Posts Tagged ‘jain’

Rajasthan: Jain Temples in Jaisalmer Fort

January 13, 2014

While visiting the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer (see this post), one of the most interesting places to visit are the Jain Temples. There are seven altogether (though we will visit just three), built next to one another an a complex within the fort. They were built by wealthy Jain traders hundreds of years ago, by permission of the Hindu rulers of Jaisalmer. Permission was given only after it was agreed that within each temple, there would be a Hindu god or goddess. While not a large part of the population (even today the Jains represent only 0.4 % of the Indian population), the Jains had much influence due to their wealth and high level of education.

Jains have always supported education. They now have the highest literacy rate in India, 97.5%. Jains are also well-known as traders. I guess since agriculture was often not permissible due to their beliefs about not causing harm, then they had to trade to survive. Maybe this education as well as skills as traders is part of what made Jains of interest to various Indian rulers: Rajas and Maharajas in both South and North India.

Jain ideas have had a profound influence within India. As one example, Mahatmas Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence came directly from the Jain principle of Ahimsa, harmlessness. The Jains also think that you can never come to a full understanding of anything from the individual point of view. The universe is always more complex and bigger than any one person can see, so to understand anything takes all the points of view.

The Jains

Jainism is one of three major world religions that originated in India, others being Hinduism and Buddhism.

Below are representations of two of the twenty-four Jain Tirthankaras, in white marble. (More on the Tirthankaras below.)


Here is a good “standard” overview of Jainism, from :

Jainism dates to the 6th century BCE in India. The religion derives its name from the jinas (“conquerors”), a title given to twenty-four great teachers (tirthankaras or “ford-makers”), through whom their faith was revealed. Mahavira, the last of the tirthankaras, is considered the founder of Jainism.

The ultimate goal of Jainism the liberation of the self (jiva) from rebirth, which is attained through the elimination of accumulated karma (the consequences of previous actions). This occurs through both the disciplined cultivation of knowledge and control of bodily passions. When the passions have been utterly conquered and all karma has been removed, one becomes a Jina (“conqueror”), and is no longer subject to rebirth.

Jainism conceives of a multi-layered universe containing both heavens and hells. Movement through these levels of the universe requires adherence to the Jainism doctrines emphasizing a peaceful and disciplined life. These principles include non-violence in all parts of life (verbal, physical, and mental), speaking truth, sexual monogamy, and the detachment from material things.

As part of the disciplined and non-violent lifestyle, Jains typically are strict vegetarians and often adhere to a quite arduous practice of non-violence, which restricts the sorts of occupations the may follow (no farming, for instance, since insects are inadvertently harmed in plowing). Jainism’s ethical system is based on the idea that right faith, knowledge, and conduct must be cultivated simultaneously.

The Shramana Tradition

Though generally Jainism is thought to be about 2600 years old, about the same age as Buddhism, powerful evidence says that its roots are pre-Vedic, perhaps as old as 7000 BCE (the Vedic period started about 3500 BCE), at the beginning of the agricultural era in India, 1000 years after the glaciers of the last ice age receded from India. There is a close connection to Jainism and the Shramana tradition. Shramana was an ancient Indian religious movement parallel to, but separate from, the historical Vedic religion (now called Hinduism). Shramana refers to traditions of renunciate asceticism. These traditions were individual, experiential and free-form, and independent of society. Shramana was in religious competition with Brahmin priests, who, as opposed to Shramanas, stressed mastery of texts and performing rituals. It was the orthodox Hindus against the heterodox Shramanas.

If the roots of this tradition do indeed date back to the beginnings of agriculture (and village life, as opposed to the wandering life of a hunter-gatherer), I wonder if maybe this Shramana tradition represents in some way the desire to return to an earlier time, an earlier type and rhythm of life, where we were more free of the schedules and obligations of life as a farmer (and a villager)? The gatherer only harvests. The farmer must plant (and tend) before he harvests.

The Shramana tradition gave rise to direct personal practices as exemplified by Yoga, Jainism, Buddhism as well as the Hindu sannyasin tradition. Key concepts, common to all Indic religions came from Shramana. These include saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle). Key practices, like meditation, also seem to start with these Shramana traditions. They practiced Ahimsa (cause no injury, do no harm) and rigorous ascetism.

It can be argued that a merger between Vedic traditions and Shramana ideas brought about modern Hinduism. Shramanic ideas started to be expressed in the Upanishads, which are commonly dated from about the same period in which Jainism and Hinduism developed, about 600 BCE. From within India, people started to look past the older ritualistic Hindu traditions for a practice more direct and personal. Modern Hinduism combines both the Vedic traditions and those from the Upanishads.

Shramana and Jainism

The Shramana tradition of the Jain religion is considered the oldest of the non-Aryan cultural group, as an independent pre-Buddhist religion, and is suggested to have existed before what is sometimes called “the Brahmin cult” (Vedic Hinduism).

Some scholars say that Shramanas (practitioners) of Jain tradition were widespread in the Indus Valley, with the relics of Indus Valley civilization representing Jain culture, like nude male figures in standing meditation  (Jaina Kayotsarga), idols in Padmasana (sitting in lotus position), images with serpent-heads and the bull symbol. Some say the Shramana cultures arose and flourished in the Gangetic areas, rather than the Indus Valley. Perhaps pre-Jain Shramana flourished in both regions before the advent of the Vedic religion. I think the evidence is strong that Shramana was well established in the ancient Indus Valley. Maybe the growth of new ideas in the Ganges rivershed area was the movement of the Shramanic ideas west in the 1000 years that followed the establishment of Vedic Hinduism in the Indus Valley.

The Tirthankara

In Jainism, a Tirthankara is a human being who helps others in achieving liberation and enlightenment as an arihant (one who as overcome all karmas, gross and subtle). Jainism derives its philosophy from their teachings and lives. Jains recognize twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras. The first was Rishabha, who seems to have lived before the Vedas were set down, since he is mentioned in the oldest of them, the Rig Veda. This would put his life sometime before 1500 BCE, probably much older, since he was already a mystical figure at that time. The 24th Thirtankara, and last of this era was Mahavir, the only one of two who are historical figures, being born in 599 BCE, and credited as the founder of Jainism. For more on Tirthankara, go to the Wikipedia page.

Jain Siddhas

In Jainism a siddha is a Tirthankara who has become fully liberated. He is no longer a teacher, since he is now formless.

From Wikipedia:

(jain) Siddhas are the liberated souls. They have completely ended the cycle of birth and death. They have reached the ultimate state of salvation. They do not have any karmas and they do not collect any new karmas. This state of true freedom is called Moksha. They are formless and have no passions and therefore are free from all temptations.

According to Jains, Siddhas have eight specific characteristics or qualities. Ancient Tamil Jain Classic ‘Choodamani Nigandu’ describes the eight characteristics in a beautiful poem, which is given below.

“The soul that has infinite knowledge (Ananta jnāna), infinite vision or wisdom (Ananta darshana), infinite power (Ananta labdhi), infinite bliss (Ananta sukha), without name (Akshaya sthiti), without association to any caste (Being vitāraga), infinite life span (Being arupa) and without any change (Aguruladhutaa) is God.”

Jains in Rajasthan

The history of Jainism in western India, including Rajasthan, goes back to 5th century B.C., probably brought by wandering ascetics and/or Jain traders. From the early fourth century CE until around 600 A.D. northern India, down as far as modern Mumbai (Bombay), was under the control of the Gupta dynasty. In the Gupta period Gujarat, bordering Rajasthan, seems to have become the most important center of Jainism in India. As an example, during this period Jain scriptures were read at a ceremony of mourning for the death of the king’s son even though the king himself was not a Jain. Jainism was certainly already present in Rajasthan by then. Jainism flourished in this region in the era of Rajput kings, so important to Rajasthan history, starting about 900 CE. The great Jain ascetics of the Rajput period influenced the kings. As a result, the Rajput kings of various dynasties not just patronized Jainism, but they also adopted Jainism as their family religion. Many of the forts in Rajasthan (usually combined forts and palaces), including Jaisalmer, have Jain temples.

Jain temples were first built in Jaisalmer when the city was founded, in the early early 1100s. They were then destroyed by Muhammad of Ghor of the Ghurid Sultanate (who controlled this area prior to the Delhi Sultanate) in the 1200s. Muslims destroyed many Jain temples throughout India. These were rebuilt in the 1500s (some say the 1600s, I am not sure. I have read dates that range from 1509 to 1615) by a wealthy Jain trader, Seth Tharu Shah.

Jain Temples in the Golden Fort

There are seven temples in this Jain temple complex. Each of these is dedicated to a Jain sage, or Tirthankara. We will visit the three most important, dedicated to Parsvanath, Chandraprabhu,and Rishabhdev. The other temples are Sambhavanath, Shitalnath, Shantinath and Kunthanath.

We approach the entrance to the first temple we will visit, Shri Rishabha Dev ji ka Mandir. Rising above it, we see its Shikhara, spire.


Shri Rishabha Dev ji ka Mandir

The presiding deity in this temple is Rishabha Dev (also known as Adinatha), the first of 24 Jain Tirthankaras. According to the belief, the temple is very important as Rishabha is the first Jain Tirthankara of the Avasarpini, the present age.

We enter the yellow sandstone temple.


The main altar is in front of us.


There is an open space in front of the altar, surrounded by massive, carved sandstone pillars.


Above us is a circular roof, carved in a simple pattern.


On the walls of the temple surrounding the central altar are rows of figures, Tirthankaras. You can, if you know the system, recognize them based on a symbol found beneath their crossed legs. I can’t see these symbols in the photo below, but I know now, due to my research, that the figure on the left with the crown of snakes is Pārśva or Pārśvanātha. He is the most popular of the Tirthankaras today, standing for compassion. Note that even through a temple may be dedicated to a particular Tirthankara, there are usually others shown in the temple.


Rishabha, below, is said to be the first Tirthankara. His symbol is the bull. He is the primary deity of this temple. He is seen by Jains as the founder of their religion. He is an ancient figure, appearing in the oldest of the Vedic writings, which puts his dates back earlier than 3500 years ago. Some scholars put his dates back to 7000 BCE, and the beginning of the introduction of agriculture to India.

He is so old that scholars think that the bull figures found commonly in the ancient Indus Valley Culture city of Mohenjodaro probably represented him. This culture predated the Vedic culture by roughly 1000 years.

Per Wikipedia, according to legends, in his time,

The people were primitive and illiterate and he taught them agriculture, animal husbandry, cooking, poetry, painting, sculpture and similar arts. He introduced karma-bhumi (the age of action). The institution of marriage, ceremony of cremating the dead and festivals in honor of gods like Indra and Naga came into existence. He introduced a total of seventy-two sciences which includes arithmetic, plastic and visual arts, the art of lovemaking, singing and dancing. He taught people how to extract sugarcane juice. … His kingdom was kind and gentle and he is credited for transforming a tribal society into an orderly one. He does not have a warrior aspect. This is in contrast to other legendary figures of Indian history who were great warriors. Rishabha is known for advocating non-violence. He was one of the greatest initiators of human progress.

You can tell by the beauty and decoration of this white marble idol, how highly Rishabha is venerated.


We saw many sculptures like that pictured below, with many of what must be Tirthankaras and shrines. I think they show that this is a community of saints, not just one individual.


Here is a special altar for one Tirthankara, I do not know which one.



A female figure riding an elephant.


Another carving with many repeated images of a mother and child. I have no idea what the significance of this is. Does anyone else know?)


Below is the Tirthankara Sumatinath, the fifth Tirthankara. His symbol is a bird.

He was born from a queen who showed great wisdom during her pregnancy. So, (from

Appreciating the fact that the marked improvement in wisdom and sense of judgment during the pregnancy was the influence of the presence of the illustrious and pious soul, king Megh named the new born as-Sumati (wisdom or right thinking).

When he became a young man, Sumati Kumar was married, and in due course inherited the kingdom. King Megh became an ascetic. After a long and peaceful reign Sumatinath, too, became an ascetic. He attained omniscience under a Priyangu tree on the eleventh day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra. He established the four pronged religious ford and became a Tirthankar. On the ninth day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra he got Nirvana at Sammetshikhar.


Here is Chandraprabhu, the eighth Tirthankara, whose symbol is the half moon. More about him later in this post.


Looking to the left side of the central altar through a pillared hall. If you go around, on the walkway to the left of the pillars, you will see many Tirthankaras. We will go straight and look at the carvings on the shrine itself.


These figures look pretty sexy for what is supposed to be kind of an ascetic religion.


There are two main sects of Jainism: First, the Śvētāmbaras. Śvētāmbara, “white-clad,” is a term describing its ascetics’ practice of wearing white clothes. Second, the Digambara “sky-clad” Jains, whose ascetic practitioners go naked. Śvētāmbaras, unlike Digambaras, do not believe that ascetics must practice nudity.  Śvētāmbaras also believe that women are able to obtain moksha. This sect is most common in Rajasthan.

A “white-clad” Jain man with his voluptuous woman.


Sandstone sculptures line the sides of the central chamber. In some ways these figures in these poses seem Hindu to us.


They are finely carved and well preserved for 500-year-old sandstone. The figure on the left looks naked. Perhaps she is a “sky-clad” worshiper?


Some goddess figure, I think.


I think this is an Apsara, a celestial dancer. They liked their women with big breasts, I guess.


Looking on the right side to the Tirthankaras that line the walls.


This is some kind of beast with its mouth wide open.


We were told that this was the only Hindu god in the temple. We do not know who.


This is an example of the Hindu gods that were required to be in each temple before permission to build them was granted. We note that this is the only statue “dressed” in cloth.


Finely carved figures on on the pillars of this temple. This is a woman. I see a smaller women at her feet, to the left.


A masculine figure.


Shri Chandra Prabhu Nemi Nath ji ka Mandir

Next was the Chandraprabhu temple, said to have been rebuilt 1509 AD. This is the first of the seven temples built during 16th and 17th centuries and is devoted to the Jain Tirthankara Chandraprabhu, the 8th Tirthankara.

This is the entrance to the Chandraprabhu temple.


Inside the temple.


The ceiling of this temple is wonderfully carved.



If you look closely there female figures, perhaps Apsaras, mythical dancers of Hindu heritage, with their male counterparts. Ganesh figures are below, showing Hindu gods in this Jain temple.


The central dome is atop a two-level structure. You can climb up a narrow set of stairs to get to the upper level. You can see exquisitely detailed carving everywhere you look.


A male Jain figure, of the Śvētāmbara sect, “white-clad.”


There are many statues of the Tirthankara Chandraprabhu in this temple. This is one of them. You can clearly see his moon symbol in the blue patch beneath his folded legs.


Here is another finely carved idol of the primary Tirthankara in this temple, Chandraprabhu, the eighth Tirthankara, symbolized by the moon.

His father was King Mahasen and mother Queen Sulakshana. At the time of his birth, his mother wanted to “swallow the nectar of the moon.” Her desire was fulfilled and she gave birth a child with a moon-like complexion. So the child was called Chandra Prabhu.


This sculpture pictured below is a male figure, obviously of the “sky-clad” Digambar sect. Ascetics in the Digambar tradition do not wear any clothes. The red color is from many hands rubbing these red sandstone sculptures for good luck. They have been rubbed so often that the sandstone is polished. They rub the female figure more, but this man’s genitals get some rubbing, too.


The fine Chandraprabhu, in the central chamber of the temple.

Nicely carved pillars.


Another Chandraprabhu.


The outside walls of the central chamber. These do not have all the carved figures of the previous temple.


A carving of someone holding up the temple walls.


Shri Parsva Nath ji ka Mandir

The third temple we visited is dedicated to Lord Pārśvanātha, on whose head a thousand-headed serpent with its hood has made a canopy. It is believed that the deity allays all anxieties.

The Parswanath Temple is a beautiful Jain temple. The walls of the sanctum are carved with animal and human figures.

A toran, ornate archway, at the entrance to the temple. This is one of the temple’s most famous structures, intricately carved from top to bottom. It is probably the most ornate of its kind in Rajasthan.


The round space in front of the main alter.


Another carved ceiling. This one is painted, too.


The dome is decorated with twelve sets of dancers held up by some kind of strong male figure.


Pārśva or Pārśvanātha (c. 877–777 BCE) was the twenty-third Tirthankara of Jainism. He is the earliest Jain leader accepted as an historical figure. His symbol is a snake. He is always depicted with a hood of snakes. Per Wikipedia:

Pārśva was the son of King Aśvasena and Queen Vāmā of Varanasi. He belonged to the Ikśvaku dynasty. He lived as formal prince of Varanasi and at the age of thirty, he renounced the world to become a monk. He meditated for eighty-four days before attaining Kevala Jnana. He achieved mokṣa at the age of one hundred atop Shikharji, which is known today as “the Parasnath Hills” after him. Pārśva was called purisādāṇīya “beloved of men”, a name which shows that he must have been a genial personality. He remains beloved among Jains.

When he was a prince he saved a serpent that had been trapped in a log in an ascetic’s fire. The snake, later reborn as Dharana, the lord of the underworld kingdom of the nāgas, sheltered Pārśva from a storm sent by a demon.

Pārśva is the most popular object of Jain devotion. He is closely associated with compassion, although he is free from the world of rebirth like all Tirthankaras and therefore unable to aid his devotees personally. Jainism teaches that people have to help themselves to achieve mokṣa.

It is this sheltering from the storm that is symbolized by his hood.


Carol walking through two rows of carved columns.


The interior space, a pillared hall. Pretty fantastic!


The carving on the exterior of the inner chamber.


I am not sure what this represents. He looks happy, though.


A Ganesh figure carved into one of the pillars.


A female dancer figure, maybe an Apsara.


Going out under the entry toran, we stop to take a closer look at the carving.


At the top of the column are male-looking strong figures, seeming to hold up the structure above the column.

Below these, on outside faces of the columns, are beautiful Apsaras, backs bent, gracefully reaching up.


I think finger cymbals are in her upper hand. Notice that structure on the diagonal in the lower left of the photo, how this carved stone looks almost lacy. Such fine carving!


The lower Asparas are bent, as if carrying more weight. They carry it with grace and a smile.


Even though they are high up on their toes!


These Jain temples in Jaisalmer fort were amazing, so well done! Very much worth the visit.

And for me the writing about the Jains has been exciting. I feel like their history has helped me reach back deep into the ancient Indian past. I learned so much in researching for this article! I am even more grateful for these temple visits since they stimulated my interest in and understanding of ancient Indian history, maybe that reaches back through time to the start of the agricultural times and the earliest development of culture this brought with it.

And I felt like I uncovered the roots of my own spiritual “tradition” that is essentially the personal, individual investigation within to see beyond the changing thoughts to That which never changes, and is my real identity, always.


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