Article: Mount Śatruñjaya

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


Śvetāmbara monks walk down a Mumbai street accompanied by lay men. The monks are barefoot and holding their mouth-cloths and monastic staffs. Jain mendicants live in small bands and travel most of the year in the traditional wandering lifestyle – vihāra

Śvetāmbara monks
Image by Hoorob – Robert Tyabji © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

More than five hundred inscriptions are found on the pedestals of the images and the walls of temples and small shrines in Shatrunjaya. Some have been collected in Kanchansagar-suri, for instance. Two exceptional inscriptions from the 11th century have been mentioned above. The earliest ones otherwise were written in the 13th to 14th centuries. The majority, however, is much later, with key periods of activity being the 16th to 19th centuries. The language of the inscriptions is predominantly Sanskrit, though Gujarati is sometimes found.

The inscriptions record the following acts or purposes:

  • construction or renovation of a temple
  • installation by an ascetic of an image that has been commissioned by a lay follower
  • long inscriptions may include a full genealogy of lay families or monastic orders.

In Shatrunjaya the inscriptions that name monastic orders include all the main Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak orders, the Tapā-gaccha, Kharatara-gaccha and Añcala-gaccha in particular.

In keeping with the long Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak dominance of the site, Digambara inscriptions are rather isolated. A 17th-century one records the dedication of an image of the 16th Jina, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti, by an inhabitant of Ahmedabad, a follower of the Digambara monastic leader Padmanandin (Guérinot: number 702).

Inscriptions from the Mughal period give clues to the relationship between the political power and the Jain community. It is also interesting to note that one Gujarati inscription from 1810 forbids the construction of any new temple in the Hathi-pol, the courtyard of the main Adishvar Temple, without the agreement of the entire community.

Kalpas and māhātmyas – oral transmission

Kalpas and māhātmyas are a skilful cross of descriptions and legends, resulting in a ‘site biography’ in an elaborate style. To some extent, they can be said to put into writing material that had traditionally been orally transmitted. At the same time, their content was probably more often passed on by the preaching of monks and temple priests than through direct reading by a large number of people.

Jinaprabha-sūri’s 'Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa'

One of the best-known pilgrimage centres for Śvetāmbaras, Mount Shatrunjaya in Gujarat has nearly a thousand temples dispersed over the two peaks and the valley in between. This temple-city is mainly organised into walled enclosures – 'tunks' or 'tuks'.

Temple-city of Mount Shatrunjaya
Image by liketearsintherain – tommy © CC BY-SA 2.0

The piece on Shatrunjaya opens this collection of texts on Jain holy places written in the 14th century by Jinaprabha-sūri, a Jain monk belonging to the Kharatara-gaccha. Enthusiastically praising the hill and the heroes associated with it, it is also a report on the building or renovation activities some of them undertook, whether they are real or legendary. It is not a guide in the strict sense of the word, but to some extent it follows a pilgrim’s progress, describing the shrines and images he will see on the way.

There is a cave to the north of the image of Ṛṣabha established by the Pāṇḍavas, and even today there is a small pond there; images are seen there due to the instructions of the yakṣa and [the Jinas] Ajita and Śānti also stayed there for a rainy season. To the east are their two temples, and near the Ajita temple is the [water] tank Anupamā.

translation by J. E. Cort in Granoff, 1990, page 250

Although this account cannot be used to draw a map of the temples, it shows some concern for topography, distinctions between past and present states and for all the spots contributing to the holy atmosphere. It draws on Jain mythology but, interestingly, also on recent history. It refers at one point to images broken by those Jinaprabha-sūri calls ‘barbarians’ – the Islamic power dominant in Gujarat at this time:

One cannot omit to praise the religious buildings undertaken by Vastupāla, and made by Pīthaḍa and others. The wise minister Vastupāla, elder brother of Tejaḥpāla, foresaw the destruction by the barbarian minister, and so after arranging for the making of extremely immaculate images with Mammāṇa gems, established images of the first Arhat [= Ṛṣabha] and Puṇḍarīka in the main building. In 1369 of the Vikrama era [= 1312 CE] the image established by Jāvaḍi was thrown down by the barbarians, due to the strength of Kali. In 1371 of the Vikrama era [= 1314 CE], the good blessed Samara restored the main image

translation by J. E. Cort in Granoff, 1990, page 250

Finally, one of the author’s main concerns is to emphasise the immense karmic merits one can gain in Shatrunjaya thanks to its extreme holiness. Overall, he is keen to stress the superior value of any religious activity undertaken there, whether it is meditation or donation.

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