After several days of drab unchanging dessert landscape it was so nice to arrive at the Aravalli Mountains today for a visit to the Shri Ranakpur Jain Temple en route to the lakeside city of Udaipur. The 500-year old, marble temple is an oasis of calm in the wild, hurly burly that is India.
Carved from stem to stern, the building is beyond inspiring. Ceilings, walls and all 1,444 pillars are lovingiy sculpted with the pantheon of Hindu deities. These Jains really know how to decorate!
The holy man who presides over the temple is the fourth generation of his family to do so and he was kind enough to show Gabriel and I around and to explain a bit about Jainism, a relgion so devoutly vegan that no shoes or leather belts or purses are permitted within the temple walls.
The priest’s peaceful demeanor was as infectious and inspiring as the building is beautiful. I felt a profound serenity as I meditated in a quiet corner with the warm winter sun on my face. But there were monkeys to feed just down the road and a New Year’s Eve party to get to in Udaipur and so we made our way.
My reference to the drab desert landscape pertains to the dullness of the drive and not at all to the places we have visited. There was a camel ride in the dunes near the Pakistan border and two magnificent hilltop fortresses, Jaisalmer big, and Jodhpur bigger.
After touring Jodhpur’s 15th century Mehrangarh Fort above, our guide led us on a three-kilometer walk through the old city and down to the bazaar. The streets were narrow with scooters and motorcylcles zooming and honking past us in both directions, the noise ricochetting off the storefronts and apartments. I was nearly deaf by the time we reached the pedestrian corridor where vehicles are not permitted.
It’s fascinating and exhilarating and a little hard to process when you’re running from site to site. So a respite like today’s visit to the temples at Ranakpur is all the more welcome.
In India the marigold is a symbol of welcome, of creation and regeneration. So welcome 2013, may the new year be as exciting for you as 2012 has been for me. As the Jains say, “Live and let live. Where there is love there is life.”