clearly.

RIGHT KNOWLEDGE (Samyak Jnana) - This means having an accurate and sufficient knowledge of the real universe - this requires a true knowledge of the five (or six) substances and nine truths of the universe - and having that knowledge with the right mental attitude.

RIGHT CONDUCT (Samyak Charitra) - This means living your life according to Jain ethical rules, to avoid doing harm to living things and freeing yourself from attachment and other impure attitudes and thoughts.

FIVE VOWS OF JAINISM

AHIMSA (Non-Violence) -The first major vow taken by Jains is to cause no harm to other human beings, as well as all living beings (particularly animals). This is the highest ethical duty in Jainism, and it applies not only to one's actions, but demands that one be non-violent in one's speech and thoughts.

SATYA (Truth) - This vow is to always speak the truth. Neither lie, nor speak what is not true, and do not encourage others or approve anyone who speaks an untruth.

ASTEYA (Not Stealing): A Jain layperson should not take anything that is not willingly given. Additionally, a Jain mendicant should ask for permission to take it if something is being given.

BRAHMACHARYA (Celibacy) - Abstinence from sex and sensual pleasures is prescribed for Jain monks and nuns. For laypersons, the vow means chastity, faithfulness to one's partner.

APARIGRAHA (Non-Possessiveness) - This includes non-attachment to material and psychological possessions, avoiding craving and greed. Jain monks and nuns completely renounce property and social relations, own nothing and are attached to no one.

"There is no quality of soul more subtle than non-violence and no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for life." Mahavira

EIGHTFOLD PUJA  OFFERING

One of the best known Svetambara Jain ceremonies is the eightfold puja (offering). This involves the worshipper making eight symbolic offerings to the image of a Tirthankara. One idea common to many groups is that the various offerings are not so much a gift to the Tirthankara (which would be pointless) but a giving up of them by the worshipper in a gesture of renunciation.

WATER: poured on the image, to cleanse it and to symbolise purity. 
SANDALWOOD & SAFFRON PASTE: dabbed on the key parts of the image. Sandalwood is thought to cool fever, so this action symbolises cooling the passions.
FLOWERS: a garland round the image symbolises faith in the teachings, or forgiveness, or the fragrance of the three jewels.
INCENSE: waved at the image to symbolise the removal of ignorance and desire, or the burning away of karmic particles.
LIGHT: a lamp is waved towards the image to symbolise enlightenment destroying the darkness of ignorance, or the suppression of activity.
The last three offerings are made: RICE, SWEETS, FRUIT

The food offerings are arranged symbolically on a table: Rice is shaped into a swastika: the four corners of the swastika symbolise the four states into which a soul can be born - human, plant and animal, heavenly being, hell being. Three dots are made above the swastika to symbolise the three jewels of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Above those comes a crescent with a dot above it, which symbolises the liberated beings at the very top of the universe. The worshipper then adds fruit and other food, and money to the offering. Finally each worshipper spends time in prayer and contemplation of the image.

Light colored marble has been used for the construction of this grand temple which occupies an area of approximately 60 x 62 meters. The temple, with its distinctive domes, shikhara, turrets and cupolas rises majestically from the slope of a hill. 1444 marble pillars, carved in exquisite detail, support the temple. The pillars are all differently carved and no two pillars are the same. It is also said that it is impossible to count the pillars. Also all the statues face one or the other statue.

THE SOUL - JIVA

The Jain word that comes closest to soul is jiva, which means a conscious, living being. For Jains body and soul are different things: the body is just an inanimate container - the conscious being is the jiva. After each bodily death, the jiva is reborn into a different body to live another life, until it achieves liberation. When a jiva is embodied, it exists throughout that body and isn't found in any particular bit of it.

Jains believe that, the soul exists forever; each soul is always independent; the soul is responsible for what it does; the soul experiences the consequences of its actions; the soul can become liberated from the cycle of birth and death; not all souls can be liberated - some souls are inherently incapable of achieving this; the soul can evolve towards that liberation by following principles of behaviour.

Each jiva is an individual quite independent of other jivas. This is different from one of the Hindu Vedanta schools of belief where each soul is part of a single ultimate reality. Jains believe that there are an infinite number of souls in the universe - every living thing, no matter how primitive, is a jiva - and at any given time many of these jivas are not embodied. For Jains, each jiva has been associated with matter, and involved in the cycle of birth and death since the beginning of time. They did not in some way fall from perfection to become involved in this cycle. Some jivas, through their own efforts, have become liberated and escaped from the cycle.

There is one beautiful carving made out of a single marble rock where there 108 heads of snakes and numerous tails. One cannot find the end of the tails. The image faces all four cardinal directions. In the axis of the main entrance, on the western side, is the largest image. The moolnayak of this temple is a 6 feet tall white colored idol of Adinatha.

SIX ETERNAL SUBSTANCES – DRAVYAS: JIVA (LIVING) & AJIVA (NON-LIVING)

JIVA (Souls) – Jiva exists as a reality, having a separate existence from the body that houses it. It is characterised by chetana (consciousness) and upayoga (knowledge and perception). Though the soul experiences both birth and death, it is neither really destroyed nor created. Decay and origin refer respectively to the disappearing of one state of soul and appearing of another state, these being merely the modes of the soul.

PUDGALA (Matter) – Pudgala is the source of physical matter, those things which can be touched, tasted, seen or smelled. It is what gives the soul (jiva) the experience of pleasure and pain, birth and death. The karma particles which stick to the soul (jiva) are made out of pudgala. Paramanu or ultimate particle is the basic building block of all matter. The Paramanu and Pudgala are permanent and indestructible. Matter combines and changes its modes but its basic qualities remain the same. According to Jainism, it cannot be created, nor destroyed.

DHARMA-DRAVYA (Principle of Motion) & ADHARMA-DRAVYA (Principle of Rest) – Dharmastikaya and Adharmastikaya are distinctly peculiar to Jain system of thought depicting the principle of Motion and Rest. They are said to pervade the entire universe. Dharma and Adharma are by itself not motion or rest but mediate motion and rest in other bodies. Without Dharmastikaya motion is not possible and without Adharmastikaya rest is not possible in the universe.

AKASA (Space) – Space is a substance that accommodates the living souls, the matter, the principle of motion, the principle of rest and time. It is all-pervading, infinite and made of infinite space-points.

KALA (Time) – Kala is an eternal substance according to Jainism and all activities, changes or modifications can be achieved only through the progress of time. 

JAIN COSMOLOGY

Jains believe that the universe we perceive really exists and is not an illusion. It contains two classes of thing: jivas - living souls, and ajivas - non-living objects, which include everything else, including space.Nothing in the universe is ever destroyed or created, they simply change from one form to another.Jains believe that the universe has always existed and will always exist. It is regulated by cosmic laws and kept going by its own energy processes. This concept of the universe is compatible with modern scientific thinking. Jains do not believe that the universe was created by any sort of god.

The Jain word that comes closest to the western idea of the universe is "loka". The loka is the framework of the universe. It contains the world we experience at the moment, as well as the worlds of heaven and hell. The loka exists in space. Space is infinite, the universe is not. According to the Jain texts, the universe is divided into 3 parts:

URDHVA LOKA – the realms of the gods or heavens.
MADHYA LOKA – the realms of the humans, animals and plants.
ADHO LOKA – the realms of the hellish beings or the infernal regions.

The temple is designed as chaumukha - with four faces. The construction of the temple and quadrupled image symbolize the Tirthankara's conquest of the four cardinal directions and hence the cosmos.

THE WHEEL OF TIME

Jains regard historical time as cyclical. The universe moves through lengthy eras of time which Jains usually describe as like the series of downward and upward movements of a point on the rim of a turning wheel. The downward movement is called avarsarpini and the upward movement is called utsarpini. Each full turn of the wheel is called a kalpa. Each cycle is divided into 6 ages, represented by spokes. The first three spokes of a downward cycle are a golden age after which conditions decline until Jainism dies out in the 6th spoke. This is reversed in the following upward cycle, and so on. Each full turn of the wheel takes a very long time: effectively an infinity - long enough for the lives of 24 Tirthankaras.

This colossal complex took 65 years to be constructed. The temple construction began in the year 1446 and the idols were installed in 1496 after fifty years of construction. The construction followed for fifteen more years after installing the idols and it took 65 years in total to complete the entire temple construction, which was unprecedented in history.

JAIN VEGETARIANISM

The practice of non-violence towards all living beings has led to Jain culture being vegetarian, while veganism is encouraged. Most Jains practice lacto-vegetarianism (no eggs, but dairy products permitted if no violence is used during the production). Jain monks and nuns do not eat root vegetables such as potatoes, onions and garlic because tiny organisms are injured when the plant is pulled up, and because a bulb or tuber's ability to sprout is seen as characteristic of a higher living being.

JAIN FASTING 

Jains fast on different occasions throughout the year, particularly during festivals. This practice is called upavasa, tapasya or vrata. According to Singh, this takes on various forms and may be practised based on one's ability. Some examples include Digambara fasting for Dasa-laksana-parvan where a Jain layperson eats only one or two meals per day, drinking only boiled water for ten days, or fasting completely on the first and last day of the festival. 

The fasting practice is believed to remove karma from one's soul and allow one to gain merit (punya). A "one day" fast in Jain tradition lasts about 36 hours, starting at sunset before the day of the fast and ending 48 minutes after the sunrise the day after. Among laypeople, fasting is more commonly observed by women, where it is believed that this shows her piety, religious purity, gains her and her family prestige, leads to merit earning and helps ensure future well-being for her family. Some religious fasts are observed as a group where Jain women bond socially and support each other. Long fasts are celebrated by friends and families with special ceremonies.

Fasting in mind as well as body. It is not sufficient for a Jain simply to not eat when fasting. They must also stop wanting to eat. If they continue to desire food the fast is pointless.

KARMA

Jains believe that karma is a physical substance that is everywhere in the universe. Karma particles are attracted to the jiva (soul) by the actions of that jiva. It may be helpful to think of karma as floating dust which sticks to the soul, or as types of atomic particle which are attracted to the soul as a result of our actions, words and thoughts. On their own, karma particles have no effect but when they stick to a soul they affect the life of that soul. We attract karma particles when we do or think or say things: we attract karma particles if we kill something, we attract karma particles when we tell a lie, we attract karma particles when we steal and so on. The quantity and nature of the karma particles sticking to the soul cause the soul to be happy or unhappy and affect the events in the soul's present and future lives. It's a compound process in that the accumulation of karma causes us to have bad thoughts, deeds, emotions and vices, and these bad actions (etc) cause our souls to attract more karma, which causes more bad thoughts, and so on.

Karma can be avoided in two ways: by behaving well - so no karma is attracted; by having the right mental state - so that even if an action attracts karma, the correct mental attitude of the being means that karma either doesn't stick to that soul or is discharged immediately. Some karmas expire on their own after causing suffering. Others karmas remain. The karma that has built up on the soul can be removed by living life according to the Jain vows.

Interestingly, the colour of the pillars changes from golden to pale blue colour when the light falls on them. The main prayer hall has two huge bells of 108 kg weight. They give rise to symphonic sound. The ceilings of the temple feature amazing geometric designs and foliate work.

JAIN FLAG

The flag of Jainism has five colours, which represent the Panca-Paramesthi (five supreme beings) and the five main vows.
WHITE - represents the ARIHANT, souls who have conquered all passions (anger, attachments, aversion) and have attained omniscience and eternal bliss through self-realization. It also denotes peace or ahimsa (nonviolence).
RED - represents the SIDDHA, souls that have attained salvation and truth. It also denotes truthfulness (satya).
YELLOW - represents the ACHARYA, the Masters of Adepts. The colour also stands for non-stealing (achaurya).
GREEN - represents the UPADHYAYA, the Adepts, those who teach scriptures to monks. It also signifies chastity (brahmacharya).
DARK BLUE OR BLACK - represents the SADHUS and SADHVIS or monks and nuns. It also signifies non-possession.

SOURCES:

  • https://www.speakingtree.in/allslides/ranakpur-jain-temple-history/the-stunning-layout-420175
  • https://www.vresorts.in/blog/ranakpur-the-goto-place-for-the-jains
  • https://www.msn.com/en-in/travel/tripideas/the-wondrous-ranakpur-temple-in-rajasthan/ss-AA8gWsO#image=20
  • https://dandapani.org/retreats/2018-meditation-yoga-retreat-block-with-dandapani/
  • http://www.kamit.jp/03_jaina/6_ranakpur/ran_eng.htm
  • https://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/jain/adinath-temple-of-ranakpur.html
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/jainism
  • https://en.wikipedia.org

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WRITER, EDITOR & PHOTOGRAPHER

ZUZANA ZWIEBEL

Founder & Director of Ayurveda Trails, healing collection of (extra)ordinary people and their stories, whose experiences are transferred into various trails shared by travelers.

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