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Jain Temple, Ranakpur

You may want to tour the famous 15th Century marble temple that is still an active place of worship. Although it is a 2.5 hour to 3 hour drive (each way) from Udaipur, most tourists visiting Udaipur devote a day to this excursion. Part of the attraction is the great drive through the hills and rural communities.

Deep in the forest lies the huge 15th-century Adinathi Temple at Ranakpur. It is the largest and most complex Jain temple in India, with 29 halls covering 4,320 square yards. Holding up its domes and spires are 420 ornately carved pillars. The construction of the main shrine took 50 years. The temple is one of the five great holy places of the Jain sect. Dedicated to the first tirthankara, Adinatha, it has 29 rooms supported by more than 1,400 interior pillars. It is so complex in form and overwhelming in scale that at first it leaves you quite bewildered. But, as you walk though its chambers, the pattern gradually emerges. It is designed in a cruciform plan, with four separate entrances, one on each side. Each of these leads, through a series of columned halls, to the central court and cruciform with its four faced Adinatha image. The temple is enclosed on all four sides by rows of chapels (86 in all), and is topped by 20 domes and five spires.

What makes the Adinatha Temple truly remarkable, of course, is the fact that all these grand architectural elements are completely covered with carvings, so profuse and so intricate that they resemble lace-work, rather than stone-carving. The ceilings are decorated with geometric patterns and scrollery; the domes are embellished with ornate concentric friezes and descending pendants; the brackets supporting the domes are designed with dancing goddesses. And when you study the richly carved pillars, you will realize that each one of them is carved with a different pattern from the rest. Look out also for one of the columns facing the sanctum, on which there is a small panel depicting a man with his hands joined. This is supposed to be Dharna Sah, the man who built this temple, while the figure next to him is Depa, his sculptor and architect. Another remarkable thing about the temple is the wonderful play of shadow and light, as the sun’s rays shift through the day, changing the pillars’ colors from gold to pale blue.

There are two other temples nearby, a 15th century Jain Parshvanatha temple, remarkable especially for its ornately pierced stone windows, and another 15th-century Hindu Surya temple.