May 13, 2008

The Adinatha Temple of Ranakpur

Lothar Clermont



The Adinatha Temple of Ranakpur referred to the Dharna Vihara temple also after its builder. The impression it conveys is very different from that of the Dilwara temples. In the Dilwara temples, the atmosphere is one of peace and seclusion; this engendered by the smallness of the temples as well as by the illusion of their being hidden and concealed. In comparison, the temple at Ranakpur is grandiose and majestic, it has soaring shikhara towers and domes visible from a great distance.

This difference in style is due to the Adinatha temple being constructed later. In the 14th century the Muslim assaults, which had ravaged the country for so long, were abating. After recovering from the shock and devastation of these attacks, old values were in general abandoned and architectural conception and planning took on an entirely new dimension.
Around the same time, the kingdom of Mewar reached the zenith of its power. Under Rana Kumbha (1433-68), the kingdom grew to the size almost of an empire. The buildings reflected the growing power of the rulers, especially in the capital city of Chittaurgarh. In Ranakpur there is an inscription immortalising the king, which seems to demonstrate that he wished to associate the dynastic glory with this mighty temple. Unlike Mt. Abu, in Ranakpur we see a royal monument, which undoubtedly contributed to the grandeur of the place.

Dharna Shah and Construction of the TempleThe builder of the shrine, Dharna Shah belonged to a Rajasthani Jain family that held the title of Sanghapati (one who has borne the costs of the community pilgrimage). The name Shah or Sah indicates that he accumulated his wealth as a banker or as a merchant.

According to Jain tradition, Dharna Shah gained the confidence of the king and appointed minister. At the age of thirty-two years, however, greatly influenced by the sermons of the monk Shri Somasundara Suriji, he retired from the world to practise celibacy. In a dream he saw a marvellous heavenly vehicle, the nalini-gulm-vimana (lotus flight), which impressed him so much that he suggested, his idea to the king that he want to construct a temple in this shape. The Rana agreed and donated land for the temple and township.

However, it was not as simple to execute the temples plan: fifty architects were not in a position to fulfil Dhahran's wish of combining the nalini-guhn-vmanai with a chaturmukha-temple (a temple with a "four-faced" image of the Tirthankara, facing the four cardinal directions). The later concept was important for him in order to emulate the famous Raj Vihara temple of King Kumarapala (refer to chapter on the history of the Jains). Finally, in Depaka, an architect from a neighbouring village, he found the man to bring this project to reality.

The temple said to begun in 1377 or 1387, depending on the source consulted. Tradition has it that the main structure of the temple finally inaugurated in 1441 in the presence of Dharna Shah and his teacher. Somasundara Suriji. However, there is something odd about the story, for if it took fifty-four or sixty-four years to construct the temple, at which point Dharna Shah must have been at least eighty-six years and his guru even older. The only source, which definitely dates to the time of the inauguration, is a forty-seven line inscription in Sanskrit. This is located on a pillar to the left of the entrance. The Jain sources go back at best to the 17th or 18th century.

The inscription of 1439 states that Dharna Shah as the builder and Depaka the architect. Nevertheless, the inscription is a typical example of a royal inscription from that period, glorifying Kumbha and his forty predecessors; this kind of inscription would be extremely rare if the king was not himself involved in the construction of the temple, as either donor or patron. In fact, it stated at the end of the inscription that'... King Rana Shri Kumbhakarna, established in his (Kumbhakarna's) own name, (the temple) of the first Lord of the Yuga, "Shri Chaturmukha" - known as Trilokya-di-paka; (the temple) was constructed by his grace and on his orders in the city of Ranakpur and it was inaugurated by Shri Soma-Sundarsuri'.

In this inscription, Rana Kumbha introduces himself as the main initiator of the project. The king had reigned only for seven years at the time the inscription was carved but, keeping in mind that at that point of time only a minute part of the whole complex, which was huge, had been completed. It is possible that the construction in existence until that point of time indeed undertaken and completed during Kumbha's reign. A comparison of this temple with the other projects of this ruler, who was a building enthusiast, merely confirms the possibility of its having been built during his reign.

What is puzzling is the information contained in sources belonging to a later period that sixty-four years were required for the construction of the temple, but perhaps these refer to the length of time required as a whole for its completion.

The Adinatha temple of Ranakpur (see page 45) situated in a valley on the western flank of the Aravalli hills between Jodhpur and Udaipur. Its vast area of 60 x 62 m is reminiscent of the size of a Gothic cathedral. Light coloured marble from the quarries of Sonana and Sewadi used for the construction. This marble does not achieve the radiant whiteness same as Mt. Abu. Typical of Jain architecture is the high boundary wall erected on an elevated foundation, known as the adisthana; this is a characteristic of the 15th century. Since the temple is situated on the slope of a hill on the western flank, the plinth at the main entrance in the west has been constructed visibly higher. Innumerable shikhara towers, small shikhara, cupolas and pyramids soar above the ensemble. They symbolise the lotus-flight-vehicle seen in Dharna Shah's dream. The tiny bells in the turrets form a charming contrast to the hugeness of the complex. The chiming of the bells at the slightest breeze recalls the serenity and peace, which are said to engulf the soul on stepping into the temple.

Ground plan of the Adinatha TempleThe Adinatha temple has been conceived of as a Chatur-mukha-prasada, i.e., the idol faces all four cardinal directions. This necessitates a cell (garbha griha, No. 1 in the plan) with four doorways. The entire ground plan, which is almost a square, derives from this basic conception.

The sanctum is surrounded by halls, known as either the sabha mandapa (assembly halls) or ranga-mandapa (dance halls, No. 2 in plan). The one on the western side, in the axis of the main entrance, has been given prominence due to its size. As a result, the cell has been placed a little to the east; this accounts for the ground plan not being a perfect square. The central area of the temple is in the form of a crucifix and is encircled by an open rectangular courtyard (No. 3 in the plan); in comparison with older Jain temples, the courtyard here has not been given as much prominence.

Along the axis from the sanctum to the assembly halls, there are other halls which are three-storied: the meghanada mandapa (No. 4 in the plan), followed by the balana mandapa (portal halls, No.5 in the plan), which provide access to the temple.

On the one hand, the ground plan evolves from the central sanctuary in the four cardinal directions through a series of halls. On the other hand, there are spaces arranged around the square cell in the shape of perfect squares. Thus, the sanctum and the sabha mandapa are enclosed by a courtyard which is surrounded by a space formed by three halls on each side (the meghanada mandapa, flanked by two halls, No. 6 in the plan) and the corners are formed by large shrines (No. 7 in the plan). This in turn is bound by eighty devakulikas (subsidiary shrines) screened by a colonnade. In between these are the portals, which, on the north and south side, are each flanked by two highly extended shrines (No. 8 in the plan).

In the Adinatha temple, Depaka succeeded in harmoniously reconciling the differing conceptions. The shrine is first a Chaturmukha temple in which the Tirthankara, through his quadrupled image, conquers the four cardinal directions and hence the cosmos. Depaka was thus able to emulate the famous model of King Kumarapala, namely, the Raj Vihara in Siddhapura. At the same time the basic conception of a Jain temple, symbolising the Samavasarana (the pavilion from which a Tirthankara delivers his sermon) is also realised. The four cardinal directions, together with the centre, add up to the holy figure five, which represents the cosmos. This mode of counting is common all over Asia and is, therefore, self-explanatory.

The four shrines at the corners, which border on the courtyard, give the monument the appearance of a panchratha (five-shrine temple). This is a form, which is popular in Hindu temples as well. Since these shrines have been arranged in such a manner that they are located between the cardinal directions, they in turn produce the concept of the figure nine (centre of the world, cardinal directions and the directions in between). This is a very important basic concept, representing a mandala (Cosmo gram as the ground plan of the world). The ingenuity of the architect can be seen in the manner in which he combined the figures five and nine with one another.

Together with the extended shrines (No. 8 in the plan), the temple is surrounded by eighty-four devakulikas (No. 9 in the plan). It has the appearance of a classical Vihara (temple based on the ground plan of a monastery), a common structure amongst the Jains. The figure eighty-four is representative of the twenty-four Tirthankaras of the past, present and future, respectively, plus the so-called twelve eternal Tirthankaras, of whom four each stand for one aeon respectively. The builder of this temple complex undoubtedly wanted to emulate the design on the first Adinatha temples as conceived and constructed, according to legend, by the sons of the first Tirthankara Bharata and Bahubali. They too had eighty-four subsidiary shrines.
Despite the Islamic invasions of the 13th and 14th centuries, the Jains knew how to preserve the tradition of constructing their temples. In 1315, one Thakur Peru wrote a handbook on architecture, the Vastu-sara. According to him, in front of the garbha griha, axially there should be three mandapa. Depaka adhered to even these guidelines.

These details can be left out from the ground plan. I have deliberately gone into the minute because these conceptions often tend to be lost in the labyrinth like complexity of the interior. It should not, however, be forgotten, that at the time of the inauguration in 1441 only the central sanctuary with the shrine and the four sabha mandapa were complete, as well as the adjoining western axis, i.e., the meghanada mandapa and the structure of the main portal. The structure as it exists today is the result of a further century of continued construction. Innumerable donations have been made towards the project, even to the present day.

In comparison with the simplicity of the exterior, the interior is distinguished by a baroque-like ornate-ness. The individual sculptures may not always be of the highest order; their movements frequently seem to be clumsy and jerky (see Plate 39), the arms and legs are not proportionate, appearing to thin out and the noses are too pointed. The sculptures clearly are not as important as the architecture; the function of the sculptures is the decoration and ornamentation of the edifice and not, as is common in Europe, to highlight the value and beauty of sculpture per se. A feeling of horror vacui is evident, for relief covers every inch. Apart from the purely ornamental and floral motifs, the Jains also used the entire repertory of Hindu iconography: deities, celestial musicians, danseuses, ganas (pot-bellied dwarfs), elephants and maithunas (lovers) as well as stories from the great epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The eight dikpalas (guardians of the cardinal points) are placed on top of the pillars and the domes are typically adorned with the sixteen Jain goddesses of knowledge as with celestial musicians and danseuses.
From among the innumerable figures, I would like to focus only on a few: Semi-circular 'carpets" (picture on left) for purging the soul of hatred and anger are placed in front of thresholds embellished with apostrophic masks of demons (kirthimukhas). Beside it are the typical conches; the sound of these is regarded as holy and is similar to the syllable 'Om'.
If one enters the temple from the western side and looks upwards in the balana mandapa (the portal hall), one sees the kichaka, (Photo page 1) a figure having one head and five bodies. This represents the five elements of which the material world is composed.

The portraits of the founder (photo on left below) and of the architect (photo on right below) are carved on the pillars of the western meghanada mandapa (three-storied hall, No. 4 in the plan). These portraits are almost inconspicuous; in the midst of the embellishment, together with figures of female musicians and danseuses, they do not attract any attention. Yet Dharna Shah saw to it that his portrait carved with folded hands facing the Tirthankara paying him eternal obeisance.

In the meghanada mandapa on the northern side, there is a large marble elephant (see page 94-95) dating back to 1687. On the back of the elephant is mounted the mahout and beside him Maidevi, the mother of Adinatha. She said to have come to hear the sermon of her son. Legend has it that on catching sight of him while still some distance away she achieved moksha. She would thus be the first person to have escaped the cycle of birth in this current epoch of decline and evil.

In the meghanada mandapa on the southern side, there are magnificent carvings on the ceiling. It, however, requires much effort to distinguish figures among the highly decorative reliefs. (Page 24) shows a nag demon, a circular medallion, with Krishna in the midst of the tangled coils of intertwined naginis (female serpents).In the balana mandapa on the southern side, there are two reliefs measuring approximately a metre each. The reliefs face each other and apparently complement one another.

The Jambu dvipa, the circular continent of the middle world in the centre of which stands the world mountain Meru, represented on the eastern side. It is surrounded by mountains on which are located the abodes of the gods, and stylised forests. The entrances represented on the four sides are of special importance.Facing this is the relief of the Nandishvara dvipa, the eighth island continent. In this case too four groups, consisting of thirteen mountains each, with temples atop them, surround the centre and form the figure fifty-two, which the Jains regard as holy. Although the centre looks identical to the one represented in the earlier relief, which is apparently the complement to this one, yet it is interpreted as being a pulsating 'Om'.Stylised representations of the holy mountains are common to Jain temples. In page 2-3, the Shatrunjaya can be seen, appearing like a letter case in which the figure of Tirthankaras and temple towers has been arranged.On the southern side of the temple, there is a splendid relief of Parsva, the twenty-third ford maker; He is seen standing flanked by two Jains and two female serpents carrying fans. A one thousand-headed serpent hood protects his head. Serpent gods and goddesses with human bodies frame the whole scene, their serpent tails knotted together. The two fan-carrying serpents are also joined with them.

Although this relief of perhaps the most popular Tirthankara dates back to only 1846, yet it is a hot favourite among visitors for purposes of photography. This may be due to the good lighting though the more probable cause is the serpent hood. Similar representations can be seen in other Jain temples and this has aroused curiosity. Consequently, the story of Parsva will be narrated here briefly, which may evoke associations for the European visitor concerning his own mythology.

Excursus: The Life of ParsvaAs mentioned earlier in the paragraph on Parsva in the chapter on Jainism in all the previous incarnations of the Tirthankara. In contrast to him a hostile and evil brother who personified the darker side of human existence: selfishness and a craving for power.
The first time Parsva was born as Marabhuti, the son of a minister. He succeeded his father to the office. His evil brother, Kamatha, seduced his wife and was banished to the forest for this crime. Here, Kamatha practised the most severe asceticism in order to gain magical powers. Marabhuti heard of this, believed in the noble motives of the other and sought him out in the forest. He found him balancing on one leg with a rock held in his raised hands. Moved, he fell at his feet while Kamatha let the stone fall, killing Marabhuti.

Parsva was reborn as an elephant he had been conscious of regretting death in previous life. For a long time he roamed in the forest, charging wildly, frightening pious ascetics, until he one day came face to face with his former king. The king had renounced the world and he immediately recognised in the elephant his former minister. He succeeded in calming the elephant and imparted religious instruction to him, Transformed in to an elephant practising asceticism. His brother who had now been reborn as a huge snake again killed Parsva. Since he now died peacefully and surrendered to death, he was reborn as a god, whereas Kamatha reappeared as a hell being.Thus, a cycle of three pious lives as human being, animal and god was completed and an evil counterpart was always at his side. The animal existence represents the primary stages of religious experience for the seeker. In Christianity, the corresponding level would probably be that of the Lamb of God.

Subsequent cycles of birth are only as human being and god. Since in the very next incarnation, as Prince Agnivega, he for the first time renounced the world and becomes an ascetic, i.e., he had already achieved a higher level of knowledge. This time too his brother, now reborn as a poisonous snake, killed him. Parsva rose to a higher sphere of divinity, whereas Kamatha fell into a lower one of hell.

In the third cycle of birth, Parsva in his human existence had already achieved the Chakrarcivarti status; this implies that he had attained the status of a morally advanced conqueror of the world before renouncing the world. His brother killed him with an arrow and yet again, they were exposed to celestial joys or hellish agony, respectively.

The next time Parsva renounced his throne when he discovered his first grey hair. As an ascetic he gained such supernatural powers that all around him, land and living beings enjoyed happiness and harmony. As a result, when Kamatha now killed him, he was able to achieve the highest divine form of an Indra.

Parsva's life cycle had reached maturation; in his fifth human existence, he was born as a prince of Benares and very early, the omens revealed him a future Tirthankara. At the age of eight years, he took the basic Jain vows. The circle was now complete: on an excursion into the forest, he encountered Kamatha, who was now an ascetic. The company disturbed the latter and in order to work off his anger the ascetic seized his axe to split a log of wood. The young boy Parsva pleaded with him not to do so, since two snakes were sheltering in the log, but Kamatha ignored the plea and split the log, killing the two snakes.

At sixteen, Parsva undertook the greatest sacrifice and meditated standing in the forest. He was surrounded by an aura of peace. His brother, reborn as a low-level god due to the sustained asceticism, discovered him there and attacked him with all the supernatural powers at his disposal. However, a pair of snakes, the reincarnation of the two killed earlier by Kamatha, spread a gigantic hood over him as protection. This explains why Parsva represented with gigantic snake hood.

Gradually the Tirthankara broke free of the last shackles of his karma and achieved omniscience and moksha. Thereafter, he preached for almost seventy years and during this time, he was finally able to convert his brother. At the age of a hundred years, his soul, finally liberated, rose to the summit of the universe.I have narrated the cycle of his births in detail as it could serve as an example of the ideal evolution towards moksha as imagined by the Jains. At the same time, these stories about Parsva, who was probably a historic personage, provide enough parallels with other religions of ancient times.

The later history of RanakpurDuring the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707) Muslim armies advanced through Mewar and pillaged Ranakpur. In later centuries, famines decimated the population in the surrounding area. The temple, which in parts had collapsed, abandoned and for a time it became a hideout for gangs of robbers.

It was only at the close of the 19th century that devout Jains returned to the site. One Seth Hemabhai Hattisingh from Ahmedabad had the shrine purified, and constructed a boundary wall. Since 1897, it been taken under the jurisdiction of the trust of Seth Anandji Kalyanji in Ahmedabad. The Seth showed great sensitivity whilst restoring Ranakpur in 1933-44.

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