“Look at the ceiling and see the beautiful gold leaf work,” the priest-cum-guide at the Jain Temple urges our group.
Everyone obediently looks up at the ceiling appreciatively. Some of them, including yours truly, try to see the finer details of the paintings on the ceiling by zooming their camera lens on it.
“What are the images depicted on the ceiling all about?” I ask.
“Those are our Jain stories,” says the priest-cum-guide.
“What do they say?”
The priest-cum-guide smiles, “Madam, you will not find them interesting. You look at the beautiful frescoes and painted pillars and take beautiful pictures.”
“But how will I know what I’m looking at if I cannot understand what I’m seeing?” I protest.
“You are a non-Jain and these stories are not important for you. Admiring the beauty of the temple is more than sufficient for you,” calmly responds the priest-cum-guide.
I am rendered speechless with indignation and outrage at this statement. And as I discover during the course of my Rajasthan trip in February this year, it is only the beginning. I have conversations like this at all the Jain temples I visit. There are slight degrees of variations, but all visits go something like this: I am warmly welcomed in (for a fee, of course), have the history of the temple narrated to me, urged to look around and take photographs (except of the sanctum sanctorum), have a tikka applied… But the moment I ask details as to what the art and symbolism of the icons and sculptures mean, there would be these very indulgent and polite refusals to elaborate.
Absence of any kind of literature or accompanying audio guide at the temples only added to the general frustration. While I can say that I have visited certain Jain temples in Rajasthan and know the history associated with it, I have no clue as to what I really saw or know the story behind what I saw.
To write this post, I have tried to recollect what I saw, read the notes I had scribbled, and went through the photographs I had taken. The result is a blogpost that is part rant, part sketchy information, part photo essay, and part observation of some of the Jain temples I visited in Rajasthan: Bhandasar Temple (Bikaner), Parsvanath Temple (Jaisalmer), Parsvanath Temple (Lodhrava or Lodarva or Lodrava), and Ranakpur Temple.