“I know of no other building in India, of the same class, that leaves so pleasing an impression or affords so many hints for the graceful arrangement of columns in an interior. The torans, ornate multi-foliated arches joining these pillars are carved with most exquisite details and have been indulgently chiseled in marvelous perfection.” – James Fergusson, a Sottish architectural historian famous for his interest in Indian historical architectures, wrote about Rankapur in his book “History of Indian art and Indian Architecture”.
The temple of Ranakpur is built in “Maru-Gurjara” style of architecture. Maru-Gurjara word means architecture of Marudesh(Rajasthan) and Gurjaratra(Gujarat). These two western states of India have similarities in ethnic, cultural and political aspects of the society that gets extended to the temple architecture as well. In this style, the temple is designed as a monolithic structure chiseled from a living rock. These temples are testimonials of the deep understanding of the architectural aspects and the refined sculpting skills of the Rajasthani craftsman of the bygone era.
The roof of Ranakpur temple is adorned with five large shikhars, of which the largest and the most prominent tops the central sanctuary, four others surround a corner shrine each, twenty-four cupolas provide roof over the pillared halls, and the seventy six undulating small shikhars crown the small shrines of Jain Tirthankara lined along its internal wall.
We take a flight of stone stairs to enter inside the temple which is also embellished as “Chaturmukh Temple”, “Dharna Vihar”, “Nalini-Gulm Viman”, and “Trilokya-Deepak-Prasad” by the devotees. At the threshold we notice a semi-circular structure on either side of which is a conch shell and a raised platform above it is flanked by a demon on each side. The entrance door is intricately carved with Pratihars – the door guardians, four Goddesses(Vidhyadevis) on each side, along with the images of meditating Tirthankaras, dancing women and the guarding Yakshas.
The symbolism of the idols of demons right at the doorstep might be manifolds, it might be there to remind the worshipers to enter inside the temple with pure thoughts leaving all the evil thoughts outside the temple; it may be to save temples from the evil eyes. These demons are represented as huge serpents with bulging eyes, symbolizing not to disturb the Tirthankaras in meditation or to destroy temple’s sanctity; the guardian Yaksha of Bhagwan Parshvanath(the deity associated with Bhagwan Parshvanath) is Dharnendra – a snake Yaksha. It may also symbolize that he is keeping an eye on any miscreant. For me the message is, be attentive to all the details and enjoy the temples marvelous carvings that is scattered in every nook and corner of the temple; it is also an opportunity to learn about the Jain iconography.
As we enter inside the temple, a priest approach me and asks, “Do you need a guide?” “No, thanks”. The priest leaves me without pestering further and without any visible sign of irritation or disappointment.
In the entrance hall, my eyes fall and remain fixed towards the center of the ceiling that has an artistically engraved strange figure with one head and five bodies. I am told it is Kichaka. Does it has any meaningful resemblance with Kichaka of Mahabharata? Is the powerful but lascivious kichaka is doomed to be represented in temples, under pillars carrying the weight of buildings, pillars, and ceilings over his massive body. Is it a way to depict him carrying burden of his lustful desire of Draupadi? Or, there is no resemblance except for the name; may be even the name is not correct.
I gaze at it for a long time. It is a huge protruding figure of a valiant bearded person. His right hand is on his knees making him appear fearless and his index figure and the thumb of left hand joining together as if he is preaching the essence of life. There is a serenity of a saint on his face. I don’t think he represents Kichaka of Mahabharat fame. Then what he represents! Does he represent that our body is composed of five elements – Water, Air, Fire, Earth and Soul. Out of these five elements only the soul is represented as human body and a human head. Is this statue carry a message to utilize the birth as human being for the spiritual upliftment. As only in the birth as human being we can focus on right conduct, right vision and right knowledge and liberate and elevate our souls.
It may also symbolically represent to have control over the five senses of body or to follow the five main principles of Jainism – Ahimsa, Satya, Achorya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha.
Or is this a figure of one of the so many Yakshas/Vidhyadhars that were introduced in the Jain Pantheon sixth century onwards and that became popular by the tenth century. The reason why these deities got prominent status in Jain pantheon is because the Jinas or Tirthankaras are considered detached from all the worldly attachments and they cannot be approached for worldly desires. And we mortal humans approach God to solve our worldly matters and worldly worries as well(only). The Yakshas included in the pantheon provided a solution.
“हमने ये कब कहा था, इबादत ना कीजिए,
हमने तो यह कहा था, तिजारत ना कीजिए|”
The Yakshas and Yakshinis are full of passion because of which their soul too is wandering through the cycles of death and birth like us. They are believed to possess super natural powers including ability to fly, to change their forms and sizes. Initially they were considered the devotees of Tirthankaras but as time passed and need arose, people started to worship them as well. Some of these yaksha are known for bestowing fertility and wealth upon their devotees, and some neutralize the destructive powers of negative energies like Roga, grahas, rakshas, bhoot and Pischaas.
Well, there can be numerous interpretations, but I am not sure what the artist had in mind. And in my knowledge no such figures are engraved in any other Jain temples as well. It is something unique to the temples of Ranakpur.
My attention is diverted when I hear a priest reciting the Navkar Mantra in a deep bass voice covering his mouth with a handkerchief.
णमो अरिहंताणं, णमो सिद्धाणं, णमो आयरियाणं, णमो उवज्झायाणं, णमो लोए सव्व साहूणं, एसोपंचणमोक्कारो, सव्वपावप्पणासणो मंगला णं च सव्वेसिं, पडमम हवई मंगलं
He is the same priest who contacted me earlier. A group of foreigners are listening him carefully. His recitation of the Navkar Mantra creates an aura of spirituality all around. He finishes reciting the mantra and starts telling the group about Jainism and its high emphasis on Ahimsa and Forbearance. He explains to the group, “The word Jain is derived from the Sanskrit word Jina which means a conqueror; a person who has conquered his inner world of temptations and desires. A person who has realized that the world is an illusion and so he is indifferent to his sufferings”. He appears knowledgeable. The tourists are in safe hands.
I stop paying attention to them and look around. My attention is soon drawn by another masterpiece on a ceiling above the stairway near the main entrance. This intricately and detailed artwork with intricate patterns of flowers, foliage and tendrils represents Kalpavalli, a creeper that full-fills wishes. Perhaps the never ending patterns in this medallion represent the human desires.
After gazing at the ceiling for long, I look around and realize that I am standing in a jungle of intricately carved pillars, 1444 pillars in total and all of these pillars are carved differently. There are so many pillars still the interior of the temple exudes a feeling of lightness, a marvelous calming sense of space and harmony. The arrangement of these pillars is done so intelligently that none of them obscure the view of the main idol and a devotee standing in any corner can have eye-full of the Lord Adinath. The profusion of the architectural details and the perfect craftsmanship reflects the vitality and ingenuity of the architects and the sculptors of this region.
The temple has a strong directional orientation with the garbhgrih having Bhagwan Adinath’s seventy-two inch idol facing four cardinal directions. A typical Jain idol with four faces is called Chaumukhi. The earliest example of such sculptural style with a square shaft and a Tirthankara’s figure on each face comes from Mathura and symbolizes the Tirthankara’s conquest of the four cardinal directions and hence the cosmos. The garbhgrih has four openings that lead to four big Meghanada mandap and twenty small Rangamandap. Along this boundary wall facing the inner rectangle is a long row of devakulikas – Chapel for other Tirthankara.
Let us take a break here and I would be back with the next part of the story soon.