Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | February 12, 2009

Nagpur Diary

Shantinath Digamber Jain Mandir Ramtek

Shantinath Digamber Jain Mandir Ramtek

After getting back from India a few days ago, it was wonderful to read Barbara’s, Penny’s, Liz’s, and Juliet’s guest posts (all so inspiring and so well written!) and the comments they generated… thank you so much guest bloggers!

I had been invited to India by the ICCS – an organisation that is promoting the revival of ancient traditions. But the visit also became a Yatra – a pilgrimage – to a land steeped in spirituality for thousands of years. In particular I was interested in the connections between the Dharmic religions of Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism and Druidism. Could they really be said to be brothers and sisters who share a common parentage?

Many of us who are interested in Druidry also feel drawn to one or more of those paths which arose in India, and I wanted to explore whether this is simply an example of Westerners’ greed for ‘more’ or whether there really is a way in which these geographically separate traditions are in reality related, and can be complementary.

I am particularly interested in Jainism, and had written an exploratory paper on the connections and resonances between Jainism and Druidism, but while I was in India I met many experts on Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism, and have broadened that paper to include them too. When I’ve finished it, I’ll post it up here. In the meanwhile, some photos and notes, and a big thank you to the organisers and participants of the conference – all of whom were so warm and generous.

At The River Crossing

The day before the conference I took a ramshackle bus to Ramtek, 40km from Nagpur, to visit the Jain and Hindu temples there.

Clues are hidden in language. Jain temples are called ‘Teerth’ or ‘Tirtha’. Tirtha literally means a river-crossing or ford, but also means ‘a sacred place’. Rivers have been considered sacred in many traditions – including the Celtic and Indian – and ‘crossing the river’ is a powerful image of moving from one realm to another. So a temple or sacred place is like a river – we can bathe in it, drink from it, and cross over it to the Other Side. And in the Jain tradition the 24 great teachers of humanity are known as ‘Tirthankaras’ – which means ford-makers. So the Sacred Person and the Sacred Place are one: they are both gateways to the Divine.

Most visitors to Ramtek go straight to the Hindu temples up on the hill. The Shantinath Digamber Jain Mandir is less frequently visited and lies on the plain at the base of the hill. Inside its nine temples are exquisite figures of the Tirthankaras, seated or standing, with the pride of place given to a great statue in yellow glossy stone of one Tirthankara that is 3.04 metres tall. I was asked not to photograph the interiors, but here are some exterior pictures:

The Entrance to the Jain Temple at Ramtek

The Entrance to the Jain Temple at Ramtek

Once through the entrance this avenue offers Dharmsala - guest rooms for pilgrims

Once through the entrance this avenue offers Dharmsala - guest rooms for pilgrims

Once through the Inner Gateway you can rest from the heat on these mattresses and cushions

Once through the Inner Gateway you can rest from the heat on these mattresses and cushions

Stupas in the temple courtyard

Stupas in the temple courtyard

More stupas

More stupas

A figure on a stupa. The oldest parts of the temple are between 400-500 years old, and a large new section is being built

A figure on a stupa. The oldest parts of the temple are between 400-500 years old, and a large new section is being built


Responses

  1. Philip, your trip looks great. I too am drawn to Buddhism, where entering the river is a powerful symbol of spiritual commitment – you have to go through the river to get to the other side!

    The stupas – am I right in thinking they are temple-sized reliqueries for bones and remains of holy men and women?

  2. Have you seen the film ‘Samsara’ Paul? Well worth hunting out. In it crossing the river scene is deeply moving.

    Yes as far as I know stupas hold old bones…

  3. Welcome back Philip! Thank you for sharing your Nagpur diary – beautiful photos, makes me want to be there. The conference sounds very interesting. Like you and Paul, I share a fascination for the spiritualities that have come out of India. I look forward to your paper.

    The ‘Tirtha’ meaning is beautiful. Feels strangely apt at the moment. The river here has flooded several times either side of the snow fall, the landscape is otherwordly; the water meadows are lakes; pathways and roads now rivers. Just recently I was stood on a small wooden cattle bridge that crosses the Yar, the footpath and fields before me completely submerged and the river surging barely an inch beneath. It had broken its bank a little further down, absorbing the old rail track into its widening body. It’s a small river, normally very placid; the power and speed of its flood waters was a little alarming. There in the twilight, I also felt incredibly moved by the beauty of it; its easy to understand how water speaks to something very deep and wordless within us.

  4. Hi Philip,
    It is lovely to read your experience and see the photos. What you shared about the river made me immediatly think of the Hopi saying that was around a few years ago about getting into the river and notice who is in with you, not to go against the flow and not to swim to the safety of the banks, but go with the river… the time for lone wolves is over. It was something like that which still makes an impression on me. It also goes on to say that the moment we take anything personally, our spiritual evoltion comes to a halt!
    What you also had to share reminds me of Satish Kumar, that he was a Jain monk for a while. (Maybe he would like an article from you about your journey to India)

  5. ps. I have seen the film Samsara and loved it, and reccommend it to anyone who has not seen it.
    Talking of films, ( just to chat for a second more!) I highly reccommend Slumdog Millionaire and also The Curious Case of Bejamin Buttons. Two excellent films around at the moment.

  6. Welcome back, Philip. And thank with sharing your lovely photos.

    I’ve never been drawn to eastern religions or philosophies on the whole though some specific teachings are inspiring. I think I have all I can handle in Druidry.

    Your guest bloggers were wonderful but it’s good to have you back as well.

  7. Hi Philip.

    I have a slightly different perspective on your observations, having started in Wicca (it was Witchcraft back then), then having been a practicing Buddhist off-and-on for 30 years and now studying Druidry. I await your paper with interest.

    I recently re-read the poet Gary Snyder’s article on the relationship between Buddihsm and earth spirituality, and I would reccomend it. I found it in a collection of his earliest work entitled “Earth Household”, but it has probably been reprinted elswhere.

    Just for fun (can’t have too much fun), check out the same author’s “Sutra of Smokey the Bear” – it’s available online. In the same vein, “When the Buddha met the Goddess” by Rick Fields.

    Welcome back

  8. Hello,
    I’m pleased to note that u r taking interest in Digambar Jain Religion which preaches about ‘Aatma’ – Eternal Soul which can be realised by all the living beings i.e. human beings, animals, insects etc. if u r interested in true spiritual essence then u can visit/read/listen to ‘Saint of Songadh (Gujarat)’ Pujya Shree Kanjiswami’s speeches(pravachanas) who had achieved ‘Samyagdarshan’ – ‘True self-realisation’. U can also visit atmadharma.com 4 details.

    I shall b happy to help u in following the path of atmadharma

  9. Hi! I’m the Community Manager of Ruba.com. We’re building a website to highlight some of the most interesting places travelers around the world have discovered. We’ve read hundreds of blogs about India, and we think that yours is awesome! We’d love to highlight excerpts from blogs like yours (assuming it’s OK with you of course) and to discuss other ways of tapping into your expertise if you are interested.
    Thanks! 🙂

  10. I was there in January, high-point of my 1 mo.
    India visit! what an experience, being blessed by over 30 Digambara Jaina Sants !
    Hope it sticks. . .


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