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Glistening spires of Palitana temples

The temples atop Shetrunjai Hill in Palitana, known for their architectural splendour, are very sacred to the Jains. R. KRISHNAMURTHY pays a visit ...

Adishwara Temple dedicated to the first Jain apostle ...

ON THE winter morning of February 22 last year, we were in Palitana, a small town at the foot of the Shetrunjai Hill. River Shetrunjai flows south of this hill. Very much like Shetrunjai is a hill called Girnar, near Junagadh, which is also a place of pilgrimage for Jains. Among all the Jain temples in Gujarat those at Palitana are unique. Palitana is just 56 km. from Bhavanagar, a mini Mysore in its lay out and architectural splendour. Gujarat State Transport buses ply between Bhavanagar and Palitana. Bhavanagar is connected to Ahmedabad by road and rail, and to Mumbai by air.

Atop the Shetrunjai Hill is a cluster of Jain temples, built by generations of Jains over a period of 900 years, from the 11th century onwards. These temples are very important pilgrim centres for Jains. The temples are managed by the Anandji Kalyanji Trust of the Kasturbai Lalbhai group, which has a fine auditorium at the foot of the hill.

From the foot of the hill to the top there are 3,800 and odd stone steps neatly cut to facilitate climbing. The climb up the hill is much more arduous than the one at Sravanabelagola, near Chennapatna, in Karnataka. The path to the temples is slightly zigzag and comprises three segments. Lugging along my camera bag and a heavy tripod, I managed to climb one third of the distance and then fixed up a `doliwallah' for carrying me to the temples and back up to the foot-hill (for Rs.450). En route there are a few mandapams for halt. The panoramic view of Palitana unfolded itself as we progressed along. The Jains maintain absolute fast till they returned to the auditorium of Anandji Kalyanji Trust at the foothill. Only the elderly and children have the curd sold at the top of the hill.

When I stepped into the precincts of the temple it was around 11 a.m. The spires of the temples were glistening in the morning sun. The temple dedicated to Adishwara, the first Jain apostle, is the most sacred and striking of them all. Adishwara or Rishabha Deva is a fine piece of icon in marble with crystal eyes. Devotees carrying flowers and sandal paste move up to the statue for worship. There is an artistically designed quadrangle in front of the temple where Jains remain seated to have darshan of idols placed in miniature silver plated `chapra.' Opposite the temple of Adishwara is another shrine where the feet of Adishwara (Punrick Swamy) are worshipped. There are temples for all the 24 Thirthankars, of whom the last one is Mahavira. Adishwara or Rishabhadeva was supposed to have been born in Ayodhya towards the end of Dwapara `yuga.' It is said that when he was anointed king, he was a legendary 2000000 years old! After ruling nearly three times his age, he passed on the crown to his sons, and then addressed himself to attaining `nirvana' on a mountain called Ashtapada, which is identified as Kailasa by some and Shetrunjai by others. As important as the Adishwara temple is the Chaumukh (or the four-faced) temple, which houses the quadruple image of Adinath in four directions.

Adjoining the main Adishwara temple is the Muslim shrine for Angarsh Pir where childless women of different faiths offer cradles, as part of their prayer. As one descends the steps after `darshan' of Adishwara a Dilwara like temple can be sighted on the right. It is an exquisitely designed architectural piece in marble. Suparswanatha adorns the central portion of cube-shaped column while Adinatha and Parswanatha embellish the top and bottom notches respectively. The ceiling, floor and the column have been tastefully carved. Opposite this temple is the temple of Parswanatha.

After an hour and half long trip on the `doli' down the hill, I touched the foothill at 1.30 p.m.

My friends, who had parted company during the up-climb, joined me later. We had a refreshing `prasadam' of `bondhi' with a cup of tea in the auditorium of Anandji Kalyanji Trust and by 3.30 p.m. we left for Bhavanagar in a taxi.

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