If my friend Lakshmi hadn’t suggested it I probably wouldn’t have gone to Ranakpur. To be frank I’d only vaguely heard of the place - and having visited Mount Abu and the famed Dilwara Jain temples years ago, I hadn’t thought about Ranakpur at all. We had Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Osiyan, Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh and Haldighati on our travel list and Ranakpur was more or less en route, so we decided to spend a few hours there. We made a stopover on our way from Jodhpur to Kumbhalgarh – and it was well worth it. The drive from Jodhpur was roughly 3 hours (Udaipur is nearer – 2 hours) but we stopped at a village near Pali to visit a traditional Rajasthani family.
Ranakpur is among the 5 most important pilgrimage sites for Jains. (I had the good fortune of visiting the Gomateswara statue at Shravanabelgola in my Bangalore days – and climbing up the 600 odd steps! OMG, never again!) Ranakpur nestles in a remote valley in the Aravalli Range in the midst of a forested area. The road was lonely and we drove along with perfect ease.
The time slot at Ranakpur for non-Jain visitors is 12 noon to 4-30 p.m. so we arrived at noon and headed to the subsidized eatery for a simple but delicious meal. Then we were off to the temples. In the main temple the security is rigid and we had to leave behind our bags, mobiles and everything. Leather is taboo, courtesy the ahimsa principle. There is a Rs. 100 fee for the camera. Don’t ever go inside without it! Except the main idol you can photograph everything else. (That one Wikipedia will show you anyway!)
Construction of the temples began in 1438 under Rana Kumbha of Mewar and wealthy Jain ministers and merchants made sizeable contributions. The Chaumukha (Chaturmukha) Temple, a three storied marble edifice, is dedicated to Tirthankara Adinath (the founder of Jainism also known as Rishabadeva). It encompasses 1444 exquisitely carved pillars – at least that’s the number that’s bandied about. A 1437 copper plate record, inscriptions inside the temple, and a Sanskrit text Soma-Saubhagya Kavya meticulously document the construction. Rana Kumbha donated the land so the site is named after him. Dharana Shah, a wealthy minister, inspired by a dream of a celestial vehicle, started the construction. The architect, Depa (or Depak) and Acharya Somasundarsuriji are also mentioned. Hats off to these gentlemen!
The temple presents a unique blend of art and spirituality, with pools of light and swathes of shadow, changing the colour of the marble from grey to gold as the sunlight shifts focus from time to time. The impressive exterior with its multiple shikaras and the extravagant interior with its mind-boggling array of pillars, magnificent domes, rangamandapas (halls), and the sahasrafana (cobra with thousand hoods) sculpture, combine to evoke a sense of awe and devotion. The temple reportedly has nine cellars in which the idols could be preserved in the event of a crisis. The ravages of time and the damages by invaders did much to erode the grandeur of the Ranakpur temples but recent renovation had succeeded in recapturing the original splendour.
Inside the temple complex there are two temples devoted to the saints Neminath and Parasvanath. Sculptures of amorous couples are seen here. The Sun (Suryanarayan) Temple is dated to the 6th century, but the entrance to the temple was outside the complex, the road was deserted and lonely, and nobody seemed to be going there, so Lakshmi and I decided to give it the miss. I am told there is a spectacular view of Suryadev driving his 7-horse chariot.