Article: Mount Śatruñjaya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


Interior walls of the Āgam Mandir in Palitana, Gujarat, are covered with inscriptions of the 45 holy Āgamas of the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks. Agam Mandirs were invented in the 1940s to display scriptures for worship

Engravings of the Śvetāmbara Mūrtipūjak scriptures
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

As a major holy place for Jains, Shatrunjaya sees hundreds of thousands of pilgrims annually. To get to Shatrunjaya the visitor must first reach the small town of Palitana, which is on a vast plain. Since no one is permitted to stay overnight on Mount Shatrunjaya itself, pilgrims stay in the numerous rest-houses – dharma-śālās – built in the town over the last two centuries. The rest-houses line the main street, known as Taleti, but the lands behind have now started to become crowded with new buildings as well. They are usually equipped with dining halls for pilgrims – bhojana-śālās.

The number of these dedicated buildings amounts to a rather impressive infrastructure, without equal in other Jain holy places. Rest-houses of all levels of comfort are found. Some of them are luxurious and well appointed, hosting rich lay Jains settled all over India and abroad. Others are very basic places for pilgrims on a strict budget while many others cater for all levels of cost and comfort in between. The rest-houses are managed by regional communities of specific monastic orders. This is a significant factor when pilgrims select one rather than another.

Many temples are also found in Palitana and their number is always increasing. Two notable ones close to the bottom of the hill are:

  • the temple known as Āgam Mandir – ‘Temple of Scriptures
  • the temple containing a model of the continent of Jambū-dvīpa.

The former was constructed in 1942 at the instigation of the Śvetāmbara monk Ānandasāgara-sūri. The 45 scriptures recognised as authoritative by the Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pujak Jains are engraved on its walls. The second temple explains Jain cosmology in a pedagogical manner and justifies it in a polemical manner with posters.

At the end of Taleti is the official path leading up the hill. On the left side is the Jay Taleti Temple. In front of this temple, underneath it, the base of the hill is visible as a large strip of dark grey stone. A focus of worship for pilgrims before they start climbing the hill, it is regarded as representing the sacred hill itself. It is also considered a surrogate for Mount Shatrunjaya for those who are not strong enough to get to the peak. The top of the stone is covered with gold or silver paper and flowers scattered by devotees.

Visiting Shatrunjaya

Palitana and the hundreds of temples on Shatrunjaya are managed by the Ānandji Kalyānji nī peḍhī, one of the most prominent Śvetāmbara Jain Mūrti-pūjak trusts involved in the preservation and development of holy places. The site is strictly regulated, with the principal rules being that:

  • nobody is allowed to stay overnight on Mount Shatrunjaya
  • pilgrimages cannot be made during the rainy season
  • nothing made of leather or fur can be taken up the hill
  • visitors should enquire about the regulations on photography.

In effect, this means that all visitors have to come down before sunset and Shatrunjaya is accessible only from October to June.

Jain sacred places are usually high up and Shatrunjaya is no exception. Visitors must reach the top on foot or be carried in a kind of palanquin called a ḍolī. Though the path to the top is often steep, many pilgrims go barefoot. On the way up, visitors pass many shrines and holy spots, along with resting places.

There are two main centres of pilgrimage on the hill, which are frequently crowded. The southern summit is the site of the principal temple, the Adishvar Temple dedicated to Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first of the 24 Jinas. It is surrounded by smaller temples and shrines. The other chief pilgrimage destination is the ‘Nine Enclosures’. Many temples are found in these enclosures, which are scattered on the northern peak and the valley between the two summits. The other holy spots on the hill can be reached by following less-crowded paths.

Reaching the two summits

The steep path to the temples at Mount Shatrunjaya has around 4000 steps. Most visitors go on foot but those who are unable to climb so far can take a kind of palanquin – ḍolī – carried by two men, commonly called 'doli-wallahs'.

Steps to Shatrunjaya temples
Image by unknown © unknown

The top of the hill is 600 metres above sea level, rising high above the surrounding plain. There are two peaks, both of which can be reached only on foot or in kinds of palanquinsḍolīs. These are seats on which a visitor sits cross-legged, and which is slung on bamboo poles carried by two men.

Pilgrims usually aim to visit the principal Adishvar Temple on the southern summit, where they worship the main idol. They will generally then walk round the major temples sited in the ‘Nine Enclosures’, found on the northern peak and the valley between the two summits.

After going through the official entrance, the visitor walks up a well-maintained but steep path made up of stone slabs and steps. There are four thousand steps. The average time needed to reach the top is two to three hours, but mendicants are often seen elegantly climbing or going down at a very quick pace and can take much less time. They walk barefoot and are sometimes imitated by ordinary people.

The path winds past many small shrines – dehris – altars, and sacred footprints – pādukās – which are dedicated to:

Devotees are thus immersed in a religious atmosphere from the start, preparing them for the all-pervading presence of the first Jina in the main temple. Before reaching the main image at the top of the hill, pilgrims see several idols of Ṛṣabha on the way, for instance in the Babu Temple, which is not far from the start.

As pilgrims begin climbing, they see on the right side a recent three-tired circular building. This is the Samavasaran Mandir, which was inaugurated in 1986 after 14 years of construction. It is a three-dimensional representation of the samavasaraṇa – the general preaching of a Jina. On the left, the Babu Temple is dedicated to Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, also called Ādinātha.

A small shrine is dedicated to Hinglaj Devi, the name given locally to the goddess Ambikā, the female attendant of the 22nd Jina, Neminātha or Lord Nemi. According to tradition, she fought a victorious battle against a local demon, Hingul, who used to frighten pilgrims. The beaten demon asked Ambikā to have enough mercy to keep his name.

The pilgrims can rest on the way at the seven stopping-places, stone shelters which provide shade. Fountains or reservoirs – kunds – provide water. The costs of building these have been borne by wealthy lay Jains over the centuries. The ‘Kumar Kund’ was erected to commemorate King Kumārapāla of Gujarat. Built in 1861, the ‘Iccha Kund’ takes its name from its patron, the merchant Icchachand, while the ‘Chala Kund’ also dates back to the 19th century.

As the pilgrims go higher, they gain an impressive view of the River Shetrunji, which flows across the mostly dry plains around the region into the Gulf of Cambay. In recent years, a dam has been constructed across the river. Plans to reforest the hill around Palitana began with small-scale tree planting in 1997, at the initiative of the Institute of Jainology.

Higher up the stairs, on the right side is the first modern enclosure – the ‘Shri Pujya Tunk’ – from where pilgrims get a nice view of the ‘Nine Enclosures’ at the top of the hill. Then they pass a small shrine housing four black statues of:

  • Dravid and Varikhil – two grandsons of Ṛṣabha, who attained salvation in Shatrunjaya after realising that the massacres resulting from their fight were useless
  • Aimutta – a prince who became a monk as a child, attained omniscience and preached the Śatruñjaya Laghu Kalpa, a text about Shatrunjaya
  • Narada – a contemporary of Kṛṣṇa, who, though he is usually known for his quarrelsome nature in India, is known to the Jains for having reached omniscience and emancipation here.

Another shrine contains black idols of a group of five heroes, who are said to have reached final emancipation on this spot, namely:

  • Ram
  • Bharata
  • Thavacchaputra
  • Shukacharya
  • Shelakacharya.

The shrine dedicated to Hanuman – ‘Hanuman Dehri’ – the monkey-god sits at a fork in the road. Pilgrims are advised to take the left-hand path, to the southern summit, which boasts the main Adishvar Temple. The right fork goes to the ‘Nav Tunk’ – the ‘Nine Enclosures’.

James Tod (1839: 281ff.) gives an almost step-by-step account of his ascent in November 1822, which nicely evokes how pilgrims progressively approach ‘the holy of holies’ – the temple of Ādinātha.

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