FORT COLLINS: There is silence at Gori temple in Nagarparkar these days. But right across the border, in India, celebrations have just wrapped up for the 200th year anniversary of a temple that traces its heritage to Gori. That temple is one of India’s most famous Jain temples, Mumbai’s Godiji Parshwanath. 

From April 15 to May 12, bhajans, maha aartis and rath yatras were organised and by May 1, the day the temple actually completed 200 years, 840,000 Jains had been fed, reported DNA. A stamp commemorating this celebration was released by Milind Deora, the minister of state for communications and IT, representing the Government of India, on April 17.

People in Pakistan will be surprised to know that there are at least a dozen major Indian Jain temples, all of them named Godiji Parshwanath, that trace their heritage to Pakistan’s Gori temple.

The Jain temples of Tharparkar are among Pakistan’s major archaeological monuments. The most impressive of them all, Gori Temple, is located in the village of Gori between Islamkot and Nagarparkar in Tharparkar district. This partly ruined temple is mysterious to most Pakistanis, since it has been abandoned for a long time. There are no Jains in Tharparkar today to the best of my knowledge.

The Jains in India are equally unaware of the original Gori Temple, although many have heard the legends about it. Authors in the past have yearned to find out about the current status of this long lost place of worship.

Part of the disconnect is caused by a linguistic hiccup because the name of the temple involves a retroflex r, which is generally rendered as Gori in Urdu but as Godi in Gujarati and Hindi.

Many of the Godiji  Parshwanath temples in India are stunning marble structures with a history spanning one or two centuries, but none have a history as long as the original and the  legendary Tharparkar temple. The Mumbai temple was established in 1812 as a building made of teak wood, housing an image brought from Sirohi (Rajasthan) thought to have been originally brought from Gori in Tharparkar. About 40 years ago, an ornate three-storey marble building was constructed at a cost of 80 million rupees. The temple has 10 shikhars or central towers and three more are currently being added.

The Mumbai celebrations have been organised on an unprecedented scale. Invitations accompanied by a box of sweets have been sent to 135,000 local families. Feasts prepared according to strict Jain rules served 800,000 individuals. Ingredients included 30,000 kilogrammes of flour and 2,000 kg of chili powder. Additionally, 1,500 tons of mango juice was acquired from different orchards and 20,000 workers have been hired for cleaning.

About 280 Jain monks and nuns attended the functions. Religious activities are guided by the Jain Acharya Padmasagar Suri. Among the festivities, four books that catalogue several thousand ancient Jain manuscripts have been released. Indeed, Jain institutions preserve some of the oldest collections of manuscripts in India.

The Jains are known for their financial acumen. They used to be recruited by Rajput rulers for financial management. The sultans of Delhi and Mughal rulers also relied on them. And today, Ajit Jain may succeed Warren Buffet in the US, and Anshu Jain may head the global Deutsche Bank in Europe.

The Gori temple in Tharparkar was dedicated to Lord Parshwanath, the 23rd Jain prophet who preached in the 8th century BC. Several Jain texts give an account of the history of the temple and legends surrounding it. The text “Shri Gaudi Parshvanath Stavan” by Nemavijaya was written in Tharparkar region itself. It mentions that the legendary image was brought to Bhodesar by a wealthy merchant called Megha Sa, in 1375 AD from Patan, a famous city in North Gujarat. The image was originally installed in 1171 AD, however it was buried and later found by someone in Patan. Megha Sa purchased it for 500 coins and brought it to his hometown. An angel appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to build a temple at a specific site in the desert where freshwater and rocks needed for construction would be found. Megha Sa built a temple and established a village named Gori near it. The account narrates several dramatic events in his life and mentions that the shikhar or central tower was finished by his son Mahio.

The temple is built in the classical Jain style. Like the famous Vimal Vasahi temple of 1021 AD at Mount Abu and the 1848 Hutheesing temple at Ahmedabad, it has one main temple surrounded by 52 smaller shrines, each housing one or more images of Jain prophets. It has 52 domes just like Vimal Vasahi. Unlike Vimal Vasahi, however, the interior of Gori temple was adorned with paintings.

Gori temple became a famous pilgrimage centre. An inscription of 1715 mentions some repairs as well. An Englishman named Stanley Napier Raikes visited the area in 1854. He writes that the main image was moved by the local ruler Soda Sutojee to a fort in 1716. It was kept buried and used to be taken out after a few years with great festivities that lasted a few days, and reburied in a secret location again. In 1832, the local ruler died in captivity without revealing where the image was buried.

When Jain Muni Vidyavijayaji visited Sindh in 1937, he noted that the temple was empty, but was guarded by a local Bheel. The temple was damaged because of a battle between the local chief and the British forces at one time, and an earthquake.

Because of the changes in the coastline and trade routes, the Jain population had already declined when Raikes had visited. About 400 or so Jains still in the area, left in 1947 when Partition took place. But the memory of the temple survives.

Many temples today are named Godiji Parshwanath in the memory of the original. Many of them are believed to have an image brought from the Gori temple. A majority of them are in the adjacent Rajasthan and Gujarat, but some are as far away as Hyderabad in South India. The original temple is now a legend and an enigma to the Jains.

Many Kutchi Jains, who now have a presence in not only Mumbai, but in other countries as well, have a historic connection with Tharparkar region. Some Jain clans even trace their descent from Megha Sa, the builder of the Gori temple.

Even setting aside legends and tradition, there is still something that makes the Gori temple unique – the paintings within the ranga-mandap dome. These paintings are older than any other frescos in the Jain temples of North India, with the exception of Ellora. In India, the temples have been renovated and any old frescos have been painted over. Gori paintings are also older than any other surviving frescos in Pakistan, with the possible exception of some Gandhara fragments.

The writer is a professor of computer science at Colorado State University and can be reached at malaiya@cs.colostate.edu

Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2012.