The hundreds of Jain Temples of Sonagiri
Sonagiri’s Brilliant White Temples
About nine miles from Datia, off the main road between Orchha and Gwalior, the traveler will see row upon row of bright white temples in marble dotting the low hills. Devotees to the Digambara faith come to Sonagiri in search of salvation. This ‘golden mountain’ is famous as a Jain pilgrimage site.
Swarnagiri, as it was named in years long gone, consists of 26 temples in the little village below and 77 standing on the hills. This is the site where legendary Nanganang Kumar, king of Jain, and about 150 followers attained salvation. The summit is reached by climbing more than 300 steps along a path winding upwards around the beautiful temples. Pilgrims and tourists alike do this barefoot.
Climbing the steps to the temples is an unequaled and special experience. Amid the stark environs, one is confronted with the dazzling white marble of the structures. The contrast is startling. Then there is the almost surreal welcoming of two modern elephant statues, trunks raised in greeting. For some strange reason, peacocks like to strut around the spiny shrubs, unperturbed by the visitors. Just a reminder that no food is allowed on the site, so do not start your visit on an empty stomach.
The eighth Tirthankara or temple is devoted to Chandraprabha and widely believed the most elegant and important of all. It houses an image of the spiritual leader and founder of Tirthankara which stands almost ten feet tall and is carved from shiny black rock. It is at least 2000 years old, dating back to between the fifth and sixth centuries.
Sonagiri – A Medley of Architectural Styles
The other temples vary in age; some go back to the fourteenth century while others were constructed more recently. At first glance, they may look similar because they are all sparkling white, but in fact, they vary tremendously as far as style, architecture and size are concerned. In his work on the architectural styles of the subcontinent of India, Tokeo Kamiya states that a few of the temples show clear Islam architectural influences and there is one that even looks like a Russian temple.
On reaching the summit, the visitor is awarded a splendid view. Flags in bright orange move in the slight breeze in stark contrast to the white of the shikhara. It is a sight that lingers in the mind long afterward. The annual Jain festival takes place in April. Thousands of devotees and pilgrims assemble in the serene atmosphere of this sacred site to pay homage.
How to Reach Sonagiri
By air: The nearest airport is at Gwalior 37 miles away.
By rail: Take the train from either Gwalior or from Jhansi. The quiet Sonagiri station is not crowded and here the visitor can hop on a rickshaw to the foothill.
By road: The drive from Orchha will take around 6.5 hours.