Jain architecture is said to have attained its peak in the temple of Ranakpur. The Ranakpur Jain Temple is one of the finest in the world. It is characterized by the extensive and finely wrought white marble carvings that cover every surface: the walls, pillars, altars – everywhere. When the Mughal emperor Akbar visited this temple, probably in the late 1500s, he was so full of admiration that he had an inscription made on one of the columns which says that no one ever will be allowed to destroy this jewel of architecture. (This was probably some time after Mughals defeated the Mewars at the Battle of Haldighati in 1576.)
History of the Temple
The temple is more than 500 years old. It was started in 1439 (or 1446, depending on which research you read) under the patronage of Rana Kumbha, ruler of Mewar (for whom them temple is named). It was envisioned by Dharana Shah, a Porwal (a wealthy Jain clan) and member of the Rana Kumbha’s court, who had a dream, a vision of Nalinigulma Viman, a heavenly flying chariot mentioned in Jain mythology and considered to be the most beautiful by the Jains. Dharana Shah decided that the temple should resemble this heavenly vision so that someone who came here would feel transported to the celestial world of this vision, and experience the rare and divine magnificence of this heavenly vehicle. The temple is dedicated to Lord Adinatha, considered to be the founder of Jainism, the first of the Jain Tirthankaras – Jain saints and founders.
The architect who oversaw the project was named Deepaka. Dharana Shah began the search for the right architect who could translate his dream-image and give it an earthly form. Architects and sculptors from all over India submitted drawings, but none came close to what he had visualized. Then came Depaka, an eccentric and headstrong sculptor. Depaka placed high value on his art and was not one to be easily swayed by money and the like. Dharana Shah, impressed by his plan as well as his attitude to life, decided to give the work to him.
Construction took a long time. In one place it says from 1439 to 1458. Another source says from 1446 to 1496. The result was a white marble building covering over 40,000 sq. ft. with three stories, a central (and several minor) śikharas (towers), a main shrine with four “faces” or Mahadhar Prasads (principal shrines) – one for each of the cardinal directions, symbolizing the Tirthankara’s conquest of the four cardinal directions and thus the cosmos, seventy-six smaller domed shrines, four Rangamandapas (assembly halls in front of each Rangamandapa), and 84 Devakuikas (subsidiary shrines), big and small. The number 84 signifies the 8,400,000 births and deaths in various reincarnations that a human being requires to attain moksha, or salvation, according to Jain religion.
One notable aspect of this temple is the carved pillars, 1444 in all, each of which is unique. None of this would have been possible without the rare genius of the sculptor and architect, Deepeka.
Here is our photo of the temple:
Below is the floor plan, showing the four-faced orientation. On the plan, “A” is a Mahadhar Prasad, ”B” is a Rangamandapa. All along the inside of the outer wall are niches with Tirthankara idols. The entrance is on the lower side.
FYI, compare this with a diagram of the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, below. Pretty similar layout, sharing the orientation to the four cardinal directions.
It was built at an estimated cost of about $ 2.4 million at that time, which was an enormous sum for that period. What is this in today’s money? It depends on the rate of inflation. If the rupee inflation was 1% per year for the last 518 years (since the temple was finished) then, in today’s costs, it would cost $415 million. If 2% for 518 years, then $68 billion. According to the Norges Bank, inflation for the last 500 years has been 2.4%. This would make it much more than $68 billion. What ever it is, it was a LOT of money. To cross check this, I did the following calculation: say it took 250 fine craftsmen 50 years to build the temple. (I can find nowhere a labor estimate, so I am just guessing for the purpose of estimating), and they were paid an average of rs 200,000 per year (This is a good wage for an Indian craftsman today, I think). In this case, then the total cost would be 250 (workers) X 50 (years) X rs 200,000 (per year) = rs 2.5 billion, or, at rs 60 = $1.00, $41.7 million $500,000,000. So $42 million for direct labor, plus materials and indirect costs. Maybe this makes the cost a “mere” $100 million. How did Rana Kumbha pay for all this? The Mewars were a desert trading community in NW Rajasthan. They controlled this part of the Silk Road, and owned the Indian opium trade at this time. These two factors made Rana Kumbha and the Porwal Jain merchants fantastically wealthy.
Our Journey to Ranakpur Temple
This was one of the highlights of our three-week visit to Rajasthan in late 2013. We started in Jaipur, where we visited the Amber Fort, the Jantar Mantar, and the Monkey Temple, then to the Havelis of Mandawa, then to Bikaner, next to the Rat Temple, then to Jaisalmer, with its famous Golden Fort, Jain temples, and camel ride into the sunset.
It is more than 400 km from Jaisalmer to Ranakpur Temple. We stopped at Jodhpur on the way (and will post about this later).
On the way from Jodhpur to the temple we passed a pretty typical Rajasthan scene, and man, on the road…
…driving a herd of goats.
Traffic in India slows down for these normal obstacles.
We saw this nice banyan tree with many trunks in the center of one small village.
We finally arrive at the Ranakpur Temple.
Here is the entry gate.
When first encountered, the temple is a quite a sight!
It rises several stories above the ground, with a tall śikhara (tower) at its top. We see no walls, just columns supporting each level of the temple.
There are a number of rules for entry to the temple. These are common with many Jain temples: no shoes, leather, food or water. Ladies when menstruating may not enter. Wear proper attire, don’t touch idols or carvings.
We climb up a set of stairs for entry. We have already removed our shoes and deposited our prohibited items.
The entrance is the first of the temple that we see.
Near the entrance a boy is selling flowers to give as an offering.
At the entrance is our first up-close look at the carvings.
What can I say? Beautiful work! And this is not soft soapstone, this is marble, 500 years after it was carved.
We climb up a set of stairs into the temple.
And into a world of white marble carvings, everywhere around us.
This is looking in toward one of the four faces of the main altar. We look through one of the four Rangamandapas, assembly halls.
The carved domes are one impressive element in the temple’s design.
The pillars are carved all the way up to where they support the roof. As part of the idea of support, there are these typical Jain figures seeming to hold up the roof.
Looking towards the primary altar, one of four Mahadhar Prasads .
Another magnificent dome.
See the figures that are part of the decoration of the dome: pink male and female Jain figures, supported by some kind of strong man.
There is a rhythm in the placement of the pillars, in row on row.
Here is the assembly hall again, a Rangamandapa. These feature a square floor. The space in front of the main altar is a circular one.
Fine carvings on each pillar. Here we see the two kind of Jain figures. The man to the right is “Sky-clad” (unclothed), and the left is “White-clad.”
We approach the primary altar, one of the four Mahadhar Prasads.
Notice that this is a circular space.
The Mahadhar Prasad. We were prohibited from taking photos of the inner idol.
To the right of the inner shrine is another Sky-clad figure.
A female figure. They like their statues to be well-rounded with lots of curves.
After we come to the primary altar, we continue to explore around the temple, going in a clockwise direction.
One of the first things that we encounter is a marble elephant.
On its back is a mahout, and a buxom woman sitting, reclining, in a howdah.
More amazing carving, all the way up to the ceiling.
At the base of this column is a row of elephants, with a row of figures above.
A seated figure.
More elephants, a frontal view this time, though. Maybe above there are some kind of warrior figures above them, some holding clubs.
A carved flower design.
One of the smaller shrines. I love the repeating patterns on the side. This is one of the 84 Devakuikas (subsidiary shrines).
Naturally they do not miss any chance for decoration. There are many seated men, meditating above, symbolic Tirthankars I guess. Below are a variety of figures, many of which look martial to me with weapons and shields or riding a war horse.
Corridors seen through columns.
Below, one of the Tirthankars.
Three more. On the sides of the temple are rows of Tirthankars. Someone has placed a pink flower in the lap of the center one below.
The Tirthankars are to the left, and the main altar is to the right.
Looking through the building.
Like the last, a mahout and a woman. I wonder what is the symbolism here?
The temple nestles at the foot of these mountains.
Looking into the main alter from another direction.
Three more Tirthankaras.
A whole wall of Tirthankaras.
In the photo below is a renowned piece, famed as a carving from a single piece of marble, 108 nagas (snakes) protecting Parshvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara of the present age according to the Jains. Parshvanatha was the first Tirthankara for whom there is historical evidence (which dates him as from the ninth century BC). He is the Tirthankara most associated with snakes. Parshvanatha established the “fourfold restraint,” the four vows taken by his followers (not to take life, steal, lie, or own property) that, with Mahavira’s (the 24th and last Tirthankara) addition of the vow of celibacy, became the five “great vows” (mahavratas) of Jain ascetics.
Here are the heads of the nagas.
And the Jain saint Parshvanatha, standing under the umbrella, followers on both sides.
Here is one more piece that we did not photograph, but is famous, from the Rankapurtemple.com site. It shows one head with five bodies.
Not too far from us I can see another temple tower rising up through the forest. To me, this adds to a sense of mystery. What is here? Who built it? Why? When?
I am surprised to see a what sure looks like a lingam here. I certainly think of these as Hindu.
And on the lingam are carved footprints of god, certainly a Hindu image.
I am not sure of the meaning of the sculpture pictured below. I think there are two. First I think it is representative of the community of saints and seekers that make up the Jain community. Second I think it shows the “Wheel of Life,” the cycle of being.
The central tower as seen from within the temple.
More carved elephants. The front one is as the others, a mahout and rider.
The other elephant is a working tusker, carrying a tree trunk.
Big drums used for special occasions in the temple.
One last look at the central altar before we leave.
Carvings are found even in the grounds…
…as are a tribe of Langur monkeys.
Mother and child.
After we left the temple, we stopped to look at another place that we had read about, a fancy and historic building turned into a hotel and restaurant, the Ashwa Mahal.
They gave Richard a great welcome, dotting his forehead.
Richard with the greeter.
This was another unexpected visit. This temple is so grand. This is a place that I would highly recommend that you visit. Stay long enough that you can become absorbed in the sublime atmosphere of the place. Who knew that there were such places in Rajasthan?
Tags: Ranakpur Jain Temple