Jain architecture : Epitome of discipline and focus

Jainism is one of the oldest religions originated in the Indian subcontinent. Though the modern history says that bhagvan Mahaveer (24th Tirthankar) established Jainism as we know it today, the Jains claims that it exists since the inception of the universe and it is eternal.

I was introduced to Jainism when I married in a Jain family. Jainism’s fundamental tenets are very simple hence very difficult to follow. Ahimsa (Non violence or non injury), Anekantavada (Many sided reality or truth),  Aprigraha (Non attachment) and finally Asceticism. These principles are common to Hinduism and Buddhism however Jainism has developed these doctrines into much concrete systems especially non violence and asceticism. Their food choices explain a lot about this. Jains are basically vegetarians however their eating regulations are highly evolved and specific in order to practice non violence as much as possible. Jains avoid eating roots,bulbs, leafy greens etc. They have specific rules regarding fasting, what to eat/not eat on certain lunar days. This sounds extremely tedious and obscure to an outsider however these regulations have a strong scientific base and honestly it is less uncomfortable than generally perceived. The religion itself in fact, is very scientifically developed to cater it’s fundamentals.

In the ancient times, Jains built temple cities over hills or mountains which they believed to be gateways to Moksha (liberation). These cities took decades and many generations to materialize.

Girnar jain temples complex

The architecture, heavily influenced by contemporary Hindu and Buddhist architectures, was still different and original in many ways. For example, in a Hindu temple the basic structure consists a sanctum and a hall where as a basic Jain temple has four faced open structure. Jain temples are mainly carved in stone and marble with negligible use of bricks. The structures are excessively, intricately and symmetrically carved. The dome, pillars, sanctum, metal fittings.. almost everything will be carved.

Dome of a jain temple
The dome of a Jain temple in Girnar. The dome, carved intricately has multiple layers at different levels. Outer layers tapering upwards where as the centermost piece tapering downwards. This is just one of the many hypnotizing domes from the temples’ complex.

Jains have temples but they don’t have gods. These temples are shrines to tirthankars (the enlightened and liberated men) who are spiritual teachers. Jainism focuses on inculcating the teachings by worshiping the teacher. This concept is again common to both Hinduism and Buddhism where teachers or gurus are equivalent to Gods.

Palitana Temple
This is a part of the main temple dedicated to bhagvan Adinath at Palitana. Jain temples have a lot of figures of Hindu/ancient Gods and goddesses, mythological creatures, nymphs, demigods etc.
Paliana temple complex
Intricacy and precision are inseparable aspects of Jain architecture style. There is huge variety in the sections formed by the maze of columns however they still are in harmony with each other.
Wishgranting banyan tree
This is carved in the ceiling at the Ranakpur temple, Rajasthan. It is believed that a wish made while standing beneath this structure is fulfilled. This represents a leaf of Kalpavriksha. 
Four faced or Chaumukh designs are common in Jain architecture. In these, the idol of a tirthankar has four faces – facing towards four cardinal directions. As opposed to the linear design of Hindu temples, jain temples developed four sided form, one of the reasons could be drawn from the metaphysical doctrines of Jainism, the concept of relativity in particular, or in other words, that there is no ‘one truth’.
the leading idea of the plan of the Jain temple is that of a number of columns arranged in squares. Wherever it was intended to have a dome, pillars were omitted, so as to leave spaces in the form of octagons. By corbelling over the pendentives in level courses, the dome was gradually formed. This is Ranakpur temple, Rajasthan. It is said that no two pillars in this temple are the same. There are total 1444 pillars in this temple.

The magnificent temples at Dilwara  are a must visit if you are around Mount Abu or Udaipur, Rajasthan. Unfortunately they don’t allow photography anymore however they are some of the most heavily carved, hypnotizing temples I have ever seen. The dome or ceilings have mind-boggling layered carvings which I would like to believe were carved as a part of meditation. The elements of these carvings – lotus, flower buds, petals, Kalasha and scenes from Jain mythology are said to be part of Yantras (machines) – a mystical diagram used as an aid for meditation and channelizing positive energies.

A dome at Ranakpur temple. At the heart of Jain architecture is discipline…the same principle that should be part of the lifestyle of a Jain.

Jain architecture is tasteful, magnificent, mind-blowing but above all it has a philosophy. Jain architecture, to me, epitomizes order and focus.

These photos were clicked at Palitana, Gujrat, Girnar Jain temples, Junagad, Gujrat and Ranakpur, Rajasthan.



  1. Stunning photographs

  2. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful images. They are interesting, as well, and have made me aware of something I’d not seen before.

  3. So beautiful, the patterns look great 🙂

  4. Very interesting response to this week’s challenge.

  5. Pingback:Order in Rows | What's (in) the picture?

  6. Pingback:Weekly Photo Challenge: Order | Lillie-Put

  7. Very nicely summarized.

  8. stunning architectural art! I’ve wanted to visit India and see those temples for myself since I first learned of them back in Jr High. 🙂
    Too bad they don’t allow photographs anymore.

    • Thank you! It is not allowed only at Dilwara temples. Everywhere else is allowed 🙂 nevertheless do visit them if you happen to be around that part of India ever.

  9. Wow. Amazing architecture. I am ashamed to say this as an indian that i didn’t know about these temples before.

    • There are a lot of Jain temple cities across India,usually pilgrims visit them. Most of them are ancient and worth a visit 🙂
      Thanks for your comment and interest!

  10. Beautiful photos 👍
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. Over the period of time, even Jains have started referring to Tirthankars as God, whereas they are not really God as you have pointed out. Jainism in true form is difficult to practice especillay Aparigraha which would in strict sense imply living a life of Sadhu!

    • I cannot agree more that the Jainism or Jains that we see today are adulterated with the ideas from other religions’ ritualistic practices as well as beliefs. I guess that’s the human nature. Believing in gods powers than your own is easier. Unfortunately it beats the whole theory of Jainism 🙁

      • Well, there are so many variations in Jainism by way of different sects and some are more closer to the original concept while others have diluted.

  12. Pingback:Mini memoir : Postcards from Girnar, Gujarat – The Wandering Sweet Potato

  13. Wow, these carvings are exquisite as are the temples. I know very little about Jains and Jainism and greatly appreciate your post for the increased understanding they give me. Your photos give me a sense, a feeling for the beauty of these places.

  14. Pingback:Ajanta And Ellora caves | The Wandering Sweet Potato | photo blog