Shikharji (A Little bit of Jainism)

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#1 Apr 8th, 2014, 20:46
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A journey like this cannot be designed or planned – it must be felt from within and the call complied with. I’m loathe to call this a trip and hence cannot title this as a trip report. A classification under Jharkhand or Bihar or any other modern or even medieval political boundary doesn’t appear appropriate since the place and the importance thereof predates any such demarcations. Due to the association of the place with Jainism, this being the holiest tirth for all Jains irrespective of the sub-sect, I have chosen to post it under religion here.

As a child, I had seen a photograph of my grandparents, standing bare feet on a patch of red gravel on top of a hill holding little more than a walking stick each. They were already approaching seventy years of age back then; this was at least two decades ago. About a kilometer farther into the horizon I could see another hill rising above, covered with scrub like vegetation and summited by a white temple. What I remember the most is not the scenery, as it was not particularly spectacular but rather how contented they looked standing there.
My own parents had been here in 2006 and spoken of it. In December 2011, coming back from the bastar and Odisha trip, I boarded the Bhubaneswar Duronto express and the next morning, it stopped unscheduled at a station where the drizzle made it difficult to identify the name. I pulled the curtain a bit to note the name and captured a photo too blurred to even post here. The yellow painted concrete sign read ‘Parasnath’

Since then – somehow a visit always proved elusive. With hindsight, I suspect this had to do with my ‘man-sthithi’ (state of mind) – if one is too greedy for enjoyment, sees any vacation as an ‘escape’ then clearly a visit to a place like this will not come to pass. It is not an easy or necessarily pleasurable visit – yet it is liberating in a way that I cannot truly explain. I will attempt to outline what I experienced here.

The hills of Shikharji, also referred to as Shri Sammed Shikhar are situated 23 kilometers from Parasnath station that lies on the Delhi-Kolkata and Mumbai Kolkata trunk route. About twenty odd trains halt here. The Kolkata rajdhani is the fastest way to get there from Delhi (one train every day except Friday) and I traveled in second Aircon. I tried to get a train ticket for the long weekend of Holi this year (2014) but didn’t happen. Luckily, I got one for 29th March - the next possible long weekend.

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The train left punctually at 5:00 pm with a scheduled arrival a rather early 5:45 am at Parasnath – the halt is only two minutes, sufficient if you're prepared. I walked around the compartment a bit, was stopped from photographing the pantry car but did take a photo of this night attendant ingeniously using the linen cupboard as his bed.

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He also gave me the wifi password – yes the train has onboard wifi and it actually worked very well. I could google some useful information and email my parents to while away the time.

I could tell that the man on the opposite berth was an older Lama (Buddhist monk) but didn’t know he’d be so influential. A former Rajya Sabha MP, he is the head of the all India Mahabikhhu society and distributed his time between Bodhgaya, Delhi and Darjeeling. I don’t wish to publish his photograph here or his name but we had some very interesting conversations about Buddhism, about his motivation to become a monk and best of all, he performed an impromptu chant for me in Prakrit and another one in Sanskrit. It didn’t require any music – felt like he was singing. Packed dinner was served and it was rather good.

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Slipping into sleep was effortless. And then, I recall someone shaking my legs a bit ‘Babuji, station aa gaya’ (Sir, we’ve arrived at the station). I jump out of the berth, pack my bag quickly and disembark rather weary eyed at the platform. A clear reminder that this was Bihar before it was Jharkhand was parked at the station.

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A fellow passenger from the train was kind enough to offer to ferry me all the way to Shikharji’s base – Madhuban – named rather poetically so as the forest of honey or a pleasant forest. His family operated some businesses in Giridih (another 25 kilometers or so from the turn to Madhuban). He drove and we discussed a bit about life (he was just graduating from college) and some places in the Himalayas that are easily approachable from Delhi. As soon as he turned towards Madhuban, the change in scenery was spectacular – it was green and tree lined (though the onset of the dry season explains the leaves on the ground).

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Being half a jain and that too without an appropriate surname carries with it a fair share of complications – dharamshala entry is hard, people judge you for your surname and sometimes, unfairly penalize you by refusing accommodation. The man at the counter of Neeharika complex was half asleep and somewhat surprised to see a single young(ish) man arrive in this hot season but after some preliminary questioning, signed me in to a triple seated deluxe room. The accommodation is geared towards people traveling in groups so I didn’t have much choice – it was either this, or a further walk down the road that I was in no mood for at that time. Within the complex stands a rather oversized Kalash (water pot) shaped temple.

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Initial attempts to sleep for a couple extra hours proved futile as the people providing infrastructure support to weary pilgrims knocked periodically – first, there was a maalishwala (masseur), then a laundryman and finally a ‘doliwallah’ (palanquin carrier). I politely declined all offers but all this commotion did get me wide awake. With little else to do, I had a bath and walked out the room (seen below) at eight in the morning, wincing in the bright sunlight.

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(Continued here)
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Apr 15th, 2014 at 13:54..
#2 Apr 9th, 2014, 04:25
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#2
A great start Vaibhav. Looking forward to more .

I liked the story of the photo of your grandparents.
#3 Apr 9th, 2014, 09:33
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I didn't understand what 'Shikharji' is and had to google and came to know it is 'Parasnath Temple' in Jharkhand.

It looks like a very nice area for hiking/ trekking. Are non-jains and Europeans allowed on these pretty Parasnath hills? ..

You being ½jain seemed worried for accommodations, wondering where would non-jains could stay and find food?

Is it a safe place to visit because of recent maoists activity?

.
"Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards." – Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001)
#4 Apr 9th, 2014, 12:11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JuliaF View Post A great start Vaibhav. Looking forward to more .

I liked the story of the photo of your grandparents.
Thanks Julia. It is a fond memory. My grandfather is no more but my grandmother is still alive. The photo hangs in their dining room.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RWeHavingFunYet View Post I didn't understand what 'Shikharji' is and had to google and came to know it is 'Parasnath Temple' in Jharkhand.

It looks like a very nice area for hiking/ trekking. Are non-jains and Europeans allowed on these pretty Parasnath hills? ..

You being ½jain seemed worried for accommodations, wondering where would non-jains could stay and find food?

Is it a safe place to visit because of recent maoists activity?

.
You questions will get answered as I write more. However, I'd like to point out that it is not just the 'nirvaan-sthal' of Parsvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar but of 19 other Tirthankars and some Ganadhars as well and therefore the appropriate name is Shikarji or Sammed-Shikharji.

The entire area is maoist infested, but i went because I just had to!
#5 Apr 9th, 2014, 12:21
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#5
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Originally Posted by vaibhav_arora View Post The entire area is maoist infested, but i went because I just had to!
That is the spirit. Very interesting !
#6 Apr 9th, 2014, 13:32
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#6

The story of mallinath

Madhuban’s history is known as far as four hundred years when the first pilgrim houses came up at this town at the foot of the hills. Many of the ‘bhawans’ have temples inside them and further, there’re many stand-alone ones. I visited at least ten that day from what I recall, missed another hundred perhaps. I wore bathroom slippers as I had forgotten to pack sandals in the excitement of departure.

The very first temple that I visited had a group of five ladies who had come in from Calcutta. In a flash, I realized that I had missed something else as well. They kindly offered me rice that I could use in this temple. Embarrassed, moments later, I was outside and downstairs at the nearby necessities shop, purchasing my own pack of rice mixed with crystallized sugar (mishri) and dry fruits – to be used for offering. I caught a glimpse, from the roof, of the place I would have to be at by the next morning - the hills called Sammedshikharji. They looked really far.

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Inside the Digamber Jain Beespanthi Kothi is a fantastic representation of the ‘Samosaran’ – essentially the seat of the Tirthankar that is created by the gods when he achieved Kevalgyan and spreads the knowledge to all those who seek to benefit from his teachings.

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The jain museum run by the swetambar (white-clad) sect is very well maintained. It is a compact, two story structure and exhibits inside elaborate on the lives of the Tirthankaras. Swetambars do revere many of their teachers including many modern ones – thus there are representations of many revered ‘suris’ (Swetambara teachers) inside the museum. Most of the major life events of the lives of the Tirthankaras are common to Digamber and Swetambar tradition though with the exception of one major event about the 19th Tirthankar – Mallinath.

Digamber tradition maintains that Mallinath, in line with the other 23 tirthankars, was a prince and therefore a man. Swetambar tradition on the other hand dictates that Mallinath was infact a princess ‘Malli kumari’.

This distinction is important – Malli’s gender allows Swetabaras to allow women into the tradition of asceticism. Thus, the white clad women that are seen at prominent Swetambar Jain temples such as Palitana in Gujarat are all ‘sadhvis’ while there are no women ascetics or renunciates in the Digamber tradition as the digambers continue to disallow nirvana and the ascetic’s path to women.

Malli’s story in the swetambar tradition is fascinating: In the city of Vitshoka, there ruled a powerful king - Mahabal. He had six intimate friends. Highly influenced by discourses of ascetics, king Mahabal decided to hand over the throne to his son, and along with his six friends renounce the world and become an ascetic. Thus, all seven Kings took deeksha and started their spiritual journey.

During the period of renunciation and wanderings, Mahabal thought that since it was him who motivated his friends on this path so, he was in all ways superior to them. Under this grip of ego Mahabal thought that if he continued to do the practices at the same time and of the same type, he would remain at the same level as his friends. So, he secretly started doing a few other practices that he believed would uplift his spiritual status. This grip of ego was the downfall of Mahabal and he could not achieve Nirvana and had to be reborn – as the charming princess Mallika, a princess of Mithila.

As a grown up, Malli was a woman of unmatchable beauty. Yet, her demeanor was not one of a princess but of an ascetic. She would spend her time in prayers and didn’t display any attachment to possessions. The six friends of Mahabl were reborn (so great were their attachment and devotion for their friend and for each other) as six kings of neighboring states. They all had heard of Malli’s beauty and lusted after her. One after another, they sent a proposal to her father, king Kumbh of Mithila. Kumbh was a loving and understanding father and knew that his daughter would not marry as she was already leaning towards the ascetic’s path and he communicated as much to these six kings. The kings felt annoyed and marched on Mithila. Malli, as a loving daughter understood the reason for her father’s furrowed brow.

Malli had a master craftsman construct an exact replica statue of her. The statue was hollow from the inside and had a small opening at the back of the neck. Every day, as the kings marched with their armies towards the capital, malli stuffed a fistful of her food, whatever she was served inside the statue. By the time the kings were at the edge of mithila, the statue was full of this discarded food and the royal chamber was stinking. Malli then sent a message to each of the kings asking them to meet her in private at the royal chamber. The message was crafted with such care that each king believed that only he had been invited to meet the princess. The kings entered the niches around the central, circular chamber where the statue was placed. All they could see was the statue, an exact replica and they believed that there was little to separate them from the object of their desire – the princess. The princess who stood behind the statue, suddenly open the covering from the staute – flooding the chamber and all six niches with awful smell of rotting food. The kings turned around in an attempt to rush out of the niches only to find the doors behind locked. They had no escape.

They came together in the central chamber, closer to the statue and saw Mallikumari standing near it, smiling. She said ‘O slaves of passion, all you see is the body and not what is inside it. If the stink caused by just a little food is intolerable to you after it is past the time it was to be eaten, think of the body that you so desire which is made of the same food. It is nothing but flesh and bones that will wither away once it’s time is up’. The six kings realized the futility of their desires and asked Malli for her forgiveness.

The exhibit below shows how Malli the princess brings about a realization in the six kings – princes of Varanasi, Hastinapur, Panchal, Shravasti, Champa and Saketpur.

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Malli renounced the royal fold and the laity’s life and these six kings were her first followers (ganadhar). She achieved Nirvan on the top of Sammet-Shikarji along with three hundred men and three hundred women.

(to be continued)
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Apr 10th, 2014 at 14:35..
#7 Apr 9th, 2014, 15:16
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We know it as Pareshnath, more correctly Parswanath .... when we're there for the first time in '96, we came to know it as Shikharji but still we say 'Pareshnath'. During '95-'96 I did some intensive trips in and around Purulia which included Pareshnath too. Actually it was my first long trek and I enjoyed it so much that later I insisted some of my close friends to go there with me in 2003/4. It was my second visit to Shikharji. But truly speaking , I visited the place a tourist, trekker. Enjoyed the nature around, beauty of the temples, their awesome positions, view from top .... what I knew was about 'nirvan-sthal' of Parswanath and other 23 Tirthankars only. I didn't know of 'Ganadhars' ... of Mallikumari .... and many more I think (which I'll know soon ).

So this is my third visit Vaibhav. GREAT going.
aamar payer tolai sorshe...(I have wheels under my feet)
#8 Apr 9th, 2014, 16:35
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Originally Posted by Duronto Jajabar View Post So this is my third visit Vaibhav. GREAT going.
Thanks DJ for your kind words. Actually, only 20 of the 24 tirthankars achieved nirvan here. Others were : Adinath - Kailash (historicity of the event doubted) Neminath - at Girnarji (Gujarat), Vasupujya - Champapuri (bihar), Mahavira (last and the best known) - Pavapuri - Bihar.

Incidentally, the article in RWE's post below speaks of Mahavira as having attained nirvan on sammedshikhar, which isnt correct. It was at Pavapuri, Bihar.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RWeHavingFunYet View Post Is it a safe place to visit because of recent maoists activity?

.
#9 Apr 9th, 2014, 17:15
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#9
Very interesting thread, Vaibhav, thanks for sharing.
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- Mahashweta Debi, Bengali author and activist.
#10 Apr 10th, 2014, 13:43
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#10

Interregnum - Some concepts and notes on iconography

Before I continue the tale of these 36 hours I spent at Shikharji, I feel it’s appropriate to introduce the readers of this thread to certain concepts that they may find in their visit to any Jain temple they have a chance to visit, even out of touristic interest. I have used only my own photographs, captured over many years, but not all of them were captured at Shikharji (I have indicated appropriately).

Madyalok -
The Digamber Jain Madhyalok Shodh Sansthan (Digamber Jain Middle World Research Center) at Madhuban has a temple with a large (20 feet high) black Parasnath idol along with the representation of the world as described in Jain mythological literature. The Madhyalok (or middle world) is the one we all live in. The other two worlds are Urdhva lok (upper world) and adho lok (lower world). I will not dwell too much into this aspect as depictions of Madhyalok are rare and besides, the mythological aspect is simply too broad to deal with in a write up like this. It is the earth and the land and the surrounding sea where all Tirthankaras (ford makers – the twenty four teachers of Jainism) were born, renounced the bonds that tie them to daily life, achieved Kevalgyan (complete knowledge) and finally nirvana (escape from the cycle of birth and death). The notable feature of the depiction of Madhyalok at Shikarji are the tall tower like structures that are the samosaran (see first post please) of the Tirthankars.

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Khadagasan or Kayotsarga posture –

The Kayotsarga posture is unique to Jainism and its basis lies in the Tirthankar or any ascetic’s attempt to pursue detachment to its extreme and logical end – that of giving up one’s own body. Literally ‘Kaya-utsarga’ implies giving up (utsarga) one’s own body (kaya). Archaeologists have agreed that this posture (seen in statues of Tirthankaras) is unique to Jainism and has been used to identify whether the statue is a Jain statue or not. The posture also signifies the ascetic’s attempt to minimize his impact on the earth while not causing any harm to any living being (other than accidental harm to any living organisms that are breathed in). No food, water is consumed, of course and in many cases, one sees depiction of vines creeping up on the ascetic’s feet while wild animals (the most common depiction is of snakes) surround the body as well.

The photograph below is taken in cave number 4 of Badami in 2013 and shows many Tirthankaras in the Kayotsarga posture. It is also known as Khadagasan (khadag is a straight up sword) position in Yoga. Perhaps the best known Jain idol depicting Kayotsarga posture is at Sravanabelagola in Karnataka. Despite visiting it thrice, I don’t have a single photograph, but there’re many available online, easily.

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Padmasana posture-
This is not unique to Jainism but one does find the maximum number of Tirthankar statues sitting in this position. The Padm-asan (lotus – posture) is a yoga posture as well. The ascetics meditated in this posture as it helps concentration (it is a contemplative position) and the impact of the body on the earth is second only to the Kayotsarga posture. Given below is a photo captured in December 2009 at Gwalior Fort as one walks up the fort from the entrance - the walls are lined with statues of Tirthankars. The tirthankar statue at my back is sitting in the Padmasana posture while the one in the right of the photo (my left) is in the Kayotsarga posture.

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Chaturmukh –
In many places one would find tirthankar statues facing all four directions. The concept of Chaturmukh in Jainism stems from the idea that the glory of the Tirthankar should and does travel in all four directions. Many other religions have the concept of ‘guardian’ of the direction (notably Buddhism) – that isn’t the case in Jainism.

Man-stambh (pillar of dignity)

A very visible and unique structure in all major jain temples is the Man-stambh (literally translated as ‘man’ (pronounced maan)- Sanskrit for dignity or glory and stambh (pillar)) . It indicates that the glory of the Tirthankar travels far and wide and in all four directions and serves an identification mark of a Jain temple. The top of the pillar has four tirthankars looking in all four directions (chaturmukh). Given below is the photograph of the man-stambh at SriMahavirji, a town in Karauli district in Rajasthan.

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(to be continued)
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Sep 12th, 2015 at 20:05..
#11 Apr 10th, 2014, 23:48
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#11
Nice write up and beautiful Pics. and a few points on Jain Temples and worship.Thanks
#12 Apr 11th, 2014, 09:29
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#12
Highly impressed. For a half Jain you seem to know a great deal about the religion. Looking forward to more...
Last edited by miles2smile; Apr 11th, 2014 at 18:08..
#13 Apr 15th, 2014, 01:17
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Around Madhuban

Between ten to lunch, I continued my aimless wandering in Madhuban. As Shikharji lies tantalizingly close to Calcutta – about 300 kilometers – now a mere 5 hour drive with improved roads and several hours to overnight train journey – a considerable number of pilgrims come from the City Eternal.

The Bengal influence is seen in the historic building of the Terapanthi kothi of Madhuban. Terapanth (or the thirteen fold path) is a branch of Digamber Jainism. The gate reads ‘first house of Madhuban’ signaling its seniority though officially the oldest Kothi is Beespanthi kothi (twenty fold path). That one is documented to be four hundred years old. Both Kothis are managed by the Bengal Bihar Odisha Jain trust. I didn’t enquire much about how to stay there, etc but the architecture of Terapanthi kothi appeared distinctly like many a Bhawan or even a Rajbari that I’ve seen in a Bollywood movie.

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I kept wandering around, through a few other temples and lanes that appear old, just old. The sun was high and I was starving so walked back quickly to the Bhojanshala of Neeharika. The lunch was twenty rupees and was simple and superb. Deshi ghee is used in all preparation and the food cost is definitely higher (twice at-least is my reckoning) of the sale price. Names of donors are painted on boards near the reception. One must buy coupons well in advance (I had bought mine around the time I had set out in the morning – eight something).

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The moment I had finished the lunch and to get some advice, sat down with the man at the reception, a group came over and started fighting as to why they cannot be served food. Later, they bought coupons for dinner and almost attempted to dictate what should be served in the evening. It was quite disappointing to watch this, really.

The combined effect of the ghee lining my intestines and the overhead sun was salubrious. I went into the room and attempted shav-asan for a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the intended effect and I tossed and turned in my bed before starting off again for the evening’s stroll in an attempt to secure reliable information regarding the climb for the next morning.

Viewed from some distance, at Madhuban, the hills of Shikharji reveal that it’s not a single peak; it’s actually three peaks roughly in the shape of a complex clover-leaf when viewed as a plan. The ‘tonk’ or memorial to Parsvanath and Chandraprabhu (the eighth tirthankar) are placed on the left and right extremities while the top extremity which is significantly lower in height has the tonk of Abhinandannath. That day, from the base, I kept calculating how early I should start, slipping into doubt on the magnitude of the task and gathered an opinion too many.

Earlier that day from the Swetamber Jain museum, I had seen people looking at Shikarji temples using the binoculars that are installed on premises to let people view (or have ‘darshan) of the temples while standing at the base camp itself. I had a look through those as well and my first thought was ‘wow! That does look far’.

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As I walked around the main road from Neeharika complex towards the approach to the hills, passing by the Kutchi bhawan mandir, on my right was a man whose features were unmistakably tribal. I started talking to him and turned out that my guess was right, he was a Santhal. The Santhals are the earliest inhabitants of the Chotta Nagpur plateau, from where rise the peaks of Shikharji. I was reminded of something I had found in Amarkantak, nearly three years ago – medicated oil for joint pain prepared by boiling the medicinal herbs that grow on the hills in mustard oil. It was quite a sight really – blood red oil for joint pain that filled up recycled bottles of Blue Riband and Royal Stag. I wondered what the conversation would be like when septuagenarians from good families of Kolkata opened those up in their dharamshala rooms.

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I went back to the Bhojanshala for dinner – it was even better than lunch.

The sun had set and I was at the Swetambar Jain kothi to visit the last of the temples for that day – the Bhomiyaji temple that everyone must visit before they commence the climb. I remembered my time at Nakodaji (located in south west rajasthan – photography of the main temple complex prohibited from the inside) and the legend of Nakoda Bhairav. Back in 2011 my parents and I had done a driving trip between Jaipur-Nakodaji-Jaisalmer and Khichan. It was fantastic. At the temple of Nakodaji (also a parsvanath temple), I remember asking a caretaker about what his belief was as to the reason why Bhairav (a form of Siva) was worshipped. His answer, given to me in simple Rajasthani language with a heartwarming smile went thus “You see, Paras deva is a Tirthankar, it is not in his moral code to defend himself (nonviolence), but he must bless everyone, all those come to him at this temple. So, Bheruji is his protector – he wards off all evil.” Jains, since at-least the medieval times when temple building was sponsored by the kings of Rajputana, Malwa and beyond have had a symbiotic relationship with the tribals of whatever area the temple would be constructed in. It is the same in Shikharji.

A Bhomiya or Bhairav statue is quite the polar opposite of a Tirthankar representation. It has a distinct, recognizable face, with large eyes and a moustache and is anointed with vermillion daily. It is from this vermillion that either the caretaker or the devotee himself would be given a protective tilak (forehead-mark) before he goes for the darshan (viewing) of the mulnayak (principal deity). Here at Shikharji though, the gap between the Mulnayak and the sanrakshak (protector) is a mere 15 kilometers, 9 of which are uphill with a vertical rise of nearly a kilometer. Thanks to almost every devotee paying obesience to Bhomiyaji here at the foothill, the temple is suitably well to do, the walls are covered in real silver and the background is solid gold veneer. The inlaid marble competes with the finest coming out of Agra. It was quite a feast for the eyes!

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As I sat down on a ledge to tie my shoelaces, I was surrounded by no less than a dozen palanquin carriers (doliwallahs). They entreated me to engage their services. We engaged in banter with my line throughout being ‘I am able bodied, let me earn some ‘punya’ (good deeds) by performing some physical labor’ and their retort ‘babuji, our ‘season’ is only two months in a year – a month around Diwali and another in December’. It was a very friendly conversation as I kept talking to them about their homes, their lives and where they lived. I finally managed to fend off the attention politely by letting Ganesh and the other one whose name I now forget that I will wake them up at 4 am if I feel the need for any doliwallah. They were nice enough to leave me in peace.

I got out of the white marble clad swetamber premises, and on my left was another pair of herbal medicine sellers. A young, excitable boy was selling the red colored pain relieving oil. I hesitated for a moment but then bought a bottle of McDowell’s number 1 and called it a night.

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#14 Apr 15th, 2014, 03:14
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  • JuliaF is offline
#14
Brilliant Vaibhav, I'm looking forward to reading about the next day!
#15 Apr 15th, 2014, 14:09
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  • vaibhav_arora is offline
#15
thanks work's currently suspended due to faulty machine and lazy operator who prefers siesta to work. Typed this from my phone!
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