Parasnath Hill in Hazaribagh district is held to be the most sacred spot of the Jains all over India. Parasnath Hill, about 4481 feet high, is situated along the Grand Trunk road about 200 miles from Calcutta. The Eastern Railway, (Grand Chord Line) runs by Parasnath Hill and there are two Railway stations close by, namely, Parasnath Road and Isri. There is a Rest Bungalow at Dumri about a mile from Isri station.
The summit of Parasnath Hill can be reached either from the southern or the northern side.Ponies and dandis could be arranged at short notice. There are two recognized routes to Parasnath Hill, one is from Isri Bazaar, also known as Nimia Ghat, to the top, which is motorable for a mile, the rest being a climb of five miles. The other route is a six-mile route from Madhuban village on the road to Giridih.
After 2 ½ miles from Madhuban there is a stream called Gandharva nala and further up there is another stream Sita nala. The Jains hold the portion from Gandharva nala up to the summit as very sacred. It is easier to reach Parasnath from its northern side. Motor cars or passenger buses ply along this route from Dumri to Giridih and stop at Madhuban village. Where there are a number of Jain temples.
The village Post Office is called Parasnath. On the walls of the mulmandir at Madhuban, there is a remarkable mural painting depicting all the temples on the Parasnath Hill. The Jains have provided rest houses and temples at the foot of the hill at Madhuban. The actual ascent starts frorn Madhuban.Bihar has a very important place in the history of Jainism. The last of the Tirthan- karas or the pathfinders of Jainism, was Vardhamana, also called Mahavira, and he was born at Kundalpur village, near Nalanda, in the Patna district.
Mahavira is often described by mistake as the founder of Jainism. The creed of Jainism had been in existence long before his time and Mahavira Vardhamana is held by the Jains to be the 24th or the last Tirthankara. After spending 30 years in propagating Jain religion, Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana or ascension kit Pawapuri in the district of Patna.
Parasnath Hill is Jerusalem to the Jains as, besides Mahavira, the following 20 Tirthankaras or Tirthankaras or pathfinders had attained Nirvana at this hill. Their gradation is shown within brackets:
Padma Prabhu (sixth)
Chandra Prabhu (eighth)
Suvidhinatha or (ninth)
and Parsvanatha (twenty-third)
The Jains are remarkable in one respect-they have raised most beautiful temples at various inaccessible places. They have notspared any efforts or money in order that the emblems of their faith may stand. Intensely attached to the doctrine of Ahimsa (harmlessness), one part of the Jains has engaged them in business and has spent money like water to propagate their faith through temples, libraries and pilgrimages.
The other class of the Jains, who are dedicated or Sadhus, have denied themselves almost every physical comfort and move from place to place holding discourses and spreading the message of Jainism. It is no wonder that Parasnath Hill, which is so very important to the Jains, should have quite a few temples, the Most important of which is known as Jala Mandir.
Parasnath Hill attracts pilgrims in there thousands from distant parts of India. The hill is also called Samet Sikhar but is more popular as Parasnath, having derived the name from Parsvanath, the 23rd Tirthan- kara who attained Nirvana there. The present temple is not very old, although the idol in the main temple is obviously ancient. The Sanskrit inscriptions at the foot of the images indicate that they were put in the temple in 1678 A.D.
The opinion of the archaeologists that the existing temple edifices on Parasnath Hill date from 1765 A.D. does not conflict with the hoary antiquity of the place in any manner. Unlike Hindu temples the Jain temples are often pulled down and re-built. It is certain that the present edifices were substituted for older edifices, which were demolished.
Any description of the great temple of Parasnath will be incomplete without a few words on the cult of Jainism, which took its origin in the soil of Bihar. One of the main tenets of Jainism is that the object of life should be deliverance from the bondage of life and death, which is essentially evil. The Jains believe in Karma and in transmigration of souls. They also believe that the law of Karma can be controlled to a large extent by one's daily life; that is why a Jain subjects his physique and mind to a terrific training in a sort of ascetic aloofness.
A Jain Sadhu keeps up an incessant cleansing process in his thoughts, so that his mind may attain a state of Kaivalya (a sort of isolation or completeness through integration). That is the final stage of Sadhana, a man can aspire for and through which lie can have absolute Mukti. But, at the same time, Jainism does not merely insist on, and only evolve, a Sramana order, but has successfully reared an order of Jain laymen who are thriving businessmen and who have given liberally for the propagation of their faith.
Ahimsa of Jain philosophy has to be taken in a broad sense. They do not eat any kind of meat. Jain Siddhanta recognizes a sort of casteism by insisting on the priesthood being confined to the Tribarna, namely, Brahmana; Kshatriya and Vaishya. For understanding this ideology we have to look to the times when Jainism was born and particularly when Mahavira Vardha- mana, the 24th and last Tirthanakara, propagated the creed in different parts 9f India. At that time the Brahmanas were the power behind the kings who were non- Brahmans.
The Brahmans gave an inferiority complex to manual labor and, at the same time, most of them were idlers, while only a small percentage took to learning. They had become the self- appointed guardians and interpreters of Sruti and Smriti (revelation and tradition). Mahavira Vardhamana was, however, not an ardent supporter of Brahmana supremacy, as he declared that men of the other two, higher castes, namely, Kshatriya and Vaishya, could also officiate as priests. Thus he was, in a way, both a defenders of casteism and also an idealist who really dug at the root of casteism.
Jainism was a religion of the poor, as well, for it was a religion preaching the equality of men. Mahavira preached for all-probably more for the poor-and it may be recalled that, despite being physically assaulted in Rarh Desha by the ruffians, he stayed on there for months preaching his gospel. Today the Jain images are lying scattered in a large number of villages in that district, neglected and often worshipped as Hindu deities. In this manner, as C.J.Shah in his Jainism in North India has observed, his world-embracing sympathy led him to proclaim this method of self-culture and holy living to the suffering humanity, and he invited the poor and lowly to end their suffering by cultivating brotherly love and universal peace.
The Brahmin and the Sudra, the high and the low, was the same in his eyes. All could equally effect their salvation by a holy life, and he invited all to embrace his catholic religion of love. It spread slowly as Christianity spread in Europe in early dates-until Srenika, Kunika, Chandragupta, Sampriti, Kharavela and others embraced Jainism during, the first few glorious centuries of Hindu rule in India.
Mahavira Vardhamana, by preaching that every fine could lead a life of purity, of right conduct and love and thus achieve his salvation, wanted to usher in a casteless and classless society. Hatred or any inferior motive regulating caste distinction is outside the pale of Jainism. Mahavira always preached that Ghrina (hatred) should be completely eschewed.
It is not necessary to go into the differences of the two sections of Jains- the Swetambars and the Digambars. Briefly speaking, the Swetambars believe in Sabastra Mukti, that women can attain salvation, recognize Sabastra Guru and hold that in the Kaivalya condition Mahavira had illness. The Swetambar Jains holds that Mahavira Swami married and ruled and had a daughter. They are also of the view that the 19th Tirthankara was a lady Mallahkumari.
But the Digambars believe in Diganibar Mukti and they do not admit that because of certain deformities peculiar to their sex, women call attain Mukti in the present life, but can do so in a future birth. However, they can, at the same time, observe the great vows and lead a true Jain life. The Digambar Jains does not recognize Sabastra Guru.
They hold that Mahavira Swami was a Bal Brahmachari and he had never married, nor did he have any raj. They do not believe that in the Kaivalya condition Mahavira Swami had any illness. They hold that the 19th Tirthankara was a male and his name was Mallinath. The two sects also differ as to the birth-place of Mahavira Swami.
According to the Swetambars,Kundaligram in Monghyr district is the birth-place of Mahavira. According to the Digambars, Kundalipur near Nalanda is his birth-place. There is a third school of Jains who now claim Vaishali in Muzaffarpur district as the birth-place of Mahavira Swami. It appears that certain sections of both theSwetambar and the Digambar sects accept Vaishali to he the birth-place of Mahavira Swami. Incidentally, all these three places that are taken to be the birth-place of Mahavira, are in Bihar.
Many Jain images ill different parts of India are mistaken to be Buddhist images. It has been observed: "The Jain images are mostly either in padmasan or khadgasan mudras. They are also characterized by nasagrahadrishti and by veetaraga mudra. The gaze is fixed to the top of the nose and there is an air of sublime detachment.
The Digambar Jain images are characterized by their nudity and the left palm is on right palm and no offerings of jewels or ornaments are made. The Swetambar Jain images are conspicuous by loin-cloth, the right palm being on left palm and offerings of jewels and ornaments are made.
"Both the Swetambar and the Digambar Jains agree on the concepts of Shristi, Anadi, Nitya, Kriya, Kanda and that renunciation leads to salvation and Mukti is obtained by Samyak Darshan, Samyak Jnana and Samyak Charitra
A remarkable feature of Jainism is that, while the later orthodox Hindu preachers had assailed Buddhism and its philosophy, Jainism was hardly ever touched. Despite internal schism, the creed never died. Jainism is still a living cult in India and has its devotees in other countries as well. Probably, the sources of the strength and persistence of Jainism are in a continuous flow of active laity that has formed into a harmonious relationship with the preaching order. In this respect the Jains are like the Jews, Parsis and the Quakers.
The passage of time has brought us nearer to the teachings of Mahavira. Perfection of man, chastity-sexual and moral-for theindividuals and nations were preached and salvation was extolled as the birth-right of men. Today we see for ourselves how very apt these teachings are.Parasnath temple is a typical example of what Jain sadhus and the laity can do for their religion. The great and beautiful structuresof marble at the top of the hill stand as a grand monument of Jainism. Parasnath temple is also a typical example of what PercyBrown mentions, in his Indian Architecture as "a temple city".
It would be apt to quote the following observations from that book.
"These temple-cities, or tirthas (places of pilgrimage) are laid out on no specific plan, the buildings being arranged on such level spaces as the contours of the hill naturally provide. In one or two instances they consist of several hundreds of edifices, but contain no human habitation, as except for an occasional watchman, they are at night-time, entirely deserted, the gods in their shrines being left to the protection of their own sanctity.
Each tirtha represents centuries of devotion, which found expression in templebuilding, and they form the central objects ofpilgrimages and festivals at frequent intervals. Although many of the temples may seem complicated in appearance, each is designed, as a rule, on the principles common to the religious architecture of the late medieval period, the elaboration’s being due to such factors as the addition of numeroussupplementary shrines, to theapplication of double stories, and to the practice of imposing pillared cloisters around all the larger examples. In the style of the individual buildings one variation found only in Jain temples is noticeable, and that is the frequent production of a class of temple known as chaumukh, or four-faced.