Article: Mount Śatruñjaya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The hill and its temples

One of the holiest of Śvetāmbara pilgrimage sites, Mount Shatrunjaya has nearly a thousand temples. This temple-city outside the town of Palitana in Gujarat has a special connection with Ṛṣabha. The first Jina is worshipped in the main Adishvar Temple.

Temples at Mount Shatrunjaya
Image by JAINA © public domain

The nearly thousand temples that make up the temple-city of Shatrunjaya are distributed over the two summits of the hill, the northern and the southern, and in the valley in between. They are surrounded by a wall, like a fortress. It is impossible to list and describe here each of the temples or holy spots because there are too many. The main ones are organised in tunks, a Gujarati word that means ‘enclosure’ and which refers to the complex formed by a main temple and the subsidiary shrines enclosed within the same wall.

Tod’s account, which gives the names, locations and descriptions of the temples and tunks existing at the time of his visit, is practically the first one in Europe that is reliable and clear. Some decades later came the standard work, The Temples of Śatruñjaya, written by James Burgess, who was director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India. The 1879 book included black and white photographs, which are now all available in the British Library online gallery. Both these accounts provide a precise picture of the condition of the temples at the time of writing. Reprinted in India in 1976, Burgess’s work remains the standard publication, since its quality has not been surpassed by modern pamphlets or books. However, modern publications are, obviously, indispensable as they describe the present condition of the site, corresponding to what visitors can see today.

Southern summit

Pilgrims at Mount Shatrunjaya are both lay people and monks and nuns. Lay people try to live the mendicant life while they are pilgrims. They do not think about worldly concerns, focusing on spiritual matters instead.

Mendicant and lay pilgrims
Image by Carl Welsby © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The highest point of Shatrunjaya is the southern summit, where the principal Adishvar Temple is. The main enclosure is here, known by a few names, such as:

  • ‘Mūlanāth’ or ‘Dada ni Tunk’, with reference to the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha
  • ‘Vimal Vasahi’
  • ‘Marudeva Shikhar’.

In some descriptions of Shatrunjaya it is counted as the first of the 'Nine Enclosures' while in others it is treated separately. Here it is described separately, with details of the Nine Enclosures given under the heading Northern summit and valley.

The main enclosure has four gates through which pilgrims can pass. Inside, there are several shrines and smaller temples in addition to the main temple, which is the foremost site for Jain devotees. Pilgrims are advised to visit the temples in a certain order.

Gates and shrines

Against the inner walls of the main enclosure are smaller shrines and a reservoir. There are four gates to the enclosure, namely:

  • Ram-pol – ‘Ram Gate’
  • Sagal-pol
  • Vaghan-pol – ‘Tigress Gate’
  • Hathi-pol – ‘Elephant Gate’

The principal gate is the Ram-pol – the ‘Ram Gate’. Passing this gate, pilgrims see the ‘Five Shikhar Temple’, a temple dedicated to the 13th Jina, Vimalanātha or Lord Vimala. Following the wall, they come to the next gate, Sagal-pol, and after going up more steps, the Vaghan-pol or ‘Tigress Gate’.

Between the Vaghan-pol and the Hathi-pol – ‘Elephant Gate’ – the pilgrims come across:

  • a temple to Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti
  • a small shrine to Cakreśvarī – the yakṣī of the first Jina
  • a temple to Neminātha or Lord Nemi
  • the ‘Punya Pap ki bari’ – ‘Gateway of Virtue and Sin’ – which is a freestanding room housing a statue of a man mounted on a camel. With very little space to pass between the camel’s legs, it is said that only virtuous people succeed
  • a temple built by King Kumārapāla
  • Suraj Kund – a reservoir of reputedly magical waters, which, after they bathed in it, cured the legendary King Mahīpāla of leprosy and restored to human shape a king who had been transformed into a parrot
  • Veer Vikramshi – a statue commemorating a legendary hero who died fighting a lioness that was frightening people.

The last gate is the Hathi-pol, which takes its name from the stone elephant on each side.

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