The Jain Temple of Ranakpur
During our 16 months in India, I dragged Thomas from one temple to another. Yes, I have a bit of an obsession, a rather insatiable appetite for architecture… temples, mosques, churches, fortresses, walled cities… I can’t get enough. (Stop laughing! If I have to spend hours watching him photograph every bug between Hong Kong and Rajasthan, he can visit a few temples.)
Well, my somewhat obsessive quest took us to one of the Grand Daddies of Indian architecture, the Jain Temple of Ranakpur, a VERY small, one-kiosk town northwest of Udaipur. Considered one of the masterpieces of Jain architecture, the huge fortified temple opens up into a surprisingly large multi-storied structure containing a series of vaulted chambers supported by 1,444 pillars. Each pillar is carved with unique designs ranging from sensuous dancers to geometric patterns to fine floral motifs. If you have never seen Jain carving, you are in for a treat.
And it’s not just the pillars. The entire temple, also known as Chaturmukha Dharana Vihara, is truly a singular work of art. Built in the 15th century, every inch of the interior is covered in highly ornate carving. We found ourselves staring at panels on walls or the ceiling uttering over and over, “How on earth did they carve that? Did they have ten-inch fingers?”
Surprised that we hadn’t come on a daytrip and that we intended to stay overnight in the tiny town, the local Jains invited us back to the temple to participate in the evening prayers. At first we felt a little awkward intruding on their services, but curiosity and a desire to see the temple at night convinced us to take them up on their offer.
When we returned later that evening, the dark, candle-lit temple was echoing with drums, giant ringing bells, and Jain chanting. At first we hung back not wanting to disturb them, but we were quickly ushered up onto the altar platform in front of the large statue of Adinath and included in the service. We had no idea of what was going on, but smiling faces kept welcoming us and everyone seemed absolutely thrilled to have us there.
On a personal note, I just have to point out that we visited many Jain sites in India. In every location, we were welcomed with tremendous openness and kindness and were granted a great deal of access to see their beautiful art and architecture. (This was not always the case in other houses of worship.) But even compared to other Jain sites, the Jain Temple of Ranakpur went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. This is truly one of the most hospitable places we visited in India.
What’s more, when we visited, this phenomenal Jain temple allowed photography, so I can share it with you in the form of a 360 view!!!