10.00 to 17.45 daily
10.00 to 22.00 Fridays
Jainism is an ancient independent religion that dates back tens and thousands of years. The religion teaches spiritual purity and enlightenment through a disciplined mode of conduct based upon the tradition of ahimsa or non-violence to all creatures.
Jains believe in the concept of karma and reincarnation. That one's actions have a direct impact on the karmic balance. All living beings from the smallest creatures to humans have a soul whose ultimate destiny is to obtain enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. It is believed by Jains that innumerable souls have become liberated. However, 24 of these have escalated positions and are revered as teachers of the religion. They are known as Tirthankaras or Jinas and it is these Jinas that create the religion. Those who aspire to be like the Jinas are called Jains.
Throughout India temples were built by wealthy Jains dedicated to acknowledging the life of these Jinas and also to allow other Jains to celebrate and contemplate on their own actions. Most of great pilgrimages are sited away from masses and almost always on top of a mountain amidst natural beauty that is suitable for devotion and meditation. The hardship of the journey disciplines the body. The company of fellow pilgrims strengthens the faith. It is considered an honour, in fact a blessing, to pray at a site that is made holy by the tradition of worship of the Jinas and to stand at a place where the great religious leaders once stood. Souls receive spiritual merit and the mind is at peace.
Today I would like to talk to you about Palitana, based on the Shatrunjaya Hills in Gujarat, Western India. Shatrunjaya means conqueror of the enemies and this refers to the inner enemies - anger, ego, greed and deceit - which all Jains try to refrain from as much as possible through their thoughts, words and actions. Palitana is known as the city of temples, referring to its 900 temples and almost 15,000 idols of these 24 Jinas. Indeed, 23 out of the 24 Jinas actually visited this holy place, blessing it with their touch. In addition, more souls are believed to have obtained liberation here. These are the two reasons combined which explain why Palitana is considered the most auspicious place in Jainism.
It is not just the actual temples that are considered sanctified. The mountain itself, from the foothills to the peak, are treated as a holy place. Out of respect, pilgrims refrain from wearing any leather products of shoes, of goods, speaking inappropriately or even eating during their journey. Along one side of the mountain range is the Shatrunjaya River. This is almost as sacred as the pilgrimage itself. Many people bathe in this river before climbing the 4,000-odd steps to the summit. During the journey many pilgrims recite the names of the 24 Jinas repeatedly in prayer. This helps to keep the mind focussed. On route to the summit smaller temples are dotted along the path which are visited by pilgrims who bow their head down to the Jinas and then continue forward to the summit.
Mount Shatrunjaya's summit has nine main clusters of temples known as tuks. After about 3,000 steps and two hours of climbing, the path diverges into two, the path to the left leads towards the main tuk of Lord Adinath, whilst the path to the right leads to the remaining eight tuks. At the main tuk there are three round passages symbolically representing the three laws of Jainism - right knowledge, right faith and right conduct. It is believed that by following the path established by the Jinas and basing it on three laws one can obtain liberation. Of particular interest at the end of the first passage is the rion tree, said to be the very tree that Lord Adinath, the first Jina, practised long penance innumerable years ago. Today this fact is commemorated by large footprints representing his feet as he stood under the tree. Walking through the third passage one sees the shrine of Astapad. Astapad is the historic temple in the Himalayas which is now lost. This shrine attracts much attention as the faithful remember the sacred temple which has now become unreachable.
However, the central attraction of this tuk and the pilgrimage of Palitana itself is the main temple of Lord Adinath. The white marble image of the Jina within the temple reaches 2.6 metres high and is decorated with gold and silver donated by wealthy Jains to express their devotion to this Tirthankara. The atmosphere within the temple is one of energy and devotion. Seeing such artistic beauty and the devotion on the faces of the pilgrims, the nuns and the monks is an experience which lasts with you for eternity. The artistry and sculpture of these temples aptly illustrates the glorious, unique culture of art within the Jain tradition. One cannot help but wonder how such large marble pieces were carried to the tops of these mountains tens and thousands of years ago. One marvels at the artistic creativity that occurred in creating these masterpieces.
Palitana is a remarkable place, with true beauty that surpasses all expectations. I have only been able to cover a small fraction of its sheer magnitude, and I do hope that it is enough to tempt you to go to India and to visit it yourself. As per the Jain tradition, if I said anything wrong or which has offended you in any way, I ask for your forgiveness.