Carved wonder

Awesome architecture and spellbinding sculptures in the Jain temple at Ranakpur in Rajasthan leave Ranjita Biswas enthralled

A few snapshots of the Ranakpur Jain Temple. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Ranakpur, the name has a lyrical timbre to it. It keeps to that impression as you arrive at this locale amidst the hills of Rajasthan’s western Aravalli range. Suddenly, the hills reveal, like a secret, a marvel fashioned out of marble. This is the famous Chaturmukha Dharanavihara temple of Ranakpur, one of the holiest pilgrimage centres for the Jains, built in the Middle Ages.

The temple is dedicated to Adinath, the first Tirthankar, according to Jain cosmology. The story goes that Dharanashah, a local entrepreneur and a devout Jain, had a divine vision in his dream. At that time, Rana Kumbha ruled over the Mewar kingdom where Ranakpur is located.

Dharanashah was a minister in his court. After his revelation, the king encouraged him to build the temple.

The place was named Ranpur as it was associated with the ‘Rana’ and later came to be known as Ranakpur.

The construction started in the 15th century along river Maghai on an area of 48,000 sq feet. It took 2,500 craftsmen around half a century to complete the construction. It is believed that Rs 99 lakh was spent back then for constructing the temple.

While laying the foundation, valuable stones, musk and other expensive things were offered. 

The temple is called Chaturmukha because it has four faces symbolising the Tirthankara’s conquest of the four cardinal directions, and ultimately the cosmos.

Intricate

The temple is an astounding example of intricate craftsmanship done in the distinctive Maru-Gurjara style of architecture that developed in the Middle Ages in this part of the country with a high Jain influence and artistic proficiency. Besides, some scholars point out, as Jainism faced resistance from some quarters at that time, it was also a way of assertion and question of survival of the faith. Scholars also believe that this style of temple architecture belongs wholly to western Indian architectural ethos and is different from the north Indian temple architectural style. In fact, it has more resonance with Hoysala temple architecture in southern India. In both, architecture is treated sculpturally.

The temple itself is designed like a Nalinigulm Vimana (the most beautiful among celestial vehicles) which Dharanashah saw in his dream. He invited artists and sculptors of repute from all around the region but none could capture the image he had in mind.

At last, Deepaka, some refer to him as Depak, a humble architect who lived a simple life in a village, forwarded his design. Dharanashah liked it immediately, seeing in it a reflection of his dream and gave him the responsibility of building this huge temple. An inscription on a pillar near the main shrine states that in 1439 Deepaka constructed this temple.

Symbolic

As you approach the temple complex, meticulously maintained by a Trust, a sense of awe is bound to overtake you. Placed on a plinth, the temple is built on three levels with numerous shikharas (spires). There are four entrances to the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) where four huge white marble images of Adinath are placed to symbolise his dominance over the four directions. Surrounding them are many small shrines and domes.

On entering here, the sight of the fine work done on toranas and columns in light coloured marble can be overwhelming. No wonder, because there are 1,444 pillars within the structure, but they are placed in such a way that none obstructs the view of the main idol.

Each column is intricately carved but no two columns have the same design. More surprises in store: these columns change their colour from golden to pale blue after every hour during the day.

Around 20 cupolas rise from the floor to the roof of the hall. The ceiling is like fine lace-work embellished with exquisite scrollwork and geometric patterns. In the prayer hall (mandap), there are two big bells weighing approximately 108 kg each.

One can well imagine the effect they have when rang together. The designers also showed foresight by constructing around nine cellars to store the sacred images in case some unforeseen disaster struck. They also added to the strength of the structure. 

Despite the best of efforts invaders destroyed parts of the temple complex while the presence of dacoits hiding in the hilly range, and the prospect of an encounter with wild animals, added to the fear of pilgrims who stayed away and the beautiful complex remained forlorn for quite some time.

Fortunately, after a Trust was formed, besides taking steps to allay these fears, extensive renovation plans were also taken up and after a decade-long pursuit and meticulous work, the Ranakpur temple was restored to its former glory. People often combine Kumbhalgarh, Rana Kumbha’s formidable fort, which is around 50 km from Ranakpur, on a day trip from Udaipur.

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