Temple bells chime across the still silence of the desert, the peals and a clear sound that ring for a while, resound, and are then swallowed up into a great nothingness. It is a sound that bathes the down with an enchanted, magical beauty that gives definition to a life of harsh realities. In sand and scrub, people have found not discomfort but faith, a force that gives them a positive radiance and the mettle to live a life that is a celebration of their energies and their beliers.
Every home is Rajasthan had its deities – those from the Hindu pantheon; fold heroes, mother goddesses, sati matas, even maharajas who ran their kingdoms like exemplary welfare states. Every village has its temples-from the vermilion daubed stones revered under the thickening trunks of ancient trees to carved temples that celebrate the spirit of their faith. Every faith has its gods-whether Hindu, Islamic, or Jain, in the nature of gurus, or as the cosmos itself. And every one of them has a place in Rajasthan, not only tolerant of each other’s religions, but also participating in many of the events, or letting faiths intermingle to create a new vocabulary for those who believe in gods, and the power of gods.
The warrior’s spirit is a result of this faith. It is the creed of the warrior to lay down his life in the protection of his motherland, a belief so strongly instilled that a spouse worships her husband in the image of god when he goes out to the battlefield – this even when, should he be slain, the wife would probably have to join in the jauhar procession, jumping into a fiery pit in a mass ritual of suicide. It was this faith too that led them to live with such zest, coloring their lives as they did their clothes, with the passion they believed the gods invested in their days spent on earth.
The religious kaleidoscope is truly amazing-the chanting of Jain hymns, and their observance of strict austerities is at odds with the bhil zest for ritual festivities in honor of the gods, or event the Rajput exuberance in their faith, and in the preparations leading up to a religious ceremony, or the Muslim month of mourning and fasting even in the harshest climatic conditions. The Jains of not eat after sundown, the Muslims share their sweet porridge of sewaiyan with others on the occasion of Id, and the Rajputs sacrifice goats before their gods, and serve it as consecrated food. Yet, between them, there has always been a sense of harmony. The Rajput kings not only gave permission to the Muslims and Jians to build their religious shrines, they also, often gave them the lands on which to do so.
These shrines were often, also profusely carved and sculptured, for the people invested their faith in creating temples and mosques of great and abiding beauty. Such shrines were also meeting point for the people, not only at the time of religious festivities, but even otherwise, and it was therefore usual to have plantations, even orchards, surround them. A well was essential for providing the water required to bathe the sanctum, but also for quenching the thirst of travelers who would seek shelter at temples on their journeys across the desert.
Given the hostile climate and landscape, the people found comfort too in the protection of the trees and their wildlife, investing them with spirits, so that three felling was not encouraged, and even the peacock, monkey, deer and other animals were sanctified by faith. In the case of the Bishnois, followers of a 15th century saint, Jambhoji, such protection became a credo, and they became staunch conservationists of their environment.
For the Rajputs, their worship is also a form of paying obeisance to their ancestors, for they believe themselves descended from the very gods they pray too, and have the genealogies to prove it. At all important temples and shrines, there are Bhats, keepers of the family records whose duty it is to maintain genealogies, tracing them back not just a few generations but-provided you have the patience – to the very beginnings of time. Most people know the clan’s history, and are content with their more recent antecedents, but the royal families, and those of aristocratic backgrounds, have written records that go back (and in great detail) to over five hundred generations. No wonder their awesome ancestry draw such reverence. Since these histories were sung for patron families by bards, the heroic deeds of there past ancestors were soon transformed into the mythic, deifying earlier generations. The people of Rajasthan seem so affected by their pasts: it often seems more real than even the present they live in.
KARNI MATA TEMPLE
Deshnokh is the site of the Karni Mata Temple dedicated to Karni Mata, a mystic. Legend goes that she foretold the victory and success of Rao Bika and the prophecy came true. Today along with her, thousands of rats are revered her. Devotees are housed in these rats and consequently they must be protected and well fed. The intricate carvings on the marble gateways and the carved silver gate at the entrance of the temples are remarkable.
The picturesque township and the sacred lake of Pushkar lies 11 km. from Ajmer. Pushkar is separated from Ajmer by the Nag Pahar (Snake Mountain). This beautiful lake surrounded by bathing ghats has its religious significance rooted in a myth. According to the Padma Purana, Lord Brahma was in search or a suitable place for a Vedic yajna (sacrifice). While contemplating, a lotus fell from his hand on the earth and water sprouted from three places. One of them was Pushkar, and Brahma decided to perform his yajna here.A lively and gigantic fair is held every year on Kartik Poornima (full moon in October-November). About 1,00,000 pilgrims and ascetics from far and near gather here to take a dip in the holy lake.
Jain temple architecture is characterized by its profusion of sculpting. The stone is molded, chiseled, scooped out and developed so that each grain becomes a part of the grand design. Nor are patterns always repeated. There is architectural embellishment of such amazing fluidity that is impossible to disassociate architecture from sculpture.
Mount Abu has some of the most famous Jain temples in India. These artistically carved temples built between the 11th and 13th century are dedicated to the Jain Thirthankars. This complex of four temples has marvelously carved pillars, ceilings, architraves, door casings and exquisite sculptures on porticos.
Both the fineness and enormity of the carvings leaves the visitor spellbound. Just one temple, the Vimal Vasahi is said to have taken 14 years to make with the combined efforts of 1200 laborers and 1500 stonemasons.
Renowned for its marvelously carved temples in amber stone, Ranakpur is one of the five holy spots of the Jains. Rana Kumbha of Mewar gave the land in a grant to the Jains. These 15th century temples are fine examples of man’s devotion to his deity, Nestling in the Aravalli hills and rising three story’s the main temple is supported on 1,444 exquisitely carved pillars, each distinct from the other. The entire temple including its ceilings and arches is sculpted with arabesques, motifs and statues. The remarkable marble plaque of Lord Parshwanath, a Jain deity is finely detailed. Other temples nearby have sensuous carvings of warriors, horses and solar deities riding chariots. No wonder that Ranakpur is popular with those interested in architecture and history.
Built in the early 18th century, this simple shrine is one of the most celebrated of the Vaishnava shrines of Shri Nathji or Lord Krishna. Thousands of pilgrims from all parts of India visit this shrine during Diwali, Holi and Janamashtami. The painted walls at the entrance herald you to this temple, which contains an image, carved out of a single block of black marble. Faced by Aurangzeb’s persecution, Goswami Dev carried this idol from Mathura (in Uttar Pradesh) in a chariot, headed towards Udaipur. At Nathdwara, however, the wheels of the chariot sank in the soft soil, and this was considered, as an act of divine will. It was here that the people decided to consecrate the image of lord Krishna.This is also an important craft center-cloth painting and miniatures are created by dozens of artists of this town.
At the foot of a barren hill, is situated perhaps India’s most important pilgrimage center for Muslims. It is the splendid tomb of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, more popularly known as Khwaja Saheb or Khwaja Sharif. The shrine is next only to Mecca or Medina for the Muslims of South Asia. Akbar used to make a pilgrimage to the Dargah from Agra once a year. The mausoleum has a gigantic gate, which was built by the Nizam of Hyderabad. The two massive cauldrons in the courtyard are of particular interest. The saint’s tomb with a splendid marble dome is in the center of the second courtyard, which is surrounded by a silver platform. The shrine attracts thousands of pilgrims during the Urs-commemorating the death anniversary of the death anniversary of the Saint, held from the 1st to 6th day of the Islamic month of Rajab. A colorful fair that springs up during this time is the major attraction.