The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 26, 2000

Delightful Dilwara
By Shona Adhikari

THE celebrated marble Dilwara temples near Mount Abu in Rajasthan, are among the national treasures of the country. These temples were already important places of pilgrimage by the time the British came on the scene. It is possible that they were first attracted to the place, during a visit to these celebrated temples, and built the hill-station in 1845, on land leased from the Maharao of Sirohi, who owned the entire region.

While the weather at Mount Abu, may not be cold in the summer months, it is certainly very pleasant, and cooler than in plains. This pretty hill station boasts of a lake, numerous palaces and temples that are located by the lake or on the surrounding hill-sides. However, the main focus of visitors to Mount Abu has always been the Dilwara Temples, located at village Dilwara, just 4 km from Mount Abu. These magnificent Jain temples, are among the finest examples of religious sculpture seen anywhere in the world, and certainly a legacy of the best Indian creativity in temple architecture.

The marble used for the Dilwara temples came from Makrana — the same mines that gave Agra its Taj Mahal. However, unlike the Mughal masterpiece, the exterior of the temple complex is not grand and imposing. The outer simplicity is deceptive, hiding a profusion of exquisite carving and ornamental details in designs that are abstract as well as figurative. Probably to avoid unwelcome visitors, these temples have simple exteriors. Perhaps that is why marauders have not shown any interest in the Dilwara temples, and these wonderful edifices have remained intact for centuries, for us to see and marvel at the skill of the builders and their expert carvers.


A temple at Dilwara The earliest of these temples, the Vimal Vasahi, is dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankara or sage, Adinath, and is said to have been commissioned around 1031 by Vimal Shah, Prime Minister to Bhim Deva, the first Solanki monarch of Gujarat. The temple is surrounded by a high enclosure wall of 52 cells which contain seated figures of Adinath. Facing the entrance is a six-pillared pavilion with ten statues of the founder and his family seated on elephants. The interior of the temple is profusion of carving, dazzling visitors with their intricacy. The central dome is built of 11 concentric rings, five depicting patterns of figures and animals, while the rest are flower friezes, or abstract designs. The carvings are so fine and intricate that the effect is that of fine lace.

Superimposed on the rings of carvings are 16 female figures of the ‘Goddesses of Knowledge’ — an important part of most Jain temples of earlier times, also seen at the Jain temples of Osiyan and Ranakpur. Ornate pillar and torans or arches, lead up to the main central shrine of Adinath — his image is simple and unadorned, in stark contrast to the exuberance of decoration outside. The Luna Vasahi temple, is said to have been built two centuries later, by Vastupal and Tejpal, two brothers who were powerful ministers at the court of the ruling Solanki monarch Raja Bhim Dev II.

Bringing in the best-known marble craftsmen of the time, they offered rewards of silver and gold to the masons, encouraging them in their creativity. The temple is dedicated to Neminath, the 22nd Jain Tirthankar, whose symbol the conch-shell forms an oft-repeated pattern in the carvings. In this temple, there is a deeper attention to detail, and the central dome designed in the shape of a giant lotus pendant, shows carvings in layers so thin, that they seem to be almost transparent. There are 39 cells with images of Neminath, each with an its own entrance portico, thickly encrusted with carvings depicting episodes from the Tirthankar’s life.

The Pittalhar temple was built by Bhima Shah, Minister to Sultan Begada of Ahmedabad, and is said to have been built between 1317 and 1432 A.C. An 8 ft metal statue of Adinath, installed here is said to have been made out of an alloy of five metals of panchdhatu in which the primary metal used is brass or pittal, giving the temple its name. There are other marble images of Adinath to be seen in the niches, but the temple was never completed.

The Pareshwanath temple is the tallest among the temples of Dilwara, rising to three storeys. Each storey has a marble image of Pareshwanath, depicted under the protection of a hooded snake. Built in 1458 A.D., the temple has elaborate carved pillars and torans similar to those of the other temples., with the addition of decorative female figures as seen in the Hindu temples of Khajuraho. The main difference in this temple is that instead of white marble, grey sandstone has been used in its construction.

There is also the Mahavir Swami temple, a small and simple structure constructed in 1582 A.D. and dedicated to the 24th. Jain tirthankar, Mahavir. The walls of this temple have frescoes dating back to 1764, and are said to have been done by painters from Sirohi. These fine painted surfaces are still fresh, and preserved well.

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