The holy city of the Jains

It is a city so holy that not even priests can sleep there. No animal can be killed within its walls; not even insects should be harmed. Worshipers look at its thousands of statues through mirrors in order not to insult the gods and goddesses with a direct gaze.

It is Shatrunjay Hill, overlooking the town of Palitana in Gujarat, India, and it’s the holiest site of the Jain religion. The Jains are famous for their strict vegetarianism and nonviolence. They believe that all living creatures have souls and therefore not even a mosquito should be harmed.

Nobody knows exactly how many temples are here. Some say 1250, some say 1300, some say 1500. They were built in the 11th and 12th centuries during the religion’s architectural renaissance and are elaborately carved out of marble and other stone and filled with colorful statues of Jain deities.

Pilgrims come from all over the world to climb the 3,300 steps that symbolize their ascent to salvation. Like Mecca for the Muslims, a pilgrimage to Shatrunjay Hill is something that every one of the faithful should do at least once in their lifetime.

The BBC has done a beautiful audio and slide show of the holy city. It’s not the same as going to India yourself, but it does give the sights, sounds, and a bit of the feel of this important spiritual center.