October 2013

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.

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.

On our way to the Jain temples at Girnar. The climb here is much steeper than Shatrunjay.

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.

Girnar is sacred to both Hindus and Jains. As per Jain mythology, Lord Neminath – the 22nd Tirthankar attained omniscience and moksha on this mountain. The main temple from this complex (the biggest one in the center) is dedicated to him where as there are around 15 other temples within the complex dedicated to other Tirthankars. It is said that there are aprox 866 Jain and Hindu temples and shrines spread over 5 summits of Girnar. This photo was clicked while climbing further to Ambaji temple.
Lord Neminath temple, Girnar houses the idol of Lord Neminath in black granite with jeweled eyes. This temple was built in 1128.
As you can see, not all the temples in the complex have a shikhara (A rising tower over sanctum which is a very common design in Hindu and Jain temple architecture). Some of the temples have domes covered with mosaics. Since Girnar falls in a semi desert region, it is not possible to obtain a good quality stone for the temples. various kinds of stones were imported from other regions including granite, marble, sandstone etc. for the construction. These stones, with constant exposure to heat and wind lost their luster. A new method was developed to preserve the temple roofs from decay by creating domical roofs and covering them completely in mosaics. This method came in practice around 20th century.
A couple of priests posing casually

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.

We also visited the Ambaji temple on the same mountain which is another 1000 steps flight from the Jain temples. One can see in the distance the Dattatreya peak which is a one way 10000 steps journey from the base.
Intricately carved pillars with figures of mythological celestial beings, Hindu Gods and goddesses, animals, relics etc. All Jain temples at Girnar are filled with such carvings from tip to toe – inside out.

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

Posted by:Madhura Doshi

An avid story lover, photographer and home chef. Loves cats , music, food and traveling.

14 replies on “Mini memoir : Postcards from Girnar, Gujarat

  1. The place looks so beautiful. And I know what you mean about being moved enough to cry. I am not religious either but some places have this mystic power. Felt that in Dwarkadhish, Somnath and Puri. None of which I had gone to willingly.

    beautiful pictures too.

    1. Thank you, Anubhuti! I consider it one of the perks of traveling. I am often moved or blown away at the most unexpected or underrated places. These experiences remind me to be as open minded as possible.

  2. Even though I’m not really into religious travel, I hope to visit Girnar someday. The architecture is beautiful. I’m surprised to find some elements in the temple similar to the ones in SE Asian temples. Interesting.

    1. Oh yes! They are amazing. As I said, whether or not you are religious they deserve a visit. You will definitely enjoy the architecture and history 🙂

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