Sonagiri (meaning ‘golden peak’) is particularly important to the smaller Digambara sect of Jains, who believe that this was where the eighth Tirthankar, Chandraprabha, attained salvation. Since then it is said that 5,500,000 ascetic saints have themselves achieved salvation (moksha) here.
The temple complex is huge, with a total of 77 beautiful Jain temples scattered across the hillside overlooking the village, their sky high white spires punctuating the blue sky.
Many of the temples are said to date back as far as the 9th century, and certainly there is some antiquity to some of the structures here, although I’m not sure I saw anything that was clearly dating back to that time. However, there was a lot of building and renovation work happening when I visited in Feb 2018, and I suspect that is an ongoing process that will continue for some time to come.
Navigating the complex is a little difficult. The main path will take you straight up to the main temple (temple 57), but everywhere you look there are side paths tempting you to branch off and explore a separate string of temples. Sometimes the those paths will then continue on, snaking their way to who knows where, whilst others will come to an abrupt end.
If you do decide to visit Sonagiri, be prepared for quite a long walk in bare feet. Shoes and socks are left at the complex gate on the edge of town, and from there you scale the hill with naked feet. But just be thankful it’s only your feet that are naked, the Digambara Jain monks typically do not wear any clothes at all as it is considered to be parigraha (possession), which ultimately leads to attachment. If you think that may lead to some awkward encounters, all I can say is that when I visited for a couple of hours in the early afternoon I did not encounter any monks adopting this (un)dress code.
Sonagiri will last long in my memory for just how utterly peaceful it was. It’s a pristine site, not a single piece of discarded rubbish anywhere, and that combined with the stillness, the views, the atmosphere, the complete absence of people – I can honestly say I don’t think I have found anywhere more relaxing anywhere in India.
It felt nourishing to have visited Sonagiri, and despite navigating the site at the hottest part of the day and with my feet constantly burning on the sun scorched path, I felt completely rejuvenated afterwards.
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