October 2013 : Girnar (Junagadh), Gujarat
After a terribly embarrassing episode of climbing the sacred Shatrunjay mountain of Palitana, Gujarat that involved me throwing up at a couple of places and crying hysterically at one point followed by poor attempts at hiding its aftereffects such as inability to move limbs, I declared to myself that I was not a pilgrim material.
But it hardly mattered what I told myself to retain my self respect. Because it turned out that it was the easier one of the two sacred mountains from the trip – the other one being the mighty Girnar mountain. I had a buffer time of a couple of days between the climbs to get back on my feet (literally). I prayed to all the Gods I knew to save me from further embarrassment in front of my new family. We had been married for just nine months then and it was my first trip with my family. The last thing I wanted was to look like a joke in front of them.
Climbing the sacred mountain
Junagadh and Girnar were last ones on our itinerary. We stayed in a Jain dharamshala (A pilgrim’s guesthouse) at the base of the mountain. This area was bustling with Hindu and Jain pilgrims. We spent most of the evenings here soaking in the hypnotic surroundings filled with resonating temple bells and smoke from incenses and holy fires lit across various tiny temples and shrines. In our guesthouse we met a lady who was staying there since a long time to perform some arduous religious procedures at the Jain temples on the mountain. She suggested us to reach the temples before the ‘Prakshal‘ (a ceremony when the Gods are bathed ritualistically with water, milk etc). According to her, that was one experience that one should not miss while visiting these temples. Taking her suggestion into account and time required to climb approximately 4000 steps to the temples, we started our hike around 5 AM in the morning. The mountain itself was shielding us from the sun light and the stairs were lined with a fairly dense green cover which made the climb much bearable.
The divine experience
We reached the temples well in time (in approx. 3.5 hours) without facing any ugly scenes. Upon reaching the temples, we were greeted with much love, respect and munchies by a temple authority. While my husband and father in law decided to grab a bite, I went inside the main temple only to realize that the Prakshal procedure was already in progress.
The priests were slowly pouring holy water mixed with sandalwood, rose petals, milk etc. on the idol, chanting slowly on the beats of nagada (a huge percussion instrument) accompanied by transcendental sound of Shankha. The aroma of burning camphor mixed with sandalwood incenses was piercing through my senses. The whole ambiance was so overwhelming that I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was in a euphoric state. This was a complete surprise because I am not a religious person. But something about the whole process including the music, the mystic smoke and the chanting was so divine that it touched my heart. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of a magical day.
The ancient Jain temples of Girnar are an architectural marvel. Their location, the design of the temples, the intricate carvings – everything about these temple is mind boggling. No amount of photos can do justice to them. One has to visit them to witness their magnificence.
Unfortunately, these beautiful temples are fighting a losing battle against time. Despite their religious importance they are maintained poorly. It really left me heartbroken to see them unappreciated by the pilgrims. The very fact that the God or godliness is not limited to the sanctum is yet to be understood by most of us. The artwork on these temples is nothing short of divine. Only blessed souls could accomplish something so magnificent. So whether you are a believer or not, Girnar jain temples should be on your must visit list if you are visiting Junagadh or anywhere in Saurashtra, Gujarat.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to check out Jain architecture : Epitome of discipline and focus