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Jain Temple complex of Shatrunajaya

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Surendranagar, India.

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While the majority of pilgrimage places in India are sacred to the Hindus, there are holy sites of other religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Islam. A religion and philosophy native to India, Jainism was founded in the 6th century BC by the sage Mahavira. Born in 599 BC, Mahavira began the life of an ascetic at the age of twenty-eight. After years of meditation he attained enlightenment and thereafter taught until he died in 527 BC.

Jainism, which does not espouse belief in a creator god, has as its ethical core the doctrine of Ahimsa, or non-injury to all living creatures, and as its religious ideal the perfection of human nature, to be achieved predominantly through monastic and ascetic life. According to Jain beliefs, their faith is eternal and has been revealed through the successive ages of the world by twenty-four Tirthankaras. The word Tirthankara, a title given to the (mostly mythical) enlightened sages of Jainism, means 'ford maker' and indicates a being or deity who has bridged, or forded, the mundane and spiritual worlds and can thereby assist human beings in the same realization. Similar to the Avatars of Hinduism, the Tirthankaras instruct and inspire humankind while protecting the world from demonic forces. Like the Hindu Avatars, the Jain Tirthankaras have also sanctified specific places on the earth by their birth, great miracles or attainment of enlightenment. Those places where the Tirthankaras and other holy persons have attained Nirvana are called Siddha-kshetra. The primary Siddha-kshetras are the five sacred mountains of Shatrunajaya in Gujarat, Girnar in Saurashtra, Sametshikhara in eastern Bihar, Mt. Abu in Rajasthan, and Astapada, a mythical mountain of the center of the universe.

Shatrunajaya, meaning the 'Place of Victory', is considered the most holy of the Jain sacred mountains because nearly all of the Tirthankaras are believed to have attained nirvana while meditating atop the mountain. Rising 2000 feet above the town of Palitana, the rounded peak is capped with a complex of 863 beautiful temples. While some of the temples are as old as the 11th century (the religious use of the site is far older), most date from the 1500's after Muslim invaders had destroyed the earlier shrines. Within the ornately fashioned temples are hundreds of exquisitely sculpted marble statues of the twenty-four Tirthankaras. These statues are the supreme object of Jain veneration and, while they may be worshipped by some uneducated Jains, they are philosophically intended as objects for inspiration rather than worship.

Shatrunajaya is the scene of a great pilgrimage festival on the full moon of each Karttika (October-November). Groups of pilgrims from all over the country flock here, and part of the celebration consists of processions carrying huge pictures of the sacred mountain through the streets of Palitana.

More on the Jain Temple Complex of Shatrunajaya.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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