Religion has always been an integral part of cultural tourism in India. The country has followers of almost every existing religion, which altogether depict its unity in diversity. One such religion that is followed here is Jainism, which was founded in the country itself. Divided into two sects – Digambara and Shwetambara, this religion is counted amongst the oldest ones across the globe. The true nature of Jainism lies in endurance, non-violence, body control and living on godly teachings of enlightened people of the past. For some, it is finding inner peace while for others, it could be the final liberation from worldly affairs.
Being the central location of this religion, India has several sacred sites, which are considered prime pilgrimages by its followers. Exploring these Jain shrines is a different experience, for every visit brings a change in the outlook of visitors who explore more than just relics, paintings, carvings and architectural beauty. No wonder, every year, all such places are visited by numerous travellers and devotees from different states of the country and abroad.
Jain pilgrimages in India are present almost in every corner of it, be it the coastal state of Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh – the heart of India. Dedicated to the revered Tirthankaras, these sites are held in high regard by the Jain community present all over the world. Some of these places house ancient Jain relics, manuscripts and sacred artefacts, which provide greater details about the religion and its inception. During my visit to various parts of India, I came across several pilgrimages of this religion, which left me amazed with their architecture and serenity. After have being visited almost every place of such type, I can list the top pilgrimage destinations for Jainism in India:
Palitana, located in Gujarat, is a famous Jainism site in the country where we get to see an astounding conglomeration of about 900 shrines on two mountain peaks. Built by various generation of Jainism followers over a period of a thousand years, this place is counted as one of the most venerated sites related to the religion. Some well-known shrines that people can visit while being here include Sampriti Raja, Chaumukh, Astapada, Kumarpal, Shri Adishwara, Vimalsha, Shahastrakuta and Bhulavani. It takes two hours to climb up, but once there, religious chores and beautiful surrounding landscapes bring the heart to a state of utter delight and peace.
Junagadh is famed as an important tourist spot for both Hindu and Jain devotees. Located at the foothill of the towering Mount Girnar, this place boasts beautiful landscapes, vast open skies and a plenty of religious sites. A flight of 9999 steps supposedly leads to the topmost temple on the mountain and serves as the focal point of an annual religious race. Temples of both Shwetambara and Digambara Jainism are located here, thus drawing devotees from both the sects of this religion. The architecture of these temples is reminiscent of the various periods that they belong to.
Chanderi is a frequented site as far as Jain pilgrimage is concerned. It is an important historic town in the Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh that boasts a number of significant locations. It was an erstwhile stronghold of the Parwar Jain community and a significant cultural centre for Jainism. Most of the Jain temples in Chanderi are concentrated in its older portion, which is known as Buddhi Chanderi. It houses a plethora of Jain temples, which date back to around 9th and 10th centuries. As such, this place sees huge gathering of Jain devotees from every nook and corner of the country. A number of small hamlets are present near the town that carry prominence as Jain religious sites.
As many know and acknowledge, Mount Abu is a widely-known hill station and pilgrimage destination in Rajasthan. It houses a number of magnificent Jain temples, which hold historic and archaeological significance. In fact, the Jain temples at Dilwara collectively serve as the nerve centre of Jainism in India and attract people from all over the world. The extraordinary architecture and splendid marble stone carvings of these temples inspire visitors to praise their grandeur. With a bit of more research about Dilwara temples, one would find that they were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. There are five stunning temples at this place that were built by Vastupal and Tejpal.
Sammed Shikhar, also called the Peak of Concentration, is one of the holiest places for Jains across the world. It is believed that 20 out of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras came here for the attainment of Nirvana. A shrine for each of these spiritual leaders is located atop this hill, making it a place of high religious reverence. The other name for this venerated site is Parasnath Hill that is derived from the name of the 23rd Jain Tirthankara. Surrounded by a dark forest called Madhuban, this hilltop is accessible by an arduous trek.
Khajuraho is a world famous tourist spot that is regarded as a significant pilgrimage destination for Jains and Hindus. As a matter of fact, the Khajuraho Group of Monuments is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also gets recognition as one of the Seven Wonders of India. Speaking about the place and its connection with Jainism, it houses several Jain temple built during the reign of Chandela kings. Most of the Jain temples at this site are in ruins now. Parshvanath Temple, Adinath Temple and Shantinath Temple are few of the shrines, which stand in a preserved state till date. Jain inscriptions can be seen on the walls of these temples, narrating facts about the Chandela period.
Mahudi, regarded as a Jain pilgrimage spot, is frequented by devotees throughout the year. The Mahudi Jain Temple in this village is undoubtedly its prime attraction. Established by a Jain monk named Buddhisagar Suri, this temple houses a marble idol of Padmaprabh – the 6th Jain Tirthankara. A separate shrine that houses the idol of Ghantakarna Mahavir Dev is also situated nearby. Devotees visiting the place offer sukhadi (a kind of sweet), which has to be consumed before leaving the temple premises.
Bhadreshwar is significant for Jains as it houses a number of ancient Jain temples. Known as Bhadrawati Nagari in ancient times, this place was a stronghold of Jain rulers, especially the Solankis. The group of temples in the town is collectively referred to as Bhadreshwar Jain Temple and flocked by numerous Jain devotees the year round. One of these shrines is known to shave an original Parshvanath idol, which dates back to 500 BC.
Shravanabelagola (also called White Pond of the Shravana) is an important Jain pilgrimage destination in the south of India. It is famous for the Gommateshvara Bahubali statue, which was established back in AD 978-993 and considered to be built under the patronage of the Western Ganga Dynasty. This imposing statue is regarded as one of the best works of sculpture from that period. It is believed that the great king Chandragupta Maurya died at this place, post his conversion into a Jain ascetic.
Ranakpur is a wonderful place to visit and be amazed by sculptured Jain temples. It is even more significant for people who follow Jainism for they get a rare chance to explore and appreciate the exquisite beauty and spirituality of this place. Established in the 15th century, these temples of Ranakpur are amongst the prime shrines of Jainism. Lord Adinath – the first Jain Tirthankara – is the presiding deity of the central Chaumukha Temple, which stands tall as an architectural marvel and has 29 halls along with 1444 distinctly carved pillars. Other temples in the region are dedicated to various Jain Tirthankaras and guardian deities of Jainism. Exemplary of brilliance in architecture, the Jain temples of Ranakpur are definitely worth appreciating for their beauty and grandeur.
India is abound with numerous pilgrimage sites related to Jainism. From ancient cave formations to modern shrines, there are a number of places where Jain followers come to worship. In short, the various Jain pilgrimage sites of India are bound to make travellers feel an aura of spirituality and compel them to appreciate the architectural excellence prevailing over different periods of time. Dedicated to various Tirthankaras and deities associated with the religion, these temples throw a light on the inception and development of Jainism through passing years. Holiday packages to such destinations also provide an opportunity to be a part of festivities and jubilations by getting along with people celebrating Navpad Oli, Paryushan Mahasparva and the birth occasion of Lord Mahavir.