Located around 20km from Vadnagar on the Aravali Hill Range, Taranga Hills is a beautiful place worth visiting, with ties to Buddhism and Jainism. Taranga is a three peaked hill in the Mehsana district of Gujarat. The river Rupen flows along the Taranga Hills and to the east flows the river Saraswati.
The Taranga tirtha is considered one of the most important Shvetambar Jain temples, one of the five most important mahatirthas of the Jain community. Of the 108 places known as Siddhachal, where holy people have attained enlightenment , one is called ‘Tarangir’. Temples of this magnitude like this are generally built at a siddha kshetra, which is a holy place where saints are said to have attained enlightenment. It is a popular belief that 35,000,000 munis including Vardutt and Sagardutt attained enlightment and moksha here.
Under the guidance of renowned Jain scholar and poet Hemachandracharya, the Solanki King Kumarpala (1145-72), ruling from the capital in Patan, converted to Jainism and laid the foundation for this colossal temple here, adding it to his growing legacy, along with the restoration of the ruined Somnath temple and the construction of the walls of Vadnagar. It was renovated on a large scale in the 16th century during the rule of the Mughal emperor Akbar, who supported diversity of religions.
The two hillocks named Kotishila and Sidhhshila have idols of Bhagwan Neminath and Bhagwan Mallinath of Vikram 1292, by the Jain calendar (1235 AD, by the Gregorian calendar). There are 14 Digambar Jain temples and one dharamshala in the foothills. Digambar Jains have been settled on this isolated hill since the time of Ajitnath Bhagwan, the 2nd Jain tirthankar.
From the banks of the Saraswati, you start on the path that ascends up the Taranga hills. On your way you may see Jain monks striding barefoot. On the peaks above, you sight tiny white chhatris and a little shrine to Devi Taranamata from whom the village derives its name. The idols in the temples of Taranmata and Dharanmata are basically of Buddhist goddess Tara. There are a few images found from here and the broken terracotta images of Buddha, four carved images of Dhyani Buddha on a stone plate, stone and brick walls inside rock shelters are some of them.
As your footsteps ascend upward the Taranga Jain temple, suffused in the fresh air of the hill, welcomes you. This 12th century derasar, is one of the best preserved and least restored temples in Gujarat, and a testament to the devotion and dedication of the Solanki Rajputs. Though a less-frequent stop on the standard tourist trail, it is considered to be one of India’s most treasured works of architecture.
Entering the womb of this magnificent Jain temple, where a five-meter tall sculpture of the 2nd Jain tirthankar, Shri Ajitnath, sits peacefully, may be a portal, for some, into deep unspeakable inner stillness. The teacher, Ajitnath, having transcended action and suffering, transmits an intense and unmoving quiet, beyond the known.
The temple lingers mysteriously in the consciousness of its visitor. The almost absent gaze of the tirthankar inside contrasts with the overflow of fluid sensual movements of dancing maidens, gods and goddesses, lovingly detailed outside in stone. The voluptuous damsels in their intricately carved costumes, as though dancing, both graceful and arousing. In the words of travel writer Philip Ward, “If you thought Jainism would be too intellectual to appeal to you, let this riot of sculptural delights overwhelm you.”