Article: Mount Śatruñjaya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Association with holiness

The hill of Shatrunjaya has been sacred for centuries. The holy nature of the site has three main foundations. Any place associated with one of the 24 Jinas is considered sacred and the same is true of places connected with significant people in Jain religious belief and legend.

These associations have been made concrete over the years in the form of shrines and relics honouring the Jinas and holy individuals. In addition, advanced spirituality is found in the physical landscape. This holiness bestows supernatural powers on parts of nature such as trees and ponds.

Jinas and holy people

This detail of a manuscript painting shows the first Jina Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha as an infant with his mother Marudevī. The births of Jinas are usually depicted in this way in Jain art.

Marudevī and the baby Ṛṣabha
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

According to the Jain tradition a number of mythical figures reached final emancipation on this hill. The main ones are:

Numerous mythical kings, princes and ascetics are also associated with Shatrunjaya. Their names and stories are told in writings connected with the place. One of these important figures is Marudevī, the mother of the first Jina. She seems to have been worshipped there since the 12th century if one relies on what the Jain monk Hemacandra writes. Four images of her are found today on the hill. More generally, many legendary figures who were contemporaries of the first Jina journeyed to Shatrunjaya. Many heroes spent some time on the hill in a period of spiritual progress. Several of them are contemporaries of Neminātha or Lord Nemi, the 22nd Jina, and his cousin Kṛṣṇa.

In addition, Shatrunjaya is said to have been visited by many Jinas, who preached there. Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti, the 16th Jina, is said to have spent eight rainy seasons meditating there.

Hence the place is an embodiment of sacredness, which deserves to be called ‘King among Holy Places’ – Tīrtha-rāja or Tīrthādhirāj – or ‘King of Mountains’ – Giri-rāj.

Both on the way to the top of the hill and on the two summits, there are physical reminders of all the main figures connected with the site. These individuals are represented as images housed in shrines of various sizes or in the form of footprints – pādukās. There are, for instance, several images of Ṛṣabha, his first disciple Puṇḍarīka and so on.

Sacred landscape

Mountains and high places are believed to have great spiritual qualities in Indian culture generally. Supernatural acts carried out there are enhanced and the high places also draw part of their magical powers from such miracles. The whole hill of Shatrunjaya has many supernatural qualities that pervade the landscape. The hill abounds in tens of:

  • sacred trees
  • fountains or reservoirs – the pure waters of which can cure illness
  • stones that are supposed to be more or less magic.

Such features partly explain the association of Shatrunjaya with tales of the legendary wizard Nāgārjuna, who is said to have performed miracles and alchemy on the hill. Nāgārjuna was supposedly the pupil of a sage called Pādalipta, which, tradition states, is the origin of the name ‘Palitana’.

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