KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Time to leave the city, see some of the surrounding countryside of Rajasthan and visit a remote temple and fortress. We learned that Rajasthan is split diagonally from northeast to southwest by the Aravelli mountains. We were heading out to the hilly region around Udaipur and later we plan to fly to Jaisalmer at the western edge of India where the Thar Desert dominates and spreads into neighbouring Pakistan. As I mentioned earlier, it was incredible to see the landscape change almost every twenty kilometers, but it was the farms and villages with the inhabitants dressed in stunningly colourful clothes that caught our eye against the backdrop of the dry hills and barren plains.
At last we descended into a narrow, wooded valley and came to one of the most important Jain temples in all of India. I had never heard of the Jains before coming to India for the first time, so I will take a moment to tell you a little about this fascinating religion. Hinduism is practiced by approximately 82% of the population, Islam (12%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.9%), Buddhism (0.76%), and Jainism a mere (0.4%). Jainism arose in the 6th century BC as a reaction to the restraints and rituals of the Hindu caste system. It was founded by a contemporary of the Buddha.
Jains seek complete purity of the soul. It is essential to practice right conduct and nonviolence in thought and deed is fundamental. The Jains are pure vegetarians and even shun root vegetables as they are thought to harm insects living in the earth as they are harvested. A restaurant serving Jain food will not use onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots or turnips. A devout Jain wears pure white clothing, covers the mouth and nostrils with white gauze to prevent inhaling insects and sweeps the ground in front while walking to avoid treading on any living thing.
The temple at Ranakpur is an incredible complex of white marble comprised of an amazing series of twenty-nine halls with a roof supported by 1444 delicately carved pillars, no two alike. It is a place of peace and harmony. We were surprised to learn that foreign tourists are not permitted to enter the temple before noon. This allows for worshippers to perform their rituals without the distraction of hordes of tourists and their cameras. It is hard to resist taking photographs and pouring over the elaborate carvings on all surfaces. We had to respect the sanctity of the temple and the privacy of the devotees during prayer times.
The guard at the entrance directed us to the temple office to seek permission to enter before noon. When we explained that Anil is a Hindu and that we were married many years ago in a Hindu ceremony, we were granted entry a half hour early. While we waited for the appointed time, we were directed to a small temple nearby, one that was carved by the sculptors in their 'spare' time. Apparently, they had dedicated their lives to creating the beautiful temple at Ranakpur and wished to create a smaller temple as a gift to their faith. What struck me as we studied the carvings was the erotic nature of many of the figures depicted. Here we saw the requisite apsaras (dancing girls or angels) in unusual poses, some naked below the waist and others embracing male figures. It seemed to me that the carvers were more free to express themselves on this temple of their own design and no doubt their isolation from their womenfolk inspired their art.
When we were at last allowed into the Chaumukha Mandir (Four-Faced Temple) we found that we were the only non-Jain visitors at that time. What a special treat to be able to wander amongst the hundreds of pillars alone. We were not allowed to take our camera in during this 'preview' so I carefully planned which shots I would take after mid-day. I was very glad that I did, because promptly at noon, the tourist buses starting arriving and the temple was flooded with people dressed in sandals, khaki shorts and cotton t-shirts. I hurried around and took my photographs before most of the newcomers moved beyond the entrance courtyard.
We left as the temple became overcrowded and realized that this meant that there would be few visitors at the Kumbalgarh Fort, our other destination on our visit outside of Udaipur. The tour guides take the buses to the fort in the morning and time the tour so that they arrive at the Jain temple just as it opens to foreigners. The delay we experienced when we arrived worked to our advantage, we were able to visit the smaller temple and also avoid the bulk of the crowds at both the sights planned for the day.
We are told that during the major Jain festivals as many as 50,000 worshippers visit this remote temple. Many are housed and fed at the temple complex itself at no charge. I'm happy to have seen this majestic white marble wonder on one of its quieter moments.