We crane our necks and squint. It is noon and the Sun is glaring down upon us, blurring our vision. The harsh stare of the Sun camouflages the details of the towering structure into a curtain of black. We are near the gates of Hutheesingh Jain Temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat— the most impressive Jain temple in the city.
Gujarat is home to a large number of Jains. In Ahmedabad, most of the Jains follow the svetambara school of thought. Wherever the Jains went, they took up the language, dressing and culture of the area. This enabled them to maintain their distinct way of living without getting assimilated with other religions. The Gujarati Jains mostly migrated from Northern and Eastern India. One of the holiest of Jain sites is Shatrurjaya Hills near Bhavnagar which is located 240 kilometres south west of Ahmedabad. It has 980 Jain temple complexes each having multiple temples of the 24 Tirthankaras.
Entering through the gate, as we go closer to the towering structure, darkness recedes and colours emerge. The 78 feet Mahavir Stambha is the latest addition to the sprawling temple courtyard. In architecture, it resembles the Vijay Stambha within Chittor Fort in Rajasthan. Some of the artistry showcased in the tower portrays an Islamic influence from the Sultanate period.
The outer facade of the temple is grander than the tower. Hutheesingh Jain Temple was completed in 1848 by Sethani Harkunvar, the widow of Seth Keshar Singh Hutheesingh, in remembrance of her husband who was a wealthy merchant. The temple is dedicated to the 15th Jain Tirthankara, Lord Dharamnath. Photography is prohibited inside the temple. Devotees and visitors have to remove their footwear before entering the temple premises.
The edifice is a song in sandstone. The intricate carvings on the temple facade’s pillars, pilasters and walls arrest us. Built in yellow sandstone sourced from the nearby areas of Gujarat, the temple is teeming with tales on its panels. Yellow sandstone is more brittle than red sandstone making sculpting on it a difficult affair. The scaffoldings around a portion of the temple attests to a practice found in all the Jain Temples— they are all an ever-ongoing construction.
Inside the temple premises the afternoon Sun partially lights up the porch festooned by wavy torans. Symbolically, passing under a toran is considered auspicious in both Hinduism and Jainism. The shaft of light builds a cosmic aura. The central sanctorum is girded by 54 smaller temples with 24 repetitive idols of Tirthankaras. The corners are decked with Persian inlay work often found in the Islamic establishments.
The sanctorum is chiselled with motifs of apsaras, musicians, reptiles, mammals, birds, repetitive geometrical designs, and semi-nude women singing, dancing and getting ready in a sola shringar way, in praise of God. Figures of lions and elephants support the pillars. Demons hold torans in their mouth. Stony petals of lotus unfurl on the ceiling. Jasper inlays glisten in the crevices of the shrine. Persian vases, chandeliers and incense burners enhance the divine atmosphere. 6 Tirthankaras rest in the basement of the temple. The idols are not to be looked directly but only through the reflection in a mirror. A lamp has been burning in the basement for the last 170 years. Ironically, the Gujarati Jains are so rich that most of them have deviated away from the business of worship. The Jain temples often end up hiring Hindu pujaris to conduct religious rituals and ceremonies.
In the 54 smaller temples which are adjacent to the common porch, the Tirthankaras sit on a platform with a small square in the centre. The squares have animal patterns etched over them— one of the distinguishing features of the idols of the Tirthankaras here. The idol of Lord Parsvanath is identifiable due to the presence of a snake hood. The influence of Islamic architecture is also seen in the exquisite lattice work. On the crest of the temples, Jain flags flutter in the breeze— but there is something unusual— the flags hang down vertically with a white stripe in the middle.
Capturing the elegant temple complex forever in the camera of our eyes we left for our next destination.
Have you been to Hatheesingh Jain Temple in Ahmedabad? How was your experience? Do you have stories to share from your Jain temple visits elsewhere? Are you a Jain who can add some valuable insight in this article? Comment below and let me know!
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