With memories of the project behind us, we take a less-traveled highway so that we can visit a 600 year old Jain temple, built on permutations of the number 72, which is the age at which Sri Ranakpur attained enlightenment. We travel down a winding narrow highway, seeing a small stream below, then around a corner we catch the first glimpse of the exquisite White marble temple.
We arrive, reminded that Jains are non-violent in thought, word and deed, and rebelled against the cast system, seeing everyone equal, including all sentient beings. Jains will not eat any meat product, or any vegetable that may have involved the killing of insects. Therefore, they will not consume any root vegetable because it would involve the destruction of insects and worms that inhabit the soil. We are checked by security attendants to ensure we do not wear any item that is made of leather, and remove our shoes before entering the temple.
It is a hot day but the marble is cool beneath our feet, with 1600 columns supporting domed roofs and archways delicately carved with deities. The High Priest approaches us, laughing as he says, "Developing World Connections", adding that, "it is a good name". But before we can reflect on the meaning, he offers four of us a prayer, recited in Sanscrit, with a deep melodic resonance, strangely in sync with the sharp Chime of a bell, in another part of the temple, struck by devotees. His prayer has us at a loss for words, feeling that we experienced something sacred that dug down deep into each of our souls.
I wander among the columns, in awe of the absolute symmetry, all carved over a period of centuries by hand tools, reflecting down on the mirrored marble slabs, worn now, but only by bare feet, as we tourists have. I feel a strange connection with the generations of Jains that have inhabited this space as I wander over to watch Jain monk, in saffron and burgundy robe, mouth screen in place so that does not inadvertently inhale an insect and kill it. He is slowly but firmly drawing a large piece of sandalwood over the wet surface of a round, shallow piece of marble, grooved to act as a grinder, so that fine pieces of sandalwood collect in a wood and water slurry, to eventually be offered wet, and dry as incense, to God. It is a snapshot of something that has been going on since the very beginning of the Jain Order.
We continue to marvel, photograph, then with time ebbing, and more kilometers to go, we bid goodbye to Sri Ranakpur.
DWC Team Leader