The city of Palitana in Gujarat is one of Jainism’s holiest places. According to tradition it was here that Rishabha, the founder of Jainism, spent time meditating here over two thousand years ago. Because of this Palitana is believed to be one of the earliest centers of the Jain religion. The hill where Rishabha spent his time is now home to one of India’s most magnificent cluster of Jain temples, and most Jains endeavor to visit Palitana at least once in their lifetimes.
Palitana has been considered sacred among Jains going back at least twenty three centuries. Rishabha, the founder of Jainism, lived for a time on Shatrunjaya Hill (the exact date of his residence is uncertain; it appears that he lived sometime between the 5th and 9th centuries BC). According to Jain theology he was the first person to achieve enlightenment, and that this event was tied in part to his meditative efforts in Palitana.
Jainism in Palitana can be traced at least as far back as the 4th century BC, and it is has been one of the most important Jain centers ever since. Temples began appearing in Palitana, notably on Shatrunjaya Hill, over a thousand years ago. By the Middle Ages Palitana was one of the most important and prosperous states in Gujarat.
At some point it was determined that the entire Shatrunjaya Hill was sacred by virtue of Rishabha’s time there, and a major temple construction project was started. Beginning sometime around the 11th century, temple after temple began to be erected on the hill. This process was severely disrupted in 1311 when a Muslim army razed most of the city. Work resumed a few years later and has been proceeding, on and off, ever since.
By the 18th century, most of the hill was covered with one of the most densely built-out collection of temples in India. Many of these temples were sponsored by wealthy Jain families who continue to maintain them generation after generation. The entire hill is now considered to be so sacred that no one is allowed to stay on the hill overnight. Collectively the temples of Shatrunjaya Hill are considered one of the most sacred Jain pilgrimage destinations in the world.
Shatrunjaya Hill is a place of staggering numbers. There are nearly nine-hundred individual temples and shrines on the hill which has two interconnected peaks. The main temples at the top of the hill requires a climb of thousands of steps, all of which must be ascended and descended before nightfall. At the top of the hill is the main site, the Adinath Temple, where Rishabha is honored and revered. It is the center of a magnificent walled compound packed with temples and shrines.
All of the many temples at Palitana are carved in stone and marble, and the city is home to one of the greatest collections of carved marble decorations anywhere. Other major temples on the hill include the Ashtapada Temple, the Chaumukh Temple, the Kumarpal Temple, the Sahasrakuta Temple, the Sampratiraja Temple and the Vimal Shah Temple. Most of the major temples on Shatrunjaya date from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Temples of Shatrunjaya Hill are located about four miles south of the town of Palitana, approximately 180 miles north along the coast from Mumbai. Opening times and accessibility to the temples vary, but generally they are open during daylight hours. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.gujarat-tourism.net/palitana_gujurat (official tourism website of Palitana).
After Palitana, the next most important Jain site in Gujarat province is arguably Modhera, home to the popular Modhera Sun Temple.