I went on a Marathon Yatra in February 2020 with two of my friends. Within a span of just over two weeks, we travelled around 2000 miles and visited many Jain pilgrim tirths across Gujarat and Rajasthan. I was even fortunate enough to receive blessings from His Holiness Acharya Mahashraman during this trip. A chronological diary of our travels is as follows:
Our Yatra commenced in the city of Ahemdabad where our flight from London landed early in the morning. Our arrival turned out to be perfectly timed as President Trump was visiting Ahemdabad just two days after, which would have impeded our travel plans with many restrictions imposed in the city.
The Yatra began with a visit to a derasar near to our Hotel where my family had done pratistha of Shankeshwar Parshwanath Bhagwan in memory of my grandparents.
Our next stop was the Hutheesing Temple, which was constructed in 1848 and is one of the most well-known temples in Ahemdabad. It is a truly majestic site and the temple houses a sixty story Kirti Stambh (column of honour) which enshrines an idol of Bhagwan Mahavir. We then travelled a short distance to visit Sabarmati Ashram to commemorate 150 years of Mahatma Gandhiji’s birth. Visiting the ashram of one of the world’s most iconic leaders was a truly sobering experience.
We first visited the Koba Jain tirth. It was heartening to learn that this site is where unique Jain research and the preservation of scriptures takes place. Mahudi was the next stop where we offered Sukhadi (an Indian sweet) at the feet of Ghantakaran Mahaveer. On the way to the city of Mehsana, we stopped at Vijapura, a relatively recent tirth. After praying to Bhagwan Sfurling Parshvanath, we met a Jain monk who blessed us for our spiritual journey. At Mehsana, we did pooja on the gigantic 3.68 metres murti of Simmandhar Swami and here too received blessings from Jain monks including an Acharya Maharaj. By late afternoon, we reached Taranga tirth and managed to do the last kesar pooja for the day on Lord Ajitnath. This temple was constructed in 1161 and it is situated in a mountainous region. In the evening, we crossed from the state of Gujarat into Rajasthan and reached the famous hill station of Abu. Despite having covered a distance of over 300km, we did not retire for the night before visiting Nakki Lake.
Early next morning we were excited to visit the renowned Delwada Temples of Abu which were built between the 11th and 16th century. We did pakshal (washing the murtis with auspicious water) and kesar pooja on all of the 5 temples within this complex. The temples were engraved with ornate marble carvings which were truly breath-taking. Within this blissful temple complex, we were thrilled to see the elephant marble carvings at Hathishala. Within the cellars, we did darshan on an ancient murti of Lord Adinath. There is also a shrine dedicated to Acharya Vijay Shanti Suriswarji Maharaj and such was his prowess that it is believed he had wild animals sitting next to him whilst in deep meditation. It was a moving experience as my grandparents had taken lifelong vows of not eating underground root vegetables from this Guru Maharaj at this location.
We hired a jeep to complete the steep and narrow climb up to our next stop – Achal Gadha. This is a fort which was built in the 14th Century with splendid Jain temples. We paid our respects to Acharya Vijay Shanti Suriswarji at the shrine which is where he left his mortal body. Then we headed to the miraculous Jirawala Parswanath tirth which is believed to have been built in the 12th century, but it has been recently stunningly renovated.
Our next stop was at Bamanwada tirth, which is exactly where nails were pierced in Lord Mahaveer’s ears. The exquisite temple is believed to have been built by King Samprati who had vowed to consecrate at least one temple daily during his lifetime. There were also striking murtis made from precious gemstones in relation to the colours associated with the different grahas (planets). Another famous incident in the life of Lord Mahaveer is when he was bitten by Chandakaushik snake, and the next tirth we visited is Nandiya, which is where this is believed to have occurred. Naturally, we were in a state of awe as we prayed at the footprints of the Lord that were on the ground and inscribed with a snake. It was a moving experience simply imagining going back over two thousand years to the exact location where Lord Mahaveer walked the Earth. In a temple nearby, we did darshan of Lord Mahaveer’s murti which is believed to be “jeevit” implying it was consecrated by Lord Mahaveer’s brother during his lifetime.
A little distance away, our next stop was Lotana tirth which is generally desolate, as hardly any pilgrims visit it. However, this tirth commanded a feeling of serene bliss. The majestic idol of Lord Adeshwar here has an intriguing history, as the pujari explained. It is believed that this Murti was taken to Palitana in the 13th century to be installed in the main temple. However, miraculously the murti returned to its original location and since in Hindi the verb “to return” is “lot”, this town became known as Lotana. It is hard to imagine the stark contrast, where on one hand millions of pilgrims visit Palitana for darshan of Lord Adeshwar and this same murti could have been there, but instead it is in this discrete location.
As the day drew to a close, we stopped to pay our obeisance to Aarasuri Ambe Mata, before finally heading towards one of the most iconic Jain temples, Ranakpura.
Early the next morning, we travelled to Mucchala Mahaveer tirth and as the name implies, Lord Mahaveer’s idol had a moustache. The pujari narrated the fascinating history of this temple and the reason why this murti is called Mucchala Mahaveer. We were thrilled to do pooja here in total serenity with absolutely no one else in the temple. Whilst returning to Ranakpura, we stopped at Kirti Stambh Ghanerao which is a tower depicting the 27 reincarnations of Lord Mahaveer. We reached Ranakpura tirth in time for Pakshal, kesar pooja and mangal divo and the priest gave us a tour explaining the history and the grandeur of the 1444 pillars within the temple. Luckily, we were also able to do pooja on the higher story temples, which is open only for a short duration. It would not be an exaggeration to state that given the mind-blowing architectural feat, this temple can easily be one of the wonders of the world.
We then stopped at Falna tirth, which has the first Jain golden temple. Our next stop, Sultan Parshwanath tirth, has great significance, with its history going back to 1299 at the time of Delhi’s Sultan Alauddin Khilji. At Patan, we visited the famous Panchasara Parshwath temple with a museum dedicated to Acharya Hemchandra adjacent to it. After this long and gruelling day, where we covered around 400km, we still managed to reach Shankeshwar in time for the blissful evening bhakti and arti.
It was a truly beautiful experience to perform Vakshep (sandalwood) pooja on the ancient murti of Shankeswar Parswanath, before visiting the newly constructed 108 Parswanath derasar nearby. Although we were energised with spiritual energy, unfortunately, this was not the case for our car battery, which became flat. However, the true Indian spirit of friendship and warm hospitality was bountiful all around us and passers-by enthusiastically got us going.
We did darshan at Doliya tirth and distributed many clothes and stationery we had brought along to deserving school children who had come to the bhojanshala for lunch. We then proceeded to the birthplace of Jalaram bapa at Virpur. As dusk approached, we could see the temples on Mount Girnar, which we were going to climb the next day.
As soon as we reached Junagadh, we asked for the whereabouts of Acharya Shree Hem Vallabhvijayji Maharaj who has taken a lifelong vow of doing Ayembel and climbing Mount Girnar daily. We were fortunate to get his blessings and some words of wisdom. He mentioned that going on a yatra is indeed a noble endeavour, but also how it would be beneficial to us if we relocated to India, the land of ancient spirituality, in order to have constant access to deva, guru and dharma. Furthermore, he explained that the seeds of spirituality stem from self-introspection and confession. As we parted, he gave us a book in English entitled “Confessions of Sins (Bhav Alochana)”.
By 5.30 am we started to ascend the sacred Mount Girnar which is supposedly older than even the Himalayan mountain range. The distance from taleti (base of the mountain) to the Jain temples is around 2.7 miles up through 6450 steps (the equivalent to climbing 180 flights of stairs) which took us around 90 minutes to climb. Then, we decided to further climb to the Ambaji Temple. On our way, we saw two dogs, one white in colour and the other black and we learnt that this pair of dogs climb the Girnar mountain daily. Witnessing this was very thought-provoking; what compels these dogs to climb the mountain every day? It must be that they must have a string connection with this tirth in their previous lives and reaffirms one’s belief in the theory of reincarnation! We returned to the Neminath temple and received blessings from Acharya Hemvallabh Vijayji Maharaj. He along with other monks recited the pakshal prayers, accompanied with melodious sounds from conch shell and the beating of drums by the pujaris. We were fortunate enough to perform pakshal on Lord Neminath, which is believed to be one of the oldest Jain murtis. The aura was akin to as if we were in devloka (heavens). We then did pooja and darsan at all the peripheral temples.
Rather than descending the same route we ascended, we decided to use the Shahsavan route. Along the way, we crawled into Rajul Gufa (Cave of Rajul) and did darshan of the statue commemorating the princess who was going to be Neminath Bhagwan’s bride, before he decided to follow the path of renunciation after hearing the pangs of pain from the animals who were going to be sacrificed in celebrations of his wedding. The descent was very challenging given the intense heat and it took us almost three hours.
In the evening we reached Somnath, just over 100km south of Girnar.
We did darshan at the famous Hindu temple of Somnath which is believed to be the first of twelve jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. A short distance away, we went to Prabhas Patan Jain temple believed to have been built by Lord Adeshwar’s son, Bharat Maharaj. It is thought to be the only Jain temple in India with 9 smaller temples (shikhars) within the main temple, and here, we were blessed to do puja on the miraculous Dokaniya Parshwanath Bhagwan. We then headed to Ajhara Parshwanath tirth, which has a strikingly red idol of Parshwanath Bhagwan. We were amazed to see an ancient ghant (bell) dated to the 11th century and got “naman” (holy water) and vakshep (sandalwood powder) to bring back with us. Our next destination, a short distance away, was Mahuva where we did darshan of Bhagwan Mahaveer’s Jivit murti and paid our obeisance at the shrine of Acharya Nemisurishvarji. The priest explained to us that the flowers which are placed on his feet do not wither at all. After covering a modest 300km we reached Palitana in the evening and were excited to do darshan at the taleti (base of the mountain).
We decided to visit various pilgrim sites around Palitana. We first went to Shatrunjay Dam derasar and did darshan of Sahastrafana Parshwanath Bhagwan. We decided to venture into an adjacent building and we were surprised to see a plethora of ancient murtis, old artefacts and relics. What a treasure trove!
Our next stop was the Shrimad Rajchandra Ashram, where we did darshan at the Adinath Jain mandir. The next tirth we stopped at was Bhandariya derasar followed by Kadamgiri named after the second ganadhar (disciple) of Lord Adeshwar, who achieved salvation here. We then went to another peak close to Palitana, Hastagiri, with its majestic temples and pillars and from here, the divine temples of Palitana could be seen in the distance. As a child I recall that when this temple was being renovated my parents had donated one of the pillars and to witness this grand temple was indeed blissful. The next stop was at Gheti Derasar and we visited the temples where people doing Navanu (99 pilgrimages of Palitana) descend and climb back up to the main temples of Palitana.
We then went to Siddhawad Jain mandir which has a majestic tree where many souls are believed to have achieved salvation. We were told that there are two trees that Jains revere – one is Ryan tree at the top of Palitana and the other is Siddhawad.
There was no better way to finish our day’s travel than visiting the inspirational Veerayatan School and Eye Hospital. It was beyond impressive to see the high standards and facilities offered to the deserving community of Palitana and nearby villages.
At 5.30 am, mustering all our excitement, we began our climb of Palitana, following the NavTuk route. It was amazing to learn about the history of these majestic temples. For example, interestingly, there is a Muslim Pir (shrine) just as one enters the NavTuk temples complex. We were also thrilled to do darshan at the Ajitnath and Shantinath temples where it is believed the Ajitshanti Sutra was composed. We then did Pakshal on Lord Adeshwar’s murti and sat in front of the murti in quiet contemplation as to how fortunate we were to be at the holiest of all Jain pilgrimages.
We proceeded to do darshan at many of the prominent temples including the Ryan tree, Pundarik swami temple, the Nem Rajul carvings on the pillar, Chakeshwari mata’s shrine and Paap Punya ni Bari (where legend has it one must crawl underneath a narrow opening in a camel statue, to purify yourself). It took us about one hour to descend and before reaching the base, we visited the Kirtistumbh temple and the Samovasaran temples found near the base of the mountain. I was overjoyed to see my name inscribed at the bottom of the photo of Benaras Parshwanath sponsored by my grandparents at this temple.
In the evening, we went to Rohishala Tirth which has recently risen to fame for the Arti done near the Shantrunjay riverbank facing the Palitana mountain.
We left Palitana early and our first stop was Vallabhipura where in the 6th century it is believed that 500 Acharyas organized a conference and compiled the written Aagams which we currently have. The shrine dedicated to the Acharyas was amazing to see and the adjacent temple is designed to remind one of Palitana with a replica of taleti. A short distance away we stopped at Ayodhyapuran with a majestic idol of Lord Adeshwar. We then did darshan at Tadgi and Navkardham Tirth. Here we split, with one of the friends going to Mumbai whilst myself and the other friend took a flight to Pune and then a taxi for a 200km journey to Jaysingpur, a town near Kolhapur in Maharashtra.
We went on a pilgrimage to Kumbhojgiri tirth which is on top of a small mountain and takes about 15 minutes to climb. We did pooja of Jagvallabh Parshwanath Bhagwan and some ancient idols found under the open sky. We also did darshan at a unique temple in the shape of a boat, Jahaj Mandir, signifying that our Tirthankaras are ford-makers inspiring us to cross the ocean of life and death. We also visited Ganpati Mandir by the banks of River Krishna.
We did darshan at the Digambar Jain Mandir and Swetembar Dharmanath derasar. It was indeed a great coincidence that at the same time, His Holiness Acharya Mahasraman of the Terapanth sect was also in Jaysingpur. I managed to get a special audience with His Holiness Acharya Mahashraman and expressed my gratitude to him for blessing Respected Samanijis to be posted at the Jain World Peace Centre in London. I explained the plethora of activities Respected Samanijis are engaged in and how the entire society is benefitting with their presence. Having Jain nuns in our midst is indeed a unique feature of JVB London. I also managed to get blessings from Sadhvi Riddhi Prabhaji (who was previously Samani Rohit Pragyaji) and Sadhvi Unnata Prabhaji (who was previously Samani Unnata Pragyaji). They both had previously spent a long time in London. We then took an overnight Mahalaxmi train from Jaysingpur to Mumbai.
During the last stage of our trip in Mumbai, I first went to Vimalnath Derasar consecrated by my maternal grandparents in Matunga. In the afternoon we ventured on the local train and went to Godiji Parshwanath derasar. The murti here supposedly originated in Pakistan and this temple is one of the oldest in Mumbai at over 200 years old.
The next day we visited Manas Mandir at Shahpura tirth which is about 80 km from Mumbai. Many people mentioned that there are numerous snakes (nag bapa) who appear in the surrounding trees or shrines. Just as we were praying at the smaller shrine, a Jain Sadhvi mentioned that a snake can be seen on the roof near the electricity connection. However, only the head was visible (even that barely!). Despite this, I started reciting mantras and lo and behold within a few minutes the snake fully emerged out of the small opening to nearly an arm’s length. It was facing the deity and we genuinely felt blessed to do its darshan.
Our last pilgrimage for this Marathon Yatra was at the Santacruz Jain derasar. Coincidentally we met a Jain Sadhviji who blessed us and recited Mangalik for our return trip, a befitting end to our trip!
What an epic journey it was, and we completed it just in time. Little did we know that just within days of our return, a barrage of travel restrictions associated with the tragic COVID-19 pandemic would be imposed. Ironically, it seems we covered our “marathon” yatra at a sprint pace, with almost 2000 miles travelled over a period of just over two weeks. We were very fortunate to be able to do darshan at some of the most exquisite and sacred Jain tirths, a once-in-a-lifetime trip.