Devotion under natural light

Past and present co-exist in Delhi’s Naya Jain Mandir
The Shri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir dominates the skyline at the entrance of Chandni Chowk in Shahjahanabad, or Old Delhi. The red spires can be seen opposite the Red Fort’s Lahori Darwaza from afar. This temple has its origins in the tent of one of Emperor Shah Jahan’s Jain soldiers, where he kept three images of the Tirthankars. This was later converted into a temple and expanded to its present shape and size.
Imperial connections
The Jain trading community came to Delhi on the invitation of Shah Jahan when the city of Shahjahanabad was being built, and became an integral part of the walled city. Today as one walks around the walled city, one can see and understand their importance as traders, merchants and, most importantly, bankers and moneylenders. The later Mughals were often in their debt. The Jains also enjoyed high positions in the court. One such high-ranking official was Raja Harsukh Rai. His father, Lala Hukumat Rai, had been invited to shift from Hisar to Delhi by Emperor Shah Alam II. Harsukh Rai was appointed the imperial treasurer by Shah Alam II and given the title of Raja. Harsukh Rai built may places of worship for the Digambar Jain sect, many in Shahjahanabad itself. My favourite of these is the beautiful temple known simply as Naya Jain Mandir in Dharampura. This temple is the first Jain temple in Shahjahanabad to have a shikhar , as Harsukh Rai obtained permission from the Emperor. One enters through a small, brightly painted doorway via a narrow decorated passage. A flight of stairs on the immediate right takes you up to an exquisite carved stone porch that must have once been the main entrance. This entrance is kept locked today, and one has to walk down the passage to enter from the back. But don’t miss out on this porch, as the torana is breathtaking. It is a marvellous adaptation of the wooden toranas that were used extensively in stone as decorative pieces. These not only added a decorative element but also strengthened the structure. In the Naya Jain Mandir, as James Fergusson comments, “It was left for a Jaina architect of the end of the 18th or beginning of the last (20th) century, in the Muhammadan city of Delhi to suggest a mode by which what was only conventionally beautiful might really become an appropriate and really constructive part of lithic architecture.” A bell hangs in the centre. The back of the strut is filled with pierced foliaged tracery. The pillars are also carved and very elegant. A small dome with a lotus and kalash complete the porch. The whole effect is of a delicate and airy structure, despite the medium being stone. In shadows the stonework gives the effect of a crochet embroidered hanging. Once you go to the back, you can climb up the stairs into the main temple on the first floor. There are galleries on three sides, and the main shrine is on a raised plinth. The sanctum is breathtaking in its richly decorated walls, arches and ceiling. The tiered and raised marble platform, or vedi , with inlay work is a piece of art. On it, under a marble canopy, sits Lord Adinatha on a flower. His image is made of Makrana marble. There are four pairs of lions in inlay work on the base under the image, which face the four cardinal directions. The ceiling is profusely painted in blue and gold bands, with floral designs that descend from a gold rectangle from in the centre.
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