Article: Temple-cities

Contributed by Julia A. B. Hegewald

North-western India

The Jain temple complexes at Talaja are built on top of a hill sacred to Jains, Buddhists and Hindus. Buddhist caves are cut into the hill. Near Mount Shatrunjaya, one of the most famous holy places for Jains, Talaja is also a popular pilgrimage site.

Temple complex at Talaja
Image by Mv.shah © CC BY-SA 3.0

In the north-west of the subcontinent there are adjacent Jain compounds in several places. In Rajasthan neighbouring temples number:

  • three at Rānakpur
  • four at Mirpur
  • five at Kumbharia
  • six on Mount Ābū.

The latter case also illustrates the location of such clusters of large temple complexes on the summit of a hill. A further good example is the hill at Talaja in Gujarat, which consists of a great number of tightly grouped temple compounds.

The largest concentrations of temple compounds can be found on the sacred mountains of Girnār and Śatruñjaya, both in Gujarat. On Mount Girnār, near Junagadh, there are about six substantial walled complexes and many more stand-alone temples. On Mount Śatruñjaya, near the town of Palitana, between 800 to 900 temples are grouped in about ten substantial walled compounds, covering the two peaks and the valley between. Each of these Jain temple compounds contains a multitude of major temple buildings and minor shrine structures.

North and east India

Seeing thousands of pilgrims each year, Mount Sammeta – Sammeta Śikhara – in north-eastern India is one of the holiest places for Jains. Auspicious events – kalyāṇakas – connected with many Jinas occurred here, including the liberation of 20 Jinas

Peaks of Mount Sammeta
Image by CaptVijay © public domain

The phenomenon of temple-cities can also be studied in the north and east of India. For instance, adjoining large temple compounds are comprised of:

  • three at Sauripur in Uttar Pradesh
  • four at Manicktolla in the north of Kolkata in West Bengal
  • several at Hastinapur in Haryana
  • five at Pavapuri in Bihar.

Also in Bihar, the town of Arrah alone accommodates forty Digambara Jain temples in the city centre.

Like other parts of the subcontinent, such accumulations of Jain temples are regularly located on hill tops. At Rajgir in Bihar, caves and temples of different construction styles are found on five sacred hills surrounding this ancient pilgrimage centre. The largest Jain temple-city in the east is the venerated hill site of Mount Paraśnātha. Also known as Mount Sameṭa Śikhara, it has developed near the village of Madhuban in Bihar.

Other examples include the temples and cave temples on:

  • Mandar Hill in Bihar
  • Pabhosa Hill in Uttar Pradesh
  • the twin peaks of Udaya-giri and Khada-giri in Orissa.

Central India

The temple-city of Kundalpur in Madhya Pradesh is sacred to the Digambara sect. There are over 60 temples and shrines around a lake and on the hill that curves round it. The main temple is dedicated to Adinatha, the first Jina.

Temple-city of Kundalpur
Image by Adarshj4 © CC BY-SA 3.0

Accumulations of temples are equally popular and widespread in the central region of India.

In Madhya Pradesh, large numbers of temple complexes are found at:

  • Mount Cūla-giri
  • Deogarh
  • Khajuraho
  • Mandu
  • the hill at Pisanhariki Mariya.

In Maharashtra the same phenomenon can be seen at Anjaneri and Ramtek, and on the sacred hills at:

  • Gajpantha
  • Kumbhoj, also known as Bāhubali Hill
  • Maṅgī Tuṅgī.

There is no clear dividing line from where a large number of Jain temple compounds starts to be defined as a temple-city, and temple complexes are regularly enlarged and added to. Sites in the region that can be referred to as fully developed temple-cities are the mountains Droṇa-giri and Nainā-giri, with roughly forty temples each, and Papora and Mount Muktā-giri in Maharashtra with more than fifty shrines each.

At Kundalpur in Madhya Pradesh, the number of temples at one site is even larger, reaching up to sixty. The temples have been arranged around a central lake and on a crescent-shaped ridge enclosing half the lake.

The largest temple-city in the central region of India, however, is Mount Sonā-giri. This site boasts 108 individually numbered temples, spread over hilly terrain near Datia in Madhya Pradesh.

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