Thursday, April 2, 2015

Adhaar Abhishek - An Experience – A Spiritual Treatment

Every trip is an eye opener for those who want to open their eyes. Our trip to Palitana was a similar one. Received an invitation to a very special function that was happening after 40 years "The Giriraj Abhishek" or also called the "Adhaar Abhishek". On my return, one person asked me a very strange question, that made me think and so I blog my thoughts, experience and learning here. Pardon me for the length but the every word means more to me.
He asked me"You are not a Jain, nor are you from Gujarat or North India – A south Indian. What brings you to the Shathrunjay Hills in Palitana and what was your experience".

 About Palitana

Before narrating my experience let me give you an idea about this historical and holy village in Bhavnagar District of Gujarat called Palitana. In 2014, Palitana became the first city on the world to be legally vegetarian. Associated with Jain legends and history, Dainty, the first of the Jain tirthankaras, is said to have meditated and given sermon on the Shatrunjaya hill, where the Palitana temples were later constructed. A princely state, founded in 1194, Palitana was one of the major states in Saurashtra. In 1656, Shah Jahan's son Murad Baksh, the then Governor of Gujarat, granted the village of Palitana to the prominent Jain merchant Shantidas Jhaveri. The management of the temples was assigned to the Anandji Kalyanji Trust in 1730.

Palitana is the world’s only mountain that has more about 863 marble carved temples. The Palitana temples and whole mountain are considered the most sacred thirth (pilgrimage place) by the Jain community, and is the world's largest Temple Complex. There are more than 3000 temples located on the Shatrunjaya hills. The main temple on top of the hill, Dada Ni Tuke, is dedicated to 1st tirthankar lord Adinath or Rishabdeva. It is said that 23 tirthankaras, except Neminatha, sanctified the hill by their visits. On the top the Shatrunjai Hill, also known as the Pundarikgiri is a cluster of Jain temples, built by generations of Jains over a period of 900 years, from the 11th century onwards. The temples are managed by the Anandji Kalyanji Trust associated with the Kasturbhai Lalbhai group. From the foot of the hill to the top there are 3,800 and odd stone steps cut to facilitate climbing.

The temples are exquisitely carved in marble, veritable prayers in stone. To an observer, these appear to be ivory miniatures when seen from a distance. Created by master craftsmen, the most important temple is that of the first teerthankara, Shri Adishwar - The Dada Ni Tuke. It has ornate architectural motifs, though in its overall plan it is simpler than the Choumukh. Other notable temples are those of Kumarpal, Vimalshah and Sampriti Raja. Kumarpal Solanki, a great Jain patron, probably built the earliest temple. The temples date from 11th to the 20th century.

Every devout Jain aspires to climb to the top of the mountain at least once in his lifetime,
because of its sanctity. Not just the temples on the Hill are sacred, but as per Jain Scriptures entire Hill is sacred right from top to bottom. The journey is arduous. The walk up the stone stairway sewn into the mountain face takes about an hour and a half. For those unable or unaccustomed to the strain, doli as the sling-chairs are called, are available. The code for the climbers is stringent, in keeping with the rigors of the Jain faith. Food must neither be eaten nor carried on the way. The descent must begin before it is evening, for no soul can remain atop the sacred mountain during the night.

The Journey

We reached Mumbai and our welcome at the Railway station was warm. The Kurla station had a platform full of believers getting geared up for this holy trip. I barely understood the
importance at the start of the trip, except for the idea that the trip was a special one. Lunch was being served with all kinds of vegetarian dishes and sweets at the counters, there was festivities with brass band and stage with eminent people to flag the train off, registration counters were thronged by people getting their ID's and accommodation details. The train was a dedicated special train only for the group. That itself added attraction to my trip, as it was a chartered train exclusively for the yathra. Bhajans, people greeting each other, bags being allocated, catering services, photographers and VIP presence made added color to the gala start. The journey was an experience in itself and there was more to it.

The food

We reached our coach and we were informed that food will be served and that was a special exposure to Gujarati / Jain food. Little did I know about the customs and tradition, though I had heard from here and there about the food habits and lifestyle. The time a Strict Jain is allowed to have food is restricted to the time between the dawn and the dusk - the anastamita or anthai vow of not eating after sunset. My first exposure to Jainism and the lifestyle.

Jain vegetarian diet, should be one of the most rigorous forms of spiritually-motivated diet on the Indian subcontinent and beyond. The Jain cuisine is completely vegetarian and also excludes onions, potatoes, brinjals, garlic and additionally may exclude root vegetables, similar to the shojin-ryori Buddhist cuisine of Japan. The diet - truly satvic. Some of the dishes I remember having are the Dal Dhokli, Khichu, Kachori, Puri, Bhakri, Khakra and the like. I should thank Mr. Nitin Shah and Mr. Nitin Doshi - the organizers and Kailash Caterers from Mumbai, who made the cuisine a memorable one.

The lifestyle

Every act by which a person directly or indirectly supports killing or injury is seen as act of violence (himsa), which creates harmful reaction karma. The aim of ahimsa is to prevent the accumulation of such karma. Jains believe nonviolence is the most essential religious duty for everyone (ahinsa paramo dharma, a statement often inscribed on Jain temples). It is an indispensable condition for liberation from the cycle of reincarnation - moksha, which is the ultimate goal of all Jain activities. The thorough ways of applying nonviolence to everyday activities, and especially to food, shapes their entire lives and is the most significant hallmark of Jain identity.

Jains go out of their way so as not to hurt even small insects and other tiny animals, because they believe that harm caused by carelessness is as reprehensible as harm caused by deliberate action. Hence they take great pains to make sure that no minuscule animals are injured by the preparation of their meals and in the process of eating and drinking. Traditionally Jains have been prohibited from drinking unfiltered water. In the past, when step wells were used for the water source, the cloth used for filtering was reversed, and some filtered water poured over it to return the organisms to the original body of water. This practice of jivani or bilchavani is no longer possible because of the use of pipes for water supply. But I saw almost everyone in the village filter tap water in the traditional fashion with cloth filters and a few even with bottled drinking water.

A scientific look into the diet and lifestyle reveals vegan diet with easily digestible carbohydrates with food prepared fresh and disinfected by the sun's UV rays and making sure, there is least possibility of infection by a clean lifestyle. Giving the guts a rest by not eating at night ensures sound sleep and better health. But many do not look into the scientific aspects of our customs and traditions.

The Destination

The chartered train was received with pomp and splendor at the Palitana Station. I noticed a singer, who would sing along with the track played on record and brass band accompanying him with the speakers and other equipments on a cart. It was a new experience from then on. Reached the dharmasala, where the lifestyle mentioned was strictly followed. The walls bearing the code of conduct, not allowing food inside the dharmasala in the evening and the simple lifestyle with a worship hall in it. Every corner had beautifully carved and ornate structures - The derasars. The place seemed full of the Jain temples, cows on the road, and a simple village feel. As you walk past the streets of palitana, you are sure to see many monks and ascetics walking by.


The day before the Giriraj abhishek, the whole village and people from different parts of the
world who have come to Palitana witnessed a grand procession - The Varghodo. A customary procession similar to the groom’s arrival for a marriage in the Indian style. As the name suggest it is the procession of the groom’s horse. In marriages the groom's family members invite the people from whole village and all the relatives. The groom sits on the horse and travels through main streets of whole village. He is accompanied by friends, relatives and the people from the village. They have musical bands with them during "Varghodo". During the "Varghodo" process the friends and mostly young people play special kind of dance called "Ras-dandia". But here the procession was for the arrival of water in special pots from the rivers in India. People were invited for the abhishek and danced their ways through the streets to take the hundreds of pots to one place and sanctify it for the abhishek. Chariots, horses, camels, dandia dancers, young and old all were a part of this celebration. Varghodo at Palitana was an exhilarating experience.

The Climb

Every step in the mountain is supposed to be holy and I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it. So a doli was arranged. When the journey was about to start, the doli which was arranged for me was broken. So I said let me give it a try and if I was not able to make it then would rely on the doli. I started climbing and one of the doli carriers kept his hand on my spine and said would support me in the climb. I climbed with ease and saw the morning sun rise in the mountains above the Shetrunji river. The climb was more exciting to me as every step gave me the strength to move forward. 3.5 kilometers and the 3800 steps. With faith you ask the mountain to move and it moves says the bible. And I felt the same climbing the mountain.

The Abhishek

As per the principles of Jainism, “ Adhaar Abhishek ” removes impurity & brings serenity,
tranquility & piousness all around. It is believed that many years ago (Approximately 40 years ago), famine in Gujarat was prevented by carrying out “Adhaar Abhishek” on all the Jain temples of Shree Shatrunjay Mountain of Palitana, in Gujarat. Besides, the objective of this ceremony is to create purity of atmosphere and to create unity, harmony & peace among the people of whole world, thereby re-establishing religious empire of Lord Mahavir, leading to cleansing of every soul & provide strength to repel attacks on mankind, country, culture & religion. Pure holy water from 108 rivers, 1008 wells as well as ponds etc. was being collected for this ceremony, in addition to roots & branches of trees, flowers etc with chandana powder (Vasakshep) added to the waters to make it holy.
  • Prayers are offered to the main deity
  • Then the athmaraksha vajra panjar stotra is recited.
  • Three sets of sandal and floral offerings are done at the right big toe of the deity after praying to the sun and gurus, this is called the kusumanjali. After three sets of kusumanjali, starts the abhishek as per the tradition. And in between the abhishek, kusumanjali is performed.
  • The first abhishek is with swarnachoorn - with gold, fragrant flowers, sandal wood paste, and holy water
  • The second abhishek is with pancharatnachoorna - with pearl, gold, silver, copper, coral, flowers, leaves
  • The third abhishek is the kayachoorn - with extracts from peepar, peepal(Bo tree or Ficus Religiosa), sarsado (Shirish, Vagai or also called womans tongue), umbaro (Cluster fig), vad (Banyan), champa (Ashoka Tree), aasopalav (Deodar), aambo (Mango tree), jamboon (Black plum or njaaval), bakul (Bullet wood tree), arjun (Tropical or Malabar Almond Tree), paadal (Piper longum), kesudo (Flame of the forest or parrot tree), daadam (Coral wood tree), naarangi (Orange tree) and holy water
  • The fourth abhishek is with mangalmruththika - with soil from eight spots which are sifted and mixed- from ivory, rishab sankh (conch) dust, sand from mountain peaks, from sunrise points, from the point of union of rivers, from river beds, from holy places
  • The fifth abhishek is with panchamruth or panchagavya - Milk, curd, clarified butter, sugar and water.
  • The sixth abhishek is with shathamoolika - with extracts from 100 medical ingredients or 21 medicinal plants – sahadevi (Ash coloured fleabane), shathavari (Asparagus), kumaari (Indian chaste tree), vaalo, big and small ringini, madhur shikha, ankol (Poison Devil Tree), shaalvani, gandhnoli, mahaanoli, shankholi, lakshmanaa, aajokojo, thohaar, thulsi, maruodamno, gaalo, koobi, sarpankho, rajahansi, peelavaani
  • The seventh abhishek is with kushtaadi pradhamaashtakavarg - with eight extracts of uplot (Kath), lodhoo, deodar (Himalayan Cedar), khoraasani kaj, dharoneeli, jetimadh, maradaa shinghi and varanaa
  • The eight abhishek is with patajjyaadi dvithiyaashtakavarg - with extracts from medha, mahameda, veaukand, kankol, kheerkandh, jeevak, rushabak, nakhi-mahaanakhi
  • The pooja is also done with three mudras - garuda mudra, muktaashakthi mudra and parameshti mudra
  • The ninth abhishek is sadoushadi snaan - with extracts of priyangu, vaths, kankeli, rasaal, pathra bhallaath, ilaayarchi, taj (Cinnamon), vishnukranthaa, ahipravaal, lavang  (Clove)and mayurshikha
  • The tenth abhishekh is sarvaushadi snaan - sugandhoushadi sahasramoolika sarvoushadi  - with haldi, khoraasani, suvaa, vaalo, modh, priyangu (An evergreen flowering plant found in the western ghats), chadilo, vansakhi gaath, sadkyooro, uplot, sukhad, ilaayarchi, lavang (clove), taj (Cinnamon), thamaalpathra, jaavathri, jayphal (The husk and seed of nutmeg), naagkesar, marachkankol, vardhaaro, aasangh, vadiaushadi, agar, solaaras, pathraj, chad, nakhla, ghaula, aashikali, moormansi, jataamansi, sahasramooli and amber with water.
  • The eleventh abhishekh is pushpasnaan - with sevanti (Chrysanthemum), chameli (Jasmine), mogra, rose, juhi, damara (Tulsi), and other flowers in water
  • The twelfth abhishek is Gandhasnaan - with extracts from kesar (Saffron), sukhad, agar, baraas, kasthuri, gorochandan, ratnanjali, kacho, hinglok, marach kankol, and gold leafs or alternatively shilajit, uplot, sukhad, vaas, kapoor is used.
  • The thirteenth abhishek is vaasasnaan - with extracts from chandan (sandal), kesar (Saffron), and baraas paste also known as vaaskhshep or vaasachoorna in water
  • The fourteenth abhishek is ksheerchandan snaan- with extracts from sukhad (Sandal wood tree) and milk in water
  • The fifteenth abhishek is Kesar Sharkara snaan - a mix of kesar (Saffron) and sugar in water is used.
  • After the 15th abhishek there is an important ritual of chandra darshan and soorya darshan. This is a special ritual which is performed during the occasion of anjan shalaaka. Each idol is given a glimpse of dreaming the sun and the moon made in gold and a special mantra is recited. The darshan of the sun and moon is also given to married women.
  • The sixteenth abhishek is Theerthodak snaan- It is the mix of the holy waters from holy places.
  • The seventeenth abhishek is Karpoora snaan - with water mixed with camphor
  • The eighteenth abhishek is Kesar kasthoorika chandan - with a mix of kesar (Saffron), kasthoori (musk) and sandal in water.
  • And five abhishek on the Gurumoorthi is done with gold, pancharal choorna, panchamruth or panchagavya, sadoushadi and theerthjal is done and also five abhishek for the gods and goddesses are done with panchamruth and sarvoushadi.
  • The shataprakari pooja completes the adhaar abhishek in which pooja is done with water, sandal, flowers, dhoop (Incense), deep (Lamp), akshath (Sanctified rice grains), naivedya (Cooked food), fruits and mangal arathi and kusumanjali.

The whole function atop the hill ended by noon and coming back to the foothills I found people washing the legs and giving offerings as a token of respect who got the chance to be there and perform the Adhaar abhishek. The experience taught me more, being able to touch the ingredients with one’s own hands while the Abhishek is performed gives you strength and the vigor to take your life forward in good health. Abhishek was done on over 26000 idols in the Giriraj at the same time on March 14, 2015.

The Answer

The answer to the question the person asked me can be summed up in one line - divinely ordained occasion to be able to perform the Adhaar Abhishek was a blessing from Shri Aadinathji himself. I feel I learnt more and wanted to share it with the world and that’s the reason I was there. If ever the adhaar abhishek happens at Palitana in future and you are invited for the same, make it a point you are there as very few get a chance to be a part of it.
Having the chance to handle all these herbs and minerals during the abhishek, after climbing the mountain empty stomach, is a treatment in itself. Strange are the ways our forefathers envisaged how we can have a healthy life. Even this tradition of adhaar abhishek is a blessing in disguise.

My research on the subject was based on Wikipedia, books at the Jain Library in Manshanti in Palitana, The online Jain Library, from people themselves and last but not the least my own experience. 
I have tried to find the ingredients and give the names of many, but some are local names and can't be traced easily. Please bear with me for the same.

Thanks again to Mr. Nitin Mansukhlal Shah for inviting us.

More pictures on my facebook page: Link to the album


  1. Hi,

    It is very good blog post. I liked it very much. Also glad to know that you were able to understand logic and rationale behind Jain philosophy.

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