To Greater Heights
doli bearer in Palitana
the daunting proposition of climbing 3,000 steps to reach the renowned
Palitana temples, the architectural grandeur and poetry of the marbles
makes it worth the effort, unearths Monideepa Banerjee
a long time, after leaving Ahmedabad in the morning, we drive along
the cheese-smooth, asphalt stretch without a hurtling truck or a
battered chhakra (the famous bullet-cum-tempo of the Saurashtra
region). Even the ubiquitous camel cart that perfectly accentuates
the dull brown landscape sprawling on both the sides is no where
in sight. Then without warning a wide range of mountains emerge
in the horizon along with the lime-green Shetrunjaya River that
bestows fertility onto the barren flat lands.
main shrine of Adinath
to a temple-encrusted peak in the distance, our driver reveals in
excitement, Thats Palitana, the gateway to greater heights.
Spread over nine hilltops, the Shetrunjaya enclosure contains about
108 large temples and 872 small shrines with approximately 7,000
images. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Rishabha (the first
Jain Tirthankara) popularly called Adinath, who attained nirvana
or moksha on this hill. No wonder, the village sees
6-7 lakh visitors every year. I take refuge in the Sumeru hotel
of Gujarat Tourism, away from the crowded bazaar and cubbyhole shops
that are the favourite haunts of pilgrims as the road is dotted
with some 100 dharamshalas. In the evening, I hire a tonga and move
around. The entire area has become a melting pot of sights and sounds.
The run-down shops are churning out the most aromatic pav-bhajis
and the loudest meri sonia with equal gallantry and
the gaily dressed crowds seem to relish both with equal fervour.
Cows walk in sacred freedom as do the clusters of mosquitoes.
coming in a chhakra
next morning greeted me in the form of a daunting proposition as
I began my 3,000 step assault of Mount Shetrunjaya with a steady
stream of followers amidst low chant and incantations wafting in
the silent, mist shrouded air. The cold nip is refreshingly palpable
and I manage to gain quite a height before sunrise. The joyous burst
of sun rays make the valley below glow with happiness, but it also
brings enough misery to the pilgrims. The initial enthusiasm begins
to wane and each step becomes a painful effort. I rest a while with
a group from Bhavnagar who have come here to pray for their physically
impaired son, who casts me a shy smile from his perched up position
in a doli. Waves upon waves of pilgrims scurry past me in a frenzied
hurry to meet the Lord.
After two hours of painful clambering, I reach the top and look
dazedly at the cluster of temples that seem to claw the sky in a
devotional riot. My exhaustion evaporates and, with a fresh lease
of energy, I explore the temple compound where thousands of devotees
sit quietly in touching humility. Each temple bearing the trademark
intricate carvings of Jain architecture and the unearthly luminosity
of the silver studded eyes of the idols. The only way to distinguish
one tirthankara from the other is their mount as a serpent means
the idol is Parshavanathji and so on.
impressive shrine of Adinath
one such intricately designed shrine, I see the wavy contour of
the town of Palitana snugly nestled in the crook of Shetrunjaya
River at the southern edge of the hills. I look in astonishment
at the serpentine succession of pilgrims that seem to grow with
every passing second despite the heat. Inside, the low murmur of
prayers suddenly spiral upwards as a group of school children join
in. It is difficult to tour all the temples in one visit so I enjoy
their sanctity sitting in a quiet corner.
descent is not always easy as the angry sun scorches down on me
from all sides, probably for not paying obeisance to all the Gods.
Halfway down, I get rid of my hunger pangs with creamy curds served
in clay pots by the Kathiawari women. Looking back at the steep
rise, I couldnt imagine how I completed the entire episode
without any broken bones. A monumental achievement, I must say,
as I never ever mastered the courage to climb a 100 steps that my
dietician insists so regularly. Nevertheless, I must admit that
the architectural grandeur of many of these striking Jain temples
at Palitana has few parallels. Undoubtedly, worth the effort.
File: The nearest airport is Bhavnagar. Palitana is 277 kms from
Ahmedabad and well connected by rail and road links. Luxury buses
run between Mumbai and Palitana daily. Gujarat Tourism runs the
Sumeru lodge and the town has more than 100 neat
and clean dharamshalas.