I have recently been writing about some of the more challenging aspects of visiting Rajasthan, India, but I would remiss if I didn't include at least one of inarguably spectacular experiences of this region. My favourite was the Jain temple in Ranakpur, a small village between the two cities of Jodhpur and Udaipur. We reached the temple by hired car from Pushkar, on our way to Udaipur.
Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that is primarily concerned with the welfare of every living being and of the universe itself. Jains strive to live lives based on harmlessness and compassion. They seek ultimate liberation from the cycle of reincarnation by clearing themselves of karma through vows that renounce violence, lying, stealing, and other sins. Jains do not believe in any gods or deities and figures within their temples represent aspects of human character, such as aspirations or worries, or important people from Jain history. Worshiping within a Jain temple is about reflecting on one's self and the universe around.
The temple in Ranakpur is a breath-taking place to see, but also a peaceful sanctuary that encourages this sort of quiet reflection. With the hustle of the outside world of India, large silent spaces become extra valuable. Built entirely of white marble, this Jain temple was constructed in the 15th century by a local businessman, Dharma Shah, who had a divine vision. He started the temple with funding from the Rajput monarch Rana Kumbha and it took over 50 years to complete.
Exquisite fractals and delicate carvings cover almost every surface, including incredible ceiling reliefs that are stunning in their depth and detail. The temple has 1,444 carved pillars, no two of which are alike.
Despite a normal amount of tourists present while we visited, the temple is so large that it's easy to find yourself alone in many parts of it, hearing only prayer bells and the wind rustling through flags.
The Jain worshippers and monks and nuns inside the temple are very hospitable and welcoming to visitors. While it's important to still follow cultural customs and be respectful, it's easy to feel comfortable and relaxed in this serene space. There are no touts, no scams, no extra distractions.
The official name of this temple is Chaumaukha Mandir, which translates to 'Four Faced Temple.' There are four main entrances and each side within the temple is symmetrical to the others, each with identical idols and elephants guarding corridors.
The Ranakpur Jain Temple was absolutely worth going out of our way for and reminded us of the splendor and incredible accomplishments throughout Indian history. I have been to so many temples around Asia, but few compare to the magnificence that India has to offer.
If you want to see another similar temple to this one, I would highly recommend the Akshardham complex in New Delhi. Though it's Hindu rather than Jain, much of the architecture is similar in its complexity and delicacy. No cameras are allowed within, however, but I found it equally as spectacular.
The Ranakpur Jain temple was amoung the top highlights of our month in India and one of the most incredible feats of architecture and stonework that I've ever seen.