(Message sent Sat, 02 Dec 2006 22:48:41 -0700)
Hello everyone. I've just been on another pilgrimage, this one up from a town called Palitana to a complex of Jain temples called Shatrunjaya. The ascent - only 3600 steps this time - was much easier and much less fun than the one up Girnar Hill, but still it had its interests, and the payoff at the top was better.
Once again there were many pilgrims walking the route. It was easy to spot the devout Jains. They all (men and women) wore the same garb: basically a long white smock with a white sash around the middle, with a cream shawl worn over the head and wrapped around the upper body. The shawl was usually edged in red, occasionally in black, and just once, in green. They also carried a piece of cloth wrapped scroll-like around a stick tucked into their sashes. Finally they always carried a staff, which at first I thought was a walking stick, but they weren't used as such and had elaborately carved points, making me wonder if they were in fact ceremonial spears. About one in ten also carried a bright red pot, but whether this was part of their ritual accoutrements or just lunch, I couldn't say.
The lower slopes swarmed with dholi bearers - they guys who want to carry you up the stairs on their bamboo-and-seat contraptions, and fighting them off was a nuisance for the first 500 steps or so. These guys got a lot of business though - much more than at Girnar for some reason. They often carried children. I imagine the kids got tired, then the parents got tired carrying them, and so they got off-loaded onto the dholi bearers. One little tyke was so exhausted that he was lying spread-eagled on the square seat, head and limbs hanging limply off the edges.
At construction sites and road works you nearly always see women labourers dressed in saris and typically carrying baskets full of rubble on their heads, but it was still a surprise to see female dholi bearers. I didn't see any carrying adults (they seemed to be restricted to luggage and children), but for some reason the women at either end of the pole carried the thing on a pad on their heads, not on their shoulders as the men do.
There was also a four-man model for the more generously endowed pilgrim. This consisted of two bamboo poles lashed either side of a deck chair - the sort of deck chair you'd expect to get for $10 at The Warehouse!
At the top of the walk is a series of compounds containing - if you believe the guidebook - 363 temples. From the outside the compounds look like your common or garden castle - four walls with crenelated tops and round bastions at the corners.
Inside each compound was typically one large temple surrounded by smaller ones, and then a row of shrines all the way round the inside of the enclosing wall. One slight disappointment is that these temples and shrines are very similar - basically older or newer or bigger or smaller versions of the same design, to the extent that I found myself wondering why they needed so many.
This feeling was reinforced by the fact that most of the complex was deserted, with the devotees all congregating around just one temple. The courtyard around this one temple was a riot of colour. People sat everywhere, facing the temple, the women in every imaginable shade and combination of bright colour, the men wearing plainer toga-style clothes. One man who I talked to briefly at the beginning of the walk stopped to talk again in the courtyard. I didn't recognize him at first, as he had changed from the western clothes he used for the ascent to a toga made from very expensive-looking cloth with a golden shimmer to it. To my later annoyance I didn't think to ask him what all the Jain ritual gear was all about.
Each person or couple sitting on the ground in the courtyard would have a little platform on the ground in front of them, one half painted green, the other red. On to this they would pour rice, nuts, sweets, and coins, and then finger-paint these into various symbols, especially the ever-startling swastika. It was a fascinating sight indeed.
The start of the steps is at 21 30.319 N 071 48.863 E and the temple complex itself is at 21 29.004 N 071 47.651 E.