As typified by Muslims’ pilgrimages to Mecca or Jews’ to Jerusalem, most religions have epic places to where devotees can travel to better secure their places in heaven. The pilgrimage site for Jains, an Indian religious group, is particularly epic: a hugely complex series of more than 1,000 temples which pilgrims can reach only by climbing up nearly 4,000 steps.
Jainism is a relatively small religion, with only a little over 4 million believers in India and small pockets of followers throughout the rest of the world. The Jains’ primary belief is non-violence; they believe that people, animals and even plants have souls and should be treated equally and well. Although they have no gods or spiritual figures, they do live with the principle of reincarnation in mind, hoping to eventually be liberated from the cycle of life and rebirth in an eternal transcedence.
The Shatrunjaya Hill site is huge and pilgrimage rites are difficult for such an ascetic religion. The hill’s 3,950 steps often take three hours to climb, with the elderly often hiring a dholi, a seat attached to a pole carried by strong men, to the top. It is the goal of devout Jains to climb the mountain 99 times in their lifetimes. Once at the top, devotees are expected to pay homage at each of the complex’s many tuks, similar to temples. In worship, Jains sweep the grounds with brooms and remove their shoes so they don’t kill anything before sitting down. Then, white-robed pilgrims, monks and nuns chant sacred texts surrounded by Tirthankaras, similar to unclothed Buddha statues.
In their building, the temples followed the Jainist principle of non-violence. None of the temples were built with ivory or clay because it contains micro-organisms and insects. Instead, all of the temples – the oldest of which dates back to the 11th century – are made of marble, bronze or stone.
Know Before You Go
215 kilomters from Ahmedabad and 51 kilometers from Bhavnagar