From afar, the temple complex looks like a cluster of pure white and pale brown castles cascading down the green hill. But the way I see it, that is not the only thing which makes this site beautiful. Its real beauty lies in its upholding of universal brotherhood.
Perched atop the Shatrunjaya hills is the Jain community’s holy pilgrimage site–the Palitana. Few places of worship look beyond the mundaneness of manmade constructs like belief systems, race, sex, caste and creed, as the Palitana does. It stands out for the peaceful co-existence of a dargah (Muslim place of worship) and temples within the same complex.
Located in Bhavnagar district in the state of Gujarat, the Jain Palitana is the world’s largest temple complex. It is said to be dedicated to the 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers of dharma, the righteous path) of the Jain community. Jains believe that the Tirthankaras blessed the Palitana, making it a must-visit pilgrimage for the Jain community. It is a belief among Jains that a visit to Palitana once in their lifetime will help them attain nirvana (liberation from the cycle of life and death).
Built over a period of 900 years, the Palitana is an architectural marvel, and I could easily see why. When the sun rays fall on this huge temple complex, it looks as if it is carved out of ivory, making it a majestic sight to behold. The Palitana is a cluster of 863 temples with towers, columns and openings. The cluster is further divided into nine wings that has a central shrine surrounded by smaller shrines, and together with their walls of marble, they look like a canopy on the hills.
Legend has it that the Pir lived on the hills of Shatrunjaya during the 14th century. When Khilji dynasty ruler Alauddin Khilji plundered the temple for riches, the Sufi saint is said to have protected the Palitana with sheer power of prayer and devotion.
As I climbed the hills further up, I witnessed the grandest structure in the complex–the temple of the presiding deity Adishwara. This temple is dedicated to Adinath (Rishabdeva), the first Tirthankara. It is said that Adinath sanctified the hills of Shatrunjaya by delivering his first sermon on the hills, making it a divine place of worship for the Jains.
While roaming around the temple complex, something caught my attention. It wasn’t the beautiful ornate motifs of the temple, nor was it the splendid beauty of nature. It was a dargah (shrine of a Muslim saint). At first, I was surprised and confused. A Muslim shrine in a Jain pilgrimage centre? From my history books, I had learnt that Jains and Muslims had co-existed in Gujarat for centuries. But the presence of a Muslim shrine in a Jain place of worship was something of a wonder to me.
The dargah is dedicated to a Sufi saint, Angar Pir, who is known to have saved the temple complex from the clutches of the Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji. Legend has it that the Pir lived on the hills of Shatrunjaya during the 14th century. When Khilji dynasty ruler Alauddin Khilji plundered the temple for riches, the Sufi saint is said to have protected the Palitana with sheer power of prayer and devotion.
I found the Pir’s story impressive. Here was a man of Islamic faith who not only believed in the sanctity of temples but also strived to protect it, risking his own life. Given the Pir’s extraordinary feat, he came to be worshipped by Jains and Muslims alike within the Palitana. Today, the dargah attracts people from all faiths.
As I finished the tour of the complex, I was convinced of one thing. The Jain Palitana not only transcends the barriers of religions, but also maintains harmony between all faiths within its walls. It is a place of worship where all faiths are respected equally, people of all faiths are accepted wholeheartedly, and prayers are all about oneness among fellow beings.