Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The 3,800 Steps

Not an extended remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic but almost a religious classic. The things people do in the name of religion. Palitana is a site of pilgrimage for those people that worship the Jain religion and I've taken the following from Wikipedia.

‘Jainism is an ancient religion of India, also now found in other countries around the world, that prescribes a path of peace and non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice rely mainly on self-effort in progressing the soul on the spiritual ladder to divine consciousness. Any soul which has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called jina (Conqueror or Victor). Jainism was revived by a lineage of 24 enlightened ascetics called tirthankaras culminating with Parshva (9th century BC) and Mahavira (6th century BC). In the modern world, it is a small but influential religious minority with as many as 10.2 million followers in India, and successful growing immigrant communities in North America, Western Europe, the Far East, Australia and elsewhere.

Jains have sustained the ancient Shraman or ascetic religion and have significantly influenced other religious, ethical, political and economic spheres in India. Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship and have the highest degree of literacy in India; Jain libraries are the oldest in the country.’

Now whilst I try to focus on wildlife for most of my foreign trips there are some cultural experiences that it would be a shame to miss and this is one of them. At the top of this one particular hill are around 900 temples and to get there you have to follow a path that is in much better condition than most of India’s roads but consists of 3,800 steps.


The view you might get after collapsing with exhaustion.

The Palitana temples are considered the most sacred pilgrimage place (tirtha) by the Jain community. There are more than 1300 temples located on the Shatrunjaya hills, exquisitely carved in marble. The main temple on top of the hill, is dedicated to 1st tirthankar lord Adinath (Rishabdeva). On the top the Shatrunjai Hill is a cluster of Jain temples, built by generations of Jains over a period of 900 years, from the 11th century onwards. From the foot of the hill to the top there are 3,800 and odd stone steps cut to facilitate climbing.  P1010771

Getting close–ish to the top.

If you don’t have quite the religious zeal to make it to the top without assistance then you can hire sticks to help you and also teams of 2 and 4 people to help carry you to the top for a price, 300 Rupees.


Now the guys doing the carrying would make the journey to the top and back down again many times a day!!!

On the day we visited it was the festival of the moon as we were in a full moon period and it was very busy with many worshippers making their way to the top. One thing to point out here is that no-one is allowed to stay overnight at the top so every day you have to ascend to your place of worship and descend especially if you are there for the week. Now that is religious dedication or something like that! All the food and festival/worship trappings have to be delivered to the top by hard working donkeys.

Just don’t get in their way as they descend as you are likely to get bowled over as donkeys have not yet evolved brakes.

The ascent for Lisa and myself started at 06:00 to get up and down in the coolest part of the day.

Once at the top the worshippers follow a circular route to gain access to various temples culminating at the main temple of worship. Senior priests sit at key locations and people are on hand to provide fruit, flowers and rice as offerings to the gods which can then once offered can then be consumed by the worshipper.



To look down on the worshippers in the main temple was quite an amazing experience. Those people on the right behind the netting were packed in like sardines packed amongst tightly packed sardines. Very slowly they would shuffle into the main place of worship, do their stuff and then pop put on the left. Despite looking like chaos it was all very orderly and well organised.

Some of the temple architecture was quite impressive. P1010785

Coming down the steps was much easier although harder on the knees and calf muscles. We met many people still climbing as the day started to heat up including a couple of people who were climbing up on hands and knees, presumably some sort of penance or stricter version of Jainism.

Further on in our trip our driver pointed out a hill where a 10,000 step path had been built to the temples at the top, needless to say we drove on.

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