Delwara Temples, Ābu

The Delwara Temples of Ābu are world renowned for their exquisite and intricate marble carvings surrounding the majestic murtis of Lord Ādināth in the main temple built between the 11th and 16th century. The temples of Ābu not only have spiritual significance, but also architectural and artistic magnificance. The modern road leading to the top of the mountain was first built in 1845AD when the King of Sirohi gave an extensive area of Mount Ābu to the British Government for developing it as a hill station resort. British Generals were known to enter the temple with their leather boots until such time Monk Shree Vijayadharma Suri requested Mr. Colvin to get a decree from the Governor General of India to issue an order prohibiting this practise in 1913AD.

British historian, James Fergusson, has mentioned that the Chapel at Westminster or at Oxford are pale in comparison to the architectural marvel of the Ābu temples. He claims that the manner in which the temples were designed was not even attempted by the Roman or Byzantine architects.

Henry Cousens, Scottish archaeologist and photographer writes, “the amount of beautiful ornamental detail spread over these temples in the minutely carved decorations of ceilings, pillars, door ways, panels, niches is simply marvellous; the crisp, thin, translucent, shell-like treatment of the marble surpasses anything seen elsewhere, and some of the designs are veritable dreams of beauty”.

The name Delwāra most likely is a derivation of Devakulpātaka (देवकुल पाटक): Devakul means a temple and pātaka means “village” or “hamlet” → thus Delwāra would mean a city of temples. In ancient texts Ābu was also known as Arbuda (अर्बुद) Shikhara. Historical records seem to suggest that Lord Māhavir had visited Ābu during his travels.

It is noteworthy that the pinnacles (shikhars शिखर → tower, roof, spire) at Ābu are relatively low as it is in an earthquake prone area. Another possible reason is that tall shikhars would attract attention from invaders so it was better to have low shikhars.

There are five main temples within the complex:

  1. Vimala Vasahi (वसति → house, dwelling, abode implying temple which is an abode of Gods) temple dedicated to Lord Ādinath weighing 18 bharas (1728 kgs)
  • It is carved entirely out of white marble and built in 1021AD by Vimala Shah, Commander-in-Chief of Bhimadeva 1 of Patan.
  • Ceilings feature engraved designs of lotus-buds, flowers and scenes from Jain mythology
  • There are smaller shrines surrounding the temple
  • The ceilings have the various tales and incarnations of Lord Ādinath, his sons Bharat and Bāhubali and also his daughters Sundari and Brāhmi depicted on them.
  • Who was Vimala?
    • He was the son of Vira and Viramati. His elder brother was called Nedha who became the chief minister of King Bhimadeva. Click here for a series of three lectures in Gujarati on the history of Vimala Shah.
    • Chandravati was a beautiful city at the foothills of Mount Abu and was ruled by Paramara Prince Dhandhuka who wanted to expand his territory. Bhimadeva I sent Vimala to subdue him. Paramara Prince Dhandhuka fled and Vimala became the governor of this region. With the passage of time, Vimala invited Paramara Prince Dhandhuka to return to his hometown and reside peacefully.
    • Once Jain monk Acharya Dharmaghosha came to Chandravati and at Vimala’s request accepted to spent the monsoon sojourn (chomasu) there. Hearing daily discourses, Vimala requested the great Acharya to prescribe him atonement for all the violence committed in his profession as a Commander. The monk replied that no prāyaścitta (प्रायश्चित्त – atonement) is prescribed for violence committed deliberately and knowingly. However, due to Vimala’s sincere repentence he suggested to undertake repairs at the holy pilgrimage of Abu.
    • Vimala had no children and at the insistence of his wife, Shrimati, he undertook a fast for 3 days and propitiated Goddess Ambika who asked him for what his desire was. Vimala replied, “Mother, if thou are pleased please grant me two boons:
      • A male child
      • Help in erecting a magnificent Jain shrine

        The Goddess replied that the fruits of your meritorious deeds are not so great to be granted two boons. However, you can choose one of them. He requested if he can consult his wife who suggested that there is no guarantee that a son will ensure everlasting name or fame and who knows whether the son will be meritorious or not. Therefore, request blessings of erecting a temple of God which will be conducive for happiness hereafter and final emancipation.

        It is believed Vimala installed a murti in a simple shrine whilst his majestic temple was created.
    • How did Vimala get the land to build the temple?
      • Vimala first got the blessings and permission from Bhimadeva I, Prince Dhandhuka and his elder brother Nedha.
      • The local Hindus told him that the site he selected was a Hindu tirth and they need proof of a Jain shrine having existed there. Once again Vimala fasted for three days and the Goddess Ambika advised him to dig under a magnolia (champaka) tree where he will find a swastika marked with saffron. He went there along with the local Brahmins who became convinced, but said that since the land is in their possession they need to be renumerated for it. Although Vimala had great influence and patronage of the King, he did not coerce or pressure them, but humbly asked the Brahmins to suggest their price.They thought of a plan believing it was impossible for Vimala to fulfil. They said, “You need to lay gold coins over as much area you require”. Vimala agreed and thought that by giving round gold coins there will be a small area which remains uncovered which is against what he committed to, so instead he commissioned special square gold coins so that not even a small speck of land remains uncovered!
        • The size of the plot of land the Vimala Vasahi temple currently occupies is 140 ft x 90 ft. It is believed he spent Rupees 185.3 million at that time.
  • The Hastishala (elephant courtyard) behind the main shrine is an breathtaking row of immaculately carved statue of elephants and constructed by Prithvipal to commemorate the glory of his lineage. It was installed during major renovations carried out by him around 1150AD
    • Vimala’s elder brother was Nedha. Nedha’s lineage is as follows:
      Nedha → Dhavala → Anand married to Padmavati → Prithvipal
    • Prithvipal served King Siddharaj and King Kumarpal
    • Statues of family lineage are depicted behind the rows of elephants

2. Luna Vasahi (or Luniga Vasahi) temple dedicated to Lord Neminath built by the two brothers Vastupal & Tejpal in 1230AD with the blessings of Acharya Vijayasenasuri.

Picture: Acharya Vijaysensuri on the right

  • It is noteworthy that women have had a prominent role in Jain history and it is infact Tejpal’s wife, Anupama devi who inspired her husband to build temples on top of a mountain. Moreover, as the construction work was very slow due to severe cold and labourers going downhill for their lunch, she advised her husband that the works should be done in two shifts and that all workers should be provided wholesome food.
  • There are two niches(gokhas) popularly believed to be of Derāni (younger brother’s wife) and Jethāni (elder brother’s wife)
  • It is named as Luniga Vasahi in memory of their sibling who died young. Luniga was an elder brother of Vastupal-Tejpal. They were initially poor and Luniga had a desire to build a shrine and install a small image. Due to poverty his desire could not be fulfilled at his deathbed, Vastupal asked if he had any desire for charity. Realising that they were poor, he was hesitant to express his views but ultimately informed them to install a small idol at Abu in the temple of Vimala.
  • Lineage of Vastupal and Tejpal is as follows:
    Chandapa of Porvada caste + wife Champala devi → Chandraprasada + wife Jayshri → sons Sura and Som (minister of King Siddharaj Jayasinha).
    • Som’s guru was Acharya Haribhadrasuri.
    • Som’s wife was named Sitādevi and they had a son called Āsarāj
    • Āsarāj was married to Kumāradevi and they had four sons and seven daughters.
      • Sons: Luniga, Malladeva, Vastupala and Tejpala;
        Daughters: Jalhu, Māu, Sāu, Dhanadevi, Sohagā, Vayaji, Paramaladevi.
        • Luniga died young. His wife was called Lunādevi.
        • Malladeva became minister and statesman. He had two wives: Lilādevi & Pratāpadevi. From Lilā was born Purnasimha who married Alhanādevi and they had a son named Pethada. He was present during the consecration ceremony of Luna Vasahi temple.

Picture: Champala devi

Picture: Asaraj & Kumaradevi

Picture: Malladeva & his two wives

  • Vastupal & Tejpal
    • Vastupāla was blessed with Shree (श्रि – wealth) & Sarasvati (सरस्वती – knowledge). He had two wives: Lalitādevi & Vejaladevi. It appears that Lalitādevi was more astute and Vastupāla treated her with special courtesy and honour. From Lalitādevi he had a son named Jayantasimha who had three wives named Jayataladevi, Jammanadevi & Rupādevi.
    • Tejpāla also had two wives: Anupamādevi & Suhadādevi. To Anupamādevi was born a son named Lunasimha (Lāvanyasimha) who had two wives Rayanādevi & Lakhamādevi & one daughter named Gauradevi. Tejpāla also had a son called Suhadasimha from Suhadādevi & a daughter called Bakulādevi.
    • After their mother died, Vastupāla and Tejpāl led a big sangha on a pilgrimage to Shatrunjay and Girnār.
    • Both Vastupāl and Tejpāl were ministers during the rule of Bhimadeva II and appointed to work under his Prince Viradhavala. Although they led armies against their adversaries, they were never oppressive and honest in their dealings.
    • The marbles to build the temple were from Arasana quarry.
    • The architect of the temple was Shobhanadeva and Tejpāl’s brother-in-law, Udala, was appointed as superintendent of works.
    • The murti of Lord Nemināth is made of black granite.
    • It is believed that the sculptors were paid by the amount of marble dust removed
    • Both Vimal Vasahi and Luna Vasahi are believed to have been victims of Moslem invasions with subsequent renovantions around 1300AD. Ala-ud-din Khilji destroyed the shrines, idols and statues in the Hastishāla.
    • The names of these two brothers have become synonymous for generosity and religious devotion.

Picture: Vastupāl and his two wives Lalitādevi & Vejaladevi

3. Pittalhar temple dedicated to Lord Adinath made of brass and weighing 108 maunds. It was built by Bhima Shah around 1430AD. It is called Pittalhar as pitaḷa (पितळ) means brass.

4. Three storyed Chaumukha or Kharataravasahi temple dedicated to Parsvanath temple. Perhaps the donor of this temple belonged to the Kharatara sect. It is the tallest of the shrines in this complex

One of the highly venerated Guru of the Kharatara Gaccha is Acharya Jinadutta suri and there is a shrine dedicated to him.

5. Mahavir swami temple about 200-250 years old.

There is also a shrine dedicated to Pujya Acharya Vijay Shānti Suriswarji Māhārāj who spent many years meditating in the caves of Ābu Mountains. Many picutres of this severed saint show him meditating with wild and ferocious animals besides him. He was a true abode of radiating peace that even wild animals would calmly be besides him. Click this link to perform Live Darshan at his shrine in Mandoli

1. Holy Abu by Muni Shri Jayantvijayji
2. Internet
3. Some photos from World Orgs