The Palitana temples of Jainism are located on Shatrunjaya hill by the city of Palitana in Bhavnagar district, Gujarat, India. The city of the same name, known previously as Padliptapur, has been dubbed “City of Temples”. Shatrunjaya means a “place of victory against inner enemies” or “which conquers inner enemies”.
This site on Shatrunjaya hill is considered sacred by Svetambara Jains. It is said that 23 of 24 Jain Tirthankaras, except Neminatha, sanctified the hill by their visits. There are approximately 863 marble-carved temples on the hills spread mostly in nine clusters, some being vast temple complexes, while most small in size. The main temple is dedicated to Rishabhanatha, the first Tirthankara; it is the holiest shrine for the Svetambara Murtipujaka sect. The main temple is reached by stepping up 3500 steps. Along with Shikharji in the state of Jharkhand, the two sites are considered the holiest of all pilgrimage places by the Jain community. Jains believe that a visit to this group of temples is essential as a once in a life time chance to achieve nirvana or salvation.
Interestingly, Hingraj Ambikadevi (known as Hinglaj Mata is considered as the presiding deity of the hill, who is a Hindu Goddess worshiped mostly in Baluchistan province of Pakistan, Sindh province, Kucth and Saurashtra provinces of Gujarat state, and near by regions. Also, on the summit, there is a shrine of a Muslim saint by name Angar Pir who is reported to have protected the temples during Muslim invasions in early 14th century. As the temple-city was built to be an abode for the divine, no one is allowed to stay overnight, including the priests.
Shatrunjaya means a “place of victory against inner enemies” or “which conquers inner enemies”. There are 108 names of Shatrunjaya but only some of them are in common use.
The Gulf of Cambay is to the south of the Shatrunjaya Hills, and Bhavnagar city is to the north of the hills with the Shetrunji River flowing in between. The temple complex on the hills is located 56 kilometres (35 mi) southwest of Bhavnagar. Palitana, a town in the foothill is 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) away. The Palitana town is at an altitude of only 66 m (217 ft). The Palitana Temples are situated at the twin summits and the saddle linking them. The summit is situated at an elevation of 7,288 feet (2,221 m). Reaching it involves climbing over 3,750 stone steps. The temples remain closed for the devotees during the monsoon season.
It takes approximately two hours to make the 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) climb. There are multiple routes. The shortest one goes around the outer walls of the temples on the hilltop and passes Angar Pir, the shrine of a Muslim saint who is reported to have protected the temples during Muslim invasions. A second route goes around the foot of the mountain. Elderly pilgrims who cannot climb the stairs are carried on a doli (swing chair) carried by porters and charged based on the pilgrim’s weight.
A large number of pilgrims take part in a third route in the month of Phalguna (February/March), which passes five sacred temple sites over a distance of 45 kilometres (28 mi).
From the top of Shatrunjaya are views of the Shetrunji river and the rugged, drought-affected landscape. The narrow streets or lanes in the temple complex are similar to the ones found in the medieval cities of Europe. The high walls surrounding the temples give the appearance of a fort. Important features include the Ashok tree, the Chaitra tree, Jaytaleti, four-faced idol of Mahavir, Hingraj Ambikadevi (known as Hinglaj Mata, the presiding deity of the hill, worshiped by Hindus), Kumarpal, Vimalshah and Samprati.
According to the Shatrunjaya Mahatmya, the first Tirthankara Rishabha sanctified the hill where he delivered his first sermon. It was his grandson Pundarika, grandson of Rishabha who received salvation at Shatrunjay, hence the hill was originally known as “Pundarikgiri”. Bharata Chakravartin, the father of Pundarik and half-brother of Bahubali, also came to Shatrunjaya many times. He is also credited with building a temple here in honour of his father Rishabha. Legendarily it is also associated with many other Tirthankaras.
The Palitana temples were built over a period of 900 years starting in the 11th century. Kumarpal Solanki, a great Jain patron, probably built the earliest temples. It is said that sculptors’ skills and capacity to carve with abrasive cords (not tools) the intricate designs was paid on the basis of the marble dust that they had collected every evening after their hard labour. They were destroyed by Turkish Muslims invaders in 1311 AD, when the saint Jinaprabhasuri, who was then 50 years old, presided over the temples. Two years later, the rebuilding began. While some temple building activity took place under Samara Shah, it was only two centuries later that it picked up momentum, when in 1593, Hiravijayasuri (Chief of Tapa Gaccha) organized a major pilgrimage to this location to attend the consecration ceremony of the temple built for Rishabha by Tej Pal Soni, a merchant. Following this, there was proliferation of temples here.
Most of the temples which are now present date to the 16th century. In 1656, Shah Jahan’s son Murad Baksh (the then Governor of Gujarat) granted Palitana villages to the prominent Jain merchant Shantidas Jhaveri, a Svetambara Jain, in 1656, and subsequently when all taxes were also exempted that the temple town further prospered. It was brought under the control of the Anandji Kalyanji Trust in 1730 to manage not only Palitana temples but also many other temples of Svetambara Jains, since the Mughal period.
History also makes a mention that Lunia Seth Tilokchand, a merchant from Ajmer led a very large contingent of pilgrims to the Shatrunjaya temples when he heard that there were some disturbances at the Angarshah Pir on the hills. But he continued his pilgrimage and pleased the Pir by his offerings. This tradition is followed to this day by his descendents by offering an expensive cloth to cover the dome of the shrine.
The most important temples on the hill are those of Adinath, Kumarpal, Sampratiraja, Vimal Shah, Sahasrakuta, Ashtapada and Chaumukh. Some of them are named after the wealthy patrons who paid for the construction. Many of these temples are kept in “mint” condition with large donations provided by the rich Jain merchant community. Palitana was a princely state of India till it merged with India after independence in August 1947. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Rajpipla and Gohil Rajput clan.
Every devout Jain aspires to climb to the top of the mountain at least once in his lifetime because of its sanctity to attain nirvana. The code for the climbers is stringent, in keeping with the rigours of the Jain faith. Food must neither be eaten nor carried on the way. The descent must begin before it is evening, for no soul can remain atop the sacred mountain during the night. The Shatrunjaya hills are considered by many Jains to be more important than the temple-covered hills of Jharkhand, Mount Abu and Girnar.
On one special day (Fagun Sud 13), which commonly falls in February/March, thousands of Jain followers visit the temple complex to attain salvation. Three times as many pilgrims come at this time, which is also called “6 Gaon”. The special festival day is the “Chha Gau Teerth Yatra” at the temple complex held on Purnima day (Full Moon Day) of Kartika month according to the Jain calendar, Vira Nirvana Samvat (October–November as per the Gregorian Calendar). Jains, in very large numbers assemble on this day at the temple complex on the hills as it opens after 4 months of closure during the monsoon season. During this pilgrimage, considered a great event in the life time of devout Jain, pilgrims circumambulate the Shatunitjaya Hills covering a distance of 21.6 km on foot to offer prayers to Lord Adinatha on the Kartik Poornima Day at the top of the hill.
Mahavir Jayanti, the birthday of Mahavira, is a notable festival celebrated at the temple complex. A procession carrying images of the tirthankara is made in huge decorated chariots, concurrently accompanied by religious ceremonies in the temples. Rituals include fasting and giving alms to the poor.