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The White Temple of Ranakpur: 1444 Decorated Pillars and No Two are Alike!

The White Temple of Ranakpur: 1444 Decorated Pillars and No Two are Alike!

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The Ranakpur Jain Temple is a world-famous temple complex located in Ranakpur, Rajasthan, India. This spectacular temple complex was built in the 15th century AD, and is one of the five major pilgrimage sites of Jainism. Within this complex are a number of temples, some of which are dedicated to individual tirthankaras, the 24 spiritual masters in Jainism who are believed to have attained perfect knowledge through asceticism. But what really stands out are the 1444 beautifully-carved and stunningly-decorated white pillars, each one completely unique and unlike any other.

Jain Temple of Ranakpur, India

Jain Temple of Ranakpur, India (Nagarjun Kandukuru / flickr)

The Inspiration Behind The Temple

Ranakpur is a village situated in the valley on the western side of the Aravalli Mountain Range in the Pali district of Rajasthan in the western part of India. According to local legend, during the 15th century AD, a wealthy Jain merchant by the name of Dharma Shah (also spelled as Dharanshah) had a vision of the Nalinigulma Viman, a heavenly flying chariot in Jain mythology, and was inspired to build a temple in honour of Adinath, the founder of Jainism. At that time, one of the Rajput states, Mewar, was ruled by Rana Kumbha, who was a powerful monarch. Dharma Shah approached the king with his proposal to build the temple, and was granted a piece of land to build the temple. In addition, the king advised the merchant to establish a town nearby. Dharma Shah followed the king’s advice, and the town became known as Ranakpur, in honour of the king.

The White Pillars of Ranakpur

It has been said that it took over 50 years for the Ranakpur Jain Temple to be constructed, and the undertaking is estimated to have cost up to 10 million rupees. The entire temple was built out of a light-coloured marble, and its base covers an area of over 48000 square feet. Within this monument are 29 halls, 80 domes, and a support system of 1444 pillars. Each of the pillars are adorned with complex and beautiful carvings, and that each pillar is unique and different from the rest.

Jain Marble Temple pillar Frescoes, Ranakpur, Pali district, India

Jain Marble Temple pillar Frescoes, Ranakpur, Pali district, India (CC by SA 3.0)

The ornate pillars of Ranakpur

The ornate pillars of Ranakpur (Daniel Mennerich / Flickr)

The Four-Faced Temple

The most important temple in this complex is the Chaumukha (meaning ‘four-faced) Temple, which is dedicated to Adinath. Four different doorways lead into separate chambers, which in turn bring the devotee to the main hall, where the idol / statue of Adinath can be found. The four faces of Adinath are meant to symbolise the quest for the four directions, and by extension the universe. The image of the Jain founder is surrounded by a number of small shrines and domes. Encircling these is another group of cells with separate roofs. The ceiling of this temple is decorated with foliate scrollwork and geometric patterns. Like the rest of the complex, this temple is also supported by carved pillars, and it has been reported that their colour changes according to the hour of the day. 

The ornate ceiling of Chaumukha

The ornate ceiling of Chaumukha (CC by SA 2.0)

Other important temples in the complex include the Parsavanath Temple, the Neminath Temple, and the Surya Temple. These temples are dedicated to the 23rd  tirthankara (whose name is Parsavanath), the 22nd  tirthankara (whose name is Neminath), and the sun god respectively. The Parsavanath Temple is known also as “Patriyon Ka Mandir”, and is known for its engraved windows which are decorated with Jain figures. In the Surya Temple, on the other hand, one find a statue of the sun god in his chariot driven by seven horses, and this part of the complex is renowned for its numerous wall projections.

A Temple of Bandits

Around the 17th century AD, war ravaged the region, and the statues of the temple were hidden in cellars by the priests, who feared that they would be desecrated. After the priests fled, the invaders vandalised the temple, and what was left was further ravaged by time and the elements. In due course, the abandoned temple became a hideout for dacoits (bandits), and no one dared to venture into the complex. Devotees only returned during the first quarter of the 20th century, and the temple was eventually restored to its former glory.

Top image: Jain Marble Temple pillars, Ranakpur, Pali district, India (amanderson2 / flickr)

By Wu Mingren

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Kaushik, 2015. The 1,444 Carved Pillars of Ranakpur Jain Temple No Two of Which Are Alike. [Online]
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Very Interesting post

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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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