Mt. Abu, one of the prettiest
hill stations in India, is situated on an isolated plateau
about 1,219 m. 4,000 ft.) above sea level. The summit of the
plateau opens out into a charming valley about 13 km. (8
miles) long and 5 km. (3 miles) wide. The valley is strewn
with fantastically shaped granite rocks and is covered with
luxuriant vegetation. A place of pilgrimage for the Jains,
Mt. Abu is famed for its five Dilwara temples, among the
best specimens of carving of medieval India.
The hill resort is approached
by a 29-km. (18 mile) motorable road from Abu Road railway
station, which is 679 km. (422 miles) from Bombay via
Ahmedabad and 750 km. (466 miles) from Delhi.
In Hindu legend, Abu is referred to as the son of the
Himalayas. It was known as Mt. Arbuda, after the mighty
serpent Arbuda who rescued Nandi, the sacred bull and
vehicle of Lord Siva, from a pit into which it had fallen.
It was the seat of the ashram of Vashishtha, the great sage
of the epic age, from whose sacrificial fire four Rajput
clans are said to have originated. From inscriptional
evidence, it appears that Mt. Abu was a centre of Saivism
prior to the eleventh century when it became the stronghold
of Jainism. Chandravati, the capital of the Paramaras in the
ninth and tenth centuries, stood near Abu before it was
destroyed by the conquering Muslims in the middle of the
Of the five Dilwara temples at
Mt. Abu, only the Vimal Vasahi and the Tejpal are famous.
The former was the first Jain temple built in 1031 in the
village of Dilwara by Vimal Shah, the minister of Bhim Deva,
the first Solanki ruler of Gujarat. It is dedicated to
Adinath, the first Jain Tirthankar (pontiff). A man of
humble origin, Vimal Shah became the most powerful person in
the Chalukyan Empire by dint of his prowess and ability. He
undertook the construction of the magnificent shrine at the
instance of the learned Jain monk Dharmaghosha Suri.
Constructed entirely of white marble, probably brought from
the famous mines of Makrana, the Vimla Vasahi temple is
plain from outside, but the interior is extraordinarily rich
in ornament and sculpture. A pavilion facing the porch with
a domed entrance on the east contains a procession of marble
elephants bearing statues of Vimal Shah and his family.
The temple, 30 m. (98 ft.)
long and 13 m. (42 ft.) wide, is enclosed in an oblong
courtyard. The courtyard is surrounded by a high wall having
52 cells, each one of which enshrines the image of a
Tirthankar. These cells are screened by a double arcade of
carved pillars. The temple consists of the main shrine with
a pyramidal roof, a vestibule and an open portico. A
jewel-bedecked, seated figure of Adinath is installed in the
shrine. The portico of 48 pillars and the long beams
stretching from pillar to pillar are relieved by serpentine
struts of white marble. The octagonal dome outside the main
shrine, formed by eleven concentric rings and decorated with
finely carved human and animal figures and elephant
processions, is supported by eight superbly carved columns.
The circular rings are supported by sixteen brackets bearing
images of Mahavidya Devi or the Goddess of Knowledge.
In front of each cell is a
portico with a carved roof. Some of these contain elaborate
reliefs illustrating not only Jain legends but also themes
from Hindu mythology. Representations from Satrunjaya
Mahatmya, a work eulogising the holy Satrunjaya Hill in
Saurashtra, and events like Krishna subduing the mighty
snake-demon Kaliya, and Vishnu in his manlion incarnation
slaying Hiranyakashyapu, are depicted side by side with
great elegance and force. The ornamentation, remarkable for
exuberance of detail and effective repetition of the same
motif, is a brilliant example of tireless inventiveness in
the art of plastic decoration.
The other important Jain temple was built 200 years later in
1231 by the two brothers, Vastupal and Tejpal, who belonged
to the Porwad Jain Community and were ministres of Raja
Viradhavala, a ruler of Gujarat. A contemporary biography,
Vastupal Charita, attributes the construction of this fine
temple dedicated to Neminath, the twenty-second Jain
Tirthankar, to Anupama Devi, wife of Tejpal. Such was her
interest in the temple that she ordered the work to be
carried out in two shifts and made proper arrangements for
the welfare of the labourers, ensuring a proper supply of
good food for them. To inspire them in their creative task,
Tejpal is said to have offered to the carvers reward in
silver equal to the weight of marble filings. This done, he
offered gold equal to the weight of the marble which could
be filed still further. Whatever the truth behind this
story, there is little doubt that a great deal of
inspiration, devotion and encouragement was necessary to
complete this structure of great technical and artistic
The Tejpal temple, the last
great temple built in the Solanki style, follows the same
plan as the Vimal Vasahi temple. Marked by the same
profusion of sculpture as the Vimal Vasahi temple, it
attains a far greater degree of mechanical perfection. The
most striking feature of the Tejpal temple is the marble
pendant in the dome of the porch. It drops from the ceiling
like a cluster of half-open lotuses whose cups are so finely
wrought that they appear to be almost transparent.
A big image of Neminath, with his conch shell symbol carved
on the seat, adorns the principal cell. There are in all 39
cells containing one or more images of the presiding deity.
The carvings on the porticoes in front of the cells
represent various episodes from his life. One of the panels
vividly portrays the scene of his conversion. Neminath was
betrothed to Rajimati, the daughter of the king of Girnar.
When the marriage procession drew near the city, he saw the
cattle that were to be slaughtered for the marriage feast
and was filled with deep pity. He gave up the idea of
marriage and renounced the world. In the Hathikhana
(elephant room), enclosed by perforated screens, are marble
elephants with delicately carved trappings.
Not far from Dilwara is the lovely Nakki lake, an artificial
sheet of water, studded with little islets and overhung by
the Toad Rock, so named because it looks like a gigantic
toad about to spring into the water. According to legend,
the lake was created by the gods who dug it with their nails
(nakh), hence its name. A number of temples and
cave-dwellings of ascetics skirt the lake. Motor launches
and boats are available for pleasure cruises on the lake.
There are many beauty spots in Mt. Abu. The Sunset Point
provides a lovely view of the setting sun. The Crags,
another quite spot on a high hill facing the town, is
reached by a track passing throught
forests and presents a grand view of the plains 1,219 m. (4,
000 ft.) below. Robert’s Spur, situated on a sheer rock with
steep precipices on either side, unfolds a fascinating
picture of Nature’s beauty.
Gaumukh, 9 km. (6 miles) from Abu, offers an interesting
excursion. It has an ancient temple and a small tank always
filled with water flowing through a cow’s mouth (gaumukh)
made of stone. According to legend, the four agnikul clans
of the Rajputs were created in the Agnikund nearby. At a
little distance is the marble image of Nandi, who was
rescued by the mighty serpent Arbuda. Carved out of a rock,
the hill temple of Arbuda has a very attractive setting.
Achalgarh, famed for its Siva temple, is about 8 km. (5
miles) from Dilwara by a motorable road. On the bank of the
Mandakini tank, near the temple, are a few old statues. Some
distance beyond Achalgarh is Guru Shikhar 1,720 m. (5,646
ft.), the highest peak in Mt. Abu.