Serious work is being put in to restore Gori Temple’s lost glory. But only time will tell how successful it is
What does a desert offer a visitor? Mostly, the scorching sun and a hope for rain. But every desert also has its own life cycle and colours that make the surface magnificent. Come rain, Thar is one of the most beautiful sites in Sindh. Every year, visitors come in the rainy season to visit Nagarparkar, Karoonjhar rock and the holy sites. Sand dunes, oases, mirages, herds or animals and the wilderness make Thar’s landscape mesmerising. I have always found something new in Thar. It seems to greet me with the same passion. In ancient times Parinagar was a business hub and Nagarparkar a thickly populated area of the Jains.
Jainism has no concept of a Creator God. Its followers believe that there is no beginning or end to the world; the universe and all its substances or entities are eternal. There are 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers) in Jainism. Rishabhanatha was the first Tirthankra and Parshvanatha, also known as Parshva and Paras, was the 23rd of the 24 Tirthankaras. He is also known as Gorecho in Sindh. Historians believe that he lived in the 8th and 7th Century BC. According to a myth, before his birth, his mother saw a serpent in her dream. Therefore the serpent is the sign of Parshvanatha. In Jainism every Tirthankara has a different symbol. The symbols represent some unique powers. After Parshvanatha; Mahavira appeared as the 24th Tirthankara. His given name was Vardhamana and he adopted Parshvanatha’s way of life.
Historian Badar Abro writes in his book, Sindh Mein Jain Mat, “Mahavira worshiped in dirty clothes, then he took to a life without clothes. He wandered in search of food. He spent twelve years of his life in that manner. He developed control over all his desires.”
While going to Nagarparkar a road leads to Veerawah. On the western side, a road ends up at a temple that is known as Gori jo mandir. Gori temple is an icon of architecture and art, with painted walls and ceiling that catches the visitors’ attention. Gori temple is one of the biggest temples. This was a worship place for Jains. They used to come here and spend their days and nights in prayers for eternal peace. The temple was built in 1376.
Mahavira’s father was a king of Kundapur. He was born in 599 BC and died in 527 BC. As a princely child he enjoyed his childhood and young age in royal luxury, but at the age of 30 he devoted himself to Parshvanatha. Next, he led 12 years in seclusion.
While there is no concept of a god in Jainism, his followers carved Parshvanatha and Mahavira’s statues and started worshipping them. Captain Stanley Napier Raikes, who was the magistrate in 1856, he writes in his book Memoir on the Thurr and Parkur Districts of Sindh, “At Goree, some 14 miles north-west of Veerawow, and situated in the desert, is an old Jain temple... It has been much defaced at various times by the fanaticism of the Sindee troops, during their periodical eruptions into the desert, nominally to collect their master’s revenue, but practically to rob the people, and commit all sorts of outrages. The Soda Chiefs of Veera Wow are said to have taken the idol called Gorecha (Parshvanatha) out of the temple for safe custody, and to have exhibited it occasionally to the Banians, who worshipped it, for payment. The present chief’s grandfather was the last who thus exhibited it, and who accumulated a large sum by the exhibition. He, however, kept its hiding-place a secret, and subsequently, dying rather unexpectedly, omitted to communicate it to his heirs and successors where the cherished idol was deposited; nor has it been found to this day, much to the chagrin of both chiefs and Banians, — to the former, as its possession was a source of no inconsiderable revenue periodically; and to the latter, from superstitious apprehensions of the deity’s wrath being excited, by apparent though unintentional neglect.”
Inside the canopy of Gori temple there are some paintings that reflect the belief system of Jainism. The artwork is also engraved on the pillars of the temple. The paintings show the cultural and religious activities of Jain society. There are three main domes in Gori temple. The temple is the widest and largest among all. Inside the hall there are 24 small cells that represent 24 Tirthankaras of Jainism; these cells are 8 by 8 feet. In ancient times many pilgrims used to worship here and they used to stay there for their meditation. One of the domes was damaged. It was made of stone and was damaged in 1859 by Col Tyrwihitt using ammunition as he was told that Sodha Sardars were plotting against the British Raj. Some of the paintings on marble are faded now, even though the beauty of the canopy is till magnificent. There is a narrow cave beside the temple. Downstairs, there are four small rooms inside the cave. Long ago, Jains used to worship in the cave. The temple’s length is 960 square feet. There are 52 domes, some large, some small. Marble of these was imported from Jodhpur, India. Every stone is 13 feet long and 3 feet wide. The temple consists of seven parts.
Every Tirthankara had Yakshas and Yakshinis. These were spirits or mythical beings in Jainism. Yakshinis are beautiful well endowed creatures with chubby cheeks, wide hips, narrow waist and an overall small stature. All Yakshas and Yakshinis were a class of spirits. Their job was to serve all Tirthankaras. They also had magical powers. These statues are engraved on the walls and pillars of Gori temple.
Abdul Fateh Shaikh is director of museums in the Culture and Antiquity Department. He tells The News on Sunday (TNS), “The first phase of the renovation of Gori temple began in 2017. This is very sensitive work. We will continue until its condition gets better.”
“It takes time and we do not do any unnecessary intervention because Gori temple is a historical monument. Its beauty must be maintained in its original form. We have also established the Misken Jahan Khan Khoso Museum in Nagarparkar city. The antique pieces are displayed there. In future, the Culture Department will renovate some other temples as well,” he added.
Prof Noor Ahmed Jinjhi is a researcher and writer. He has a different opinion about the temple. “Gori jo Dehro, mistakenly called a temple, is a Jain structure built in 1376. It was established during 300 AD. The Gori Dehro has 24 tiny cells, each accommodating a single person. It seems like a boarding learning institution. There is a watch tower on the other side of the road. The village was established much after the Jain Dehro. The word Dehro means a residency of scholars or the people who dedicate themselves to a sacred cause. It may be called a temple in English because there is no adequate substitute but it should not be called a madir in Sindhi or Urdu as a mandir is a worship place for Hindus. The heritage should be conserved in its original form. There is a great need to turn this area into eco-tourism.”
Will the efforts being made by the Culture and Antiquity Department restore Gori temple to its past glory? Let’s hope so. It’s a great wonder in the desert.
The writer is a fiction writer, blogger and journalist