Mahavira Jain temple of Osian, Rajasthan - an architectural extravaganza

Jain temple of Osian, Jodhpur dist, Rajasthan, 

Above image: Mahavira Jain temple of Osian, Rajasthan image courtesy  Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and Leiden University Library/Wikimedia Commons.
Sikhara (-tower of a Jain templ,Osion e,

The Mahavira Jain Temple, located in the  ancient town of Osian or Ossiyan  in the Jodhpur District of Rajasthan, stands as a monumental testament to the rich religious and architectural heritage of India. As the oldest surviving Jain temple in Western India, this sacred site is a significant pilgrimage destination for the Oswal Jain community and draws visitors from both Jain and Hindu faiths. Constructed during the reign of Maharaja Shri Vatsaraja of the Imperial Pratihara dynasty, the temple's historical and architectural grandeur continues to captivate devotees and scholars alike.

A Historical Legacy

The Mahavira Temple holds a prestigious place in the annals of Jain history as an important tirtha (pilgrimage site). According to an inscription discovered at the nearby Sachiya Mata Temple dating back to 956 A.D., the Mahavira Temple was built in 783 A.D. during the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty by King Vatsaraja. This makes it the oldest surviving Jain temple in Western India, a beacon of religious continuity and devotion. Jain legends tell of Acharya Ratnaprabhasuri, who around 457 BCE, performed a miracle by reviving the son of a prominent Brahman. This event led to the conversion of the villagers to Jainism and marked the origin of the Oswal community. Witnessing Ratnaprabhasuri's divine power, Goddess Chamunda was transformed into a Jain vegetarian deity, subsequently known as Sachiya Mata, who became the protector of the temple and its devotees. The idol of Mahavira, central to the temple, was discovered buried at the temple site, further adding to its mystical allure.

An inscription from 953 CE found within the temple complex indicates that Osian was once a flourishing hub of decorated temples catering to various castes. The temple underwent its first significant renovation in 956 A.D., demonstrating its sustained importance through the ages. Renowned scholar George Michell describes the existing main temple as predominantly 11th century, with foundational elements dating back to the 8th century. The torana (ornate gateway) dates from 1015 CE. Despite being plundered by Muslim rulers and losing its original idols, the temple was restored in 1016 CE, with a manastambha (pillar of honor) constructed as part of its rejuvenation. Further renovations in the 12th century added to its grandeur.

Architectural Splendor

Dedicated to Lord Mahavira and belonging to the Śvētāmbara sect of Jainism, the Mahavira Temple is a magnificent example of the Gurjara-Pratihara architectural style. The large temple complex is enclosed by a wall and comprises a garbhagriha (sanctum), mandapa (hall), a closed hall, an open porch, and an ornate torana adorned with exquisite sculptures. The temple’s intricate artwork on its pillars is characteristic of the Maha-Maru tradition, showcasing the artistry and craftsmanship of the era. The shikhara (spire) of the garbhagriha and the subsidiary shrines are crowned with amalaka and kalasa, and the shikhara above the mulprasad (main shrine) was later constructed in the Māru-Gurjara architectural style.

Inside the garbhagriha, a large image of Mahavira, covered with 400 grams (14 oz) of gold, stands as a focal point of veneration. The outer and inner walls of the sanctum and closed hall are richly decorated with carvings of Asta-Dikpalas, yaksha-yakshi, tirthankara, vidyadevi, and other deities. Vidyadevi sculptures are depicted playing musical instruments, adding to the aesthetic and spiritual ambiance. The temple's northern, southern, and western walls feature carvings that depict significant events from the life of Neminatha, including his birth, battles, and renunciation. The antarala (vestibule) ceilings of each shrine in the complex are adorned with intricate floral carvings, exemplifying the detailed artistry of the period.

The temple complex also includes seven subsidiary shrines, four on the eastern side and three on the western side of the sanctum, connected by a pradaksinapatha (circumambulatory path). The eastern shrines feature figures of Mahavira and Parshvanatha. The temple complex includes a Dev-Kulika temple and a Dādābadī housing the footprints of revered Jain monks.

Among the temple’s treasures are three 5.7 feet (1.7 m) Jivantasvami images. Two of these idols are identical, with one inscribed in 1044 CE identifying it as Rishabhanatha. These idols depict the Tirthankara in the Kayotsarga posture, accompanied by ashta-pratiharya (excluding the lion-throne), yaksha-yakshi, mahavidyas, and miniature Jina figures on patrika.

An Enduring Symbol of Devotion and Artistry

The Mahavira Jain Temple stands not only as a site of religious significance but also as an architectural marvel. Its elaborate design and intricate carvings are comparable to the Parshvanatha Temple in Khajuraho and the Ranakpur ain Temple, making it one of India's most renowned temples. The  temple's historical legacy, combined with its architectural splendor, continues to inspire and attract visitors, making it a cherished heritage site in India.