The Ranakpur Jain Temple, also known as the Chaumukha Temple, is neither the most sacred nor the most visited Jain temple in India. However, it is arguably the most magnificent. This immense, staggeringly beautiful white marble architectural masterpiece, nestled amidst lush green tropical rainforest, is a standout even by Indian standards. Dedicated to Rishabha, the founder of Jainism, the Chaumukha Temple is a favorite destination of both pilgrims and admirers of architecture.
Ranakpur is an extremely ancient settlement, and Jainism appears to have been practiced here for nearly two thousand years (perhaps longer). One of the oldest legends of the city is that the first temple was constructed here in the 5th century by a wealthy Jain merchant. The ruler at the time, Rana Kumbha, was a supporter of this first project.
The temple was dedicated to Rishabha, as were most other early Jain temples throughout Rajasthan. There is not much information about this early temple, or how important it was as an early pilgrimage site. Wile the city and its jain community survived the ages, the first temple did not, and it was ultimately replaced.
Early in the 15th century, a member of the local Jain community had a dream envisioning the construction of a new temple. The project was supported by the local ruler, and one of the area’s most reknowned builders oversaw the project.
The temple was completed in 20 years and consecrated in 1458 a prominent Jain leader. Much of the temple’s design, construction and early history are documented on copper plates kept at the temple. The temple has been run continually for over five centuries, and is now one of the most popular Jain sites in Rajasthan.
The Chaumukha Temple is one of India’s definitive temples, which is saying a lot. Built almost completely from brilliant white marble, the sprawling temple is visually stunning. While the main approach to the front is impressive, it is the rear facing the jungle that is really stunning. From this side, the temple cascades down the hillside with thick green foliage pushing in from all sides. When the adventure-minded picture the exotic jungle temples of ages past, it is the Chaumukha Temple that they are thinking of.
The Temple interior, also in gleaming white marble, is no less spectacular. Every inch of the place is covered in carvings of figures of all sorts. There are over a thousand pillars supporting the ceiling, and it is claimed that no two are alike. Art lovers could spend a lifetime taking in the virtually endless décor.
The Chaumukha Temple dominates the tiny town of Ranakpur in the remote Aravali Hills south of Sadri, approximately 300 miles southwest of New Delhi. The temple is open daily from noon-5:00pm. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.udaipur.org.uk/temples/ranakpur-temple.html (official website).
Rajasthan is rich with Jain culture and architecture. Also in Ranakpur is the Ranakpur Sun Temple. Among the more worthwhile Jain Temples (relatively) close to Ranakpur is the Nasiyan Temple in Ajmer in the center of the state.