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Dilwara Temples

A sacred pilgrimage of the Jains, the five legendary marble temples of Dilwara are an overwhelming, blend of simple beauty and exquisite elegance

The entrance to the legendary Dilware overwhelmed me. What overwhelmed me was not magnificence or majesty, nor the beauty or glamour, but its simplicity and unpretentiousness, for there was no gateway to write home about Reacing Dilwara that crisp and clear morning in January, my mind was crowded with those innumerable textbook lessons about the temples of Dilwara, the thirthankaras of Jainism, and marble architecture. Little wonder that I expected an opulent entranceway to these famous temples. This modest announcement of a much acclaimed architectural marvel of the 11th century A.D. reminded me of something A.L.Basham-the great historian-wrote in his book The wonder that was India. Basham said that Jainism as a religion “encouraged honesty and frugality.” Frugal it certainly seemed, I thought, as I removed my shoes and submitted the leather jacket of my camera at the counter.

The sun was bright and dazzling. Absent-mindedly rejoicing at the clear sky I stepped into the temple complex. What I saw was a far-cry from the stiff and clichéd prose from those unavoidable school books. There was a wide path of un-kissed marble to the left of which was an exquisite square and open temple with just a dome, no walls. I had read somewhere that there are five Shwetambara temples at Dilwara.

Raised from the ground like a stage, this building certainly had a story of its own- and it was all that the gateway was not. My rather strong willed guide told me that we would come back to this temple later and, knowing how important a chronological sequence is to history, I didn’t argue. He, however, designed to tell me that this was one of the five temples of Dilwara-Parsavanath, with the name sounding familiar, that much-cursed text-book of my childhood rose in my esteem- only infinitesimally of course.

Passing another small temple on our left we took a few steps to the right. Entering a shelter I turned to my left and what I saw left me speechless. Many months hence, I still feel at a loss while trying to give tangibility in words to that totally beautiful sight of the Vimal Vasahi which seemed like a sharp and luminous ray of light in the gloom of the pandaal where I stood. A description of its incredible loveliness would never hold a candle to that real sight. As my guide entered this temple with reverence and in silence, I was not surprised that this was the oldest-and the best!

That sight from the entrance was only an overture to what followed-a courtyard surrounded by pillars with a glorious bronze idol of
Adinath in the centrally built sanctum sanctorum. Knowing I couldn’t afford to just flit through the temple in my euphoria, I asked the guide to tell me about Vimal Vasahi.

The oldest amongst the five temples of Dilwara, this exquisite piece of architecture was constructed by Vimal Shah, completed in 1032 A.D. During the reign of Maharaja Bhimdev I, Vimal Shah was a minister and Commander-in-chief. The legend goes that exhausted by the massacres he had indulged in, Vimal Shah prayed fervently to Ambika Devi. When she appeared he had two requests to make of her, one for a son and the other asking for blessing to build a temple on Mount Abu. When the goddess instructed Vimal Shah to ask only one favour of her he conferred with his wife and decided he would rather build the temple, since a son could never be an immortalisation of his self.

It took 14 years to build the Vimal Vashai temple the marble was brought from Agasuri- a good 20 kilometres from Mount Abu-on elephant back. Stone worth two crores was brought. The life in this marble at Dilwara is incredible and the ceilings, the 48 pillars, doors and archways all have their own story to tell. As I looked about the eyes took in a myriad patterns, flowers, animals, sculptures of the tirthankaras, dancing figurines and idols of various gods and goddesses. With sun’s warn rays playing on the courtyard the Vimal Vasahi looked bright, lively and beautiful. The most incredible sculpturing I found on the toran and on the inner part of the dome, intricate carving which must have required such diligence.

Just opposite this most important of Dilwara’s temples is the elephant house which my guide took me to next. I saw there a statue of Vimal Shah on horseback behind which are sculptured ten bedecked elephants. Prithipal, belonging to Vimal Shah’s family, built this in 1147 A.D. such intricate sculpturing and fine art as I saw at Vimal Vashahi and the elephant house is certainly numero uno, and those images in marble are still with me, full of life.

My guide took me on to Lund Vasahi which was built by Vastupa! And Tejpal, ministers during the reign of Bhimdeo the Second. Luna Vasahi is very much like Vimal Vasahi, and is dedicated to the 22nd tirthankara Neminath.

The Luna Vasahi has some particularly beautiful sculptures of dancing figurines, each expressing a different mood. Such a mosaic of patterns and designs, each different, each so fascinating, was something that I hadn’t ever seen in stone anywhere.

The temple of Parsvanath which we had left for later stood proud and glistening. Also called chaumukhi(four-faced), the temple has four idols of Parsvanath facing the four directions. Simplicity characterizes this temple where one does not chance upon glamorous and refined sculpturing as seen in the Vimal Vasahi and Luna Vasahi.

So this was Dilwara, a historical pageant of many years and many stones, much sweat and much love. Dilwara, I must say, can never be comprehended by just reading about it-perception and appreciation is what Dilware is all about, a legend in marble.

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