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Arguably one of the oldest religions in the world, Jainism, continues to be synonymous with vegetarians who are averse to potatoes, onions, and garlic. Post the lockdown, bust this stereotype and get a deeper insight into this ancient Indian religion by venturing along the Tirthankar circuit. By Bayar Jain
Believed to have found its roots in ancient India – the exact period of which remains contested – Jainism follows the ideologies of 24 Tirthankars (spiritual leaders). Devotees of this ancient religion believe that the path to spiritual purity is through a life led in disciplined ahimsa (non-violence) to all living creatures. However, despite being in the country for countless revolutions, the religion remains largely shrouded in mystery and obscurity. Once travel relaxations are a reality again, give a hand at understanding Jainism better by journeying through the Tirthankar circuit.
Although there are many revered Jain temples and shrines dotted along the country, such as Gomateshwara in Shravanabelagola (Karnataka), Dilwara Temples in Mount Abu (Rajasthan), Ranakpur Temples (Rajasthan), Shikharji Temples (Jharkhand), Girnar Temples (Gujarat), Tijara (Rajasthan), Shri Mahaveer Ji Temple in Banwaripur (Rajasthan), we’re taking you along the officially recognised Tirthankar circuit.
Before heading to Vaishali, it is important to note that devotees of Jainism are divided into two sects, both of which differ in practices and customs but are bound together by a shared ideology. These two sects are Śvētāmbara (white-clad) and Digambara (sky-clad). According to both the sects, Vaishali – now in modern-day Bihar – was the birthplace of the last of the tirthankars, Mahavir. Today, in reverence to this great soul, many temples dot the entire space. In fact, this town also sees devotees of Buddhist beliefs – a religion similar in ideologies to Jainism – as they believe Gautama Buddha frequented this land and delivered his last sermon here.
Arrah and Masad
Located 10 kilometres away from Arrah – another major pilgrimage spot for Jains – Masad in Bihar is famous among devotees of this religion for the Parasnath temple here. This is because many believed that the 23rd Tirthankara Parsvanatha stayed at this place for some time. Arrah, on the other hand, shows glimpses of the religion’s flourishing years. Dating back to the 6th century AD, today over 40 temples are dotted in this quaint town, some of which extend up to 10 feet in the air.
Erstwhile known as Kusumpur, Bihar’s current capital Patna is believed to have come into being by King Udayan of the Magadh dynasty, a follower of the Jain religion. During his reign here, it is believed that he built many temples here, most of which continue to stand even today. Moreover, the Jain museum here is a treasure trove of religious artefacts, relics, and imagery – all of which were reportedly unearthed during various archaeological excavations.
Translating to the royal abode, this erstwhile capital of the Magadha Empire is famous for being the location where Mahavira taught and imparted wisdom. Seven barren hills embrace this land, namely Vaibhara, Ratna, Saila, Sona, Udaya, Chhatha, and Vipula – all of which are revered as holy places. The idols of Neminath, Parshvanath Abhinandan Swami, Chandraprabha and Shantinath – Jain tirthankars – are graced by a plethora of devotees every day here. Moreover, at the foot of the Vaibhara Hill, 22 kunds (hot springs) are present as well, where the bubbling emerald-green waters are believed to have cleansing powers.
Possibly one of the most thronged pilgrimage spots for Jains, Pawapuri in Bihar is located 60 kilometres away from Patna. Mahavira breathed his last here, due to which the area is considered holy. The Jalmandir here, a white marble temple, in the middle of a lotus pond is believed to be the exact spot of his demise. This place is considered so sacred that many devotees believe that praying here could wash off one’s sins. Additionally, the area around the temple is a centre of many religious artefacts.