Article: Jain temples

Contributed by Julia A. B. Hegewald

Temple platforms

Worshippers leave the Ādinātha temple at Rāṇakpur, Rajasthan. They have left their shoes at the bottom of the steps because the temple area is sacred. All Jain temples sit on platforms or terraces – jagatī or vedī – creating sacred ground above the earth.

Worshippers exit the Ādinātha temple
Image by Christopher Walker © CC BY 2.0

Jain temples of all types are built on platforms or terraces, commonly referred to as jagatī or vedī. The terraces raise the temples above the ground and create a higher, sacred area that is qualitatively different from the lower profane area surrounding it.

Worshippers take off their shoes before climbing up to the sacred temple area. This ascent, however short, is symbolically related to the idea of the difficulties – durlābha – in reaching sacred places. By extension it also suggests the long journey to the remote goal of enlightenment.

On this pronounced plinth, the temple is protected and appears larger and more monumental. The platforms are often much wider than the actual temple structures and thus provide space for the ritual ambulation – pradakṣiṇā – of the building to take place on the sacred level. This spaciousness also allows further shrines, surrounding the temple building, to be at the same level.

This feature became particularly evolved in the Jain temple architecture of north-western India during the medieval age. Lines of subsidiary shrines were interconnected to create protective walls surrounding the outer edge of the terraces. This helped to physically protect the temple structures and shield them from outside view.

Even rock-cut cave temples have platforms, at least at the front entrance.

The terraces are frequently very high, up to three or four metres tall. In many cases the platforms are tall enough to allow separate apartments or lower image-chambers to be created inside.

Compound walls

The compound wall surrounding a temple at Mudabidri in Karnataka. Known as prākāra, these walls are usually free-standing walls encircling the entire sacred temple area. Almost all Jain temples are enclosed by these high compound walls.

Walls of a temple compound
Image by Eric.Parker © CC BY-NC 2.0

Almost without exception, Jain temples are enclosed by high compound walls. Those that do not have walls now very likely had them in the past. Known as prākāra, these walls are usually free-standing detached compound walls, encircling the entire sacred temple area.

Certain types of temple have developed these walls to create defensive, strongly inward-looking buildings. The walls have been merged with the facades of the temples in the compound so there are no separate prākāras. This can happen with all types of temples, but is particularly common in havelī temples.

Beginnings of Jain temple structures

The Bhagavati temple at Chitral in Tamil Nadu consists of a cave temple with porch and a much later temple built on top of the rock. The original cave temple probably dates back to around the 1st century BCE and contains inscriptions and rock-cut Jinas.

Bhagavati cave temple
Image by Aviatorjk © CC BY-SA 3.0

Jain shrines are introduced in the Āgamas and inscriptions around the third century BCE mention Jain temples and statues but the oldest physical evidence of dedicated places of worship dates back to the first centuries CE.

The Jain Āgamas mention shrines dedicated to the siddhas, called siddhā-yatanas, and to śāśvata-caityas. These are eternal shrines in heavenly places, in which gods and goddesses pay homage to sacred representations of the Jinas. There are also textual references to places of Jain worship in connection with the life of Mahāvīra. The 24th Jina is said to have stayed in caityas or so-called vyantara-āyatana or yakṣa-āyatana shrines while a monk. According to Jain legend, Bharata, the oldest son of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, was the first human being to construct temples dedicated to the 24 Jinas on earth.

Jain inscriptions from as early as the third century BCE mention Jain statues and temples but do not describe them. The earliest available traces of Jain architecture are caves and stupas. Substantial structural remains of Jain temples survive from the first centuries CE, but complete temple buildings have been preserved from only about the seventh century CE. However, these complex remains indicate that earlier structures, which are now lost, must have existed and served as models for later brick and stone constructions.

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