Fascinating Palitana Jain Temples atop Shatrunjaya Hill, Gujarat

Shatrunjaya hill temples, Gujarat gujarattourism.com
Shatrunjaya hill temples, Gujarat gujarattourism.com
With no exceptions, all religions have a distinctive pilgrimage center to which lakhs of devotees pay a visit either to have peace of mind and tranquillity for the rest of their existence on this earth or secure a place in heaven.  As far as Hindus are concerned, they undertake such pilgrimages to holy places for salvation - free from rebirth. In the case of Jains of Jainism which is a small religion and an offshoot of Hinduism, pilgrimages form an integral part of their religious duty and they accomplish it before the onset of old age 
The main pilgrimage site for Jains, in India is not that easily accessible as you would walk into a holy temple in Banares (Varanasi) or in Rameswaram where lakhs of Hindus flock. 

 The Jains, a primarily a business community, not only live in India but also across the world. The world diamond  trade is partly controlled by them and a large community of Jains is living in Antwerp, capital  of Belgium engaged in cutting and polishing of raw diamonds, including diamond dust. It is said  they have close rapport with orthodox/Hasidic  Jews who have been traditional diamond traders in Antwerp for centuries. In 2006 mainly Jain diamond traders accounted for US$19 billion annual diamond trade.  Believers of non-violence and strict vegetarians, they have no gods or spiritual figure; they follow certain seers/monks  and do believe in reincarnation. They, like Hindus, strive hard to be finally liberated from the  the cycle of life and rebirth.
Shatrunjaya hill temples, Gujarat gujaraticulture.org
Shatrunjaya hill ("place of victory against inner enemies") originally Pundarikgiri), also spelt Shetrunjaya is a major pilgrimage place for the Jains. Located in  Palitana, in Bhavnagar district, Gujarat on the banks of the Shetrunji River at an elevation 164 feet (50 m) above sea level, they are similar to  those hills where  you can find Jain temples  in Bihar, Gwalior, Mount Abu and Girnar.  Palitana town is at the base of the foothills, 56 kilometres (35 mi) from Bhavanagar. The terrain  is rugged while the land is drought-affected.
Climbing the stairs of Shatrunjaya Maha Tirth en.wikipedia.org
Shatrunjaya hill temples, Gujarat.agefotostock.com
The sacred hill of Shatrunjaya ( it is a part of the Girnar ranges), believe it or nor, has as many as  865 marble-carved temples on the hills spread mostly in nine clusters. The hills are said to be sanctified  because it was here  on the hill the monk  Rishabha, the first tirthankara of Jainism, gave his first sermon. The history of the
hills goes back to the time of  Pundarika Swami, a chief Ganadhara  and grandson of Rishabha, who attained Nirvana/Moksha here.  Located  across the main Adinath temple, built by Son of Rishabha, Bharata, lots of pilgrims visit this shrine.  Often referred to as Siddhakshetra or Siddhanchal, here  many thirtankaras are said  to have received enlightenment. It is said that 23 of 24 Jain Tirthankaras, except Neminatha, sanctified the hill by their visits.
Shatrunjaya hill temples, Gujarat Adisvar temple  .jainpedia.org
To get to the top of the hill which is an  an ancient tirtha (religious pilgrimage site) where the  Palitana temples are located,  the pilgrims have to climb about  3750 stone steps, that  are carved into the mountain. The uphill distance is 3.5 kilometers (2.2 mi) from the base and  it takes more than  two hours to reach the top. This pilgrimage center is open almost year round except during the Monsoon season, lasting four long months. The pilgrimage is called "Shri Shantrunjay Teerth Yatra" and is undertaken from the Poornima day (Full Moon Day) of Kartik month according to the Hindu calendar (October–November as per the Gregorian calendar).  However, a large number of pilgrims undertake the pilgrimage in the month of Phalguna (February/March),  and this route  passes via  five sacred temple sites over a distance of 45 kilometers (28 mi).  Jains  normally undertake the yatra in large groups from the base of the hill. This pilgrimage being an important one, almost all devout Jains undertake it during their life time.  It is the duty of the Jains to climb the hill as many times as possible. As for the elderly people above 60, dolies are available to take them uphill to the temples and  then down hill. A dholi is a seat attached to a pole carried by strong men who climb the hill, for which you have to pay them.

Besides,   pilgrims  also go round the Shatrunjaya hills (in Tamil it is called ''Girivalam'', often associated with Kathigai Deepam at Arunachaleswarar temple, Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu) covering a distance of 216 kilometers (134 mi) on foot, chanting prayers while on the move.   Once atop the hill, the devotees wearing white - robe never fail to do their religious duty. It is expected of them to pay homage at each of the complex’s many tuks, similar to temples. As part of worship, barefoot  Jains sweep the grounds with brooms and see to it they don’t kill anything before sitting down or sweeping. They engage in chanting of religious texts along with other pilgrims and Jain monks surrounded by Tirthankaras, similar to unclothed Buddha statues.

The Palitana temples, records point out  they were built over a period of 900 years starting in the 11th century.  It is said that the earliest temples were built by Kumarpal Solanki, a great Jain patron.  The builder, it is mentioned, paid the talented sculptors wages, not only according to their skills and  capacity to carve with abrasive cords (not tools) the intricate designs, but also on the basis of the marble dust that they had collected every evening after their toil. 
Shatrunjaya hill temples, Gujarat .pinterest.com

 Unfortunately these amazing sculptures and temples were destroyed by the Delhi Sultanate army  in 1311 AD. Two years later, the  temples saw the rebuilding. However, temple building activities peaked in 1593 when  Hiravijayasuri (Chief of Tapa Gaccha) organized a major pilgrimage to this location to attend the consecration ceremony of the temple built for Rishabha by Tej Pal Soni, a merchant. Later lots of temples came up. Invariably most of the present temples  date back to the 16th century. In 1656, Shah Jahan’s son Murad Baksh (the then Governor of Gujarat) granted Palitana villages to the prominent Jain merchant Shantidas Jhaveri, a Svetambara Jain. Further, all taxes were also exempted, During the Mogul period, this temple town prospered.

Along with Shikharji in the state of Jharkhand, the two sites are considered the holiest of all pilgrimage places by the Jain community. They  strongly believe that a visit to this group of temples is  a must to get  nirvana or salvation. During the yatra, food  must neither be eaten nor carried on the way. Equally important is the descent which should begin before  evening. No person shall be allowed to stay for the night  atop the sacred hill.  The Shatrunjaya hills are considered by many Jains to be more important than the temple-covered hills of Jharkhand, Mount Abu and Girnar. 
Etymologically, Shatrunjaya means a “place of victory against inner enemies” or “which conquers inner enemies”. It is to be noted that there are 108 names of Shatrunjaya but only some of them are in common use. The Mahavir Jayanti, the birthday of Mahavira, is an important festival  which is celebrated with religious fervor in the  temple complex. Every year more than 400000 devotees visit the hill temples at Palitana.