Osian is famous as home to the cluster of ruined Brahmanical and Jain temples dating from the 8th to 11th centuries. The city was a major religious centre of the kingdom of Marwar during the Pratihara dynasty. Of the 18 shrines in the group, the Surya or Sun Temple and the later Kali temple, Sachiya Mata Temple and the main Jain temple dedicated to Lord Mahavira stands out in their grace and architecture.The town was dominated by the Oswal Jains, (a merchant class) both commercially and demographically. Here the Oswal Jain built their temples of stunning quality. Along with Jain temples you will also find superb Hindu temples dedicated to various Hindu gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Surya the sun god and Harihara (the union of Vishnu with Shiva) making Osiyan a truly secular centre. In all there are 16 Hindu and Jain temples of exquisite quality. Sad to say that Osiyan’s glory is a thing of the past and today the place resembles a ghost town with most of the people having migrated to greener pastures.
Osiyan has as many as 15 Jain temples, the most spectacular of which is the Mahavira temple dedicated to the 24th and last Jain Prophets. The temple was built around 775 A.D. and other smaller shrines were added on to the complex till about the 15th century. Osiyan has great relevance for the Jain community because the Oswal Jains originated in Osiyan and derive their name from the town. The Oswals were a rich trading community and they donated generously for the construction and upkeep of their temples. The torana or the entrance to the temple complex, which was constructed in 1015, has beautiful maidens carved on it, which is perhaps not very conducive to prayer and is quite untypical of a Jain temple. The roof is superbly ornamented and dates back to the 11th century. The temple complex sits atop a terrace and is built in sandstone. The Mahavir temple, the prima donna among the Jain temples has an inner sanctum and three balconied windows. The main mandapa (temple porch) has beautifully ornate pillars and the second porch or nal mandapa was built laterand you can see the stylistic development. The original spire of the temple got broken and was rebuilt in the 11th century.
The smaller Jain temples have a fair degree of uniformity as far as design and style go, differing only as far as the detailing of the figures are concerned.
The Sachiya Mata Temple
Originally built in the 8th century, the existing temple complex however dates back tpo the 12th century. Sachi Mata is better known as Indrani, the consort of the rain-god Indra who according to legend married her for her voluptuousness. The Sachiya Mata temple complex can be entered through a series of magnificent toranas or arches, which are superbly sculpted. The main shrine was constructed circa 1178, and the two other temples in the complex, namely the Chandi KaMandir and the Amba Mata Mandir.
The temple complex was built in several phases since the 12th century, and is known for its beautiful images and sculptures of Hindu deities. At the north-end of the complex there is a marvellous sculpture of Varaha (The boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu), while to the east there is an image of Vishnu with his consort Lakshmi. To the west is a stone slab jutting out of the walls, which are full of sculptures, while the wide arches at the entrance completely cover the towers of the temple and are ornately decorated. The towers called urusringas were added on in the 12th century and the temple has remained unchanged since then. All in all the Sachiya Mata Temple complex, and the other temples in Osiyan are probably some of the most beautiful temple complexes, not just in Rajasthan, but quite possibly comparable to any other in the north of the country.
The Surya or the Sun Temples at Osiyan are very similar to the Sun Temple at Ranakpur, and again by sheer coincidence, they are similarly ignored. However the Britisher Percy Brown, who wrote the monumental work in 1942 called Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu Periods) described the 10th century temple Surya Temples "in some respects as the most graceful of the entire group." The sanctuary is characterised by an open-air mandapa (raised platform for performing weddings and religious ceremonies) and a tall curved tower.
The inner sanctum apart from containing a fine statue of sun-god Surya, houses sculptures of the elephant-god Ganesh and Durga the fiery goddess of war. The first of the Surya temples which dates back to the 8th century has been incorporated into the Sachiya Mata complex. The ceiling is dotted with images of serpents curled around lotus flowers and the friezes below portray the life-story of Krishna the blue-god. The entrance on the other hand is quite uninhibited, showing scenes of couples clutching each other in amorous embraces.
The Harihara temples are three in number, and are obviously dedicated to Lord Harihara, a deity which is the union of Shiva with Vishnu. Raised on huge plinths just as in Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, the temples are profusely sculptured, virtually in every nook and corner of the temple complex. In the Harihara temples, it is quite noticeable that the architecture is far more advanced than some of the other temples in Osiyan, especially the complexity of its porch pillar sculptures. The first two Harihara temples were built in the 8th century, while the third was built in the 9th century. As far as the first temple is concerned much of the ornamentation has been damaged, and the only thing which stands out is the beautiful archway and the porch columns of the shrines.
The second temple complex houses statues of the lion incarnation of Vishnu called Narasimha, along with a splendid sculpture of Lord Harihara. The temple has an open-air mandapa and the terrace has beautifully carved floral motifs, and the ceiling is embellished with looped snakes. The third of the temple complexes was the last to be built, and the outer walls are decorated with picturesque friezes from the story of Lord Krishna the blue-god. On either side of the entrance are statues of river goddesses and the columns are finely chiselled. The temple is topped by a marvellous dome decorated with miniature figures and scrollwork.
Pippala Devi Temple
Dating back to the early 9th century like most of the temple complexes the temple has an open-air mandapa, with well stretched out balconies, part of which is still preserved. The Pippala Devi temple is characterised by splendid columns, however they have been substantially damaged with the passage of time. The Pippala Devi is one of the minor temples in Osiyan, and the main feature of the complex which still exists is the large sabhamandapa (assembly hall) with thirty pillars which dates back to the 10th century.
The Shiv temple is an excellent illustration of the architectural splendour of the temples found in the Marwar region. The Shiv temple is noted for its superbly carved pillars and embellished with vase and floral motifs, which is fairly typical of Hindu religious architecture. The ceilings of the temple are very imaginatively conceived and decorated with lace like motifs. As the great Shiva is often depicted as a Maha Yogi or ‘Great Yogi’, many of the paintings on the temple walls depict him in various yogic postures which presents a fascinating sight. If you drop by Osiyan do not omit the Shiv temple from your itinerary- it is a must-see temple.
Built in the late 9th century the Vishnu temple is unfortunately a little bit worse for wear with the passage of time. The tower in the shrine has been unfortunately damaged, but the most striking feature of the shrine is the wonderfully carved columned mandapa (raised platform for performing weddings or religious ceremonies). The balcony, which is an adjunct of the mandapa is decorated with figures of various Hindu deities, and it has a lot of foliate ornamentation as well. Nearby is located a Baori or stepwell, while about a kilometre away from the Vishnu temple is a Ganesh Pillar in honour of the son of Shiva, also called the elephant-god because he had the head of one.
Osian (Osiyan) is an ancient town located in the Jodhpur District of Rajasthan state in western India. It is an oasis in the Thar Desert, 65 km north of the district headquarters at Jodhpur, on a diversion off the main Jodhpur – Bikaner Highway.
The nearest airport is at Jodhpur. National Highway 11 passes through Osian. Osian Railway Station is situated on the Jodhpur – Phalodi line of North Western Railway