Olympus of the East - Breathtaking Dilwara Temple Complex at Mount Abu

The group of Jain temples at Dilwara on Mount Abu, in the southwest of Rajasthan, is famous for the stunningly detailed marble carving that covers almost every inch of the interior of the temples.

Aravalli hills are the oldest mountain ranges in India. They are older than the Himalayas. Mount Abu is the highest peak of this range is located in the Sirohi district of Rajasthan that sits between the Vindhyas in the south and Himalayas in the north. Mount Abu has been described as one of the most sacred places on earth according to ancient Hindu texts. Some ancient Jain scriptures have accounts that lord Mahavira the 24th Tirthankara (spiritual teacher) visited Mount Abu and blessed the city of Mount Abu.

The group of Jain temples at Dilwara

The Dilwara temple complex is an epitome of worship through human craftsmanship. Some experts consider the extraordinary architecture and the marvelous stone carvings to be superior to the famous Taj Mahal. These temples were built between the 11th and the 13th-century A.D. The ornamental details of the marble stone carving, the minutely carved ceiling and the sculpted pillars are phenomenal. It is believed that the craftsperson was paid gold according to the amount of dust they collected, inspiring them to carve ever more intricately. But it is unfortunate that we do not know about the tools used or the method of construction used to build such a magnificent temple complex. The one thing we know is that large blocks of marble were cut from top to bottom like monolithic rock carvings of Kailasa Temple in Maharashtra.

The Dilwara Temple Complex

The grand Dilwara Temple complex comprises of five major divisions or temples dedicated to five Jain Tirthankara’s. The two temples are especially breath-taking. One is Vimala Vasahi devoted to Adinatha, the first Tirthankara, or Jina. The other is the Luna Vasahi, dedicated to Neminatha, the 22nd. The interior space of the two temples is made of white marble. Everywhere, except boards, from walls to ceilings as well as columns and pillars, highly delicate engravings are sealed. This white and pure room is so beautiful that it makes us feel like we’re out of this universe.

Vimala Vasahi Temple

The oldest of all is the Shri AdiNath Temple or Vimala Vasahi Temple-This temple is built by Vimal Shah, Minister of Solanika ruler of Gujarat in 1031 A.D. and is dedicated to Shri Adinath Ji-the first Jain Tirthankara. The muted exterior of Vimala Vasahi on Mount Abu is unassuming and you will be pleasantly shocked witnessing the dramatically opulent interior of this gorgeous temple.

The subdued exterior of the Vimala Vasahi on Mount Abu
Central Ceiling of Pillared Hall
Vidyadevis on Central Ceiling
Sculpted Bands and Pendant Lotuses
Yakshi Ambika
The ceiling in Pillared Hall, viewed from directly below
The ceiling in Pillared Hall, viewed from an angle
The ceiling in Pillared Hall
A scene from Life of a Jina: Birth Rites
The ceiling in Pillared Hall  Vidyadevi Mahamanasi
The ceiling in Pillared Hall  Goddess Sarasvati with Architects
View of Jina Shrine on Exterior of Core Temple

Doorway Leading into Enclosed Core of the Temple

The temple has an open courtyard surrounded by corridors all beautifully adorned with marble carved stones. The cells inside this temple hold tiny depictions of Jain saints artistically painted on marble blocks. The inner dome is aesthetically designed with the pattern of flowers and petals, the huge hall of the temple pillars adorned with the carvings of female figures playing musical instruments. The temple also has the “Guda Mandapa “- a plain hall adorned with images of Shri Adi Nath.

The Luna Vasahi Temple

The stone inscriptions found within Luna Vasahi provide a wealth of knowledge about this temple and its patron: dedicated to Jina Neminatha, Luna Vasahi was built by a government official named Tejahpala and consecrated on 3 March 1230. Under the Jain traditions, as well as the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, funding the building of a temple is considered to be a great act of kindness and thus creates a great deal of divine merit. The engravings on the base of Luna Vasahi tells us that Tejahpala and Vishnupala had constructed the temple for the sake of his aunt, Anupamadevi, and his friend, Lavanya-Simha. The temple was named after this friend, “Luna” is a shortened version of “Lavanya.”

Luna Vihasi Temple
Central Domed Ceiling with 16 Vidyadevis
Central Domed Ceiling, Vidyadevis
Multilayered lotus pendant
Ceiling with Scenes from the Life of Krishna
Ceiling with Four Images of Lakshmi
Ceiling with Floral and Geometric Motifs
Scenes from the Life of Neminatha
Detail, pillar
Detail, dancers on base

Within the Luna Vasahi temple is surrounded by walls, ceilings, brackets and white marble columns, carved in beautiful detail. The base inscription of the temple praises the artistic impact of the building, contrasting the sparkling brilliance of the stone to the white shells of the conch, the stars, and the flowers of jasmine. The central ceiling of the open pillared hall that precedes the enclosed heart of the temple. Brackets on the capitals (or tops) of the eight pillars that support the dome ceiling are carved in the shape of female dancers. The intricately carved majestic pillars of this Temple were commissioned by Maharana Khumba of Mewar.

Shri Parshavnath Temple

Also known as Khartar Vasahi Temple-This temple was built by the Mandinka clan about 1458-59 A.D., this temple has the highest shrine along with four other Mandapa temples. The decoration of the pillars of this temple is yet another example of the artistic excellence of these Jain temples.

Peethalhar Temple

Also called as Shri Rishabdaoji Temple temple is a unique temple as most of the sculptures in this temple are made of ‘Pittal’ or Brass. This temple was built by Bhima Shah, a minister of the Gujarat dynasty, like the other temples of Dilwara, this temple also has Gudu Mandapa and Navchowki.

The Latest of the temples

The Shri Mahavir Swamy Temple was constructed in the year 1582 and is devoted to Lord Mahavira the 24th with Tirthankara of the Jain religion.

Illustration by William Carpenter

The architectural wealth of these temples attracted many saints and tyrant rulers as well, In 1311, the temple was raided by the then Delhi Sultan emperor Alauddin Khilji of the Khilji dynasty. At the time, two craftsmen from Mandore, Lalag, and Bijag did the renovation work. Again, in 1906 and 1950-1965, a new series of repairs were made. Lallubhai Jaichand completed the first series of restorations, which was undertaken by Anandji Kalyanji. Often this temple complex is overshadowed by some other well-known shrines in India, but this complex is a reminder of a glorious architectural past of India.

Image credits: The American Institute of Indian Studies