The Digambar Jain Temple in Varanasi, India was constructed by the devoted followers of Jainism, which is an eternal religion, perpetuated by 24 Tirthankaras. Tirthankaras are human beings who are greatly revered for having destroyed every single soul-constraining karma or ghati and have therefore achieved liberation and enlightenment. They have become leaders and role-models for the millions of devotees of Jainism and those in need of spiritual guidance. Although these Tirthankaras were born in different time eras, it was their common goal to revitalize the Jain Order.
One of the stalwart testaments to Jain devotion is the Digambar Jain Temple, found in Bhelupur, Varanasi, the seat of civilization. Not only is this mystical temple of great religious importance to the devotees of the Jain Religion, it is also one of the city’s cultural treasures. The founder, Parshwanath Digambar Jain, was the twenty-third Tirthankara in Jainism who lived in Varanasi at around 800 BC. A nobleman of the Kshatriva caste, a historical figure, and great religious leader, Parshwanath then become the focus of Jain devotion.
Two sects of Jain devotees built the two temples which are adjacent to each other to honor Parshwanath. The Shwetambar Mandir enshrines a white statue of him, 60 cm high, while the Digambar Mandir houses a blue statue of 75 cm high. Guest houses have been constructed in order to accommodate the devotees of both sects. Eleven more Digambar Jain temples are found in this location to oblige a growing number of followers.
By knowing the wealthy history of the city of Varanasi, a deeper appreciation of Jainism, its leader, its people, and its temples are achieved. The 3000 year old city of Varanasi is known as the oldest living city in the world. It is additionally recognized as the “Religious Capital of India” or “The Holy City of India” because many religions originated from this place. Hindus, Muslims, Jains, and Buddhists have been going to Varanasi on pilgrimages for ages. The Hindus know Varanasi to be the living abode of both Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati.
Being the religious capital of India, Varanasi has also come to be known as the “City of Temples.” It boasts of more than 2,000 temples and millions of shrines. Varanasi is nestled on the embankment of the Ganges River, thus its culture is closely intertwined with the river and its history. The Ganges allegedly holds the power to wash those who bathe in its waters clean from all sins. Hindus claim that their dead who are cremated in Varanasi are instantly liberated from the cycles of births and re-births or the cycle of transmigrations that they otherwise have to go through.
Varanasi has been the cradle of philosophy, mysticism, and spiritualism for several thousands of years, producing personalities no less than Gautama Buddha, Kabir, Patanjali, Mahavira, Tulsi Das, Parswanath and others. It has also been famous for being a great center of learning by producing great writers, philosophers, poets and musicians.
Given the ancient history of the place, the mystical beliefs and traditions, the proximity to the Ganges River, and the love for philosophy and learning at the time, it is no wonder that several religions developed in Varanasi. It is then not a remote possibility that along with these great religions would also sprout a seemingly obscure yet equally compelling religion known as Jainism, perpetuated at no other than the holiest of holy places, the Digambar Jain Temple.