A part from cultural expressions of the Rabari, Charan, Koli, Meghwar, Bhil, Suthar and many other castes in Tharparkar, this region in Sindh is also host to a number of Jain temples which are noted for beautiful art and architecture. All of these temples are located in the Nagarparkar taluka of Tharparkar.
Nagarparkar has great historical significance, boasting famous sites of the Bodhesar mosque, Sati and hero stones, fortresses of Rajputs and Hindu and Jain temples.
The Jain temples are fabulous pieces of art and architecture which reflect the opulence and aesthetic of the builders who once were the prosperous community in Tharparkar and other districts of Sindh. Today not a single Jain family lives in Tharparkar. However, their temples remind the visitor of their past glory. There are many sacred spaces associated with Shaivism and the Jain munis – followers of Lord Mahavira and Parshvanatha in Nagarparkar taluka. Yogis and Jain munis used to practice austerities in the hills of Karoonhjar. There are still some temples in the Karoonjhar hills, of which some lie in a dilapidated condition and others are taken care of by the local Hindu community of Nagarparkar town.
At Bodhesar, 5 km north-west of Nagarparkar town, and by the side of the talao (pond) at the foothill of the Karoonjhar, lies a beautiful, shining white mosque. This mosque, though small in size, is said to have been built by Sultan Mahmud Begra, the ruler of Gujarat. An inscription on the mosque reads the name of Mahmud Shah Bin Muzaffar Shah Bin Ghiyasuddin, and the year 880 AH / 1505 AD.
Apart from mosque, Jain temples also dot the landscape of Tharparkar. The spread and prosperity of the Jains is marked by the presence of temples in That and Parkar.
Gori, Viravah, Bodhesar, Sati Dhara, Umarkot town, Gadro and Nagaparkar were some of the places where Jain temples were located. Of these, only the temples at Nagarparkar town, Bodhesar, Viravah and Gori have survived and all others are only preserved in the memory of the local community. A majority of Jain temples in Nagarparkar taluka are in a bad state of preservation, some of which are being preserved by the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh (EFT). The most impressive Jain temple is located in in Nagarparkar bazaar, which is richly decorated with sculptures and paintings. An exquisite carving done on the pillars and on the entrance of the temple reflects the workmanship of the builders.
The paintings, which depict scenes from Jain lore are now in bad state of preservation. In some of the paintings Jains are shown wearing pieces of cloth over their mouths, showing their adherence to ahimsa (non-violence) in both thought and action. These are very precious mural paintings which need to be preserved before they are lost.
Apart from this fabulously carved temple, there exist a cluster of three temples at Bodhesar, which were believed to have been built in 1375 AD and 1449 AD. Two temples with corbelled domes are built of kanjur and redstone, and are finely carved. The third temple, which is raised on a platform, is most inspiring and imposing. This temple is now being preserved by the Endowment Fund Trust (EFT).
The upper part of the shikhara of this temple has fallen. This temple is believed to have been built by a Jain woman and is locally called “Poni Daharo”.
About 24 km north of Nagarparkar at Viravah stands a Jain temple in neglected and desolate state. It is built in white marble and consists of an open group of pillars with carved capitals. Captain S.N. Raikes, while traveling through this area in 1856, found the remains of five or six Jain temples mostly made of white marble. At present, only one temple survives. Near the western side of the temple are lying several valuable pieces of Jain sculptures which were accidentally found during the road construction. Some were left at the temple while the others were placed in the Umarkot Museum.
There is another Jain temple at Gori, about 20 km north-west of Viravah which also lies in very deplorable condition. It is believed to have been built during the heyday of the Sodhas around 1376 A.D. It has exquisitely decorated interiors reflecting the aesthetic and affluence of those who made it. The canopy, which also serves as entrance to the temple, is decorated with paintings representing the Jain belief system. Paintings of Parshvanatha being welcomed by yakshas and yakshinis are found in the domed ceiling of the canopy. There are also images of Tirthankaras Neminatha and Mahavira in the domed ceiling of Gori temple. As one enters in the main hall of the temple, one finds on either side of the hall 12 cells, thus making the total number 24 which might have been used for housing images of 24 tirthankaras (ford-makers or propagators of dharma). It is very similar to the one at Bodhesar but far more superior in craftsmanship and finish – bearing architectural influence from adjacent Rajasthan from where the followers of the faith infiltrated into Nagarparkar and brought a new style of temple architecture.
Authorities managing this heritage should chalk out a sustainable strategy to properly market cultural tourism and prepare booklets and brochures to hand over to the tourists who visit the Jain temples. These booklets and brochures should also be placed at all the rest houses and hotels in the towns of Tharparkar. A museum should also be established to showcase the cultural heritage of communities in general and the Jain community in particular. All of the architectural elements accidentally discovered by the people in Nagarparkar should be recovered and placed in the museum. Currently these images of Jain Tirthankaras are in the care of the local community, who have built small shrines in their honour and venerate them.
The author is an anthropologist and teaches at the Department of Development Studies, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org