Article: Temple-cities

Contributed by Julia A. B. Hegewald

Jain temple-cities are groupings of temple compounds, which contain large numbers of individual and interconnected temples and smaller shrines. They are walled and entered through gateways.

Temple-cities are not cities in the conventional sense. They do not contain streets, houses or shops. They are dedicated to the veneration of Jain values and the glory of the enlightened Jinas.

Most temple-cities are located on hills and have developed out of clusters of temples and walled compounds, which have been expanded over time. Donors give money to help build shrines and temples, which eventually form sizeable groups of temple compounds.

There are numerous examples of temple-cities throughout India. The best known include:

Temple-cities are depicted on pilgrimage banners and in relief carvings at other Jain sites. Imitations of well-known temple-cities have also been built at smaller sites.

The creation of temple-cities in the form outlined here is unique to the Jain faith. Representations of temple-cities in Jain art and at other important Jain sites throughout India, and abroad, indicate the great importance of these holy sites for the Jain community.

Definition

A temple-city is a term for a large number of temples built very closely together. Jain temple compounds tend to contain a multitude of major temple buildings and minor shrine structures. Dense accumulations of such compounds are then referred to as temple-cities. Usually found in sites of religious importance, these are not conventional cities, because human beings do not live in them. Instead, Jains make pilgrimages to these temple-cities, which are devoted to spiritual matters.

Jain temple complexes are frequently altered and enlarged and there is no rule or convention as to when a large number of temple compounds can be described as a temple-city.

Architecture

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

There is a clear tendency in Jain temple architecture towards creating numerous shrines. This leads to the construction of temple buildings with many shrines and storeys, which are often surrounded by further free-standing and interconnected shrines. These collections of religious buildings frequently combine temples of different forms.

The religious buildings are regularly grouped into compounds and surrounded by high protective walls – prākāras. The enclosing walls can consist of uninterrupted lines of small shrines – deva-kulikās – which form a solid wall on the outside. The walled complexes – tunks – are strongly fortified. They have massive gateway structures and can be securely locked.

Location

The 77 temples and shrines at Sona-giri comprise a popular pilgrimage site for Digambara Jains. Sona-giri means 'golden hill' in Hindi and the main temple is dedicated to Candraprabha-svāmī or Lord Candraprabha, the eighth Jina.

Temples at Sona-giri
Image by nkjain © CC BY-SA 2.0

By building several such walled compounds in one place, the Jains create so-called temple-cities at particularly important sites of pilgrimage. These sacred cities can contain several hundred temples and smaller shrines.

Many temple-cities are on raised ground or high mountain peaks. This is frequently indicated in their names, which bear the suffix ‘-giri’ – hill. Examples include Drona-giri and Naina-giri in Central India.

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