The Jain Dilwara temples of India are located about 2½ kilometers from Mount Abu, Rajasthan's only hill station. These temples dating back from the 11th to the 13th century AD are world famous for their stunning use of marble. The five legendary marble temples of Dilwara are a sacred pilgrimage of the Jains. Some consider them to be one of the most beautiful Jain pilgrimage sites in the world & many even consider them architecturally superior to the Taj Mahal. The marble temples have an opulent entranceway. The simplicity in architecture may remind one that Jainism has always encouraged honesty and frugality. The temples are in the midst of a range of forested hills. A high wall shrouds the temple complex.
Although the Jains built some beautiful temples at other places in Rajasthan, some believe that none come close to these in terms of architectural perfection. The ornamental detail spreads over the minutely carved ceilings, doorways, pillars and panels is simply marvellous.
Dilwara Temples - Architectural Marvel
Mount Abu's chief claims to fame are the Jain temples architecture at Dilwara, about 5km from Nakki lake. The Dilwara temples were built during the age of Jain supremacy and are one of the finest Jain temples India has to offer. Many experts consider them architecturally superior to the Taj Mahal. The architecture is marked by carvings that are not just ethereally beautiful in form but are often presented in a highly poetic context. For instance, one of the marble nayikas (maidens) is depicted as having just emerged from her bath. Droplets falling from her long hair are shown being drunk by a swan sitting by her feet.
Exquisite Temple Carvings
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Jain temple architecture is its carvings. and that is an understatement. Wherever one looks, be it pillars, ceilings, walls and floors, Jain temples go to the extreme – and beyond it – when it comes to adorning their temples with the very stone they work with. Jain mythology, saints, gods and goddesses, monks, devotees or just good old religious motifs all find their way in a spectacular rendezvous in marble and rock. Each nook and corner of Jain temples are so diligently carved that it’s a wonder that the edifice was created out of plain stone. Carving is perhaps not the right word for Jain temples – chiselling would be more appropriate. Their fragile delicacy merged with an architectural lexicon is what constitues the basis of these amazing temples. Simply put, there is not an inch where one can place his hand and not encounter a spectacular frieze.
The Methodology of Carving
In the temples in Mount Abu even chiseling was put aside, and artisans adopted the sedulous task of thinning the marble into carved images, a worth noticing architectural splendor. This was done by gently scraping away the surface till a figure eventually emerged, so intricate and fine that it was intelligibly magnificent. This is the reason why the temples in Mount Abu and Ranakpur are said to be the finest Jain temples in the world.
Marvelous Architecture Splendor
The architectural vocabulary of the region included ornamental rendering of flowers and creepers. The portrayal of Yakshini Chakreshwari, the attendant deity of Adinatha (first Jain saint) is an integral part of the temple. Keeping with the prevailing aesthetic norms the figures have sharp facial features set in broad faces and narrow waists. The intricately sculpted arches here are of two types; one with regular wavy undulations and the other, which is seen in the Vimala Vasahi, with exaggerated curves. Two of these temples have been singled out by many experts as outstanding. These are the Vimala Vasahi built in 1031-32AD and Luna Vasahi built in 1230.
Five Unique Temples of Dilwara
There are 5 temples in all, each with its own unique identity. Each is named after the small village in which it is located. These are:
Vimal Vasahi (Shri Adi Nathji temple) dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankar lord Rishabh.
Luna Vasahi (Shri Neminathji temple) dedicated to the 22nd Jain Tirthankar lord Neminatha.
Pithalhar (Shri Rishabha Devji temple) dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankar lord Rishabh.
Khartar Vasahi (Shri Parshva Nathji temple) dedicated to the 23rd Jain Tirthankar lord Parshva.
Mahavir Swami (Shri Mahavir Swamiji temple) dedicated to the last Jain Tirthankar lord Mahavir.
The most famous of these are the Vimal Vasahi and Luna Vasahi temples.
Vimala Vasahi Temple
This Jain temple was built by Vimala Shah (variously described as a merchant and a minister of the Solanki ruler of Gujarat) to atone for his sins. This temple, dedicated to the first Jain tirthankar (fordmaker) Adinatha, involved a work force of 2,700 men and took a total of 14 years to complete at an exuberant cost, a worth noticing specimen of architectural splendor. Prithvipala, a descendant of Vimala, is also known to have added to the magnificent temple in 1150AD. The temple of Vimala is supposed to the oldest and the most `complete’ example of Jain temple architecture. The rather simple façade hides an amazingly beautiful interior.
The entrance to the temple is from the east through a domed porch which leads to a six-pillared pavilion with a three-tiered smosan (a conventional representation of the holy mountain of the Jains) in the center. The smosan is surrounded by 10 statues including that of the founder Vimala and his family, each seated on a beautiful elephant chiseled out of a single block of white marble, about four feet high. These representations are now badly defaced, having been destroyed by plundering zealots.
The Shrine of Jina Adinatha
From the pavilion one passes into a secluded courtyard. Here the temple resolves itself into a colonnade which forms an open arcade containing the shrine. Seated in the center of this shrine is the cross-legged seated figure Jina Adinatha, to whom the temple is dedicated. The entire interior architecture is leniently covered with elaborate carvings, but the splendour of the domed ceiling of this hall is what sets it apart from all others. Percy Brown, in his book Indian Architecture: Buddhist and Hindu Period, details the profusion of imagery that went into this ornate ceiling: "This dome is built up of 11 concentric rings, five of which, interposed at regular intervals, depict patterns of figures and animals…The lowest contain the forefronts of elephants, their trunks intertwined, as many as a 150 of these in close ranks. A few mouldings above is another border representing images in nichés, also repeated many times, and again over that a similar course of dancing figures. This is followed higher up in the concavity by a series of horsemen, finishing in the topmost storey with more figures engaged in an endless dance. Between these various figured courses are ornamental repeats, gradually becoming more pronounced until towards the apex they culminate in a grouping of pendants not like festoons of foliage suspended from the high trees of a forest." Superimposed upon all this, athwart the outer concentric rings, are 16 brackets that easily catch the eye. Each of these is a female figure, representing a Vidyadevi, or goddess of knowledge.
Luna Vasahi Temple
The temple of Luna Vasahi dedicated to the 22nd Jain saint Neminath, was built two centuries later by two brothers, Tejpala and Vasupala. The inscription in this temple, however, ascribes its erection and endowment to Tejpalaa in memory of his brother. The inscription records that it was consecrated in 1230AD. This temple, though slightly smaller than Vimala Vasahi, illustrates further efflorescence of the style, accompanied by a richer elaboration of decorations. The doorways are framed by ornate bases, and the eight pillars of the assembly hall are loftier and of different types. In some places the marble is so finely carved that it seems translucent. The highlight is again the ceiling with magnificently carved figures of dancers, animals, mythological figures and processions of horsemen. From the center of the ceiling hangs a clustered and finely carved marble pendant. It is said that its artisans were told to make the pendant the only one of its kind, and were offered the weight of their marble shavings in gold. The more intricately they chiseled out the marble the more weight the scales got, making the artisans richer with each shaving.
Other Temple Attractions
There are two other temples in the complex, dedicated to Parshavantha and Adinatha. The Chaumukha temple, built in 1459, is the tallest and is notable for its pillared mandapa (hall). The Sri Risha Deoji temple is unfinished and has a huge 4.3 ton brass statue of a saint made of panchadhatu (five metals – gold, silver, brass, copper and zinc).
This temple was build by Bhima Shah, a minister of Sultan Begada of Ahmedabd. A massive metal statue of Rishab Dev (Adinath), cast in five metals is installed in the temple. The main metal used in this statue is 'Pital' (brass), hence the name 'Pittalhar'. The Shrine consists of a main Garbhagraha, Gudh mandap and Navchowki.
This temple, dedicated to Lord Parshavnath was built by Mandlik and his family in 1458-59 A.D. It consists of a three storied building, the tallest of all the shrines at Dilwara. On all the four faces of the sanctum on the ground floor are four big mandaps. The outer walls of the sanctum comprise of beautiful sculptures in gray sandstone, depicting Dikpals, Vidhyadevis, Yakshinis, Shalabhanjikas and other decorative sculptures comparable to the ones in Khajuraho and Konark.
Mahaveer Swami Temple
This is a small structure constructed in 1582 A.D. and dedicated to the 24th Jain Tirthankara, Lord Mahaveer. There are pictures on the upper walls of the porch painted in 1764 A.D. by the artists of Sirohi.
For the people who come to perform puja here, there are facilities to bathe and get ready. The facilities use passive solar power to heat up the water for bathing and other things. There are guided tour hours for tourists which are posted outside the temple. You might see occasional monkeys looking for food outside the temple area.