Rajasthan's Holy Sites
Although Rajasthan is best known for its forts, palaces, and desert expanses, this huge state is also home to some of India's most awe-inspiring sacred sites.
The Jain temples in the southern part of Rajasthan are popular destinations; visitors marvel at the white-marble architecture and intricately carved designs that embellish the temples walls and pillars. The best-known Jain holy sites in the state include the temples at Ranakpur near Udaipur and at Dilwara in Mount Abu. There are also a number of significant Hindu temples in Rajasthan. Pushkar has one of the world's few temples dedicated to Bramha, the god of creation in the Hindu trinity. The Eklingji temple complex near Udaipur was built by royalty and is dedicated to Shiva (the destroyer). Not everyone, however, feels the need to actually visit the Karni Mata temple at Deshnoke (popularly known as the Rat Temple among tourists) near Bikaner: it's known as an abode for thousands of rats, which are considered sacred. A popular Muslim pilgrimage site is just outside Pushkar, in Ajmer: Dargah Sharif is the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, and is among the most important pilgrimage sites for South Asian Muslims.
Visitors to Rajasthan are often shocked to see images of the swastika—a symbol associated with Nazism in the West—on walls, doorways, and temples. The swastika is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, who place it prominently in all of their temples and holy books. Sadly, Hitler misappropriated the holy symbol, turning it on its side and making it into his party's logo.
In Ajmer's Old Town the white-marble Dargah Sharif is one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in the state. This is the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, a Sufi saint of Persian descent who is best known for his service to the impoverished. Chisti's shrine is sacred to Muslims, but visited by people of all faiths. Every year, pilgrims from across the subcontinent flock to Dargah Sharif to commemorate the Chisti's Urs, the anniversary of the saint's death.
The five temples of Dilwara in Mount Abu attract Jain pilgrims from across the country and people of all faiths with an interest in art and architecture. Each temple is devoted to a different tirthankar (enlightened being who is repeatedly reborn to impart the knowledge he has gained) from the Jain faith. The pillars, arches, and domes represent some of the finest marble artisanship in the country.
Between Udaipur and Jodhpur, this magnificent Jain temple venerates the tirthankar Rishabha. The four sides symbolize the four directions, each with a similar facade, and the interior features an almost mazelike series of 1,444-plus intricately carved marble pillars. There's also a small, much older temple, dedicated to the sun.
Eklingji Temple Complex
A pleasant drive from Udaipur through the Aravali Mountains, Eklingji village is famous for its 108-strong temple complex, the highlight of which is the 15th-century Shiva Temple (some parts date back to the 8th century). There's a unique four-sided, four-faced black-marble image of Shiva here, miniature replicas of which will be eagerly offered to you in the village bazaar. Every Monday evening the Maharaja of Udaipur visits the temple privately.
Pushkar Bramha Temple
It seems like there's a temple every few feet in Pushkar—many restrict access to foreigners and non-Hindus, but the most famous temple, the red-spired 14th-century Brahma Temple, allows people of all backgrounds. The town's lake is also a holy spot unto itself, and many of Pushkar's priestly residents earn a living performing pujas (ceremonies) at the shore.
Karni Mata Temple
Near Bikaner, the town of Deshnoke is home to the Karni Mata temple, dedicated to a 14th-century female sage who was believed to be an incarnation of the goddess Durga. The temple is best known, however, for its large population of rats, which some people estimate at being around 20,000. The rodents are considered sacred, and are fed by the temple's caretakers.