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jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir

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(Chapter 4 continued)

Among the most prominent of pilgrimage centers (Teertha Kshetras) are Sammed Shikhar, and Pavapuri in Bihar, Hastinapur near Delhi, Girnar, Nakoda Parshvanath, Shankheshwar Parshvanath, Palitana (Shatrunjaya), Morvi and Shri Taranga Teerth in Gujarat, Dilwara temples at Mt. Abu, ancient temples at Ranakpur, Jaiselmer, Keshariyaji in Rajasthan, Shravanbelgola, Helebid, Hampi, Bellery in Karnataka, Khajuraho, Nainagiri, Khandargiri, Chanderi, Deogarh, Sonagiri, Kundalpur, Thuvonji in M.P., Ajanta and Ellora caves, in Maharashtra, Khandgiri and Udayagiri caves and the Kharwel temples in Orissa. All these ancient temples together with idols are examples of captivating architectural and, sculptural tradition and command attention as ancient cultural centers of Jain religion.

Jain Temple, Dilwara, Mount Abu (10th Century AD)

Victoria and Albert museum and the British Museum in London, the Dahlem museum in Berlin and the Museum of Art in Los Angeles in U.S.A., in particular, are host to priceless collection of idols of Jain Tirthankars as well as Jain art.Jainism has presented to the ordinary person the godhood represented by the idol of Tirthankaras- the perfected and enlightened human beings. It is this ideal of religion which can be easily understood by the common man. Renowned Jain scholar-author Professor A. Chakravarti maintains that probably the Jains were the earliest to build temples and to instal idols representing the Tirthankaras.Temple worship is the logical result of the Jain contemplation of Godhood . The image installed in the temple being the representation of Omnicient Arihant or Tirthankar. It is in the shape of a man engaged in yogic contemplation either sitting or standing. Such a representation of omniscient human personality naturally avoids any abnormal or mythic ideas.

Vedic religion of early Aryans was not associated with temple worship. It came to be adopted by later puranic Hinduism, particularly in South India. Jain sacred literature describes Ashtapad temple built in Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas to mark the nirvana of the first and the founder Tirthankar of Jain religion, namely Rishabhnath. The temple was built by his son Emperor Bharat, in whose name India came to be called Bharat from ancient times.As narrated in an inscription found on the rock in Hathikumpha Hill, Emperor Kharvella built a Jain temple during the third century B.C. installing the idol of Lord Rishabhnath.

Prof. Padmanabha Jaini observes, “We must understand Jain image worship as being of a meditational nature. The Jina is seen as an ideal, a certain mode of soul, a fate attainable by all living beings. Through personification of that ideal state in stone or marble, the Jains create a meditative support, as it were, a reminder of the lofty goal and the possibility of its attainment.”

Even after the split of the Jain society into two sects-sky-clad Digambars and white-robed Shwetambars, the practice of temple worship was kept up, but with a change in the form of the idols of Tirthankars. In Digambar temples, the idols are in sky-clad form. In Shwetambar temples, they are adorned with gold, silver and other ornaments as well as decorated eyelids signifying grandeur of the omniscient Lord and reverential awe of the worshipper who perceives them as kings of the universe.

Notwithstanding such differing practices, both the sects emphasize the aspect of total renunciation from worldly life as a role model for the human society to be achieved in gradual and well-defined stages in the spiritual ladder. Sthanakvasis- a sub-sect of Shwetambar Jains do not practice idol worship. They merely build large prayer halls (sthanaks) where they go to pray and contemplate on the spiritual quality and attributes of Tirthankaras. This represents a complete anti-thesis towards the traditional temple worship, and puts emphasis on substantive ingredients of Jain philosophy.

(end of Chapter 4)

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