Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Jain Nuns At Palitana

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One the highlights of the In Search of the Sufis of Gujarat Photo Expedition™ was the Jain temples of Palitana. As my intent for this photo expedition was to explore and document existent syncretism (defined the attempt to reconcile contrary beliefs, by melding practices of various religious traditions) in Gujarat, Palitana proved itself an interesting stop on the itinerary.

Near the town of Paltina, there's a cluster of 1,500 Jain temples packed densely together on the hillside overlooking the town. These date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, and are the focus of Jains' pilgrimage or tirtha. From the foot of the hill to the top there are about 3,800 stone steps, and it is these steps that Jains have to climb to reach the main temple on top of the hill.

Dismissing the help of porters and their "doli", a sort of palanquin from which passengers are suspended, and that would have terrified me anyway, I walked the 3800 steps up and down. I must say it wasn't that much of effort, but many Jain nuns I encountered along the way do it a multiple times a day, on empty stomachs...no food nor water! That would be tough.

The story behind the above photograph is that the Jain nun on the right had earlier stepped on thorns, and had been in pain while her companions tried to pull them out. I stopped and gave them water to soften the skin to make it easier. Seeing her in pain, I tapped her on the shoulder shoulder meaning to comfort her, whereupon she recoiled in alarm. I had forgotten that touching a Jain monk or nun was prohibited as it defiles them. I felt terrible as I had added to her troubles...however I saw her later at the top temple, and she smiled and thanked me.

So I hope I was forgiven.