Article: Jain holy places

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

New holy places

The Jain temple in Phoenix, Arizona in the USA, is called the Jain Center of Greater Phoenix. It was completed in December 2008 to a contemporary design.

Jain Center of Greater Phoenix
Image by Vijay J Sheth © CC BY-SA 3.0

Jains consider the creation of new sacred places as a manifestation of their presence and dynamism in India. In areas where they are numerous, they invest a lot of money in the erection of new temples, which become the focus of new holy places. This may be observed not just in India but in places around the world where the Jain diaspora has settled in some numbers.

Where the site owes its sanctity to the birth or death of a religious teacher, the connection with the past that is so essential in making a place holy clearly exists. Examples are Ladnun in Rajasthan and the Vallabh Smarak near Delhi.

Even so, there are holy places that are totally new. Mostly, their construction is motivated by a Jain mendicant, who asks his followers to invest in it and thus marks his presence. A recent example is that of Ayodhyapuram in Vallabhipur, in Gujarat, on the road from Ahmedabad to Bhavanagar. The temple here has a distinctly new shape. The main novelty is a gigantic seated statue of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, measuring seven metres tall and weighing 350 tonnes. Even in this case, a link with the past is claimed – the idea is to present the first Jina with the physical measurements given in the scriptures.

This is just one instance of the unfolding map of Jain geography. Increasing numbers of holy places in the 20th and 21st centuries show the unlimited creativity of Jains in finding new means to assert their presence in the Indian environment and beyond. Jains living outside India must reconcile the old with the new. Creating brand-new religious spaces requires strategies that do not necessarily connect a tīrtha with a Jina's life, but find other ways of making a place holy.

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