“When patience, perseverance and hard work merge; masterpiece is created.”-Aliena; and these were the exact sentiments when I visited Osian. It is a classic combination of pilgrimage & architecture in the dunes. Rajasthan is dotted with Temples, Forts, Baodi and many architectural marvels; but Osian is a prognostication. Considered among the earliest medieval, Osian is famous as the home of Hindu & Jain temple. And I was totally set to explore this desert oasis a UNESCO heritage in Osian.
Osian also recognized as the Khajuraho of Rajasthan is a small town located 65kms from Jodhpur. According to early history, this little hamlet used to be a Brahmin centre where Vedas & other sacred manuscripts were specialized. It was during the Harsha Kalin (Gupta period) between 320-550CE Osian became an essential stop for the camel caravan towards the silk route. Only the glory came to an abrupt end when Muhammed of Ghor in 1195 AD attacked the town. However, the city did prosper again under the reign of the Gurjar Pratihar of Marwar dynasty during 7th -11th century. Upon entering into the city, a few small shrines on either side of the road greeted us. It was rather evident that no attempt was made to protect the structures, as most were abandoned of idols.
As I drew near the temple complex, the tranquillity deemed the noise of the street, eyes stuck in the intricate carvings and mind absorbing the silence around. Can’t exactly explain the feeling, but temples affect our souls as we research them. Evidence suggests that Osian is an ancient settlement and the presence of Jainism since then. Legend states this place was founded by Utpaladeva, a Rajput prince of the Pratihara dynasty in 900-950 CE. Osian during the prehistoric era was known as Ukesha or Upakesapura- which was narrated as the ‘Svastika’ -a mystical mark denoting good luck of the world in Nabhinandanajirnodhara Prabandha. Hence Osian is an important pilgrimage site for Maheshwari’s and Oswal Jain community.
Though it conjectured from several bits of evidence that Acharya Ratnaprabhasuriji persuaded the people of Osian to become Jain since he had impressed the populace of the region by his supernatural powers. However, there is a strong belief among the Jains that Lord Mahavira, the last Jain Tirthankar did pass through the tiny village of Khimsar on his way to the Thar desert. Even the impression of a pair of footprints along a stone slab believed belonged to Lord Mahavira, is preserved with great reverence in a small temple on the outskirts of Khimsar. And this legend attracts a significant number of devout Jains to Osian.
Jain Dharma is the system or religious philosophy which is neither theistic nor aesthetic but beyond them. It predicts that the universe evolves without violating the law of substance dualism (mind & body). This thought inspires me to look beyond the closed circuit of the world. To explore this philosophy, I walked towards the temple dedicated to Lord Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankar was perched along a hilltop.
Chiselled out of red stone, the temple was constructed in 783 AD, by Pratihar Raja Vasta. The temple has a sanctum, porch, Torana or ornamental arch in front of the porch along with a closed hall. This temple is among the splendid and well preserved Mahavir temple built in the 8th century. The main shrine holds the icon of Lord Mahavira in the Padmasana posture on a lotus. Approximately 32 inches high, this idol was established by Acharya Ratnapradasur. I was stunned with the detailed carving & the silence on the premises.
Looking around the Mandap (pavilion) which has convex ceiling and pillars is ornately decorated with exquisite figures; which open onto a vast hall, with 30 gracefully decorated pillars. These galleries were known to be used for large gatherings. The carving has the floral patterns which follow the famous vase and foliage pattern, and the plinths of these pillars are unusually wide. Even the doorway towards the sanctum was chiselled with a horde of young maidens, and on the other hands, intricately carved pillars adorn the site of the central porch. Amazingly the carvings, still retain the sharp details maybe the dry air of the area has helped to preserve it.
A niche in Mahavira Temple contains a sculpture of intertwined snakes, which is worshipped by Oswal Jaina, as Adhisthatr – devotees. This directs us to believe that a sizeable part of the populace in that period may have belonged to Naga extraction. It is supposed that the Nagabhatta a Pratihara ruler of Mandor have defeated the Nagas for which he was named Nagabhatta-‘master of Nagas’. Hence the Pratiharas may have conquered these regions from the Nagas, which is also indicated in Nagapriyagachha of Jaina. Therefore the Nagas of Osian along with the surrounding area, continued serpent worship, even after their conversion to Jainism.
Still, there is parallel worship of Sachiya Mata by Oswal community. This temple is a stark example of medieval architecture, built during the 8th century, but the existing structure is believed to have been constructed in the 12th century. The design of the temple was started by Upaldev which is devoted to Sachi Mata-known as Indrani wife of Lord Indra ( the Rain God). In the temple complex are two other shrines that are dedicated to Chandi Devi and Amba Mata, respectively. Sachiya Mata Temple has been built in many phases, hence can be introduced through a sequence of a remarkably carved archway.
The core of the temple is decorated with beautiful icons and sculptures of deities from the Hindu pantheon. A statue of Varaha (Incarnation of Lord Vishnu as Boar) in the northern end, and on the east end image of Lakshmi-Vishnu is visible that embellishes the site. In the west end of the temple, a stone slab crammed with sculptures is seen emerging from the wall. It’s worth watching the artistic brilliance of the temple.
What astounded me more apart from the marvellous architecture was the monks dressed in pristine white & mouths covered, performing their daily chores and assigned duties—all undisturbed by the presence of the devotees and the pilgrims or even tourists. I watched the head monk dressed in a red dhoti and a bright yellow shawl easily distinguished from the other monks, sat watching & delegating work. Everything was done in sync and the same rhythm.
Walking around the complex I saw, most shrines are devastated with the ravages of the time; however, 18 shrines are still there unfolding the majestic legacy of the past. Amongst these temples, oldest is the Surya temple dedicated to the God Sun. Built-in 10th century AD is perhaps the most elegant a layout of the complex. Images of Gods and Goddesses that are reminiscent of the languid grace in the carvings of Khajuraho and the Sun Temple at Konark are engraved on the temple. The life-tale is depicted here in the form of murals and scriptures. The core sanctum holds a prominent Lord Surya idol, however, in the main hall idols of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga could be determined. Also, the roof is festooned with pictures of serpents coiled around leaves and flowers. This temple is frequently compared with the structure of the Sun Temple in Ranakpur.
All at once, the spellbound sound of temple bells at dawn, announcing the time for prayers adjoined to the entire atmosphere of the place. And my nostrils met by a known fragrance-sandalwood as I enter the Harihar temples. And the sound of rhythmic chanting was filling in the gentle wind. I could feel a sanctity and serenity of mind and heart that is little known outside the portals of the temples. Three red sandstone edifices with intricate carving are dedicated to Harihar-symbolically the union of Vishnu and Shiva.
Established on a raised platform, this temple is considered as an example of finest temple architecture, possessing the effusive and convoluted carvings adorning the pillars and walls, originating from the base and moves up to the pinnacle of the spires (known as Shikharas). The first two temples are believed to be fabricated in the 8th century & the last one in the 9the century where the architecture of these temples is considered far more advanced. My trip ended with the final temple dedicated to Pipala Devi temple built in the 9th century, a tiny temple among all structure.
Sitting on the porch of the temple, I realized life in Osian has not varied over the era. However, the rest of the nation did go through a metamorphosis. Travelling to these temples of Osian is like treading back in time, in contrast to the modern way of life we lead. The main religious premises of the Jain Dharma ahiṃsā (non-violence), Anekāntavāda (many-sidedness), Aparigraha (non-attachment) and Asceticism (abstinence from sensual pleasures) is seen accompanied by the sect rigorously. And the temples stand in their glory, as living proofs of the architectural marvel and the cultural ethos of yesteryears. As said by Ludwing Mies van der Rohe-” Architecture is the wall of an Epoch translated into space.” and Osian is a fine example of it.
How to Reach:
Jodhpur airport is the nearest airport to Osian, about 70 km away from Osian. Outside the airport, a cab can be hired.
Osian is well connected where nearest Railway Station is Jodhpur around 70 km away. From the railway station, you can hire a cab or bus for Osian.
Osian is well connected to neighbouring towns and cities by road. There are state govt buses ply from Jodhpur and other cities. You can also drive your own vehicle.