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Temples of Gujarat

The temples built in western India between Muhammad Ghana's expedition to Somnath in Kathiawar in 1025-26 A.D., and the conquest of this part of the country by the Sultans of Delhi in 1298 A.D., represent one of the richest and most prolific developments of the Indo-Aryan style of architecture. The havoc and destruction caused by Muhammad Ghazni's raid, however, did not last long, for the Solanki rulers were a stable and powerful dynasty who lost no time or energy in repairing the damage. Contrary to what one might expect Ghazni's campaign of desecration seems to have given an added impetus to temple building in the peaceful period that followed. The great prosperity of the Solanki rulers was due largely to the geographical position of Gujarat which was then the focus of commerce. This was another factor which shaped the religious architecture of this region, for there is about it a lavishness which speaks of both material and emotional wealth.

At the end of the thirteenth century, however, a  number of these temples were despoiled by the Muslim conquerors who dismembered them to provide material for their mosques. To complete the damage, a devastating earthquake with its epicenter in Kathiawar occurred at the beginning of the 19th century, so that a large number of temples were reduced to crumbling ruins and shapeless masses of masonry. The architectural plan of the typical Solanki temple consists of three horizontal sections, the peetha or basement, the rnandovara or wall- face up to the cornice, and the shikhara or spire. The pillar is carved with motifs which are arranged in an order fixed by convention. The garaspati or horned rakshasas are the lowest; then come the gajapatis or elephant fronts, followed by ashva-thara or horses, and narathara or human forms. The mandovara is reserved exclusively for figure sculpture. The shikhara is distinctive, for it consists of a group of turrets or urusringas surrounding a larger central structure. The interiors of these temples are markedly peristylar, and richly carved pillars are arranged so as to form halls and aisles. The inner walls of the halls, unlike those in the Orissan temples, are profusely carved. About fifteen miles from Patan, the ancient capital of the Solankis in Gujarat, are four small temples at Sunak, Karyoda, Delmal and Kesara, all built in the 10th century and therefore the earliest examples of the Solanki style.

The Surya temple at Modhera, now in ruins, was built in the same style a century later, when it had found its supreme expression. The architectural plan resolves itself into a suttamandapa or Pillared hall, connected by a narrow passage to the gudh-mandapa or assembly hall and the garbhagriha, both forming an enclosed rectangular building. The Modhera temple is famous for its fine display of proportions and the atmosphere of spiritual grace which it conveys. In the 11th century, similar temples were built in Rajasthan and Kathiawar also.

At this time, Rajputana, like Gujarat, was the traditional home of merchant princes who spent fabulous sums to commemorate their religious faiths. Vimala Shah, the Minister of the first Solanki ruler, Bhirnadeva I of Gujarat, built the first Jain temple at Dilwara.

Constructed entirely of white marble, which must have been brought from the famous Makrana quarries, the Vimala. Vasahi temple is one of the oldest and most, complete examples of Jain architecture. It is one of a group of shrines, for the Jains believed high places to be sacred and generally built the temples where the holy hills could be their foundation. The temple, which is 98 feet long and 42 feet wide, is surrounded by a lofty wall door containing 52 cells, each of which contains the image of a Teerthankar. Most of these have now been replaced.

These cells are screened by a double arcade of carved pillars. A pavilion facing the entrance-porch contains a procession of marble elephants, each hearing a statue. of Vimala Shah and his family. Most of these figures have now disintegrated. The temple consists of an open portico and a vestibule, both formed by a simple grouping of pillars. The octagonal dome of the shrine is formed by eleven concentric rings containing patterns of endless variety and is upheld by eight carved columns. A series of sixteen brackets, bearing images of the Goddess of knowledge, support the rings of the dome. The intricately carved reliefs illustrate incidents from Jain literature and legend, including Satrunjaya-Mahatmya. A notable feature of the decoration is the exuberance of detail and the effective repetition of the same motif. The temple is not so much an architectural achievement as a remarkable example of tireless inventiveness and caprice in sculptured decoration.

Vatsupala and his brother Tejpala, who belonged to the Porwad Jain community and became the Ministers of Vivadhavala, built another famous temple at Mt. Abu during their terms of office. Jain literature contains glowing accounts of their charity and military prowess, and it is believed that Anupama Devi, the wife of Tejpala, was responsible for the erection of the Abu temple.

Built nearly two hundred years after the temple of Vimala Shah, the Tejpala temple at Mt. Abu follows more or less the same architectural plan as the former and is among the last monuments built in the Solanki style. In the matter of detail, however, the Tejpala temple is a natural from the Vimala Vasahi, it loses in creative vigor but  it amply compensates in artistic refinement and mechanical perfection.

The striking feature of the Tejpala temple is the pendant of the dome which, according to Ferguson, "hangs from the center more like a luster of crystal drops than a solid mass of marble." The principal cell contains a colossal image of Neminatha with his conch-shell symbol on the seat. The florid reliefs and carvings on the porticoes of the 39 cells represent episodes from the life of the presiding deity. The series of Jain and Brahmanical structures at Ashalgarh near Mt. Abu and the Jain temples at Kumbharia in the neighborhood belong to the same architectural complex.

From the ritualistic point of view, however, the most complete example of a Jain temple is the Chaumukha temple at Ranapur in Jodhpur district. This is a rare instance where the architect is not anonymous. An inscription on a pillar states that Depaka, the builder of this temple, did so at the behest of "a devout worshipper of the Arhats," names Dharanaki in 1439 A.D. The presiding deity of this temple is Rishabhadeva or Adinatha, a quadruple (chaumukh) image of whom is installed in the inner shrine which is open on all the four sides and stands in the center of a lofty basement. Close to the angles of the rectangular courtyard are four subsidiary shrines, and eighty domes, supported by 400 columns, which surmount the entire structure. Surveyed from across the ascent, the temple has the appearance of a forest of pillars where the play of light and shade presents a fascinating spectacle. The massive substructure of the wall which encircles the shrines in an unbroken circuit emphasizes the fact that a desire for seclusion marks the devotional ceremonies of the Jains.

The Navalakha temple at Ghumli and a group of the same name at Sejakpur are typical examples of contemporary architecture in Kathiawar. Palitana, located about thirty-five miles from Bhavnagar in Kathiawar, is perched on the famous Satrunjays hill, 1077 ft. above sea level. It has been described as the "first of all places of pilgrims, the bridal hall of those who would win everlasting rest." For centuries shrines were added to this site by pious Jains who believed in the efficacy of temple-building as a means of spiritual salvation, thus making it a city of temples (see: Jainism). The entire hill, which has two summits with a valley about 360 yards wide in between, is covered with temples grouped in separate enclosures called tuks, each having a principal temple and a number of smaller ones surrounding it. There are doors to the entrance of these tuks which are closed at sunset. In all, the hill is said to have eleven tuks, more than five hundred temples, big and small, and about seven thousand separate images.

The temples of the Jainson Satrunjaya hill are elaborate in detail and exquisite in their finish, although not so remarkable in their conception or in their sculptured figures.

The wave of iconoclastic zeal which swept the country during the 14th and 15th centuries did much damage to the earlier temples, some of which belonged to the eleventh century. A great many of the present structures are, therefore, modern and have been built in the course of the last century. The more remarkable among these are the temples of Adinath, Chaumukh, Vimala Shah, Kumar Pal and Sampriti Raja.

The temple of Adinatha or Mulanayak Sri Rishabhnath, named after the first of the twenty-four Jain Teerthankars, is situated on the southern ridge. It was originally erected in 960 A.D. But was restored in 1530. It is an imposing two storied building with a lofty spire and a number of smaller shrined clusters around the base.

The temple of Chaumukh or the four-faced is the largest in the Khartarvase tuk on the northern ridge. It was erected in 1618 A.D. by a rich banker of Ahmedabad named Devaraj. Unlike the Hindu shrine which is dark and has only one entrance door, this structure has entrances from all the four sides to the antarala. There are about ten recesses which are meant for the images of Teerthankars. The pillars supporting the verandah are richly carved with flowered patterns, while the bracket capitals support musicians and dancing figures. The Sinhasan, or the pedestal on which the great quadruple image of Adinatha rests, is made of pure white marble. The shrine is said to have about a hundred and twenty images. The third temple, small but unique in its arrangement, is found in the enclosure called Nandivaradwipa. Built in 1840, this structure is a square of about 32 feet with verandahs on all the sides. The interior is divided by piers into smaller squares and the arches between them support the domes of the roof. The five inner squares form a cross crowned by shikharas and have recesses for images. The five larger spires are believed to represent the five holy peaks-Satrunjaya, Ashtapada, on which Adinath, the first of the Teerthankars, attained moksha, Merusihara, Sammeta-shikhara, and Samosan or Samavasarana.

The Motisah tuk, named after the builder Seth Motsah Amichand, is a square with round towers at the corners and was built in 1836. It has some fifteen smaller shrines besides the main one which is dedicated to Adinatha.

After Palitana the Girnar hill in the south of Kathiawar, which is about 3500ft. above sea level, is next in importance to the Jains and is regarded as sacred to Neminath, the twenty-second Jain Teerthankar. This site has been known from very ancient times, for a number of Ashoka's inscriptions, the earliest of them dating from 250 B.C., have been found at the foot of the hill. There are about fifteen groups of temples in Girnar among which the largest and the oldest is one dedicated to Neminatha. Little is known of the date of its construction but an inscription records that it was repaired in 1278 A.D. Subsequent restorations have changed its face so much that it is difficult to visualize its original appearance.

Close to the entrance, there is an old triple temple dedicated to Mallinath, the 19th Teerthankar, and built by the famous Tejpala and Vastupala in 1230 A.D. On the way to Neminatha, there is a small but interesting temple known as Ambamata, which is visited by the newly married to ask for the blessing of the goddess for the continuance of wedded felicity.

First published as Temples of North India, Dept. Information and Broadcasting,   Government of India 1975. All rights reserved.

See Also:

  • Temples of India -- Detailed discussion on the history, and stylistics of some of the great temples of India.
  • Temples of Gujarat -- Analysis of Jain and Hindu temple architecture of Gujarat; covers all important temples.

Important Temples of North IndiaTemples of North India: Bodh Gaya & Banares | Temples of Orissa | Khajuraho | Brindavan | Temples of Kashmir | Gujarat | Temples of Deccan | Map


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