The Art of the Temple

The 1,444 Carved Pillars of Ranakpur Jain Temple No Two of Which Are Alike 

Ranakpur is a village located in the lush green valley of Aravalli mountain ranges in Pali district of Rajasthan, in western India. It is home to one of the biggest and most important Jain temple complexes of India, covering an area of nearly 48,000 square feet area, and has 29 halls, 80 domes and supported by 1444 marble pillars, each of them intricately and artistically carved, yet no two of them are alike.

The Ranakpur Jain Temple was built by a wealthy Jain businessman named Dharma Shah under the patronage of the liberal and gifted Rajput monarch Rana Kumbha in the 15th century. According to local legend Dharma Shah had a celestial vision that left in his heart a burning determination to build a temple in honor of Adinath, the founder of the Jain religion. When Dharma Shah approached Rana Kumbha with his plan, the king not only gave him a plot of land to build the temple but also advised him to build a township near the site. The construction of the temple and the township began simultaneously. The town was named Ranakpur after the King Rana Kumbha.

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The temple is said to have cost 10 million Rupees and took more than fifty years to build. The entire building is covered with delicate lace-like carvings and geometric patterns. The domes are carved in concentric bands and the brackets connecting the base of the dome with the top are covered with figures of deities.

“In spite of the complexity, the vast expanse and the loftiness of the temple, the architectural balance and symmetry are not the least affected,” reads a description of the temple at Ranakpurtemple.com

The artiste sculptures which lie scattered like precious jewels, the myriad ornate Toranas’ or festoons with minute and delicate carvings, the innumerable elegant and lofty pillars and a large number of Shikharas, (spires) which make a unique pattern on the face of the sky-all these works of spiritual art, as one approaches them, become alive and make the beholder oblivious of all else but a feeling of ecstasy, as if touched by the sublimity of Divine Bliss.

The most outstanding feature of this temple is its infinite number of pillars.

In whichever direction one might turn one’s eyes meet pillars and pillars big, small, broad, narrow, ornate or plain. But the ingenious designer has arranged them in such a manner that none of them obstructs the view of the pilgrim wishing to have a Darshana’ (glimpse) of God. From any corner of the temple one can easily view the Lord’s image. These innumerable pillars have given rise to the popular belief that there are about 1444 pillars in the temple.

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For two centuries, the temple was a beacon of devotion before it fell upon hard times. Around the 17th century, the entire region was ravaged by war. Fearing that the statues would be desecrated, the priests hid them in cellars under the temple and fled the area. The invading forces vandalized the temple and left, but the priests never returned. The temple fell into neglect and gradually the elements began to take over. At one point Ranakpur became a refuge for dacoits and no person dared to venture inside. It was only around the first quarter of the 20th century that people realized the immense crime they were committing by allowing this structure of beauty and devotion to rot away, and the temple was restored to its former glory.

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