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Sunday, March 23, 2008

India : Gujarat : Attractions and Excursions - 3

Image Source: Palitana Temple

Palitana is actually the modified present name of Padlipatapur. Being unvanquished by the enemies, it is also called "Shatrunjaya" (vanquisher of enemies). the path winds through 3950 steps for a trying 3.5 km up the scrub covered Shatrunjaya Hills. Much of the track is unshaded and the higher you climb the more the heat haze skimmers across the plains for below. And then, after two hours and quarter, Palitana spreads white and crenelated above you. Camelot must have been like this, rising above the plains, wrapped in its own mystique. Some of the 900 temples of Palitana were built in the 11th century. Construction activity, however, spanned 900 years. As successive worshipers of the non-violent and trading Jain community designed their own temples, they cleared the crest of the hill, leveled it into terraces, walled and fortified most of them.

Visitors naturally wonder how such a mammoth task of covering the entire summit with temples has been achieved. The answer is simple. Generations after generations of Jain devotees have spent money on some construction or the other on the Shatrunjaya. This is aptly described in Ras Mala thus: There is hardly a city in India, through its length and breadth, that has not supplied at one time or other, contributions of wealth to the edifices which crown the hill of Palitana.

Because of its sanctity, every devout Jain aspires to climb to the top of the mountain at least once in his lifetime. The journey is arduous. The walk up the stone stairway hewn into the mountain face takes about an hour and a half. For those unable or unaccustomed to the strain. sling-chairs are available at a bargain. The code for the climbers stringent, in keeping with the rigours of the Jain faith. Food must neither be eaten nor carried on the way.

The descent must begin before it is evening, for no soul can remain atop the sacred mountain during the right and Gods are to be left alone. Such is the mystique of Palitana, the summit of Shatrunjaya.

The mount Shatrunjaya lies hardly a kilometer away from the town, the way which is now dotted on both she sides by sarais and minor temple. The mountain is associated with Rishabhdev, the first Tirthankar, also known as Aadinath. This great journey performed by the first Tirthankar Shri Raishabhdev, is in itself an inspiration for the followers of Jainism. Even today thousands of devotees visit the pilgrimage 99 times which is called "Navanu Yatra". Due to special connection with Lord Aadinath the solemnization of the "Varshee-tap" (penance performed for full one year) is also done by people here on "Akshay Tritiya" or "Aakkhateej". Every year thousands of "Varshee-tap" observers visit the pilgrimage and perform final rituals of this "top" (Penance) here.

"Top" is the main feature of Jainism. "Varshee-Tap" (one full year of penance) is considered to be the longest and the hardest. But, thousands of Jains every year observe this "tap". In this "tap" fasting is observed on one day and food is taken on the next day. This sequence continues for full one year. The "parna" (concluding ritual of this "tap") is considered to be auspiciously important both at Hastinapur and Palitana.

The journey to Palitana Pilgrimage begins with a dip in the Shatrunjaya river. On the pathway first comes the "Baawan Jinalaya" temple which stands at the foothill. It was built in Samvat 1950 by Shresthi Dhanpat Singh Lakshmipat Singh. There are fifty-two ("Baawan") cells in this temple.
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