Jaisalmer fort has seven gorgeous Jain temples, intact from invasions and destruction over the last 800 years! The history of the Rajput King, the Fort, Jains and Jain temples of Jaisalmer, is intertwined and spans hundreds of years. The temples now store precious ancient literature of the Jains in secret underground chambers. They also store statues that once adorned the Jain havelies before they were abandoned.
In an eye opening visit to Jaisalmer’s tourist places, we found connections between the Jain temples of Jaisalmer Fort and our own family history.
The Story of the Jain Temples of Jaisalmer Fort
As the story goes – the old capital of the region, Lodharva was along the wealthy silk route. The wealth attracted many looters and invaders. The Mughal invaders also destroyed the city and damaged the all imporatant Jain tirth of Lodharva.
Tired of invasions and left out of his throne, King Jaisal started the hunt for a new capital. He found a monk on a plateau who told him of the forecast that the plateau will be the site of a capital of the future. But, it will also be a site for 2 1/2 jowhars. Not deterred, he built the new capital, Jaisalmer named after himself.
King Jaisal had land but not much wealth. On the other hand, the flourishing trade along the silk route was controlled by the Jains, which made them ultra-wealthy. The Patwa family alone had 367 stores all around Asia. They were so wealthy, they financed 48 kingdoms! But, they were merchants, not rulers.
They needed the king to protect their temples from invasions. So they struck a deal with King Jaisal.
The wealthy Jains agreed to finance the King’s fort if he agreed to have Jain temples in the Jaisalmer Fort. It was a win-win agreement. The Fort is very secure and hard to penetrate. So, the Jain temples and tirth Jaisalmer stand as they did hundreds of years ago. They also store one of the largest collections of precious Jain literature.
The Main temple is that of Parshwanath Bhagavan, the 23rd Tirthankara. Other temples include those of Sambhavnath, Adinath, Shantinath, Shitalnath, Chandraprabhu swami, Simanghar swami.
Even though all the Jain temples had prime real estate within the Fort, all the Jains lived outside the fort, in homes below the hill. You see the Jains were much wealthier than the king and built larger and higher houses. For example, the Patwa family house has four floors above and 2 floors below the ground. If the Jains built their houses in the Fort they would compete with the palace in height and grandeur. By having the Jain family homes in lower grounds, they could be larger without overshadowing the palaces of Jaisalmer.
If you have to pick one of Jaisalmer’s tourist places to visit at dawn, it ought to be the Jain temples in Jaisalmer fort. The fort is clean and quiet, with no tourists. The temples are calm with only the priests doing their chores. It’s the best time to mediate and soak in the vibe of the location that was once the seat of power, wealth and religion.
Parshvnath Swami’s Temple
Traditionally, Parshwnath Bhagavan’s (23rd Tirthankar) statue is black. In Jaisalmer’s Jain temple, the murti is white and looks like marble. But it’s really not! It’s made of clay with a thick coating of precious crushed pearls.
The seven temples in the Fort have some 6000 statues! That’s because – when Pakistan was formed in 1947, the silk trade route was shut down. Business suddenly came to an end. The Jains moved far and wind in search of work. When leaving their homes, the Jains donated their statues to the temples for safekeeping. As a result, the temples now have an incredible treasure containing thousands of statues made 12th to 15th century.
The Two Floor Temple
I wish I could be sure which temple this is in the Jain temples of Jaisalmer Fort. If you know which one this is please leave me a comment.
Tips for visiting Jain Temples of Jaisalmer Fort
Tourist season of Jaisalmer very short, so it gets very crowded in the few winter months Nov to Jan. Since the Jain temples are at the top of Jaisalmer’s tourist places to visit, they get their fair share of traffic. We visited Jaisalmer during the Christmas break, so the entire city was filled with tourists from all over India and the world.
- Avoid Crowds: The best way to avoid crowds is to visit the Jain temples in Jaisalmer fort early in the morning. For a couple of hours in the morning, the temples are open only to the priests and worshippers. If you’re a Jain or can pass as a Jain worshipper, it’s best to go before 8am without a tour guide. We found the temples to very quiet and we had them all to ourselves. We even got to meditate within the inner circle in the peace.
- Jain Treasures: Under the main temple are precious treasures of Jains, ancient archives preserved for hundreds of years. Early in the morning, the priests and caretakers may even be able to show you some of the treasures of the Jain temples. The treasure safe is opened when senior monks and scholars visit the temple.
- Ancient Tunnel: In the basement is also the entrance to the 13km tunnel to the old capital. So, if Muslims warriors or looters attacked Lodharva area, the Jains escaped to the temples in the fort.
- Clean and Peace: Another benefit of visiting the temples in the morning is that the entire fort is clean and quiet before the hoards of tourists arrive and leave trash all around the homes and lanes of the Jaisalmer fort.
- Parking: In the morning its easier to find parking close to the fort’s entrance. Many of Jaisalmer’s tourist places to visit are located within the Jaisalmer fort, the parking fills up quickly in winter.
- Shoes: Always wear good walking shoes as no vehicles are allowed inside the fort and all the paths are made of ancient stone.
For more tips check out the post on Rajasthan Travel Tips.
Hospitality and Honesty in Jaisalmet’s top tourist destinations
I was surprised and delighted by the honesty and genuine care provided by the natives of Jaisalmer everywhere – the hotel staff, storekeepers, rickshaws, old men sitting around chatting, women hanging out on their porches etc. One time we bought a daab (baby coconut) from a street vendor. It was one of the last few he had and we weren’t sure if there was any water in it. He refused to take money until we drank it. He said – ‘please pay me only if there is sufficient water in the coconut’.
You will also love
(note – the challenging part about this blog is that I didn’t take good notes about each temple and I’m getting mixed up when trying to match temples to Tirthankaras. So, if you know the correct names, please leave a comment and I’ll fix it.)