An Experience of Ranakpur
May 10, 2007
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There are some places on earth where when you visit them, you are caught unaware and suddenly become quiet. Your eyes widen and your body becomes still as you look around in awe. Ranakpur is such a place.
Ranakpur is in India, about 90 kilometers north of Udaipur in southern Rajasthan, after plunging down a twisting road into a remote wooded valley. It is a huge Jain temple constructed of milk-white marble said to have been built in 1439.
According to the story, a Porvad (ancient Jain community) businessman, Dharna Sah, had a most vivid dream in which he was visited by a magnificent celestial vehicle made entirely of white marble. Consumed by his vision, Sah approached the Rajput monarch of the time, Rana Kumbhar, and asked for the land to build it in honor of Adinath, the prime god of the Jains. Kumbha agreed and appointed the architect Deepaka to work with Sah.
It is a complex consisting of a huge central temple surrounded by smaller ones. The basement is 48,000 square feet, with the upper temple housing 1,444 columns, no two alike. The devotion of its builders is evident everywhere in the loving and intricate carving, and the pale interior is filled with an amazing sense of harmony and space. There are two gigantic bells weighing in at 108 kilograms, which when rung vibrate throughout your entire being and seem to transport you to a different place.
There are always several monks in evidence, clad in their bright robes, who are engaged in all manner of activity. Somehow they manage to maintain an otherworldly presence, whether they are meditating by themselves, greeting visitors, applying silver and gold leaf to statues, or engaging in reflection with visitors, many of them westerners, who come seeking wisdom and understanding.
The chief monk of the temple was there the day I visited with my husband and a group of friends with whom we were traveling. He was unmistakable with his long white hair and mustache. His kindly eyes and radiant smile enveloped everyone, making us feel as if were part of the community and welcome to pray. In fact, many in our group said later how they had been moved to pray -- to say "thank you." Somehow it seemed the right thing to do.
We lingered for some time, not wanting to leave, each of us wandering off into a quiet corner by ourselves to be alone with our thoughts. There was peace and great beauty and it was not to be hurried -- a sense of the infinite, of being connected. It touched our souls.
Pam Lucey lives in Virginia (U.S.A.).