Article: Jain holy places

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Geographical distribution of sacred places

Kailāśā Parvata or Mount Kailash is a Himalayan mountain often believed to be equivalent to the mythical peak of Aṣṭāpada. A very holy place for Jains, Mount Aṣṭāpada is where Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, gained salvation

Location of Mount Kailash
Image by University of Texas © CC-PD-Mark

There are Jain sacred places all over India and it is impossible to list all of them here. Several illustrated books published in India by various Jain organisations or managing trusts describe them by state. Titles such as Jain Sacred Places of India generally provide basic geographical and practical information, with a few photographs of the temples and their main images. A look at such publications shows how extensive the lists of holy places can be.

The distribution of religiously significant places on Indian territory is linked with historical factors and Jains' periodic migrations or establishment of settlements.

The map of Jain sacred geography is continually changing, with hierarchies of temples and religious sites evolving over time. There are some places that boast local fame while others enjoy a supra-regional status and contribute to defining community identity.

Śvetāmbaras consider a group of five holy places – pañca tīrthas – to be the most prominent:

In the medieval period, strategies developed to expand the circuit of pilgrimage sites and to promote new places, as older ones became inaccessible, or to call attention to fresh places and new celebrations.

Eastern India

As the place where the last Jina, Mahāvīra, reached liberation, Pāvāpurī in the modern state of Bihar is an extremely sacred site. The Jal Mandir is a temple built in the middle of a lotus-filled lake, on the spot where Mahāvīra died

Path to Jal mandir at Pāvāpurī
Image by Panchawatkar © CC BY-SA 3.0

The eastern part of India, especially that area corresponding to the modern states of Bihar and Jharkhand, was where Mahāvīra was born, lived and taught. Some important holy places are connected with events in his life and in the lives of other Jinas.

For example, Pāvāpurī is the small place where Mahāvīra died. Every year it becomes a vibrant pilgrimage site at the time of the Dīvālī festival, which commemorates Mahāvīra's liberation. Sammet Shikhar – also known as Sammeta Śikhara – is the mountain where 20 out of the 24 Jinas attained nirvāṇa or mokṣa.

Western India

Temples on Mount Girnār overlook the city of Junagadh, Gujarat. One of the most famous Jain temple-cities, Girnār has temples built by both of the main Jain sects. It is sacred because the 22nd Jina, Lord Nemi, attained final liberation there.

Temples on Mount Girnār
Image by peteranddorota © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Several places holy to the Jains, some of them globally famous, are found in western India, an area where Jainism has always flourished. The Śvetāmbaras are dominant here and many sites are associated with this sect.

The best known sacred places are:

  • Mount Girnar
  • Mount Shatrunjaya
  • Mount Abu.

In eastern Gujarat, Mount Girnar is associated with Neminātha or Lord Nemi and is significant for both Śvetāmbara and Digambara sects.

Mount Shatrunjaya, near the village of Palitana in Gujarat, is considered the 'king of sacred places' – tīrthādhirāja – by the Śvetāmbaras. It is undoubtedly their most prestigious and famous tīrtha.

Found near the village of Delvara in southern Rajasthan, Mount Abu is famous for the marble temples erected there between the 11th and 13th centuries. This temple-city is an architectural jewel as much as a site of pilgrimage.

But there are many more holy sites in this part of India, such as Kumbharia, Taranga Hill, Sankheswhar, Kesariyaji, and Idar.

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