Have you ever had your senses overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the spectacle they were subjected to? If you haven’t, a visit to the Ranakpur Jain temple in the Indian state of Rajasthan will give you a better appreciation of the term ‘mind boggling’. Built on an almost desolate stretch of land in the Pali district, the over 570 year old magnificent white marble structure seems to rise out of nowhere and presents a sight that is almost too much to take in.
You might not be very impressed initially if you have visited similar stone edifices in South India. However, the grandeur of the intricate work hits you once you enter the main shrine – Chaumukha temple (translates as four faced temple for its four doorways to the main chamber). It has others like the Parsavanath temple, Amba Mata Temple and Surya Temple for company but, the Chaumukha temple steals the show.
One of 1,444 pillars in Chaumukha temple
Now, I could talk about the 29 halls or the 1,444 pillars supporting the Chaumukha temple , each one of which is different on account of the carvings. However, I would rather leave that for a Google search, which will also tell you that it is the largest Jain temple in India.
What I really want to share with you today are the mixed emotions of pride and awe at the sight of the impossibly delicate work of human hands, the wonder at the fact that they could get such a structure in place so many years ago and the aura conducive to quiet contemplation that its makers must have intended to create and that all visitors can undeniably feel (it seems almost like a crime to talk in there).
A shrine near the Ranakpur temple
While the rest of the structure is arguably exquisite, the piece de resistance is the ceiling in one of the mandaps (domes).
To top this, a local fair being held close by lent even more colour to our trip. We saw a lot many girls dressed in traditional, bright coloured costumes traipsing around the temple. I couldn’t resist talking to them and discovered that they have a tradition of gathering here each year – the reason being a matrimonial ‘mela’ or gathering. Typically, parents fix marriages of their children at quite a young age (in fact quite often at a criminally young age). When they grow up a little, the boy’s and girl’s families visit this place and if the girl and boy like each other, they elope (spoiler alert – the couple doesn’t actually take flight – it is only a ceremonial elopement!).
Despite all the unexpected fun, I finally left Ranakpur a little ruefully as I could only take one picture of the girls. Having run out of film (I didn’t have a digital camera at that time), I could only carry the memories in my mind.
HOW TO GET THERE – Ranakpur is a day trip from Udaipur and you can hire a car to drive down. The nearest railhead is Falna from where you would have to take a taxi. If you really want to rough it out, you could take a private bus which will get you there in approx. three hours.
You could get other travel related information here – http://wikitravel.org/en/Ranakpur
For historical information, you could visit http://www.jaindharmonline.com/pilgri/ranak.htm