India: the Jain temples
of Ranakpur

What? 
A stunning set of white marble temples dedicated to one of India's home-grown religions.

Why visit? 
Most people think India is a Hindu country.

And most people think Rajasthan is a land of royal palaces.

While both notions are not necessarily wrong, Ranakpur shows a different side of India, the most elaborate and stunning temples of India's home-grown Jain religion.

If you like white marble, and if you like carving, you've come to the right place. If you don't like either... well, maybe you should skip this Minor Sight.

Where? 
In Rajasthan, halfway between the oft-visited cities of Udaipur and Jodhpur. Map.


THE NOTION OF Rajasthan being Hindu, desert, and royal is proven entirely wrong in Ranakpur which has the most elaborate Jain temple in the world, is very green, and has no royal palace.
'Jain'? I hear you ask? 'What's a Jain?' Jainism is an Indian religion with about 4 million followers- a tiny minority compared to the one billion Hindus but one that punches well above its weight, at least in the temple department.

As a religion, it is fairly extremist- but in a good way. Dedicated to non-violence against all living beings, Jain priests famously cover their mouths with cloth to prevent little critters from flying in.

Most Jains are radical vegans, avoiding even root vegetables lest little insects get harmed when they are pulled from the soil. And it's common for Jains to cover water taps at home to prevent little creatures from being accidentally swallowed. (Given India's precarious domestic water supply, not swallowing tap water altogether is probably a better way to avoid accidental ingestion of germs and other microbes.)
Jain priest with mandatory mouth accessory. 
Rajasthan (as well as Gujarat) is a major center for Jainism and in the 15th century the local king was hoping to pay off his sins by sponsoring the construction of what would become the most elaborate Jain temple in India.

No expense was spared- the whole complex is built from white marble, and it is so intensely carved that it looks like half the contemporary population of India must have been hacking away at blocks of stone to achieve these ornamental results. There's enough marble to give the Taj Mahal, that other white marble extravaganza, a run for its money! But where the Taj oozes serenity through its simple graceful lines, Ranakpur temple blows you away like a nightmare on acid (but, again, in a good way.)
Riot in white. 
Minimalism is not a Jain trait. 
There are many superlatives- the number of pillars, the number of halls, the number of statues- in the end, the numbers don't matter. Just let yourself by drawn in by this marble hallucination and be mesmerised by the sheer ornamental overload. Minimalism was not invented in India after all.
Ranakpur sports about 2 million pillars- at least it seems that way. 
You will see priests (mouths duly covered) grinding sandalwood and giving tours- you'll also see a gazillion images of what looks like the Buddha but that, in fact are the Tirthankaras, the Jain teachers who have conquered the cycle of death and rebirth, and help their followers to do the same (come to think of it, that does sound a lot like Buddhism- most religions seem to be happy to steal with pride from other creeds.)


Jain priests discussing vegan recipes and other religious prescriptions. 
Getting there:
Ranakpur is conveniently located roughly halfway between Udaipur and Jodhpur. A car with driver is the best way to go; count on 3 hours from each of those two cities.

If you want to spend the night, the delightful village of Ghanerao with its ramshackle castle-cum-homestay is not far away.

Useful links:
Ranakpur Temple website

3 comments:

  1. The intricacies of art in sculpture captured well in the photos. But the way the finer details are explained in the text is just too professional to say the least.Mesmerisng details - BOTH. Enjoyed it & a big thanks team minorsights! Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have been there many times. Not planning to revisit in the near future though. Thank you🙏

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the article.

      Delete

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